Wednesday 18 February 2015



If your future husband, musical partner and father of your children lives at the other end of the country then it can take a pretty strong talisman to bring the two parties together.

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
Fortunately for Kathryn Roberts she discovered the secret - raffle tickets.
Well, to be honest, there was a folk festival and a great deal of musical talent involved too.
"At the time I was working with Kate Rusby and Sean was working with his two brothers. We were all playing at Sidmouth Folk Festival in Devon,” admits singer/songwriter Roberts.
"Kate and I were also doing a bit of stewarding and selling raffle tickets. We kept pestering the boys, they didn’t buy any, but we ended up being good friends, and we just kept bumping into each other around the festival circuit.
"Kate and I went off to a festival in Portugal and we needed a band so we thought, ah the Lakemans, a ready-made band. We asked them to come and eventually that gave birth to Equation," admits the former Barnsley lass who now lives in Tavistock with husband Sean and their twin daughters Lily and Poppy.
Equation were a successful folk rock band who were picked up by a major label. They released four albums the first, Hazy Daze in 1998 and the last Return to Me in 2003. The line up was Roberts, husband Sean Lakeman and his brother Seth, Darren Edwards and Iain Goodall and later on they were joined by Irish songstress Cara Dillon
By the time they had reached their fourth album Sam, who subsequently went on to marry Dillon, had also joined the band. 
Sean, the eldest of the Lakeman brothers, along with Roberts was a driving force behind it and wrote or co-wrote nearly every song on the first two albums. Although still young, Lakeman was already a seasoned musician playing and touring with his brothers from a young age and he admits to being tremendously fortunate to be part of Equation.
"I am amazing lucky really, it was a brilliant band to be a part of. Being in Equation was an incredible experience, to be signed to such a major record label at such an early age," explained Lakeman. I remember being given a pile of records by the label, including Nick Drake, back when he wasn’t fashionable, and Tim Buckley and all these people we had never heard of. The label said this is great music, you should hear this. It broadened our musical horizons massively.
"Then being given the chance to go out and tour the States for five or six years, that was just an incredibly experience and we count ourselves very blessed to be part of that band.
"It was one of those folk rock bands which carried on that tradition from the 70s, with all the members going on and contributing to the folk and roots scene of Great Britain, it was a significant band."
But when Equation came to an end Lakeman and Roberts came to the conclusion it was time to get back to their folk roots.
Sean Lakeman
"We had been on the road for so long with the big sound, with drums, electric guitars and big stages that we felt we had lost touch with where our roots were. So it was a conscious decision to play British folk clubs, because we are still very passionate about what folk clubs stand for, and what they have given to us over the years," said Lakeman.
One thing Lakeman didn't have while playing and touring with Equation was a young family, so how does he and Kathryn now fit touring around them?
"We work it very much around school times; we have some very willing grandparents and we are very careful about juggling things. We are quite adept at it, we have been doing it for some time now.
“Sometimes our kids come on the road with us and sell the CDs, and they can wrap up the cables, they are quite adept at the touring lifestyle," he added.

Are they following their parents in showing interest in music?
"They are sort of, one of them got a drum kit for Christmas and they like to sing with their mum, but we don't push them or anything and they don't do formal music lessons."
Twins Poppy and Lily were responsible for the impressive and slightly eerie video to the single Child Owlet, from their parents’ new album, Tomorrow Will Follow Today. 
The girls being born had a massive impact on the couple’s work together which brought mixed blessings, especially for their mother.
"It was quite a difficult pregnancy and with twins as well. So I was ordered early on not to work, otherwise I would have put myself and the twins at risk," admits Roberts.
Kathryn Roberts
“So it was kind of enforced before they were born and then, once they were born, I just didn’t have the time or the energy.
“As I look back on it now, I consider myself very lucky. I was able to be a stay-at-home mum because so many aren’t given that opportunity. I think I am very grateful for it now, because it was a precious time and I think it did me good to have some time out of music, so when I came back, it was with a real fresh enthusiasm.
"For the first two years of their lives I had to focus on them because they needed the attention. There was no room in my brain for music and lyrics and those kind of things, but I sang a lot to the kids.
“At the time Sean was working hard with Seth, he was producing his album and touring with him. On the one hand it was great, because it afforded me the time to stay at home with the kids but also it was very hard because he was away a lot."

Did the young mother ever think in terms of permanently giving up music in favour of being a full-time parent?
"I think it changed my outlook on the world and my approach to things. My self-confidence grew, partly to do with getting older and being more comfortable with myself, and partly to do with having responsibility for other people, it changes the way you think. Prior to that I would be very shy or nervous about bringing new ideas to the table, even to Sean; just because you are laying out a little part of yourself to scrutiny.
"But all through that time we were getting phone calls asking when are you going to start touring? and when are you going to get back gigging? when can we book you? when are you coming back?
“And we kept saying not yet, I can’t do it yet.
"I think the girls were about three, three and a half when we did our first gig at Shrewsbury Folk Festival and then we did the Cecil Sharp Project and it was doing that which kick started me into wanting to get back into writing and singing again. I remember coming back from that, feeling enthused and ready to start the whole process again.

Cara Dillon who was part of Equation
So was it difficult to get back on the music stage?
"Once I had made that realisation that I was ready, it was brilliant; it just flowed very easily and it wasn’t hard to get back into. We just got stuck into recording and setting up gigs," admits Roberts.
"We worked out a work/life balance which we couldn’t have done without mine and Sean’s parents because it does take some juggling. We are very fortunate, they are very supportive and we have some brilliant friends in our village who help us so much.”
Evolving that work/life balance was another example of the teamwork which is clearly such a big part of their relationship.
“We work really well together,” confirms Lakeman, who is from Devon. “Kathryn is really creative and good at coming up with sparks and ideas, and I am quite good at fleshing them out and bringing them together as a package and giving them a sound.
“We work well as a team in all aspects, not just in the song writing, but in the live gigs and all sorts. We’ve both got different strengths and we play to those individually.
“I am very good as a sounding board and Kathryn is very good at sparking ideas. For example the song about the 52 hertz whale, (a track from their latest album Tomorrow Will Follow Today) came from a science journal she was reading.”
Roberts' voracious appetite for reading appears to be the basis for many of their songs.
“I never actively set out to look for a subject for songs,” admits the former Barnsley lass who now lives in Tavistock with her husband and their daughters. “I do read an awful lot and I am very undiscerning. I tend to hoover up everything I can, whether it’s online, in a library or just with our own books at home.
“There is always something which triggers an idea; makes me think ‘Ooh, I wonder if we could give that a little more depth, could that become a song?’ I have never consciously thought, ‘Today I will look for an interesting story that we can turn into a song and that will be today’s job done’, I have never been able to work like that.
“At home I have a big folder of ideas and half-formed stories for songs, and I tend to sit down with Sean and say right, is there anything which catches your fancy or piques your interest?
“Then we take it from there.
“We have both got to feel excited and enthused, because if one of us is only half-heartedly into something you don’t get a really good response and, you’re not really giving it your all. I have so many ideas in this folder that I don’t care if Sean says. ‘Nah, not that one and turns the page’, it’s fine, there’s another one there and I am quite happy for it to work in that way.”
Seth Lakeman
Once that process is started this is where Lakeman’s strengths for producing come into play. He has been in the music industry since he was a child. 
The elder brother of Seth and Sean, he has been an integral part of what many would class as a folk dynasty, he was instrumental in getting Seth's solo career up and running,  as well as being a highly respected musician in his own right.
Sean has produced their latest album, released on February 23, and his experience and passion for what he does means he is in demand in the studio and is respected throughout the industry. Perhaps one of the reasons for this that when it comes to putting tracks together, going through the motions is not on his agenda.
“I am passionate about what I do, and if you are making a record then it’s all consuming, so unless you feel that passion about the music, or artist, or material then you are not doing yourself or the artist justice.
“I enjoy just bringing out better performances from people, that’s what’s satisfying, and to be able to take people to places where they didn’t think they could go by themselves.”

Now that the album is complete and about to be released what are their favourite tracks?
The new album
"That’s very hard," complains Roberts. "That’s like asking to choose your favourite child." But after some thought she finally nails it down.
"I think A Song to Live By. For very personal reasons, not just because they are things we want to say to our little girls but they are the sort of things we want to say to everyone whether child or adult.
"I would like everyone to live by the things I have written, I would like to make myself live by them but it’s not always easy.
"The first three or four months of performing it, it was very difficult to get to the end of it. Sometimes I would get a bit of a wobble.”

And Lakeman's favourite?
"Probably Tomorrow Will Follow Today, the title track. There is such apathy around today and British folk music has a good tradition of being quite political but I think there's a gap, and that song says a lot."

Tomorrow Will Follow Today is released on the Iscream label on February 23 and will be available from the duo's website, by digital download and through Proper Music.

Roberts & Lakeman, supported by Hattie Briggs, are at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham on February 22 at 8pm, doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £10 but may incur a fee if booked online.
They are also playing The Convent, Stroud, on March 28, The Artrix, Bromsgrove on April 20, The Courtyard Arts Centre Hereford on April 22 and Stourport Civic Hall, Stourport on April 25.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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