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Interview: Seth Lakeman

[ 16 September 2014 | Print This Post ]
16 September 2014

FOLK singer, songwriter and virtuoso fiddler, Seth Lakeman has successfully helped to steer English folk into the musical mainstream with his high-energy performances and a series of best-selling albums over the last 10 years since he released the Mercury Prize nominated ‘Kitty Jay’ in 2004.

His latest offering, ‘Word of Mouth’, stormed into the charts on its release in February this year with his haunting melodic style and stripped back storytelling straddling the folk tradition his music is steeped in and the contemporary folk movement that he has become such a seminal figure of.

Seth also finds time to be part of The Full English project with the likes of Martin Simpson, Fay Hield and Nancy Kerr who went on to win Best Album and Best Group at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

After a summer of festivals and with an autumn tour of his new album set for October, Gemma Brosnan catches up with Seth Lakeman to find out more.

Gemma: You’ve been playing a summer of festivals across the UK and Europe and are due to headline Windsor Festival on September 19.How’s that going?

Seth: It’s going very well, thanks.

Gemma: How do you find the festival circuit? Is it easy to convert new audiences to your high-octane brand of folk?

Seth: I think festivals are the best place to discover new music and it’s always fun seeing people’s reaction to what we do.

Gemma: Even your slower songs are performed with raw power and infectious energy. How easy is it to maintain that level of intensity over 90 minutes of performing?

Seth: Very hard. I’m pretty exhausted after.

Gemma: Is your frenetic approach a reflection of your personality?

Seth: Yes

Gemma: You have a few solo shows in London and Denmark before you head back out on the road with your band to tour your latest album, ‘Word of Mouth’ in October. What’s the main difference about performing solo versus with a full band and what do you enjoy the most?

Seth: In a solo show you can play a different sort of set. Much slower and more lyrical.

Gemma: For many, their first introduction to you was when you played with your brothers as The Lakeman Brothers – how much impact did this have when trying to establish your own musical identity?

Seth: A huge impact as it’s where we all discovered writing melody and songs.

Gemma: Who would you describe as your biggest influences?

Seth: Tom Mconville, Geoff Lakeman, Chris Newman and Martin Hayes.

Gemma: You’ve toured with The Pogues, Tori Amos, Billy Bragg and The Levellers to name a few – which tour did you enjoy the most?

Seth: The Levellers as they’re great friends.

Gemma: You’ve travelled extensively with your music and fused beats and rhythms from many different countries such as the percussion work on ‘Blood Red Sky’ when you were working with North African drummers in Libya. Which place has had the biggest influence on you musically?

Seth: India had a big influence.

Gemma: You’ve experienced both extremes from folk fans heralding your success to others denigrating your explorations into other sounds – how much does the opinion of purists bother you?

Seth: I think it’s best to keep writing and exploring music from all perspectives.

Gemma: Your latest album, ‘Word of Mouth’ released in February was recorded in North Tamerton Church in Cornwall and you’ve previously recorded in equally alternative locations such as in a coal chamber for ‘More than Money’. How important is the recording location to you and what impact does it have on the finished product?

Seth: I think it’s important to tie subject and sounds together.

Gemma: What’s the overriding emotion you feel when a record is released?

Seth: Anxiety.

Gemma: You spent last summer distilling recorded interviews into narratives to weave through the songs on the album. Who came up with the idea and do you have a favourite story from the interviews?

Seth: It was my idea and thankfully it worked out. It was a huge gamble at the time as I hadn’t done anything like this before. The favourite to interview was Ken Webster, the gypsy traveller.

Gemma: The first single from Word of Mouth, ‘Portrait Of My Wife’ featured on ‘The Full English’ album with other artists including Martin Simpson, Fay Hield and Nancy Kerr. Can you tell us a bit more about that project and how you became involved?

Seth: It’s representing an archive of traditional music and song that’s been collected and presented as an online portal. I’m very proud to be part of it.

Gemma: The album which went on to win Best Album and Best Group at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. How did that feel?

Seth: Great

Gemma: If you could collaborate with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?

Seth: Peter Gabriel or Stephane Grappelli.

Gemma: Where’s the weirdest place you’ve heard your music being played?

Seth: In a toilet in Italy.

Gemma: It’s been ten years since you released the Mercury Prize nominated Kitty Jay in 2004. How much has life changed for you since?

Seth: It’s been very busy, but I feel very lucky.

Gemma: You also recently became the father of twins. How easy is it to combine recording and touring with family life?

Seth: Tough

Gemma: With such a hectic schedule, how do you find time to switch off?

Seth: I don’t really

Gemma: Whose work are you enjoying the most right now?

Seth: Dirk Powell / Walking through Clay.

Gemma: What’s next after the tour?

Seth: Writing, then Christmas.

Seth Lakeman plays Windsor Festival Friday, September 19 at 8pm. For tickets and information go to http://tickets.windsorfestival.com/Sales/events/Friday-19th-September/Seth-Lakeman


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