Interview Seth Lakeman: ‘There’s An Undeniable Magic Between Families’

Louise Morris chats cheesy chips, fiddle battles and, ahem, wombats.

Seth Lakeman’s folk troubadour style has been evolving long before the recent plethora of fiddle wielding indie bands. Dartmoor bred Lakeman’s musical endeavours began with a family affair when he formed The Lakeman Brothers but he embarked on a solo career in 2002 to much critical acclaim. Resolutely devoted to his Devonshire hometown, he acts almost as a musical historian charting local legends and the daily lives of the Dartmoor working class. His latest release is no exception; ‘Tales From The Barrel House’ is possibly his most complexly recorded album yet, involving trips down to a local coal mine and the use of traditional blacksmithing tools for percussion.

Seth Lakeman has just embarked on an intense European tour schedule, but DIY managed to catch him in a brief moment of respite to chat cheesy chips, fiddle battles and, ahem, wombats.

It seems that you are hitting just about every UK folk festival this summer (Derby Folk Fest, Solfest, Bakewell etc). I’ve heard you once played a village festival for a bowl of cheesy chips – were a lot of cheese smothered fried potato goods proffered your way ahead of these summer dates?

Yes, cheesy chips, of course, or a reasonable tasting pasty - for the right price.

The likes of you and Andrew Bird have both had, what seems to be, an almost instinctive relationship with music, having been immersed in it from such an early age and taught to play the violin – do you think this instinctive element has infused itself within your music?

If you’ve surrounded yourself by something so much I believe it becomes instinctive. I was lucky enough to soak up all the music around me.

Do you think there’s an audible difference between musicians who grow up within a musical family and those who forge their musical path later and more independently?

I think there’s an undeniable magic between families when they create music together.

With the increase in popularity of fiddle toting musicians can you imagine that this will have a knock on affect inspiring kids to take up the instrument in schools?

I hope so. I know all acoustic instruments are having real increase in popularity now

You once had a fiddle off with the Levellers’ fiddler Jonathan Sevink – any other famous fiddlers you fancy taking on?

I lost so it’s best to back down early!

A lot of your songs are narrative and historical do you feel this is a conscious choice – to become a chronicler rather than to comment on the everyday and personal?

It is a choice to write about historical characters. I’ve always found people and places a great inspiration for me.

And is this linked to the demands of the genre you’re most often associated with (folk)?

I think acoustic/folk instruments lend themselves to content of characters and community.

Do you feel a certain allegiance to, and duty to write songs about people working in professions in the past (blacksmithing, mining) that may not have been commemorated in this way before, particularly as the tales are local to your hometown and its history?

I’ve always been interested in my local environment past and present and ‘Barrel House’ are just a few of the stories I dug up. There are many more.

In a way it seems the tracks are protest songs – have you ever deliberately written a protest song aimed at a more topical issue?

I did write ‘Hearts & Minds’ about the financial crash and the way it affected people. I think ‘Tales From The Barrel House’ has political presence within it.

Much has been made of the innovative way you recorded your album in the press, especially ‘More Than Money’ being recorded down a coal mine, after that experience are you more inspired to tackle other unconventional recording spaces?

Recording with one surround sound microphone has really brought a lot more out of some of the instruments. I would love to do something with this mic again. Not down a copper mine though!

Or even a gig in a similar setting? If you could play absolutely anywhere with no restrictions where would you play?

Back at the Minack Theatre

I saw you took part in the St. Pancras Station sessions – how was that? Must’ve been weird with all the bemused commuters passing by?

I had to stop each time the Eurostar pulled away.

We had a look at the Youtube community’s comments on a few of your videos, let’s see what you make of them.

‘Lady of the Sea’:
mythology010: “Watching this video, I’m always reminded of fiddler on the roof.”

Seth: Fiddler on the hoof!
iLikesFenders: “Matt Damon!”

S: If only!

And these followed the video for ‘Kitty Jay’:
annariversmohan: “I hope he’s not actually playing his violin out in that rain - it’ll warp, and that’d be a shame…”

S:The glue did fade and violin had to be mended
Palthera: “He lives up the road from me and he went to my school he’s a cool guy but he chased my bf with a piece of wood”

S: my skateboard maybe!?
wellthisjustsucks: “I’ve heard he eats bats for fun!”

SL: Wombats

Seth Lakeman’s new album ‘Tales From The Barrel House’ is out now.

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