The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 14th October
The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury is a west-end style arts venue that usually hosts plays and pantomimes not lively, folk gigs. Unsupported, Seth Lakeman played a three-hour set to a (surprisingly) seated, virtually full, noticeably older crowd as part of Canterbury’s infamous arts and culture festival line-up. Hailed as a prominent driving force behind the revival of the UK Folk music scene over the last ten years, his rise to fame has included collaborations with his brothers, Sam and Sean Lakeman, and a very successful tour supporting the folk-rock band, Levellers.
The set list spanned all six of his albums and was as technically crisp and faultless as the recordings. Perhaps the most impressive part was the sheer quantity of different instruments on stage which all featured at least once during the night. I counted nine guitars, including a double bass and two banjos along with countless other percussion instruments that without a degree in music, anyone would struggle to name.
Lakeman is most often associated with the fiddle (or violin for us mere music mortals) with which he performed one of the most amazing solos I have ever seen. The track was ‘Kitty Jay’ of the album of the same name and until that performance I had genuinely believed it had to have been recorded with two violins. Wow.
But this wasn’t the usual self-indulgent solo folk artist with a spotlight and an ego-trip. The full band included a drummer and three other multi-instrumentalists (one of which was his brother, Sean Lakeman). The crowd was thrilled when Lisbee Stainton joined the stage, a stunning solo artist who played her own share of instruments and produced exquisite harmonies. Nearly every song required a different type of guitar; each person on stage effortlessly played something new and subsequently each song had its own unique, flawless sound.
The stand out aspect of his music is his redefinition of traditional English folk styles. The variety in his songs and his re-telling of old country stories kick him up a notch from the pop sounds of Newton Faulkner or Laura Marling. He is no cliché pop star; his music firmly folk and in a league of its own.
By the end of his performance, everyone was standing and dancing by their seats. When he played his last track, the single ‘Race to be King’, the venue burst alive with energy and the atmosphere was like no other. This was definitely a gig worth going to and whether you usually like folk or not, I’d encourage anyone to see this man live. Fantastic.