Seth Lakeman makes his mark at The Crescent tonight while celebrating 15 years of award-winning Freedom Fields

Seth Lakeman: Themes of love and death, the environment and self-belief are to the fore on new album Make Your Mark. Picture: Tom Griffiths

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.

Seth Lakeman’s album artwork for Make Your Mark

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.

The 15th anniversary edition of Seth Lakeman’s award-winning Freedom Fields album

“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.

A Pilgrim’s Tale leads Seth Lakeman to Doncaster to mark Mayflower’s 400th anniversary

Seth Lakeman: telling A Pilgrim’s Tale to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail

DEVON folk musician Seth Lakeman heralds Friday’s release of his album A Pilgrim’s Tale with a tour that opens at Cast, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, tomorrow night (February 5).

This year marks 400 years since The Mayflower ship departed these shores for the Americas.

Lakeman was raised and still lives on Dartmoor, within sight of the sea at Plymouth, from where the Puritans sailed on The Mayflower in 1620.

His album tells the epic and soulful tale of the Pilgrim Fathers, and consequently, the ten tour dates are routed in a trail of towns and cities that, for various reasons, hold significance to the Mayflower journey.

Locations such as Immingham – where Separatists made a dangerous escape from England to Holland in their search for religious freedom – and Dartmouth, where the ship was anchored for repairs. Doncaster, Harwich, London and, of course, Plymouth feature too.

“If you’d never heard anything about The Mayflower and the birth of the modern USA, these words and music could be your primer,” says Seth, whose album is narrated by actor Paul McGann and features guest performers Cara Dillon, Benji Kirkpatrick, Ben Nicholls and Seth’s father, Geoff Lakeman.

The Mayflower carried British and Dutch passengers with hopes of fresh settlement, who were met by the Wampanoag first nation tribe on arrival. Bottling the spirit of the 17th century pilgrimage, Lakeman has written and performed a selection songs that shape a fictional narrative of the journey, informed by research from text, such as the journals of William Bradford; conversations with modern-day ancestors of the Wampanoag people at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, and information sourced at the national heritage sites that still exist in the UK. 

The artwork for Seth Lakeman’s album A Pilgrim’s Tale

Chronicling the voyage and early settlement in these songs, Lakeman has created a drama that celebrates the history but does not lose sight of the journey’s tribulations. It stays sensitive to important facets of the story; the religious liberation that passengers were trying to achieve, the nefarious deeds enacted on the Wampanoag, and the deaths that followed on both sides.

Lakeman feels linked intrinsically to the story. “I didn’t have far to go for inspiration,” he says. “The Mayflower Steps, on Plymouth’s cobbled Barbican streets, are 20 minutes away from me.

“I fished from this quay as a boy, sang songs on tall ships tied up here and played music in just about every old sailors’ pub in this Elizabethan quarter.” 

The stories in the songs are told from a variety of perspectives, from personal accounts, such as the opening number, Watch Out, detailing deadly premonitions of a Wampanoag girl, to tales of the collective travellers in songs such as Pilgrim Brother and Sailing Time, each marching at a hopeful cadence, reflecting their early optimism.

In an immersive tale of struggle, songs bring to life anew 17th century characters: a crewman wrestling to control the ship; a pilgrim celebrating in rapturous faith, or the solemn Wampanoag tribesmen forlornly surrendering to the new way of life thrust on them. 

Inspiration for the project came when Lakeman was on tour in Robert Plant’s band and paid a visit to the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts to talk to the Wampanoag that still reside in the area.

It did not take long for the songs to form on his return to England. “After I travelled home from the ‘New World’ to Plymouth, everything happened in a quite mystical way. The songs came together so speedily and with exactly the vibe I wanted, and we recorded in a very short time in my Crossways Studio at home on Dartmoor,” says Seth, who at present is hosting the BBC Radio 2 series Seth Lakeman’s Folk Map Of The British Isles on Saturday nights..

To supplement the recordings, a between-song narration was written by the associate director of Plymouth’s Theatre Royal, Nick Stimson, and read by Paul McGann, who Lakeman was elated to have on board.

“As we finished the album, another quite magical thing happened, when Paul agreed to voice the narration between the tracks on the record. He pitched it perfectly,” he says.

Released on BMG, the album track listing is: Watch Out; Pilgrim Brother; Westward Bound; A Pilgrim’s Warning; Sailing Time; The Great Iron Screw; Dear Isles Of England; Saints And Strangers; Foreign Man; Bury Nights; The Digging Song and Mayflower Waltz.

Tickets for Lakeman’s 7.30pm concert in Cast’s Main Space tomorrow (February 5) are on sale at castindoncaster.com or on 01302 303959.