Sam Lee connects with nature against the tide on songdreaming album and tour, playing The Old Woollen tonight

Sam Lee at Stonehenge. Picture: Andre Pattenden

FOLK renovator and innovator Sam Lee showcases his fourth studio album, songdreaming, at The Old Woollen, Farsley, Leeds, tonight, on his 17-date tour.

Released on March 15 on Cooking Vinyl, songdreaming represents the latest stage in the development of Londoner Lee’s music, from its roots in curating ancient song to a new way of imagining and performing reworked old songs, making them relevant anew.

The follow-up to 2020’s Old Wow was recorded throughout 2023, when Sam continued his work with producer Bernard Butler and long-term collaborator, arranger, and composer James Keay in creating an album rich in musicality and invention.

In taking songs directly related to the nature of the British Isles, he reinvents and contemporises a tradition of communion with the land through song. “songdreaming is a mosaic of the emotions felt in my time outdoors, that artistically emerge in reflective moments when I’m permitted to recount and articulate the complexity of all I witness and thus feel responsible for,” he says.

Explaining the album title, Sam says: “’songdreaming is a neogilism [a newly coined word or expression], that came out of the work that I do rooted in nature, through the idea of how we can connect with the land, and our relationship with nature through music. It goes back to the Aboriginal idea of songlines…”

…Songlines, Sam? “The short answer is I will never truly understand it, as you have to live in that culture, but from my time spent with Aborogines and from reading [English travel writer] Bruce Chatin’s book [Songlines], it’s to do with map orientation to our sense of not just place but ancestry, identity, sovereignty, all wrapped in feelings of adoration and commitment,” he says.

“That’s something we’ve had in this country, working with the landscape to chart who we are, but our experiences have severed that relationship. The concept of this album is to reinvigorate that idea, hence I’ve borrowed old folk songs, our ancient narratives, reworking them to tell of our beautiful relationship, our enchantment, our illicit joy, in nature.”

Illicit joy, Sam? “I’m so involved with the Right To Roam movement, but I didn’t want to make a protest album. I wanted to create a vision,” he says.

“Music can be such a bridge builder into a new sense of possibilities. I don’t think what we have in this age, unlike what we had for thousands of years, is an adoration of nature. Music was inspired by nature for so many years, and yet we’ve now become like a barren land in our attitude.

“How have we ended up with poisoned rivers, barren lands that are so depleted? Most important to that is the severance of connection to nature in our children, who find it more difficult to make that connection because of the urban lives we live.”

Sam regrets the loss of stewardship, grandparents no longer passing on knowledge of nature to grandchildren. “We don’t know the names of our rivers, our fungi, our flowers, anymore,” he says. “Nature has become an exiled realm. What we see is a war of attrition and nature is not winning that war.”

What role can music play to change that? “Where we are completely cut off, music can conjure the emotion of what it’s like to walk in a field, to be in a canoe, and that’s always been the purpose of music: to connect with the visceral sense of place. In my case, to distil all my work in nature to be something that is shared.”

Across songdreaming’s ten tracks, Sam delivers an album that ranges from acoustic songs to drone soundscapes through to the electric guitar and gospel choir-propelled lead single Meeting Is A Pleasant Place, featuring the recording debut of transgender London choir Trans Voices.

songdreaming incorporates the balladry of Sweet Girl McRee alongside the gospel tinges of Leaves Of Life, while also housing the whiteout noise of Bushes And Briars, a song that details Sam’s rage at the treatment and condition of the natural world.

Summing up his bond with nature in song, Sam says: “Those people who are and were singing the old songs here at home were also looking after the land. When we stop singing to the land, the land stops singing back.”

Sam Lee’s songdreaming tour visits  plays The Old Woollen, Sunny Bank Mills, Town Street, Farsley, Leeds, tonight (24/3/2024), 8pm; doors, 7pm. Box office: or songdreaming is available on Cooking Vinyl on  vinyl, CD and digital download.