British Debut Folk Music Folk Stories Historical Trad Covers Traditional

Geoff Lakeman at Village Folk – 17th March 2018

There is procrastination and procrastination. I mean I have thought about painting the walls in my office a beautiful forest green for weeks (and haven’t managed yet) but sometimes people put off really big things, things that matter. In the world of music there are bands who take their sweet time between album releases. For example Daft Punk took 12 years between “Human After All” and “Random Access Memories” and The Who went from 1982 to 2006 without a further album release in the middle. You have groups like this, then you get Geoff Lakeman.

Geoff Lakeman is a surprisingly low-key figure in a flock of Lakemans, but there are few that will not recognise the name at all. Many are well known folk artists after all including Seth, Sam and Sean Lakeman, all artists very present and productive in their folk projects, but what of Geoff? Well if Lakemans are like springs of musical versatility then perhaps you could say that Geoff is the “limestone” that helped these waters emerge. As father to the others, he is the unsung song,the unseen wind that performed folk as a family for several years only taking it up full-time when retiring from a long, distinguished career in wall-street journalism. So when we think about time taken for artists to release work, few will match Geoff’s record of waiting until his 69th year to put his thoughts on to silver disc.

But it is well worth the wait, our review of it is here and tonight he plays at Village Folk in Chellaston.

Making his way in a rather quiet and unassuming manner, Geoff took the stage to show us what he knows. Perhaps this element of Geoff taking his time to make a disc from his 40 years of performance is what makes listening to Lakeman now a special and privileged event.

It is a refreshing set. Lakeman skips across the Atlantic on more than one occassion bringing us “When the Taters are Dug” and “A Wide, Wide River to Cross.” The former being a delightful ditty about rural life from Maine, the latter is like a spiritual hymn with it’s powerful resonating introspection, the singer reaches far and wide in both location and tone. The crowd are rapt and attentive as he holds the stage for his own, it is a delight to see him touring. Delicate in character Geoff also sang “Someone waiting for me”, a track not found on “After All These Years” and when he comes back to our shores he storms in with an original number “Tie ‘Em Up”, based in history but eerily relevant to today’s issues to do with fishing quotas.

Geoff also plays one of our personal favourites “Rule and Bant” about a couple of tin miners trapped in the ground following an accident in the 1800s. An emotional number, Geoff’s voice is quite elastic here portraying fear, good cheer and mystery. Politics gets as good as a visit as history too with Lakeman playing an excellent cover of “England Green, England Grey” by Reg Meuross instead swapping out the fine guitar work for his own concertina. As becomes apparent, the set has more than a few flashes of politics and history and has an awful lot to say much like the aforementioned Meuross who alongside Geoff are likewise chroniclers of our modern injustices. The joy of seeing Geoff is that he embodies the soul of folk music as he plays alone with a rare concertina quality with no production tricks, echos or otherwise. For many this alone is folk music at it’s purest, like col0ssal veins of iron before they are treated to become stainless steel. People who like their songs about the working man will not be disappointed here.

In person and in performance there is isn’t a big band or a wall of sound but does not suffer for it. It is quite a pertinent observation as Lakeman jokingly tells the audience about the creation of the album. It is pretty entertaining to hear how it came to it’s current shape, especially at one point where Geoff sends a track off to Sean doing the production to add in another instrument and it comes back with more backing and Kathryn Roberts’ voice appearing on the number as a surprise. His laments about being coerced into including the track “Doggie Song”by said Roberts are also entertaining as he becomes concerned about being remembered for the guy who sings about “dog turds”. The risks of musical typecasting is certainly real!

As well as showcasing a large amount of the album’s tracks, Geoff took some delightful sunny detours. He sings “The Seeds of Love”, that old, old classic collected from Cecil Sharp and a jaunty, folky version of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Making Whoopee” that makes really does the earth move. These little moments of sweetness and humour really bring a roundedness to the set elevating it above the preconceptions that some might have about folk music, e.g. that it’s all about death and seriousness.

So in a strong, simple performance whose strength is it’s simplicity and clarity, Lakeman shows us he is an entralling, generous and accomplished host. The set brims with stories, the room sways and sings along in time and the night is awash with a quiet energy that fills the corners of the Lawns Hotel.  A great night,  a thorough, committed performance and as always a gracious, attentive and warm reception by this night’s organisers, definitely give one of Geoff’s gigs a go.

Check out Geoff’s website for more information about where he is touring here!

Village Folk is one of the best live venues we have been to.. granted we write for them, but we also believe it is a great atmosphere, a welcoming family of people and a special night out, check out their website here to see which folk act they are getting next (they get some of the best)

Acoustic Gigs Historical

Hannah Martin & Phillip Henry – Music in the Dark – Derby Gaol 11th May 2017

As part of their “Out of the Ordinary Tour”, Hannah Martin and Phillip Henry are bringing their particular brand of folk to the unusual, historical and downright spooky buildings of the UK. At this leg of the tour I have managed to catch them as they arrive at Derby Gaol; a working, historical museum. From the outside looks like a kind of medieval fort, inside a dungeon shrouded in darkness, the walk up is particularly interesting as in the groups there is a collection of equipment both of execution and pain. It is usually host to it’s own brand of entertainment in the city but for this night only it hosts the aforementioned duo famous for winning a Radio 2’s folk award for “Best Duo” in 2014, playing a show at the Royal Albert Hall (with Show of Hands in 2012) and with producing an array of well-received albums through the years. It is a nice touch to add a bigger air of wonder to your works by performing in these spaces, it brings the history of folk music a little closer to now.

The gaol has been bought by a paranormal investigator and  ghost hunter (Richard Fenix) and has hosted a number of local folk nights over the years, perhaps on a quiet night when the air is still and the crows at bay, you can hear the rattle of chains and the anguish of a musician trying to tune his banjo in the dark. As the shady door-keep eyes the customers coming in he carefully opens bottles of Hobgoblin Gold to pass onward as we sit at tables with themed Gothic candle holders, a skeletons hand held upwards. Guitars are lined up monstrously next to dark figures down the dimly lit corridor, one cannot tell if it is a singer or a prop? The ambience is startling. As everyone is seated we find the duo arrive under the cover of half darkness; we huddle near the coal fire making the night even more special as it spits large chunks of coal and ash against the fire guard throughout the set.

Fans of Hannah Martin and Phillip Henry will attest that I would not have needed any sorcery to appreciate and understand their songs from history, though many of those subjects do touch on the dark and seething underbelly of humanity (some fine folk staples). A combination of interesting instrument setups and changes, and the duo’s crystal-like vocals ensure that there is something quite interesting to hear and with  a nice degree of variety.

Prior to this show I had only caught snippets of their pretty extensive work even with my best listening efforts, for someone like me “Out of the Ordinary” is the kind of tour that appears to be the “best of” tour in that it covers a lot of ground and is a fantastic catch up. Acolytes of the pair will also appreciate  a reasonable amount of new tunes (maybe 3-4) in the set that they are taking out into the dark (around 2-4 songs). So by all means, their best work is not behind them.

So there is a great mix of older works and newer tunes. “The Last Broadcast” was a lap guitar garden dance in paradise. Following on from Henry’s wry consideration of the number of strings and exactly how many of them would be precisely tuned for the occasion we get a more upbeat numbers. It takes it’s time, waving Asian silks as it goes, showing Henry’s early musical influences in India to their best. For this song it is more a dungeon in Delhi than Derby, but it is excellent stuff. Also there’s the expansive and dynamic reworking of a Morris track, “The Cuckoos Nest” (they figure it could no longer be a Morris track as it had been slowed down a fair bit) leading into “Old Adam The Poacher.” Some lovely vocals alongside guitar and banjo accompaniment, if it is indeed a Morris track putting on the brakes has allowed it’s more winding, evocative nature to come out.

As mentioned, the gig is a good opportunity to catch some newer tracks in development for their next album “EdgeLarks”. “Signpost” was an interesting one. Written in Tasmania by Hannah Martin it highlights the worst pangs of homesickness while you are awash with the blues, “15 miles from paradise… 95 miles from nowhere else.” Looking at the kindness of strangers and losing oneself in a strange place, it is good modern fodder for a folk inspection. “Albatross” is a special track too. Described as a “happy” track, maybe a bright and tangy pickle within a cheese sandwich of cheese, “Albatross” is the duo’s self-proclaimed revival song they penned to explain the endangered nature of these birds (and also folk musicians!).  Martin’s voice is a deep, hushed and undulating song that revels in it’s gentleness, “may the winds of the earth, guide your little boat.” A ditty that smells of fresh breeze and sea salt, it has an understated starkness, so if you like that kind of thing and you like your folk to revealed by the bright, bright sun; this song is for you. This track is available exclusive downloadable number, I find it nestled in the folds of the incredibly practical tea-towel they have for selling.

Proficient with multiple guitar, banjo, fiddle and voice; the biggest surprise was probably the foot-operated shruti box and also the performance of “Train; I wanna boogie.” It’s extensively layered time keeping with the beat, and quick pace is an explosion on the harmonica. I have heard songs in different sets that try to recreate the train experience (off the top of my head, “Steamchicken” do this) but very few capture the subtle intonations of the steam train, it’s moving wheels and the klaxon. I’m still not quite sure how Phillip Henry does it, I did not really get a view of him playing the harmonica so for all I know there might have been an actual train on the stage behind that pillar! As with the venue, some things are better kept as mysteries!

An interesting evening and a good showcase of work to date, performances in these places of dark history do get the mind turning and throw in another element to music; it enhances an already selection of songs. Hannah and Phillip share a strength of purpose, some really discerning lyrics and sharp vocals as well as an army of instruments that change throughout the set. An enjoyable evening, a nice idea, head along if they are touring near you.

To check out the spooky locations of their music, check out the website here. There are still a few dates left and a library tour after that.