Seth Lakeman talks to Seán McGovern about success, inspiration and how folk musicians can have soul even when signed to major record labels.
Just because Seth Lakeman is in that tricky genre known as folk, it doesn’t mean he needs to be approached with caution. Lakeman can walk down a street easily without someone shouting ‘crusty!’ at him. A professional folk singer since 1994 with his band the Lakeman Brothers; Seth gained independence as a solo artist in 2002.
A Mercury Music Prize nomination in 2005 for his album Kitty Jay brought due attention to Lakeman. He acknowledges the importance of the Mercury Prize, it being an award that not only highlights new talent but paves the way for even further success. “It gave me confidence. I was signing on over here in the UK when that happened and it gave me confidence to write the next record. I’m really glad it happened because I wasn’t really sure what I was doing at that point”, he says with a sense of nostalgia and relief.
Lakeman used the Mercury Prize success to follow on with Freedom Fields, an album that would not have been created were it not for the blessing of the nomination. “Some people say it’s better just to be nominated” he says after discussing recent winners, notably Amy Winehouse and the Klaxons, acts that although talented, are, without doubt, commercial acts.
On his Mercury Prize Nomination: “I was signing on over here in the UK when that happened and it gave me confidence to write the next record”
It was the summer of 2006 when Lakeman was propelled into the limelight once again, supporting Tori Amos on her European tour. The experience was not only one that allowed him to reach a new audience, but gave him the chance to work along side the renowned singer-songwriter and her band. “She’s an incredible woman, incredible songwriter. She gave me pep talks.”Lakeman records all his work in Martian Studios in Cornwall, thirty minutes from his house, as well as close by to where Amos lives. His particular folk sound stems from natural history, taking a lot of inspiration from the moors. “Stories about the area and appreciating where you live” he describes as the essence of folk music, while the lyrics are a blend of the historic and the personal. Lakeman explains that the personal elements creep into his songs unknowingly.
Unlike many artists categorised within the folk genre, Lakeman is signed to a major label – EMI – which has found itself in the media spotlight recently, for the wrong reasons. Touching upon Tori Amos once more, who recently departed from her record company, the question of independent labels is raised. Lakeman answers honestly that were it not for the major label, the marketing of his music would be nowhere near the extent that it is.
“I could never spend what they can spend” he replies. “[EMI] have turned themselves around again, after a shaky start”. Faith in his record company has brought him attention he could not have attained by himself, but it is the faith in his music that makes him believe in the spirit of folk songs and thatultimately it “has life without labels”.
Seth Lakeman played The Academy on 15th November