Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Live review

Town Hall, Birmingham

Take a wooden box, a few strands of wire, a stick and some horsehair, give it to a virtuoso fiddle player and then sit back and watch Seth Lakeman work his magic.

Seth Lakeman at Town Hall, Birmingham
OK, his fiddle is probably worth a king's ransom but the magic is priceless as he slices across his first instrument like a scout trying to start a fire with two sticks.
The Devonshire singer’s Word of Mouth tour arrived in the second city with the thumping beat of The Courier from the aforementioned album.
Lakeman was bent double in semi-shadow sawing at his fiddle before his distinct and warbling voice came over the top of the sound of his instrument which had the cadence of a machine gun but spraying notes instead of bullets. Then he did one of his many changes swapping the fiddle for the guitar. His voice was much more shrill this time as he filled the ornate town hall with the sound of Take No Rogues from his Freedom Fields album. 
The strings took no less of a hammering though as his singing was undergirded by Lisbee Stainton on the harmonium and co-musician from The Full English, Ben Nicholls on his familiar double bass.
Lakeman was mixing his repertoire up early with one from TFE Stand By Your Guns. He had already swapped his instrument again this time sending out the tinnier sound of the bouzouki to accompany his singing. 
He really let his voice off the leash as much as his playing creating a wailing style of singing.
His first slow one was a song he wrote for his grandfather about his exploits in World War Two. King & Country, another one from his Freedom Fields album, was an emotionally charged song where Lakeman's voice was prominent with minimal music and the gentle harmonising of Stainton, it was one the crowd especially appreciated.
Seth Lakeman and Lisbee Stainton

Back on his number one instrument he used a bluegrass mountain style sound to accent his tribute to Jim Radford a war veteran who wrote the poignant and moving Shores of Normandy.
Lakeman did it justice too, singing with passion and emotion with the gentle, unobtrusive  rasping of his fiddle giving it an extra edge. His voice echoed around the impressive acoustics of the hall which gave it an eerie quality. He finished it off with the groans of his fiddle.
Sticking with the military theme, Lakeman thought it was about time the audience got involved and 1643 seemed the one to get the appreciative crowd singing along although it wasn't a roaring success. The gathering seemed quite happy to watch the master at work.
Coming back to the tour's eponymous album his tribute to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Each Man, was a hard stomping sound reminiscent of a call to arms.
Nicholls' growling and blues slide sound built the tension and successfully created the feeling of something about to explode as Lakeman told the story of the those who earned a place in the history books for standing up for their rights and being persecuted for it. Lakeman perfectly captured that sense of brooding determination while adding a tinge of sadness to the harmony.
He felt it was time to lighten up a little with one from his Barrelhouse album, Apple of his Eye, about cidermaking and of course drinking too. The gentle lazy ballad matched the feeling of apples ripening in the summer sun and was carried along by a clock like ticking melody as he played pizzicato.
In complete contrast, this gave way to Bold Knight from one of his earliest albums, Kitty Jay, which had a full and throbbing sound and again Lakeman's signature sawing of the notes from his fiddle to scatter them across the packed hall.
Stainton was brought upstage for what is one of Lakeman's most popular tunes White Hare and her sweet but strong voice complemented his singing beautifully. She even gave it an ethereal quality with her improvised tones.
By now the all-seated audience were itching to get out up on their feet and with The Colliers Lakeman finally let them off the leash and there was dancing in the aisles and all around. The choppy sound lending itself perfectly to people stomping and leaping about. 
Lakeman was determined to keep them on their feet, pulling out an extended and increasingly manic version of the Lady of the Sea.
As far as Lakeman was concerned the crowd's blood was up and he was keeping at that way. He brought out support act Kim Churchill who laid into the Last Rider with his harmonica.
Lakeman let them off the hook slightly for a while dueting with Stainton for Portrait of My Wife but still getting the audience in on the chorus. Once again his bluegrass rasping sound gave the song a strong emotional element quite separate from the touching lyrics. No Lakeman concert would be the same without him going out with the incredible showing of his virtuoso skill on the fiddle with Kitty Jay. 
His playing gets so manic you almost expect his instrument to start smoking and set off the sprinklers at any second but of course the crowd loved every second of it and weren't letting him go anywhere without an encore.
Churchill was brought out again for the big finale which included Blood Upon the Copper starting off at normal pace but Lakeman being Lakeman carried on into a manic hoe down which the fans lapped up. Lakeman and his band went out with a real barnstorming version of Poor Man's Heaven.

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