Folk review: Seth Lakeman, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London
Lakeman deserves his success, but a good storyteller needs to match excitement with soul and emotion, says Tom Hughes

Seth Lakeman came on like a pop star. "I hope you won't stay seated for long," he announced, and soon there were altercations between would-be dancers and officials who clearly hadn't expected such behaviour from a folk audience. There, in a nutshell, is Lakeman's appeal. He may come from a folk background, and write songs based on the often bleak history and stories of his native Devon, but he looks and dresses like a boy-band pinup, and has just notched up a top 10 album. He is the perfect crossover artist.

Lakeman has brought folk to new audiences by taking strong narratives and treating them with relentless attack. He was backed by insistent strumming from his own four-string tenor guitar and more varied violin work, and from a tight acoustic trio playing conventional guitar, double bass and percussion (with a dash of banjo or mandolin). The results were often spectacular, from the furious Take No Rogues to The Hurlers, a stomper about young men being turned to stone for playing sport rather than going to church. There was a drama and urgency that didn't vary even when he slowed down for the declamatory Greed and Gold, or when he played solo, backed by his own foot-stomping violin on Kitty Jay.

All he lacked was variety - not in the instrumentation, but in the tone. He said Solomon Browne was "the most poignant song" on his new album, but this story of the 1981 Penlee lifeboat disaster was treated as yet another rhythmic romp, and the audience clapped along incongruously to this modern tragedy. Lakeman deserves his success, but a good storyteller needs to match excitement with soul and emotion.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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