Seth Lakeman –
a word of mouth success
2014 has been quite a year for Devon-based singer and multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman. His album Word of Mouth was very well received and he also had a key role in the award-winning The Full English project. He’s clearly not a man short of ideas. Shire Folk caught up with him just before he set out on a nationwide tour.
SF: With Word of Mouth and The Full English you’ve had quite a year.
SL: It has been, yeah. It’s been very busy. There’s been a lot going on – home and away – but I’ve had a great year. With Word of Mouth, it’s been quite ambitious, but people seem to get it. I wasn’t sure how much we were going to get from the interviews, but it seems to have resonated and people have picked up on these characters and that was the point. That was the idea behind it and I’m glad it’s had the response it has.
SF: The deluxe edition with the additional interview CD really makes it. It puts the album in context.
SL: That was the one I wanted everyone to have really. The label was concerned over costs obviously, but we laboured hard, myself and the radio producer, to get those voices edited right and having that journey over the instrumentals just makes it more powerful. I’m really quite proud of that. It worked incredibly well. Better than I expected.
SF: Did you have to put a call out or how did you come across the interviewees?
SL: Do you know what, I did? Two and a half years ago I went on Radio Devon and asked people to get in contact and nobody did! So I did try a call out. I’m quite gregarious and I like getting out and chatting to people and I’ve lived in the local area for a long time and I know lots of people – from farmers to soldiers and firemen. All walks of life. So I just started chatting. There was a local historian and I remembered seeing an archive interview with the last surviving witness of Operation Tiger, so I searched for him and he kindly gave me an interview. Others were a bit more spontaneous. Over a two-year period I collected a lot of interviews, but the ones that made it are the ones that I felt were the most powerful in terms of their voices and what they had to say.
SF: In our review of Word of Mouth [see issue SF130] we said that it marked ‘a move from folk style to folk substance’. Do you think that’s fair?
SL: Yeah that does seem to encompass what it’s about. There’s a certain amount of substance to it. I think you have to hear that second CD to understand that. I think there’s a lot of people who bought Word of Mouth that probably still haven’t quite got inside the actual concept and hopefully they’ll discover it again. That idea of journalistic writing; it’s almost like an educational thing where you get inspired by something and you write something which preserves it. I think that’s what I was trying to get across.
SF: You’ve been on a journey yourself – from the kitchen table with Punch Bowl and Kitty Jay to a major label and back to an independent with the opportunity to record in unusual places [Word of Mouth was recorded in a church]. How was that journey for you?
SL: I think learning about the business has been so important. In the major label days I felt I was forced to write with other people, but I learnt so much from that. So I guess you grab different elements from different parts of that decade. It’s been quite a winding journey, but I do feel where it’s landed now is settled. It’s got an honesty to it and it’s probably the most natural it’s been for a long time. After Barrel House and Word of Mouth it’s showing people hopefully what I like to do as an artist. Experimenting with folk-rock … I’d like to do that again, you know. I’ve been writing lots of instrumental tunes, going back to when I used to write with my brothers, so I’ve been enjoying that. Also, it might be nice to ditch the instruments and concentrate on my voice and work with a rock band. There’s all sorts of ideas going on in my head.
SF: I saw you during your ‘Folk Zeppelin’ period …
SL: Yes, it was quite Zeppelin-y. It was a very cool band. It had a great rhythm to it and there was a sort of punch to it, a real drive and the vocals were different … it was a whole different approach. I’d enjoy doing something like that again.
SF: Your band has expanded and, especially with the addition of Lisbee Stainton on vocals, it feels like it’s changed the sound. There’s now more reflective songs like ‘Labour She Calls Home’ and ‘Bells’, alongside the more muscular songs.
SL: There’s a different colour, I think. Another colour has been added and exploring the style of songwriting that goes along with that. She’s been a great asset to the sound we’re doing. She’s been on the tour and it’s been great working with her – she’s an amazing singer. There’s a harmonium that we’ve brought in as well. So, yeah, it feels like it’s matured a bit. It’s sometimes hard to hear it from the middle of it all.
SF: Haven’t you changed guitars as well, from the tenor to the six string?
SL: I do play the six string a bit, but I do play the tenor still. I’ve added another one to the instrument bank! And the bouzouki, of course, just to confuse everyone.
SF: So after a church, what comes next?
SL: Difficult to know where to go after a church – the pub perhaps! It could be a straight instrumental record in a more acoustic setting. It’s almost all ready, it’s just having the time to find the right space to record it properly. If it doesn’t happen early next year, it’ll be towards the summer to get it ready. Shouldn’t be too much to do. I’ve been writing it for years now. It’d also be nice to collaborate with a girl songwriter … maybe an American songwriter or someone like that.
SF: Did working on The Full English give you a taste for more collaborative work?
SL: I’ve been going through that archive a lot recently, printing off broadsides. There’s so much stuff … a lifetime of work there. It’s overwhelming almost. I’ve enjoyed getting into that and there may be a record there. Maybe a more traditional record. Like Freedom Fields or Kitty Jay, where it’s based round lyrics that have already been set.
Word of Mouth is out now.