Seth Lakeman | Lusty Glaze Beach | Newquay | 2 Jun 2013

Sun, Sea, Sand and Seth...

If you check the listings of upcoming concerts for Seth Lakeman the chances are good that a lengthy string of dates will appear, evidence that he and his band continue to be one of the hardest gigging outfits on the live circuit. As if to highlight this, shortly before his most recent jaunt around the country had even started, Lakeman announced an extensive autumn theatre tour to complement his usual string of summer festival dates and his involvement in the English Folk Dance and Song Society's "Full English" concerts later this year. All this activity comes on the back of an intensive Spring tour of Australia, and preparatory work on his seventh album, provisionally entitled "Word Of Mouth", recording of which is expected in the summer.

On Sunday evening, Lakeman wrapped up his Spring tour with something of a homecoming show as part of the magnificently titled Lusty Glaze Sundowner Sessions in Newquay. The idyllic setting for this show was the beach of the picturesque horseshoe shaped cove of Lusty Glaze, the only entry to which is via 133 steep, winding steps down the cliff face. Respect is due by the way to the two fans I saw who made it down - and presumably, back up - on crutches! Outdoor shows always carry a risk of inclement weather, but attendees lucked out in a big way and we were treated to both an excellent concert and a stunning sunset over Newquay Bay.

After opening sets provided by the People's String Foundation and Matthew and Me, Lakeman's band took the stage a little before 9pm opening with "The Hurlers", a song from his "Poor Man's Heaven" album which is based on the Cornish legend about the hurlers caught playing on a Sunday who were transformed into stones as punishment. It was immediately apparent where Lakeman's appeal comes from. Catchy, foot-stomping riffs, and a combination of traditional folk songs, rockier uptempo numbers and soul searching ballads that are woven to great effect with legends and stories from around his native Devon and Cornwall; slain knights, white witches, doomed lifeboats, manhunts over Dartmoor, the dying art of the artisan. Lakeman brings life to such tales in an appealing way.

The biggest change on this tour has seen Lisbee Stainton, a respected performer in her own right, join the band adding guitar, banjo, harmonium and vocals to many of the songs including "The Sender", "Solomon Browne" (about the 1981 Penlee lifeboat disaster) and, especially, to a heartfelt version of "King & Country". Stainton's contributions, especially her sweet vocals, added a new dimension to the band's sound and her current involvement is a very welcome addition.

The evening's set was a pleasing mix of songs that presented selections from each of his six solo albums and Lakeman also paced the set well. Slower, more mellow material such as "Apple Of His Eye" and "Changes" were intelligently mixed with traditional songs like "The White Hare", and "The Colliers", and a slight adjustment to the track order meant that both "The Setting Of The Sun" and "Blood Red Sky" were performed as the sunset out at sea was at its most vivid. As the temperature dropped, Lakeman delivered a salvo that helped ward off the effects of the quickly chilling air. A set closing run of songs that included "Ye Mariners", "Lady Of The Sea", "High Street Rose" (which had elder brother and guitarist Sean Lakeman whirling around the stage like a dervish) and "Kitty Jay" combined with the double hoedown encore of "Blood Upon Copper" and "Race To Be King" had everyone dancing and cheering.

The set's pièce de résistance however remains "Kitty Jay" where the rest of the band quietly slip off stage leaving Lakeman alone, armed just with his fiddle and trusty stomping board. I hope that in years to come this song doesn't become something of a millstone and chore to perform as, occasionally, well known and familiar songs sometimes seem to do for other artists because performed live the song remains an impressive thing to experience. Happily, there is no sign of this being the case and indeed Lakeman seems to be finding new ways of performing it, slowing the song down almost to a standstill before building the energy back up to a string-shredding finale that has him near breathless from the pace and sheer effort of his exertions.

Based on this performance it is easy to see why Lakeman and his band remain such a popular draw. They are able to perform equally adeptly at both seated and standing venues, as well as being perennial favourites on the festival circuit. The band - the aforementioned brother Sean on guitar, double bassist Ben Nicholls, percussionist Cormac Byrne, and Lisbee Stainton are top drawer musicians in their own rights, but together they are a formidable force and really have to be experienced live to fully appreciate. It may be something of a cliché, but they do bring an attractive pop-rock edge to their folk roots and this probably explains their appeal to such a wide audience, including non-folkies.

A special mention has to be made of Lusty Glaze and the folks that run such a smooth ship there. Not only was the location magnificent, it's clear that a lot of physical effort goes in to putting on the Sundowner Sessions. Those steps are unforgiving and everything from instruments, lighting and amps to beer and food has to be hauled up and down by hand. I heard a member of Winter Mountain, an up and coming duo, recently thank an audience for supporting live music by telling them that they were soldiers on the frontline in the war against the likes of Simon Cowell. It was an appealing idea. If you're looking to play your part in this war, Lusty Glaze have further Sundowner sessions planned in the coming weeks with concerts by Show Of Hands, The Levellers and The Proclaimers. Tickets are still available so get them quickly!

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