It is a sad fact that the word 'folk' has become associated with bland acoustic, unimaginative and sanitised sub-pop, with the performer hiding behind the term, 'singer/songwriter', to justify their emotional rambling and mediocre guitar picking. With this in mind, searching for something more rewarding and substantial, we decided to attend one of the dates on Seth Lakeman's current tour, and we were reminded what a vibrant, exciting genre folk can be.
Mercury nominee, Lakeman sets himself apart, firstly by performing with a full band. He doesn't sit there on his own, with his guitar, self indulgently demanding the attention of the audience. Joined on stage by a drummer, whose kit included a bodrhan and a bucket, a double bassist, guitarist, and mandolin/banjo, to compliment his own multi-instrumental talent, there is enough varnished hardwood on the stage to give an Antiques Roadshow expert a headache. Opening with a new track from current album "Tales From The Barrel House" (released April 2nd 2012), the packed room, largely made up of loyal followers are transfixed, and rightly so, with Lakeman's showmanship pitched perfectly, quickly followed with crowd pleaser "John Lomas". The sound in the room is huge, far from the thin plucking and strumming often palmed off on listeners. The bowed double bass sounds as though it could have been the product of Trent Reznor's bass sequencer, but it is just well honed use of a traditional instrument. Another new track "The Sender" demonstrates that even when Lakeman's songs are romantic in nature, they are not, stale wishy washy teen bedroom scrawlings. "Changes", again, sounds as though it could have been taken from Nine Inch Nails' heartfelt debut "Petty Hate Machine", with plucked fiddle providing yet another diverse instrumentation, before folk standard "Setting Of The Sun" reminds us of Lakeman's West Country folk roots. Lakeman's true folk roots mean that his music shares a lot of DNA with Led Zeppelin (at any point you feel as though his next song could be "Battle of Evermore", admittedly, perhaps due to the mandolin) and as a lyricist he's arguably comparable to somebody like Elvis Costello (a bit of a stretch perhaps but think of "Oliver's Army" and Lakeman's "The Colliers" - his early support slots with Billy Bragg). It's a potent and timely reminder of where the roots of the best rock music comes from. You wish Lakeman would grow his hair long! The inevitable encore brings the show to an end with his most recognisable song, "Kitty Jay", Lakeman playing the fiddle so fast, that you'd believe he has a similar one made of solid gold, in a safe back in Cornwall, and the audience lapping it up wanting more. So why are the charts full of such marketised bland faux folk? Artists such as Lakeman should be lauded now, before 'pop' history categorises them with less illustrious musicians. Think of the way Black Sabbath ended up in the same section of your local record store that houses Def Leppard. To conclude - If you're lucky enough to have Seth Lakeman visit your town, you should take the opportunity to go and see him. Live dates this March: Thu 1 Bristol Trinity Fri 2 Oxford Academy Sat 3 Plymouth Pavilions - BBC Concert Orchestra and special guest Seth Lakeman Tue 20 Bournemouth Fire Station Wed 21 Cambridge The Junction Thu 22 Sheffield The Plug Fri 23 Cardiff Coal Exchange Sat 24 Leamington Assembly For more information visit www.sethlakeman.co.uk