On entering the not quite sold out Symphony Hall, folk singer Nancy Elizabeth’s soft voice rang out; you could hear a pin drop. The seated audience listened intently as she sang ‘When I was in my prime’ acapella. It was a varied melancholic and dreamy set that consisted of gentle guitar picked accompaniments that gradually built up in volume such as in ‘Lay low’, followed by floating piano pieces that were soft yet dramatic. Nancy Elizabeth ended her very sweet and humbled set with the gentle, relaxing but engrossing ‘Winter Baby’.
Next on were Teeside duo Megson. They began with the upbeat ‘Smoke of Home’ followed by the more traditional ‘Butternut Hill’, alternating lead vocals from male to female. The mandolin strumming and picking was gentle and controlled, and the vocals throughout were dynamic and strong with a gentle twist. The two voices entwined beautifully and the harmonies were just wonderful. The end of the set saw the introduction of the tin whistle in the weepy ‘Follow it on’. The vocals here were passionate and believable. They ended in complete contrast with the up tempo ‘fell to the breeze’ that finished with a fast paced instrumental giving a dramatic end to their set. They added humour between songs especially in commenting on the Eurovision Song Contest and this made them even more likeable. Their voices were captivating and it was lovely to hear the North East accent come through. It was a short mixed paced set that combined traditional and contemporary folk and really it was too short. They were entertaining and received a great reception from the attentive audience showing that they were worthy of their place on such a grand stage.
Seth Lakeman took to the stage to a big roar from the crowd. Accompanied by drums, Double Bass and his bother Sean on Acoustic Guitar, Seth opened with ‘The Storm’ starting off a powerful performance with a strong foot tapping educing beat. Seth then switched to the Violin for ‘The Hurlers’ before slowing the pace down with ‘King and Country’. The songs varied in pace and complexity from the marching song ‘Rifle of War’ to be sombre ‘Greed and Gold’. Seth Lakeman showed off a great array of traditional folk with a contemporary twist. His live performance is a louder, more powerful display than on record, but I do feel that he missed a trick here. The Symphony Hall acoustics give the perfect opportunity for subtlety, but instead it was a big bold statement that lacked this variety. Andy Tween’s drums were maybe too prominent at times but really worked well in the Banjo accompanied ‘The Colliers’, ‘Blood upon Copper’ and ‘Race to the King’. The pace at the end of this latter song was immense and really showed the entire bands’ talents where Seth’s Violin took centre stage.
Seth was left alone for 3 songs; the violin accompanied ‘Lady of the Sea’ and the stand out performance of ‘Kitty Jay’. This song really is his masterpiece where a mixture of folk and classical string accompanies a strong passionate vocal. For the encore, Seth began alone with ‘send yourself away’, a lovely ballad with a gentle vocal. A great Bass came in for ‘setting of the sun’ before getting everyone on their feet for ‘Childe the Hunter’. It was a great ending to a solid performance and the crowd really got into it. It was a shame that this only happened at the end. Calls from Seth earlier in the set for people to stand were only followed by a handful, however he really thrived off interacting with those dancing in the crowd. His energy as he stomped around the stage became more dynamic when getting eye contact with his fellow dancers, which built up a nice rapport with them.
Seth Lakeman is a constant songwriter and he played two songs written in recent months. Firstly ‘The circle grows’ on a tenor guitar and double bass, the later ‘hearts and minds’. This had a great beat and displayed an interesting typical screeching ‘guitar solo’ moment only it was played on the violin. These new songs got a great reception and they fitted in really well with the rest of the set.
What I think was a weakness in Seth Lakeman’s live show is in the vocals. The diction was often unclear, so the stories being told were totally missed. Also adding a softer, harmonising voice that is on record, would really enhance his live performance. Overall though, this was a tremendous display of talent and passion, however a more subtle sound would have been more fitting for this stage.
Review- Karen Trenbirth
Photos – Betty Hagglund