The Word of Mouth Tour
Southampton Guildhall O2
Thursday 23rd October 2014
Seth Lakeman, vocals, fiddle, guitars, bouzouki, foot stomp
Ben Nicholls – double bass, concertina, banjo, vocals
Lisbee Stainton – vocal, harmonium, banjo
Cormac Byrne – drums, percussion
Jack Rutter – guitar, dobro, banjo, harmonica
Take No Rogues
Stand By Your Guns
King & Country
The Shores of Normandy
The Bold Knight
The White Hare
Lady of The Sea
High Street Rose
Portrait of My Wife
Blood Upon Copper
Race To Be King
Southampton Guildhall may be an O2, but the space really is a draughty rectangular old town hall. The online history mentions historic 70s gigs, like David Bowie at the start of the Hunky Dory tour and Lou Reed. I was at both. It’s also hard folding metal chairs on an old red carpet. I wondered if the Dentyne chewing gum I stuck under one in 1973 was still there, or whether Lou Reed’s roadies had found it. They looked as if they hadn’t eaten in months, as did he. Still, no good now. At the start of the support act, it echoed extraordinarily, but either we rapidly got used to it, or more likely, the first rate sound crew very quickly got a handle on it. The sound throughout the evening was exemplary.
Seth Lakeman started on time, with massive impact, with The Courier. The band, just a five piece, all playing acoustic instruments, sounded like an orchestra … and in fact later, when Seth Lakeman was alone with fiddle on Kitty Jay with dynamic lights flashing on and off, I have never heard a single solo violin … or any other fundamentally acoustic instrument … amplified so well to such massive effect. A lot of the huge sweeping sound is Ben Nicholls bowed work on the double bass. There is no other bassist who gets that range out of the instrument. Ben Nicholls is also in The Full English with Seth Lakeman. (See LINK here for Full English 2013 review).
It was billed as the Word of Mouth tour, and we bust a gut to see it, in that we already had tickets for Salisbury Playhouse in the afternoon, and decided we had to do both in a day. We’ve played Word of Mouth a great deal this year. We were desperate to experience our favourite songs live … The Wanderer, Another Long Night, Labour She Calls Home, The Bells, The Saddest Crowd, Tiger, Bal Maiden and Portrait of My Wife. The Word of Mouth Tour with The Word of Mouth Band. Would he play the entire album, as others have done recently? Then add best-known stuff for encores?
Let’s discount Portrait of My Wife, as we saw him do that with The Full English and it’s also on their album. So, of our seven favourites he did NONE. Just four of the twelve tracks on Word of Mouth got played, three of them uptempo ones too: The Courier, Each Man and Last Rider. And a solo Portrait of My Wife.
Great, high energy show. He went down a storm, and we liked the wide audience profile … mainly younger people than a lot of “folk” gigs but embracing the entire age range. Is it “folk”? Less so than say Bellowhead, much less so than The Full English, in that he composes far more than he adapts, and in a way it’s modern rock with acoustic instruments and a folk inspiration. Sometimes. It’s also very “English” in its instruments and lyrics. There was a marvellous sequence early on, a military set of four, running from Stand By Your Guns which he did on The Full English. It was followed by King and Country which he wrote for and about his dad who was at the Normandy landings, then The Shores of Normandy written by Jim Radford, and the runaway stand-out song of the night for us. My dad was in a landing craft with the BBC Radio team, wallowing about offshore for several days during the landings. I listened to the lyrics about the blood-soaked sands, and felt tears welling in the corners of the eyes. It was done with just Lisbee Stainton on supporting vocal. Sublime. He followed with another military song, 1643. As he had performed both Normandy songs this summer for the 70th anniversary, this mini-suite of songs was later for him than the recent album (though three of the songs were older). I guess they edged out other Word of Mouth songs.
In general, he kept the tempo up. It’s powerful, potent material, delivered with total confidence. Each Man from Word of Mouth followed, about the Tolpuddle Martyrs … he mentioned local interest, but Southampton is fifty miles away from Tolpuddle. Solomon Browne replaced Apple of His Eye, which was on every other setlist I saw of this tour. After The Bold Knight, he did another duo with Lisbee on vocals and banjo, The White Hare which he explained was about a white witch on Dartmoor. We must have been in the mood for the gentler stuff. Absolutely beautiful. The Colliers led into the high-energy run for the end starting with Last Rider, then Lady of The Sea / High Street Rose joined together. We got a pause with a solo voice plus fiddle Portrait of My Wife, a favourite on both The Full English and Word of Mouth. Then that massive, intense dynamic fiddle work with the flashing lights to close the main set. It’s listed everywhere as Kitty Jay but the instrumental section was a lot longer than the song. Both encores maintained the high-energy dancing at the front mood.
In the end, in spite of a spectacular and brilliantly performed set, both of us, independently, felt disappointed. If it had said “Seth Lakeman” we would have been fine to delighted. It didn’t. It said Word of Mouth Tour. It wasn’t. Not at all. He might as well have called it the Kitty Jay tour, after the 2004 album as he did three songs (The Bold Knight, Kitty Jay, Blood Upon Copper) or even more The Freedom Fields Tour as he did five (Lady of The Sea, The White Hare, The Colliers, Take No Rogues, 1643)
We left mildly pissed off about the paucity of Word of Mouth selections. I got in the car to drive home, picked up Word of Mouth the CD we’d played going, and said, “No, we’ve heard enough for one night.” I would say the setlist, rested on his known crowd pleasers, enhanced by the songs from Word of Mouth that fit the same mood. It is very hard to incorporate a new album into a selection of proven crowd-pleasers. Many artists stick at three new ones, but Word of Mouth hit the main album charts. It was released eight months ago, so the songs are not unfamiliar as they might be with a new release (when three to four would be the maximum advisable). I suspect he wanted to add King and Country / The Shores of Normandy since the summr, but I reckon he should have squeezed out a couple of older ones … or even done five or ten minutes more. it was only an 85 minute set. Quite often, artists miss favourite songs, and I’m quite happy anyway with their choice. This evening I wasn’t. Bad billing is the issue.
Maybe it’s our fault … two shows in a day is almost always a mistake, even if one is theatre and one music. It’s usually the second one that suffers. I don’t think we were in the right mood, or rather we were hoping for the mystery of Labour She Calls Home and The Bells instead.
Zervas & Pepper
We loved the support set. The duo come from Wales, but went to Laurel Canyon to write their new album (their third?) Lifebringer. The songs, done as a duo live, drip Laurel Canyon. David Crosby, early Byrds (the David Crosby songs), Buffalo Springfield, After Bathing at Baxters, Neil Young, CSN. They’re in the tradition of The Civil Wars or The Mastersons, but with a much more distinctly West Coast, late 60s to early 70s direction. The songs sound so American it was almost a surprise to hear the Welsh accents on intros.
There’s only one reaction to a support set of unfamiliar materials. Did we buy the album?
Look Out Mountain
Lifebringer medley: Water Meets Fire/ Living In A Small Town
Cigar Store Indian
You Must Be Doing Something Right