Seth Lakeman: '˜The Well-Worn Path is a garage band record, really'

Seth Lakeman's musical career continues to take twists and turns.

Seth Lakeman. Picture: Matt Austin
Seth Lakeman. Picture: Matt Austin

In recent years the Devon-born folk musician has gone from making a record about the Cornish landscape to collaborating with female vocal group Wildwood Kin. In the last 12 months he’s been a member of Robert Plant’s band the Sensational Space Shifters. “It came completely out of the blue,” says the 41-year-old, explaining how he’d received a cryptic text from a recording engineer he knew asking “‘Do you mind if RP rings you?’ I didn’t know that was Robert Plant. Then the next day as I was getting daughter into the car there was a call from that number and it was Robert asking me if I would come up and lend some melodic ideas to Carry Fire, his new project. I was obviously quite honoured to be asked and a week later I went up and started going through some ideas for them, on viola mostly and then ended up joining the band.”

As a big Led Zeppelin fan, he was thrilled. “There’s quite a big influence of Zeppelin II and III on some of those earlier records like Poor Man’s Heaven. My brother loved the way they were twisting folk music, fusion music, world sounds, the rhythms they were using and also some of the ideas of mythology. We loved it.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Touring with the world with Plant has been, he says, “one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done, it’s been such a rich life experience travelling with a man like that and he’s shared so much knowledge from the worlds of blues, jazz, rock ’n’ roll. The musicians and the characters that I’ve met on tour have been absolutely fascinating. It’s been a real education in that part of music A lot of the guys I’m travelling with are older than me, they’re all from different backgrounds. I’ve got very close to them all, they influence you in a different way each one of them.”

Seth Lakeman. Picture: Matt Austin

“Without realising it”, some of those influences seeped into Lakeman’s latest solo album, The Well-Worn Path. “It definitely stirred up something that wasn’t there before. There’s an unconscious influence I think in Well-Worn Path from the recent work with these guys, certainly the way they work off one another because of their musicianship, it’s so fast and can be so furious in the way they play off each other. Nothing is the same very night.

“That certainly helped in the confidence of Well-Worn Path, the approach of recording it in just four or five days, that constraint of time as well as getting a great sonic approach. We really only had a week and a half to record it in. Within that five days after set-up was where it was all put together. It’s like a garage band record, really – vocals, drums, everything in the same room, there’s no overdubs apart from Kathryn Roberts, my sister-in-law, so it’s all very much warts and all, a natural, raw folk-rock record, that’s what it sounds like to me.”

The producer was Ben Hillier, who has worked with Blur, Elbow and Depeche Mode. “He’s quick as well, he likes working in a spontaneous way and it worked for us,” says Lakeman. “It was in the dark January month this year and the guys were very quick off the mark, they didn’t know any of the material but within four or five turns these 15 songs that I had we’d press record and move on to the next.”

As well as long-time bass player Ben Nicholls, Lakeman’s new band comprises Kit Hawes on guitars and Evan Jenkins on drums. “I think in a live approach we could extend these songs a lot more, I’m excited to do that,” Lakeman says. “Evan’s got a very Bonham-type heavy groove to him, and it’s great because it means me and Kit can play off one another when Ben and Evan are laying down an amazing groove like that it means there are a lot of places we can go to. I think that’s the foundation of this whole sound.”

As far as themes for the record go, Lakeman says: “A man called Tommy gets remembered, the teachers, the inspirational people; there’s a man called Bob Fitzsimmons who was a heavyweight boxer down in Helston that I read about. There are still a few West Country narratives but mostly about that sonic sound. There are two or three broadsheet street ballads that I have picked up along the way for the Full English Project and in Yorkshire Frank Kidson is still someone I tap into, he was like the Sherlock Holmes of the Victorian era of collecting folk songs, he was a real detective, he was going there finding all these street ballads and I’ll probably be using them forever, there are so many of them, it’s a wonderful archive of material that he discovered, so there’s two or three from that like She Never Blamed Him, which is very sad but it’s a wonderful set of lyrics which have been undiscovered for a long time so it’s great to have them out there.”

Lakeman reveals his next project for 2020 is based on the Mayflower Pilgrim Fathers. “It’s the 400th anniversary so there’s a theatre show going alongside that and obviously it’s a big part of Plymouth and the people of Plymouth.”

The Well-Worn Path is out now. Seth Lakeman plays at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Friday November 16.