LIVE REVIEW: Seth Lakeman at Union Chapel, London

Seth Lakeman

In 2005 Seth Lakeman was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for his sophomore LP Kitty Jay.  The following year, Freedom Fields was released, outselling its predecessor. 2021 marks 15 years since Freedom Fields' release, which was the primary motivator of this tour.

Seth divided his set into two halves beginning by playing new material from his forthcoming Make Your Mark LP, which included "Side by Side", "Coming for You Soon", and the upbeat yet equally melancholy "Higher We Aspire" in the first. Whilst the antithesis of Damon Albarn, like Albarn at The Globe, Seth demonstrated how to fit ones sound and harmoniously setlist with the venue.

His latest music video, "Higher We Aspire", live at Exeter Cathedral, saw Seth and his four-piece band perfectly synchronise with the Cathedral. As with Exeter Cathedral, Seth quickly synchronised with the late 19th-century Gothic revival style Union Chapel. The contrasts of the lighting that illuminated the stained glass windows were mesmerising, and the remaining darkness captured the mood of the first six songs, which Lakeman himself described as "dark and depressing". The Union Chapel undoubtedly felt the darkness of these songs, which included "The Shoals of Herring" (initially recorded by the late Ewan MacColl), "The Bold Knight", and "Blood Red Sky" telling tales about "a tall, dark figure is on the loose with big sharp teeth to bite the truth".  Nonetheless, the audience was undoubtedly also captivated and elated.

Coming from the West Country, the events in this area influenced Seth's songs, including "Solomon Browne", the name of the Penlee lifeboat whose crew were lost attempting to rescue that on-board a stricken coaster on 19 December 1981. Whether it was Lakeman reminding his audience that the 40th anniversary was approaching, this Poor Man's Heaven track, albeit sombrely, lifted the spirits of those in the Union Chapel and those lost at Mount's Bay.

As promised, with the second set, Seth played Freedom Fields back to back in the original track order. The West Country, especially Plymouth, was a focal point of much of this LP. Ironically the actual Freedom Fields Park in Plymouth gained its name after the defeat of the French by the British in 1403, which also includes a Siege Monument commemorating the 1643 victory of Parliamentarian forces over the Royalists after Royalist forces initially besieged Plymouth. Seth appropriately covered these events in a song appropriately called "1643" on track nine. Whether it was because this song stirred up centuries-old resentment of Royalist aggression; the emotion and willing audience of the almost one thousand capacity Union Chapel passionately sang in unison to the lines "These four walls are at the heart of the kingdom" when prompted by Lakeman.

The most interesting thing about the Freedom Fields set was that despite Seth and his four-piece band playing the violin, bouzouki, harmonium, tenor guitar, and upright bass to adroitly pitched cacophonies; it was the songs that Seth took on solo whilst playing a kick drum and violin including "Lady of the Sea" which earned him the most grandiose standing ovations.

Freedom Fields demonstrated how traditional folk songs, including "The White Hare" and "The Colliers", could be reimagined for modern times and how events from two centuries ago can influence one's songwriting which "Take No Rouges" did for Seth.  By stripping out some of the more enhanced production from Freedom, Fields live and allowing Alex Hart to join him on vocals, Seth proved that this LP, as well as his folk-rooted sound, was no passing fad in a short-lived folk revival. Seth demonstrated that folk music is eternal and everlasting, and he will undoubtedly inspire future folk musicians as Ewan MacColl did.

As well as playing all 12 tracks from Freedom Fields in the second set, Seth also played several classics, including "Kitty Jay" and "Race to Be King", which concluded the set. Throughout both sets, Seth proved he was a true band leader. With a confident yet subtle swagger (indirectly unconsciously inspired by the 1960s The Bird/Chicken dance), he galvanised his band and the audience and illuminated the Union Chapel.  As long as Seth has a place of worship to play live and the West Country to inspire his songwriting, he will always prove unstoppable. Therefore, it was no surprise that his 2020 live LP was recorded at St Andrew's Church in Plymouth.

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