Mental note for the future: Remember that folk fans arrive early.
It was the opportunity to see Seth Lakeman tour 'Ballads of the Broken Few' that had me in Norwich, a city I had not visited before. I spent the day taking in the sights and thought I was still in good time, arriving at Norwich Open half an hour before doors open. To my surprise there was already an enormous queue, stretching around a corner and way down the road alongside the venue. Seth Lakeman is a popular performer. Perhaps it was also to do with the free seating. Going solo to gigs has its advantages though and I still found a free seat in the third row.
Seth Lakeman's most recent album is a collaboration with Wildwood Kin, a folk trio from Exeter. That album is a great artistic success in my view. This tour continues the collaboration, with Wildwood Kin also playing a support set.
Wildwood Kin are a trio, however one of the girls was out sick, so sisters, Beth and Emillie Key performed as a duo. It was nice, but I reckon the absence of Meghann Loney was felt. The vocals sounded thin at times, and the sisters were a bit shy and giggly, admitting that Meghann normally does the talking. On the plus side, their songs are strong and I particularly liked the parts where Emillie took up the electric guitar. They finished with a new song, which was especially good and no doubt will sound even better with the band complete.
I have seen Seth Lakeman perform in different set ups over the years (thought he was great solo actually), and his current band is his best yet. The band are Full English collaborator Ben Nicholls on standing bass and concertina, multi instrumentalist Jack Rutter, and super enthusiastic Irish drummer/bodhrán player Cormac Byrne, who played the cajón a lot and hit cymbals with his bare hands! The Wildwood Kin girls joined for the songs off the last album and also provided backing vocals on some of the older work.
It was a very balanced set, encompassing all parts of Seth's solo career. He went right back to 'Freedom fields' for 'Take no Rogues' and included one of his Full English contributions, 'Stand by your Guns'. The Norwich Open is in a former bank building and Seth commented that it felt strange playing 'Poor Man's Heaven' there. 'Portrait of my wife', played acoustically, was a standout moment.
For the 'Ballads of the broken few' songs the band left the stage, and these were performed by Seth and the girls, mostly standing around one microphone. For these songs in particular the theatre setting with the respectfully quiet audience worked well. In my review of the album a while back I already wrote that Seth is to be applauded for continuing to find new ways to present his folk songs. It is a genre in which some musicians could be accused of releasing more of the same with each new album. Seth's hook-up with Wildwood Kin was a very good move.
While the whole show was worthwhile, it was really the last quarter of it that brought things to a higher level. Bruce Springsteen has talked about the "home stretch", when everyone is up on their feet, the biggest hits come out and you clap until your hands are sore. Whilst I would not compare Seth to Bruce, the last six or so songs of his set had that vibe. I suddenly wished I was wearing Wellingtons and standing in a muddy field. 'Lady of the Sea' and 'Kitty Jay' are two extraordinary songs that never fail to make an impact. For 'Lady...' a kind of green glitterball was switched on, creating a rather magical atmosphere. 'Kitty Jay' is a monster of a song. You have to experience it live to know what I am talking about. I get goosebumps every time.
Seth used the word hoedown to describe one of the songs he played on the home stretch. It was also in these songs that Seth the fiddler really got a chance to shine. The audience got up on their feet, which was a relief after being confined to upper-body-chair-dancing. When the show finished my neighbour said, "Beats staying at home watching the telly, innit?" Absolutely.
All in all a fabulous show. Am equally looking forward however to the opportunity to experience this in a field in the summer. Festival bookers, take note!