Earthier Seth is mining living history

Seth Lakeman
Seth Lakeman

FOLK singer, writer and fiddle player Seth Lakeman wanted an earthier sound for his sixth album, which explains how he ended up in a disused West Country copper mine to record one track.

Other songs were laid down in a cooperage, a smithy and other workshops at Morwellham Quay on the north bank of the River Tamar. It was the cooperage that offered the title for the album, Tales from the Barrel House.

Since arriving on the folk radar with Kitty Jay, which was notably produced around the kitchen table for £300 and earned him a shortlisting for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize, Seth has married an exploration of his Devon roots with a hard-driving sound that raises the dust from the floorboards.

It’s a process that he takes up a notch or two on the latest album, on which he sings, plays all the instruments and does the production and mixing.

“I’ve been aching to do something musically experimental like this for some time, to get right back to the basics of Kitty Jay and beyond,” says Seth, pictured right.

“To be blunt, this is a concept album I could never have done with a major label.”

Now on Honour Oak Records, Seth aimed for simplicity, with as little multi-tracking and overdubbing as possible. “We used just one sound field microphone. There wasn’t room for much more gear down the mine anyway. But I think we managed to get the most authentic, truly ‘live’ sound.

“I want listeners to feel they are down that mine, or in the barrel house, immersed in this living history while hearing the stories of the people who inhabit the songs. I’d like fans to literally feel the atmosphere in which the album was recorded.

“The theme I was seeking was to pay homage to hard-working miners, sailors, skilled craftsmen and artisans, who worked for little reward but took a pride in what they did.

“It was an extraordinary freedom to explore my music in this magical valley, which is close to my Devon home. I couldn’t wait to get back to Morwellham every day, it was such a unique experience. I know this set of songs may be judged as harsh and raw, perhaps challenging for some, but – for me – that’s the whole point of Tales from the Barrel House.”

One of three renowned Lakeman brothers, alongside Sean and Sam, who have made their mark in folk circles, Seth initially released the album as a limited run in November last year, via his website. It quickly sold out, so now it will be released nationally next month.

Meanwhile, a national tour brings him to The Plug in Matilda Street in Sheffield next Thursday (March 23).

Support comes from Midlands-born singer, guitarist and songwriter Sam Carter, who won Best Newcomer at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2010.

Peter Kay