Singing Off Home

6 March 2013 | 10:22 am | Michael Smith

"I didn’t necessarily plan on that but I certainly planned on trying to get the right environment. It was quite a challenge but it seemed to work; it’s a bit of a field recording and it seems to have caught people’s imaginations over here, actually.”

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He's toured all over the world, but musically, BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Seth Lakeman doesn't seem to have strayed too far from the rural part of Devon where he grew up with his musician parents and two brothers. In fact, for his most recent album, 2011's Tales From The Barrel House, he not only drew inspiration from the old skills and trades of his native county but also recorded it in an old cooperage – the Barrel House of the title.

“It was some eight or nine months writing all the stories,” Lakeman remembers, “so I probably ended up with about 20 of them, actually, and I recorded a lot more than ended up on Barrel House. But it was more about finding the right place to evoke them, to try and inspire them, 'cause it was very much a spontaneous form of creation when I was down there in the Barrel House itself and in the mine [a disused West Country copper mine in which he recorded opening track, More Than Money] – it's in sounds. I didn't necessarily plan on that but I certainly planned on trying to get the right environment. It was quite a challenge but it seemed to work; it's a bit of a field recording and it seems to have caught people's imaginations over here, actually.”

The stories Lakeman presents are those of ordinary folk whose professions, even 30 years ago, seemed forever a part of the landscape – miner, fisherman – but are now disappearing as quickly as the weaver and blacksmith of the 19th century and before, who themselves were so often the subject of traditional folk songs.

“Technology is completely taking over,” Lakeman suggests. “So the crafts, and the people who work with their hands, literally, are disappearing, and it's something I felt compelled to write at one point, probably two years ago now. I feel it's a powerful combination of acoustic music” – Lakeman plays everything on the album – “and the way I kind of sing; just all those elements, all the ingredients together seemed to be the right direction for that concept record. And it's definitely centred here in the West Country – Devon and Cornwall especially – and it's something I've always enjoyed writing about. I enjoy local history.”

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In complete contrast to the recording of Tales From The Barrel House, March last year saw Lakeman step up before the BBC Concert Orchestra in the Plymouth Pavilions to perform songs from across his six albums to date, including Kitty Jay, the album that saw him nominated for a Mercury Music Prize in 2005.

“It's something they don't do very often, so I was quite lucky and obviously very privileged to have Anne Dudley [ex-Art Of Noise] arranging them and we had one rehearsal, and it's almost emotional when you're stood in front of them and they're playing this huge cacophony, this tremendous sound at moments,” he chuckles, “but obviously really smooth and just steady moments as well. It was something I'd never really done before. I have actually played in orchestras when I was younger – lots of violinists probably, as they grow up, do – but obviously the BBC Concert Orchestra is pretty much one of the best in the country, so it was a real experience. And to be able to capture it as well, live, I'm very happy about 'cause it's something I know I'll look back on when I'm older and be very proud of.”

Seth Lakeman will be playing the following dates:

Thursday 7 March - Royal Theatre, Castlemaine VIC
Friday 8 to Saturday 9 March - Port Fairy Folk Festival, Port Fairy VIC
Monday 11 March - WOMADelaide Festival, Adelaide SA
Tuesday 12 March - Ararat Live, Ararat VIC
Thursday 14 March - Brunswick Music Festival, Brunswick VIC
Sunday 17 March - Blue Mountains Festival, Katoomba NSW
Tuesday 19 March - The Basement, Sydney NSW
Thursday 21 March - Lizotte's, Central Coast NSW
Saturday 23 March - Lizotte's, Newcastle NSW
Sunday 24 March - Brass Monkey, Cronulla NSW
Wednesday 27 March - Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane QLD
Thursday 28 to Friday 29 March - Bluesfest, Byron Bay NSW
Sunday 31 March - National Folk Festival, Canberra ACT