Seth Lakeman | Folk review

Hard Rock Cafe, Manchester

Seth Lakeman has managed to sell folk to people who buy four CDs a year from the supermarket by creating the musical equivalent of the bodice-ripping blockbuster. The fiddle-playing top 10 star is a dark, brooding presence, something like Heathcliff played by Oliver Tobias. His songs – derived from ancient Dartmoor tales – are full of white knights embracing passionate servants, and romantic tragedies acted out on desolate moorlands, often involving a busty maiden.

Latest album Hearts and Minds shifts towards songs about ordinary working people – there is, presumably, a limited supply of marooned ghosts on Dartmoor after all – and he is seeking to further slay the charts with an even more commercial, rockier sound. Snare drums crack like cannon while Lakeman stomps around the stage. His thumping rhythms seem almost genetically programmed to provoke curious dancing from presumably very wild women.

This mainstream-friendly folk mutation is perhaps closer to the council-funded bands that appear in small towns on Saturdays accompanied by morris dancing than to Kate Rusby or Nick Drake. Elsewhere, he edges ever closer to Scots rockers Runrig and Big Country and, also to the Charlie Daniels Band's 1979 fiddle-duelling smash The Devil Went Down to Georgia. However, with Lakeman's fiddle as hypnotic as the pied piper's, and the man playing with such gusto, it's undeniably compelling. Kitty Jay, delivered with just fiddle and stomping foot, is a thrilling justification of his 2005 Mercury nomination. Then the band rejoin him for more whooping, singing and dancing. It's hard not to suspect that one day Lakeman may need his knights to rescue him from the ghastly fate of being seen as folk's version of Michael Flatley. Nevertheless, it takes a special performer to have an audience chanting "Ooh ooh" at a folk gig, which may be a good thing.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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