Seth Lakeman - the sexy face of folk

Emma Lee Mercury Music Prize-nominated folk musician Seth Lakeman returns to Norwich this Sunday. Emma Lee spoke to him ahead of his eagerly-anticipated show.

Emma Lee

He's been dubbed the poster boy of modern folk. Since his surprise Mercury Music Prize nomination in 2005, Seth Lakeman has won the genre a whole new generation of fans. And he makes a welcome return to Norwich, for a gig at the Waterfront, this Sunday night.

Anyone who has seen Seth perform live before - he's always a must-see on the festival circuit - will know what a gripping spectacle it is.

The urgency of his violin-playing and dramatic story-telling is a powerful combination and it makes for a truly exciting experience.

Yes, this is folk. But not as you know it.

Seth was 2005's 'wildcard' Mercury nomination, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Coldplay and Kaiser Chiefs. But, unlike his fellow nominees, his album, Kitty Jay, had been recorded for just £300 in his brother Sean's kitchen and released independently, and he'd used the last of his money entering the competition.

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Although he didn't win, it opened a lot of doors for him - with those observant enough to notice that he's rather easy on the eye declaring he had given folk music some much-needed sex appeal.

While Seth candidly admits that the Mercury nomination gave him a helping hand to wider recognition, there's no hint of a sell-out.

The down-to-earth Dartmoor-based musician is refreshingly modest and true to his roots. He still finds his lyrical inspiration in his backyard, keeping historic tales of folklore and heroism alive.

Kitty Jay, the eponymous heroine of his breakthrough album, was a tragic servant girl. While Freedom Fields, the title of the follow-up takes its name from a skirmish, in Plymouth in 1643, which ended up changing the course of history.

“I've spent a lot of time away from Dartmoor, but I wouldn't move away. It's a beautiful part of the world. It's very inspiring to me,” he says, grabbing a quick chat with EDP Saturday en route to a show in London.

And sometimes he still records among the pots and pans in the kitchen studio.

“We record in all sorts of places. It depends on the track. If there's a lot of instruments we will go to a professional studio. But sometimes we still record at home,” he says.

His critically-acclaimed album, Poor Man's Heaven, charted at number eight on its release this summer.

Seth's most recent single, Solomon Browne, tells the real-life story of the ill-fated Penlee lifeboat which was lost in 1981 while trying to save the lives of those onboard the shipwrecked Union Star coaster.

Sixteen people died in the failed rescue and Seth wrote it to honour their heroism and keep the story alive. Plus, profits raised from the single will be given to the RNLI's SOS Day - a charity cause Seth is very supportive of.

“It's great that the record company has stuck its neck out to support it,” he says.

Although he's now signed to a record label (Relentless, which is also home to KT Tunstall), rather than putting out records in DIY fashion, Seth's still doing things on his own terms, having had the major label experience early on in his career.

Seth comes from a musical family - his parents ran a Plymouth folk club - and from about the age of 12 he and his brothers, also musicians, would spend their summers busking in France.

He left school at 17, touring the world with the group Equation, whose line-up included the acclaimed singers Kate Rusby and Cara Dillon. When that ended when he was 23 (he's in his early 30s now), he decided to go it alone.

After another summer causing a stir at the festivals, Seth's embarking on his biggest ever tour - a gruelling month on the road. But he's in his element.

“We love going out on tour. It's different to playing festivals, doing gigs back to back. There's about nine of us on the road - three musicians in the band, the crew and a tour manager who keeps everyone alive.

“It's great fun. And we all have our favourite service stations - M&S at Reading, that's a favourite. We'll go hungry for two hours to get there. We're really lucky we all get on as an outfit - I don't think we'd be out for as long as we are if we didn't. It's the best part of doing our job, apart from missing friends, family and having no days off for four weeks. That's quite tough,” he says.

And he enjoys getting to play tourist.

“We always look around the town - we get to have a quick taster of places that we otherwise might not have seen,” he says.

But he jokes that there's one reason he's not looking forward to returning to Norwich.

“The Waterfront is the hardest venue to back a tour bus in to,” he laughs. “It's a good job we've got a good driver.” t

t Seth Lakeman plays the Waterfront at Norwich this Sunday, November 2. Box office: 01603 508050. The album, Poor Man's Heaven, is out now.