Fresh from his time as fiddle player with Robert Plant’s Strange Sensation, Seth Lakeman recently released his ninth album, The Well Worn Path. Though marketed as a ‘back-to-basics’ approach for the folk star, his new music is heavily influenced by the genre-mashing experience he’s had performing with the former Led Zeppelin frontman.
Seth’s live performance at the Junction in November paid testament to this influence. The close-harmony, Americana concept behind his ‘Ballads of the Broken Few’ tour in 2016 now takes a rougher, blues-ey path with a new line-up of musicians in support. His brother Sean Lakeman – whose rhythm guitar helped define the sound of Seth’s early albums – is away touring with wife Kathryn Roberts, leaving the post to be filled by electric guitarist Kit Hawes. That’s right, an electric guitar at a Seth Lakeman show! The traditional percussion of former collaborator Cormack Byrne is replaced by a traditional drum kit too, further emphasising a folk-rock aesthetic akin to Fairport Convention.
The set began with The Well Worn Path’s opener, ‘Bright Smile’, a brooding opener about a traveller haunted by a former acquaintance. Seth’s balladry is enhanced by Kit’s electric guitar, which soon becomes the focal instrument of the entire evening. The interplay between the two musicians is a sight to see, not just in new tracks like ‘She Blamed Him’ or ‘Fitzsimmon’s Fight’ but in old catalogue favourites such as ‘Poor Man’s Heaven’ and ‘Solomon Browne’.
Seth’s live shows have an interesting duality – his 2016 Corn Exchange appearance was a ‘seated’ affair, but his Junction show was all ‘standing’. This seemed to impact everything from the set-list he chose – full of stomping folk-rock – to how involved the crowd became in the show. Sing-along sections of ‘The Colliers’ and ‘Portrait of my Wife’ showed how accessible Seth’s melodies can be for these crowds – it will be interesting to see how the experience of his ‘seated’ tour compares next year.
The final third of the set was reserved for the hoe-down songs, with ‘Last Rider’ and ‘Drink ‘Til I’m Dry’ – featuring support act Martin Harley on lap steel guitar – getting the Lakeman Faithful dancing at the front. The standout performance had to be ‘Kitty Jay’, a poignant yet kinetic ballad in which Seth’s fiddle playing was so intense, you wondered if his instrument would make it through the song, let alone the set!
Support was provided by lap steel guitarist and singer-songwriter Martin Harley. His natural affinity for audience interaction was evident, his humour juxtaposed by – in his words – ‘miserable’ songs about unrequited love and distress! His lap steel playing was fantastic – given the nature of Seth’s recent diversions into Americana, Martin found a captive audience in the Junction, should he ever return to Cambridge.
Words by James Proctor