Seth Lakeman, with support from Alice Bentley, at the Ironworks, Inverness, 21/5/2015. A review.

Tonight’s support act Alice Bentley returned home to the Highlands for this gig and charmed the Ironworks with a selection of self-penned tunes and a deft cover of The Jackson’s ‘I Want You Back’.

Alice Bentley, opening for Seth Lakeman
Alice Bentley, opening for Seth Lakeman

If I had one complaint and it is just a minor one, I’d like it if the latest brood of singer songwriters expanded their lyrical horizons somewhat. Less loves lost, found, and savagely put down and let’s have a bit more substance.

That said, her “Taylor Swift moment’”(her words) ‘French Fries’ is wonderfully scathing, the line ‘your apologies prosthetic..’ is as fine a turn of phrase as you’ll hear in any song this year.

Before I get to the main act, I’m going to have a grumble. Flash photography. Not big, not clever, don’t do it. So why are you doing it? Put your bloody phones away and pay attention to the artist.

Last night was one of the worst nights in as long as I can remember for folk flashing away with their poxy smartphones. You’ll note the press photographers aren’t using flash, take a leaf out of their book and leave the excessive flashing to portrait photographers and dodgy blokes in parks.

On to the main act, Seth Lakeman is in the middle of a short tour and on this occasion he’s decided to leave the rest of the band at home, taking to the stage on his own with only his instruments for company. From his early days with folk ‘supergroup’ Equation he’s been a prolific, well-respected artist and easily one of the most highly regarded folk musicians of his generation.

Seth Lakeman took to the stage in Inverness as part of a series of solo dates
Seth Lakeman took to the stage in Inverness as part of a series of solo dates

At around the time of his third album ‘Poor Mans Heaven’ his star was most definitely in the ascendancy. With the likes of BBC Radio 2 getting all sweaty and excited about this ‘nu folky’ on the scene there must have been pressure from record execs to bow to commercial pressure and become more like an act like… Mumford and Sons.

Fortunately Lakeman, like his contemporary Kate Rusby, has stuck to his trad roots and instead continues to write and record consistently excellent folk records.

Dispensing with a set list and playing off the cuff, Seth played a mix of songs ranging across his back catalogue from his first album ‘Tales from the Punch Bowl’ to his latest, ‘ Word of Mouth’. ‘Farewell my Love’ was added to the night’s setlist as the drive up the A9 reminded him of Dartmoor. It’s the songs about Dartmoor that resonated most for me, the area is steeped in history and lends itself to folk songs about tragedy, knights and legend. The Bold Knight and Kitty Jay in particular sound great with this simpler solo arrangement.

Special mention should go to his performance of ‘The Shores of Normandy’. Jim Radford originally wrote this song after serving on the fleet that stormed Normandy 71 years ago during the D-Day landings. There’s something particularly haunting listening to lyrics and a song that was composed by someone who was not only there, but a boy of 15 at the time.

Fan favourite ‘Kitty Jay’ is beefed up with extra reverb and played at its usual blistering speed before he finishes off the evening by dropping down from the stage and playing his final song unplugged, almost like being in a café in Devon whilst being serenaded by a West Country violinist minus the cream teas and sunburnt tourists.

The solo arrangement is one that clearly works for Seth. The solo arrangement is one that clearly works for Seth. The absence of a backing band in my view, gave the audience a more personal and intimate performance, the songs sounding rawer but in many ways more powerful coming from just one man and his guitar, bouzouki, violin and viola…

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I’ve always loved music and spent my late teens and early twenties playing guitar in various bands on Lewis and Aberdeen. Other than playing in some truly terrifying pubs in Aberdeen not much came of it and life became focused on family and having a ‘proper’ job.

Inverness Gigs is an outlet for me to quell my inner frustrated musician and the caliber of local acts has even inspired me to take my own music more seriously again. Who knows, one day I might venture back on stage under the fierce scrutiny of an Inverness Gigs reviewer!

You can contact Toby direct at Toby@Igi.gs