WITH his vibrant stage presence, frenzied violins, and powerful writing, few have done more to make folk music cool again than Seth Lakeman.
Rock star artist with English roots, Devon’s Devon’s Devon Fiddler is a multi-award-winning, Mercury-nominated musical master who fills venues and makes festival headlines.
A huge draw here in Oxfordshire, we hosted him at the Truck, Cornbury and Cropredy festivals and watched in awe as he electrified the O2 Academy (and the Zodiac before it) and the New Theater with his kinetic fusion of English and Celtic folk and indie -Roche.
On Tuesday, he returns for his show after the lockdown, celebrating the 15th anniversary of his debut album Freedom Fields with a concert for SJE Arts at St John the Evangelist Church on Iffley Road. And with his old favorites, he returns with a big bouncy bag of new tracks.
“We are really looking forward to coming back to Oxford,” he said. “Freedom Fields was such an important album for me and it really seemed like my groundbreaking album.
“I wrote another record which is a collection of songs that I wrote during the lockdown. It’s called Make Your Mark. I hope people can hear some familiar songs on Freedom Fields while eagerly awaiting a new collection of material.
Written during her forced 18-month absence, Make Your Mark features 14 powerful new songs, including the debut single Higher We Aspire.
Recorded at Middle Farm Studios in Devon earlier this year as restrictions relaxed and produced by Seth himself, the album is released on his own label, Honor Oak Records. Inspiration for the songs on her 11th studio album came from a range of subjects ranging from the environment to love, death and self-confidence.
“The pandemic gave me a real determination to come out musically stronger and I really dug into myself for this album,” Seth says. “Being able to record and perform with the band again was really quite spiritual.”
Musicians joining him on the album include longtime bassist Ben Nicholls, who has toured the world with Seth since the early days, as well as Bellowhead’s Benji Kirkpatrick and Faustus on bouzouki, banjo and mandolin.
Plymouth musician Alex Hart adds backing vocals and Toby Kearney, principal percussionist at the Birmingham Conservatory, is on drums.
Seth admits to being a huge Oxford fan. “We always had such a brilliant evening there,” he says.
And it chronicles an encounter with Oxford artist Tarrant Anderson – who now performs with Frank Turner’s band and co-conducts Vans for Bands in Begbroke, near Woodstock.
“I remember playing at the Oxford Zodiac a number of times when I started out,” he recalls. “He had one of the best locker rooms on the circuit. An engineer there called Tarrant hired our first suitable separation van for touring. It went on to have one of the largest tourist bus fleets.
“We also played a number of times at Town Hall, which is a whole different place – a real journey through the history of Oxford. I still love the powerful organ and the courthouse there.
“I have stayed several times in Oxford Prison, which had been turned into a hotel [Malmaison Hotel]. “It was always great fun waking up in a jail cell.”
Freedom Fields, which followed the famous Kitty Jay, features 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 in a mine at Morwellham Quay in Devon, Seth not only wrote, sang and played all the instruments on every track he also recorded and mixed the entire album himself.
Recent releases include Word of Mouth, Ballads of the Broken Few, which included top 20 hits Meet Me in the Twilight, The Well Worn Path, and A Pilgrim’s Tale from last year – which has marked four centuries since The Mayflower. left the UK.
“I’m so excited to be able to share the entire Freedom Fields album for its 15th anniversary and the new songs from Mark Your Mark,” he says. “It’s great to be on the road with the band again.”
Seth Lakeman performs SJE Arts on Iffley Road, Oxford on Tuesday. Doors 7 p.m.