Rockstar folk fiddler Seth Lakeman plays Oxford this week with a treat for fans
WITH his dynamic stage presence, frantic fiddling and powerful songwriting, few people have done more to make folk music cool again than Seth Lakeman. A rock star English roots artist, Devon’s demon fiddler is a multi-award-winning, and Mercury prize-nominated musical master who packs out venues and headlines festivals. A huge draw here in Oxfordshire, we have welcomed him at Truck, Cornbury and Cropredy festivals and watched in awe as he electrified the O2 Academy (and the Zodiac before it) and the New Theatre with his kinetic fusion of English and Celtic folk and indie-rock.
On Tuesday he returns for his show post-lockdowns, celebrating the 15th anniversary of his debut album Freedom Fields with a gig for SJE Arts at St John the Evangelist Church on Iffley Road. And along with his old faves, he returns with a big, bouncing bag of new tunes.
“We’re really looking forward to coming back to Oxford,” he says. “Freedom Fields was such an important album for me and it really seemed to be my breakthrough album. “I’ve written another record which is a collection of songs I wrote over lockdown. It’s called Make Your Mark.
Hopefully people can hear some familiar songs on Freedom Fields while also looking forward to a new collection of material.” Written during his enforced 18 months off the road, Make Your Mark features 14 powerful new songs including the first single Higher We Aspire. Recorded at Middle Farm Studios in Devon earlier this year as restrictions eased and produced by Seth himself, the album is being released on his own label, Honour Oak Records.
Inspiration for the songs on his 11th studio album came from a range of subjects from the environment to love, death and self-belief. “The pandemic gave me a real determination to come out musically stronger and I really dug deep into myself for this album” says Seth. “Being able to record and play with the band again was really quite spiritual.”
Musicians joining him on the album include long-time bassist Ben Nicholls, who has toured the world with Seth since the early days, plus Benji Kirkpatrick of Bellowhead and Faustus on bouzouki, banjo and mandolin. Plymouth musician Alex Hart adds backing vocals and Toby Kearney, principal percussionist at the Birmingham Conservatoire, is on drums. Seth admits to being a big fan of Oxford. “We’ve always had such a brilliant evening there,” he says.
And he recounts a meeting with Oxford artist Tarrant Anderson – who now plays with Frank Turner’s band and co-runs Vans for Bands at Begbroke, near Woodstock. “I remember playing the Oxford Zodiac many times when I was starting out,” he recalls. “It had one of the best dressing rooms on the circuit.
An engineer there called Tarrant hired us our first proper splitter van for touring. He went on to have one of the biggest fleets of tour buses. “We also played the Town Hall many times which is a completely different venue – a real run through Oxford’s history.
I always love the mighty organ and courthouse there. “I’ve stayed a couple of times in the Oxford jail, which had been turned into a hotel [Malmaison Hotel]. “It was always a lot of fun waking up in a prison cell.” Freedom Fields, which followed the acclaimed Kitty Jay, includes the hit singles Lady of the Sea and The White Hare, and won Seth Singer of the Year and Best Album at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
It was followed by Poor Man’s Heaven, Hearts & Minds and Tales from the Barrel House – which was recorded down a mine at Morwellham Quay in Devon, Seth not only wrote, sung and played all the instruments on every track, he also recorded and mixed the whole album himself. Recent releases include Word of Mouth, Ballads of the Broken Few, which included top 20 hit Meet Me in the Twilight, The Well Worn Path and last year’s A Pilgrim’s Tale – which marked four centuries since The Mayflower left the UK.
“I’m really excited to be able to share the whole Freedom Fields album for its 15th anniversary and new songs from Mark Your Mark,” he says. “Its great to be back out on the road again with the band.” Seth Lakeman plays SJE Arts on Iffley Road, Oxford on Tuesday. Doors 7pm.
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