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Live review
Seth Lakeman
Folk is a much maligned term. Mention it to people, and you will get a range of responses from "what?" to "no thanks", to "are you mad?", to "certainly, let me dig out my woollen jumper and pipe". There has been a tendency to dismiss it as an art-form, as something outdated, and no longer relevant. But, folk means people, and folk music is the music of the people.

Anyway, enough of that. Tonight the poster boy of contemporary folk is in town. He's derided by some, loved by some, but attracts the attention of all simply because he makes good music. He tells stories, generally a notch or several above the average singer-songwriter stuff. Yes, he does do the soppy romantic thing at times, but generally he tells folk stories, in particular the stories of his homeland and his own area. And that is what sets him apart, his connection to the past, which draws us towards him, and provides an authenticity and credibility. He can sing these songs because it is something that is in him, and that is what attracts us. Plus, he's a darn good performer.

Opening up with 'The Riflemen of War', accompanied by a backing band including a double bass (more of which later), before going into 'Blood Upon Copper' it becomes immediately apparent that we have here a good front-man, someone with a warmth and charm, and blessed with a natural charisma and voice, and a range of subject material that is at odds with the jaunty nature of the music - tales of suffering workers and mining disasters are welcomed like a hoedown.

The success of the man live is built on his excellent backing band, and together they are willing to deviate from what we might consider to be pure folk, bringing in influences from other forms of music. At times the double bass is funky, while on 'The Setting of The Sun' it's got a Persian/Indian feel to it and 'Poor Man's Heaven' is wonderful, rootsy excitement.

Of course we get 'Kitty Jay', a song that is destined to be his curse and his salvation. It's all stripped down violin and emotion, hypnotic and frantic. Coming back on for an encore, he attempts to slow things down again, before declaring "stuff the Sunday night songs, it's a Friday", calling on his band, and finishing on the much more upbeat 'Race To Be King'.

Yes, it isn't Dylan or Guthrie or some of the other greats of folk music, but there is a feeling, a spark of something in there, and that's what makes our night.

William Johnston

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Gig Details
Venue: Spring & Airbrake
Location: Belfast
Date: 30/3/2007


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