WEST Country folk singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman plays The Crescent, in York, tonight when both old and new will be to the fore.
Performing an intimate set in a duo with Plymouth vocalist Alex Hart to a seated audience, Lakeman’s focus will fall on both his new album, Make Your Mark, and on the 15th anniversary of the gold-selling Freedom Fields.
Newly reissued in a deluxe edition on CD and double vinyl in coloured and black limited editions, Freedom Fields comes with exclusive bonus content, such as unreleased tracks and rare demos and with a signed art print from selected stores.
“This is my debut at The Crescent,” says Devonian Seth. “I’ve previously played the NCEM and Fibbers, and I love playing York as there’s a great music scene in the city.
“It’ll be me playing with Alex Hart, and Joe Francis, from Winter Mountain, who’s from Cornwall – over the border – will be supporting. I’ve worked with him a few times before and he’ll probably join us on harmonium.”
Reflecting on playing in this format, Seth says: “I’ll be honest, all the creative industries are struggling with the need to control costs at this time, so you use less of your ‘cast’, but you still get out there and there’s a magic in the duo format.
“It allows you to play different songs and you can move things around in the set list more than you can with a five-piece – and it’s nice to go out and concentrate on the voices.”
Seth is overjoyed to be playing with fellow musicians to live audiences once more on a 14-date tour that began on November 2. “I always think it’s important if you can get people into a room to perform music together,” he says. “Connecting through technology can work but playing in a room is the best way of connecting.”
Make Your Mark, released on Seth’s label Honour Oak Records on CD and digital formats on November 18 and on vinyl on December 10, was written during his Covid-enforced 18 months off the road.
Fourteen songs were recorded at Middle Farm Studios in Devon earlier this year as restrictions eased, with Seth producing his 11th studio album himself.
“The pandemic gave me a real determination to come out musically stronger and I really dug deep into myself,” he says. “Being able to record and play with the band again was really quite spiritual.”
Joining Seth on the recording sessions were long-time bassist Ben Nicholls, who has toured the world with Seth since his early days; Benji Kirkpatrick, from Bellowhead and Faustus, on bouzouki, banjo and mandolin; Alex Hart on backing vocals and Toby Kearney, principal percussionist at the Birmingham Conservatoire, on drums.
Reflecting on how his song-writing has progressed since landmark indie-folk album Freedom Fields brought him the Folk Singer of the Year and Album Of The Year awards at the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Seth says: “I’ve branched out more [from violin] onto guitars and banjos that I now see as a tool for writing songs.
“I’ve always been interested in lyrics and the process of putting together a song, and maybe as you get to middle-aged life [Seth is 44], you feel more in tune with who you are and what you feel – and that comes with wisdom.
“I’m now looking at a more personal journey in song-writing. When I made Freedom Fields, it was more a case of writing in the tradition but with a modern context to it. I was in the depths of that as a writer for a good few years as I loved intertwining the old and the new.”
Themes on Make Your Mark range from the environment to love, self-belief to death. “They are songs about the bigger things: life and death, but also they’re celebrating lives lived, and I can see why that is challenging, because such subjects are heart-breaking, but that’s why sea shanties are so popular now because they’re so powerful in their emotional impact,” says Seth.
Living amid the beauty of Devon, he has felt the need to express his thoughts on the environment. “Around the coast, it’s getting swallowed up by second-home owners, but the argument goes that without the tourism industry there wouldn’t be the building industry, and you need to keep them both going.
“Here on Dartmoor, a lot of land is being sold off and it becomes a constant thing for us to moan about, when green land is getting sold. I certainly touch on it with my farmer mates, and it is a concern.
“I have three children – twins aged eight and a five year old – and climate change is right there as the biggest thing to be worrying about for their future.”
Writing about love, the most commonplace theme of all since song-writing began, Seth notes a change in his focus: “In your 40s, you start thinking about your parents and those things you have maybe taken for granted and really should cherish,” he says.
“Then, at this age, thinking about death, it’s about understanding your mortality and coming to terms with it, like losing my best friend suddenly. There’s a lot of his presence and personality on this album.
“I found it like therapy, expressing myself in song, paying some sort of homage to him. I felt his presence as I recorded it.”
Self-belief may seem an unexpected subject for Seth, but he says: “I’ve always had a problem with self-belief and security and confidence, being the third child, with my two brothers [fellow musicians Sean and Sam] being the flag-bearers and me being the black sheep.
“That feeling still exists and it’s probably part of the fuel that keeps me going. Regardless of money, that’s probably at the root of who I am and why I keep doing it. There’s not a lot of money in this line of work. I should have been a chef or a comedian!”
Self-belief, says Seth, is something he returns to time and time again. “I’m never happy with an album, never completely content, because contentment is a dangerous thing. You can be proud of what you’ve done, but you must keep your feet on the ground and keep pushing yourself,” he concludes.
Seth Lakeman plays The Crescent, York, tonight, supported by Joe Francis, at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £20 from seetickets.com/tour/seth-lakeman; more on the door. Please note, seating is unreserved.
The track listing for Make Your Mark is:
Hollow; The Giant; Love Will Still Remain; Bound To Someone; Make Your Mark; Coming For You Soon; the first single, Higher We Aspire; The Lark; Side By Side; Fallen Friend; Shoals To Turn; Underground; Change and Constantly.