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on Mon, 25 Feb 2019
As a native of Devon, folk singer-songwriter Seth Lakeman is planning to mark an important historical landmark for the county next year.
“The most recent project I’ve been working on is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower, the Pilgrim Fathers’ boat, and their journey over to the New World,” explains Seth. “So I’m writing the music for a theatre show that’s going to happen in June next year.”
The Puritans who became known as the Pilgrim Fathers set sail on the Mayflower from Plymouth in September 1620. By the end of that year, they had established the ‘Plimoth Plantation’, one of the earliest English settlements in North America.
Lakeman has ambitious plans to mark their momentous journey: “We’ll call it The Pilgrims’ Tale, and it will be music with visuals - there’ll be narration in between some of the songs - but the actual theatre show itself will be a big 80-person performance. It’s a bit more of an epic, and we’ll have a spin-off album alongside it.”
Instead of following the usual pattern of presentation for a show - a West End debut followed by a tour of provincial theatres - Seth is hoping to take the production on a very special and unique route: “We’ll pick the 11 towns and cities that the Puritans came from. We’re going to be quite specific about it, so it’ll include Nottingham, Leiden, in Holland - where they spent time - Dartmouth, Southampton, Boston, Darlington and Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. It’ll be quite an unusual tour; not the usual venues.”
And like the Pilgrim Fathers, Seth is hoping to head across the Atlantic: “Fingers crossed, it’ll have a run in Boston in Massachusetts. That would be fantastic.
“When I was touring America, I met the Wampanoag tribe, the descendants of the original Native American Indians who met the settlers, and they’re going to be part of the theatre show. So there’s a lot that’s going into it to cross the sea, cross the divide and make sense in Massachusetts, as well as over here in Plymouth. It’s a big moment.”
Before he follows in the Pilgrims’ footsteps, though, Seth will continue to promote his most recent album, The Well Worn Path, which was released on Cooking Vinyl late last year.
“It’s done incredibly well. The way people are receiving and responding to it is really positive. It’s gone down very well, so it’s certainly an exciting time, with a brand new line-up. It’s always good to keep the cogs turning, keep things evolving, and it feels like we’re doing that with this new band.
“It’s a really strong band, so we’re quite excited by it all. There’s a guitarist, double bass player, drummer and myself. It’s very groovy, quite uplifting at moments, and it’s a very good show, we hope.”
Seth reveals that the recruitment of Kit Hawes on guitar helped to influence the overall sound of The Well Worn Path.
“We were exploring the [Fender] Stratocaster guitar - that Richard Thompson sound and the way he writes within it - and it’s certainly the sound that will come out in Shrewsbury and Birmingham. It’s probably the coolest sound we’ve ever had.”
The Well Worn Path is Seth’s ninth album release. His second album, Kitty Jay, earned him a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2005, alongside some notable company.
“It was a big year. Coldplay, KT Tunstall, the launch of Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party’s first record - I was up against some big acts.”
The eventual winner of the award was Antony And The Johnsons, but Seth acknowledges his nomination as a real turning point in his career: “The Mercury seemed more of an event back then than it does now. I was performing, and it was the biggest step in my career. I’ve had some incredible hurdles, but that was the one that broke my career.”
Seth has since shared the stage with the likes of Billy Bragg, Jethro Tull, Mumford & Sons and the Levellers. More recently he’s added the name of one of rock’s legendary frontmen to his list of collaborators - Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant: “He’s a bit like a father figure now. Robert is someone who’s a massive inspiration and a very energetic, creative force who you can only look up to. I feel quite honoured to be part of his whole setup and to be able to call him a mate. He’ll definitely come to some of the gigs that we do on this tour.”
If Plant decides to rock up in Shrewsbury or Birmingham, what can he expect to see when Seth walks on stage?
“It’s a real journey around the west country, from shipwrecks to farmers, to train drivers and legends of the moors. Musically, it’s very colourful, it’s very rhythmic, it’s quite high energy, but there are also very stripped-back moments that are quite emotional.
“It’s a rollercoaster. People do end up on their feet often, and you try to take them along. I think that’s the point of music; it’s escapism, it’s about lifting people up and showing them something different. I think that’s important.”
Seth plays Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn on Sunday 3 March and Birmingham’s Glee Club on Wednesday 27 March.
By Stephen Taylor