- 04 Dec 17
The Redoubtable Mr. Robert Plant Brings His Magical Musical Caravan To Town. Stowaway: Pat Carty
The idea of a particular kind of English (or Irish) folk singer – Aran jumper, “homely looking”, finger in the ear, eyes closed, recounting London’s cholera outbreak of 1832 - is hardly one you could apply to Seth Lakeman. Well, perhaps the cholera outbreak. This handsome young man, “he’s putting the sex into something inherently sexless”, opines Kíla’s Brian Hogan across the top of a few intermission drinks, is here to sell the kind of shanties you might hear in a Patrick O’Brien novel to the masses.
Accompanied only by a variety of self-powered stringed instruments – fiddle, bouzouki, and tenor guitar (a four stringed instrument, usually tuned CGDA, known as the fifths tuning, allowing for lots of open notes and moveable chords), Lakeman’s set can be divided into three streams. He carries on the old folk tradition of “news songs”, think of the many blues songs that deal with the Great Mississippi flood of 1927, by remembering the Penlee lifeboat disaster of 1981 where sixteen lives were lost off the Cornish coast in ‘Solomon Browne’. There are love songs such as ‘Silver Threads Among The Gold’ and the gorgeous ‘Portrait Of My Wife’, which would make even the most inveterate landlubber long to quit this cursed king’s navy and sail home to his best lass. But it is the legends and stories of his native Devon and Cornwall that really bring things to life. ‘The Hurlers’ tells the story, true, apparently, of the Cornish men who were turned to stone as punishment for playing the game on a Sunday, the three stone circles still standing near the village of Minions on Bodmin Moor in east Cornwall. ‘The Bold Knight’ is a tale of doomed love, and resultant death, upon the moors and, best of all, ‘Kitty Jay’ – a servant girl is raped, in the early nineteenth century by the farmer’s son and commits suicide by hanging herself, flowers continue to appear mysteriously on her grave, put their either by the ghost of her lover, or the Cornish elves, known as piskies. You don't get much of this in the top ten. It’s an eye opening set and, thankfully, a world away from the currently in vogue new folk by the likes of that crowd whose name rhymes with ‘hokum’.
Lakeman, a fully-fledged member of Plant’s band, The Sensational Space Shifters, is an obvious choice for support. Plant has had one foot in the folk tradition for his entire career - Led Zeppelin III, with it’s acoustic numbers conceived on hilltop overlooking the Dyfi valley in Wales is, for all intents and purposes, a folk album, and the one from the glory years that Plant will dip into most tonight – but he’s never been content to just look back. Almost unique amongst his contemporaries in rock’s second generation, he has insisted on moving forward. Imagine, if you can, turning down the equivalent of a small country’s GDP in order to follow your own path. Even if you dislike Plant’s music, you have to admire him for that.