Seth Lakeman an English folk singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist chats with Kevin Cooper about being nominated for a Mercury Prize, working with Robert Plant, his latest album The Well Worn Path, and his current tour of the UK.

Seth Lakeman is an English folk singer, songwriter, and multi instrumentalist, who is most often associated with the fiddle and tenor guitar, but also plays the viola and banjo. Nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize, Lakeman has belonged to several musical ensembles, including one with his two brothers, fellow folk musicians Sam and Sean Lakeman, but has most recently established himself as a solo act.

As The Lakeman Brothers, the three brothers released their debut album Three Piece Suite in 1994. Later that same year they were invited by two Yorkshire based singers Kathryn Roberts and Kate Rusby to join them as a backing group on a tour of Portugal. After the tour the five musicians became a permanent group and called themselves Equation. They released three studio albums before leaving in 2001.

He joined his brother Sam and Sam’s wife Cara Dillon on their eponymous debut album, which won two awards at the 2002 BBC radio 2 Folk Awards.

In 2002 Lakeman released his first solo album, The Punch Bowl, which was followed by Kitty Jay in 2004, which was recorded for less than £300. Since then he has released eight more studio albums, the last one being The Well Worn Path.

Whilst busy touring the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Seth good afternoon how are you?

Not too bad Kevin thanks, how are you doing?

I’m actually doing very well thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s okay, no worries.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

(Laughter) what can I say, let me think about it for a minute, oh yes, today is an absolutely totally mad day as are most days in the Lakeman household (laughter). I am heading back out on tour and I am really looking forward to the peace and quiet (laughter).

You mention the tour. You have just played nine shows back to back, so just how did things go?

Things went really well thank you, and I must say that it really was a great tour. It really was very successful. It was especially nice as I had a fairly new band playing with me. I nearly always have Ben Nicholls with me on the double bass, and I was lucky enough to have him with me on the tour. There were two new musicians with me who also feature on my latest album The Well Worn Path, which is a bit more folk rock, a bit more groovy, a bit more psychedelia with a 70s rawness to it.

How many of the new songs from The Well Worn Path have made it onto the set list?

To be honest with you we have been playing around seven of the new tracks actually. And I have to admit that it is quite a large chunk as set lists go. Thinking about it that really is quite a lot (laughter). I admit that it is a brave move but I’m glad to say that it has worked out really well. We have also been playing a few renditions of some of the older songs which we have resurrected. This new line-up, complete with a drum kit together with Kit Hawes playing the Fender Stratocaster pretty much in the style of Richard Thompson, means the whole thing has really come to life and as I have mentioned, it really has resurrected a lot of the older material.

And just how have the new songs been received?

I have to say that to date, they have been received really well. The people who have heard them really do seem to be enjoying them. They really do seem to be connecting with the new songs, songs like The Educated Man, The Well Worn Path and Fitzsimmons’ Fight. The people really do seem to be both connecting and celebrating the new songs, which is really lovely. I personally think that the sentiment in the songs really is starting to resonate with the people.

Well I have to say that I have been playing the album for the past few days and I think that it is a great body of work.

That’s very kind of you to say that, thank you.

Are you happy with it?

Absolutely, yes, I think that it is great. I am really happy with the new sound. We have moved into a different direction which is always exciting for artists. We have not become stagnant; we are not just sitting there, and we are moving forward. This album is very different from the last album which was much more Americana. This album feels more English; it is more about a band, it is more about musicianship, and it is more about people and stories. It is all about the musicians who I want to be working with. It feels great, and it has really come together. It takes a while for a band who are working together too really click but I have to say that we have now. And I will be honest and say it’s a great show with brilliant musicians.

No doubt you get asked this question every time you release an album but a lot of the fans are saying that The Well Worn Path is your best work to date. Would you agree with that?

Yes I would, I really would. The Well Worn Path is a great folk-rock album; the best that we have ever made I think. In my personal opinion this album is far better than Poor Man’s Heaven which a lot of the fans are likening it to with regard to the sound. However, The Well Worn Path for me is far more natural, and comes together in a way that sees us playing off one another which is really exciting. I think that it is one for the future. It feels like a sound that could sit well for the next five or ten years.

I have been checking on your past commitments and I was wondering just when you found the time to write and record the album?

Do you know what, I don’t know really (laughter). I recently took a peep into my studio which was just an enormous mess, plus I have three young kids, so in all honesty I simply don’t know (laughter). It just so happens that I manged to get another space in order for me to do some more writing. For me the head space is more important, so every day or two I would stand around the house going through ideas in my head, and it is really important for me to be able to do that.

I have to tell you that I absolutely love the title track, The Well Worn Path, I really do think that there is something very special about that track.

Thank you very much for saying that. I agree that The Well Worn Path is very special. It is a very different sonic sound which we all worked on in order to achieve just that. I actually wrote that particular song two years ago now, there are lots of metaphors within it, and I think that it is almost hymnal in its sound. It all came together really well and I have to say that I think that it is a lovely song.

I see that you have finally succumb and have gone down the cassette route?

Oh yes, well I had to do something because people are no longer buying CD’s (laughter).

(Laughter) what I want to know is just what are the kids playing the cassettes on?

Apparently people are now buying up all of the old cassette players from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Its strange how all of this turns out isn’t it (laughter).

When I recently went into a local independent record store and was faced with a row of pre-recorded cassette tapes I thought that I was an extra in Life On Mars and had been transferred back to the 1970s (laughter).

(Laughter) I think that the whole thing is hilarious but, the kids absolutely love them. Cassette tapes are obviously retro to them, but hey, moving swiftly on (laughter).

You will be playing in Southwell Minister on Monday, are you looking forward to that?

Yes I am. I really am excited at the thought of playing in such a wonderful and beautiful place such as Southwell Minster. I have never been inside the Minster but a friend of mine who lives right next to it recently told me that it is just stunning.

Does playing inside somewhere that huge cause you any specific problems?

Do you know what, I have recently played inside Exeter Cathedral, who have at last opened up their doors to live music, and for some reason our sound really does suit the environment of a church or a cathedral. I think that it is all down to the way that the songs strike a chord, and for me there is a poignancy about performing those songs in those surroundings, in those types of environments. For the audience there is no better place than a beautiful, architectural, almost palace like venue than Southwell Cathedral. It really is great to see these sort of places finally opening up their doors to live music. The interpretation of what we are doing really does seem to fit within a church or a cathedral.

You last played here in Nottingham some four years ago now. Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

Over the years we have played in Nottingham six or seven times but yes, I do agree that it has been far too long. I do keep mentioning it to the management and I personally do feel that we should be getting back to Nottingham. So what can I say except that I am sorry and watch this space (laughter).

If I put you on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

One highlight would most definitely have to be being nominated for a Mercury Prize for my album Kitty Jay which as you will know was recorded in my kitchen for only £300. That really was crazy. That really was a big, big thing for me. It made me really think seriously about having a real career in music as a songwriter, so I think that was a real turning point for me. Having said that I really did feel very special but at the same time very humble.

You have recently become one of Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters, how did that feel?

That truly was amazing, absolutely mind-blowing. For example, it is my birthday next week and this time last year I was playing with Robert in front of a sold-out crowd at the Sydney Opera House during which Robert bought out a birthday cake for me and the entire audience were singing Happy Birthday to me. It really is amazing when someone of Robert’s stature does something like that for you. Robert and I also managed to get a private viewing of The Last Supper and crazy things like that. It really was a wonderful experience. Robert is so inspirational whilst at the same time being a very grounded man. He projects such a wonderful energy.

For me it has been something that is absolutely flattering, and I was privileged to be a part of it all and it’s still ongoing (laughter). I am flying out to Scandinavia with Robert and the rest of the guys in June, which should once again be really exciting. There is always something waiting around the corner with Robert and I have to say that he is coming along to open the show for us in Cheltenham next week which really is quite exciting and surreal, having Robert Plant supporting you (laughter). The things that I saw and witnessed when I was working with him over in America, Istanbul, places all over the world, I have to say really were mind-blowing.

When Robert rang did you ask him for time to consider his offer (laughter)?

I was in a similar situation to what I am now. I was trying to get my daughter to calm down and at first I thought that it was my mate Johnny Crosby, who is a massive rock and roll fan, winding me up. He said “hi Seth its Robert Plant” and I just burst out laughing (laughter). However, pretty soon after I had explained everything to Robert he was laughing along with me. After half an hour on the phone chatting to Robert it became clear to me that I had to get myself up to the Real World Studios, which you will know are the studios of a certain Peter Gabriel, and record on his album. And it was at that point that everything started really (laughter).

Are there still places where you would like to play where you haven’t performed yet?

Yes there are, there really are. For example I would love to go and perform in India. I love to travel and I believe that it is important to travel with music, because it really can connect with other countries. I think that it would be fantastic to perform in India and that part of the world. I really would love to work with an Indian violinist, and see just what would come out of that.

What next for Seth Lakeman?

Well to be honest with you I have to say that I have just finished off a rather traditional and very different record which is all about The Mayflower (laughter). I have been working on it for the past couple of years and I have to say that it is more of a conceptual kind of thing (laughter). It’s called Pilgrims Tale and it is by a band that I put together with Carla Dillon, Ben Nicholls, and Benji Kirkpatrick, and we are intending to go out and tour the album next February. And before you ask, yes I really am proud of that one too although I have to say that this album is more about the subject matter whereas The Well Worn Path is more about me.

This album is all about celebrating the Pilgrim Fathers and their 400th Anniversary. I really am passionate about the album. There will be a theatre show in Plymouth; there will be The Pilgrim Band who will be there to support us, and do you know what, Nottingham is going to play a part in all of this, because the Pilgrim Fathers were from Nottingham. Theatres are being booked as we speak so please do look out.

What was the first record that you bought?

(Laughter) so this is the embarrassing part of the interview is it (laughter). Oh well here goes, it was The Chicken Song by Spitting Image (laughter).

(Laughter) let’s hope that this is a little better then, when I ask you who did you first see performing live?

Now this is better, that would have been the late Stéphane Grappelli when I was ten years old at the Great Hall in Exeter.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Wow that really is a tough one. I think that it would most probably have been Weather With You by Crowded House which they played at my best friends funeral a month ago now.

On that note Seth let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you in Southwell.

Thanks Kevin it’s been great speaking to you and I really do hope to see you in Southwell on Monday. Bye for now.