carus thomson seth lakemen

3 April 2012 | 8:15 am | Staff Writer

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We eavesdrop on Carus Thompson's chat to UK'S Seth Lakeman about the superior drinking nation of musicians, meat pies and folk. They'll be hitting the road for a double headline tour this week, kicking off with a Bluesfest appearance on thursday and Friday before you can catch them at THE VANGUARD on Tuesday 10 April.

Thompson: Where are you now and what
are you doing?
Lakeman: I am in Cambridge Junction Venue, on the outskirts of Cambridge itself, second night of a tour.
Thompson: I remember doing that one with you, and a lot of drinking after the show. That was the gig where we played the night before Public Enemy, and we kept the bus in the parking lot for our night off and met Flavor Flav skulking around backstage – he bummed a ciggie off your brother!
Lakeman: Yes, that's right! Folkies meet rapper, and yeah there was quite a lot of drinking too… a disco load out… a club straight after the show.

Thompson: The disco load out, we know that in Australia too – obviously an international phenomenon. That was my other question, who're better drinkers, English or Australian musicians? Having toured with you I'd have to say English!
Lakeman: I'd have to say the English are incredibly passionate about getting as drunk as they can in as small amount of time as possible. A lot of bands binge as soon as they get off stage, if not before! We're definitely post show.

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Thompson: So, a serious question. Your violin playing is incredibly powerful and dynamic. Violin is an instrument that would be pretty suckey if played too carefully. You however, you break bows and you really dig in. Where did you learn that? Are there artists you learned it from or is it part of English folk music?
Lakeman: It's not necessarily part of English folk music, it's part of a style that I've accumulated from other players and other ways of approaching the instrument.
Thompson: Y'know like the way you always say it's better to play two notes than one – the double-stop thing; where did that come from? Is that your own thing?
Lakeman: It's kind of my own thing, because I write on violin. So, singular lines within a song aren't as powerful as the double-stop thing. Because you're almost making a full chord then.

Thompson: With your writing, as someone who's a big fan of your music, I really like the way you tell stories within a narrative as opposed to talking about your own life – the standard 'my girlfriend left me' singer/songwriter stuff, which I have certainly been guilty of. Are there artists who inspired you to do that?
Lakeman: It's a culmination really, of growing up learning quite a lot of these stories and the old folk songs, going to a folk club that my parents ran. So I was quite aware of the old English folk songs, and Irish, and then playing around with them, rearranging them and deciding I could be inspired to write my own versions of modern folk songs. And melodically I found they were made a bit more interesting if you rewrote and reworded them. That was when I decided to start writing modern folk songs. I felt you could be inspired by people that exist today and by places that were important.

Thompson: So how do you go with the traditional folkies? Like in Australia, Port Fairy is a classic example where you have the battle between the bearded, hat-wearing types with their chairs who sit down and really only dig traditional folk, and the newer generation of folk lovers who're more inclusive. How do you go when you come up against the older, more conservative, less open folk lover?
Lakeman: Well, for the purists I'd say I'm a fringe folk act. They're not quite sure about me because I'm trying to break down barriers of what I would say is folk music. Our approach is more rocky and poppy, because I am breaking it down; there is a defensiveness to that. But I play Cambridge every couple of years, which is probably the equivalent of Port Fairy and whilst there is a tremble from the purists, ultimately it's acoustic and it's storytelling.
Thompson: You guys are so technically good as acoustic musicians; it must be hard for them to not see that?
Lakeman: It's split really, there are a lot of people who love the traditionalised for the songs, and a lot who love them for the tunes. And they're more technically-minded; we call them over here finger watchers. Sometimes you might play near a college that might have lots of up and coming folk musicians and you can see them studying what we're doing.

Thompson: You alluded before to learning Irish songs and English songs. I think for people who're unfamiliar with folk music they'll always thinks of Irish folk, especially when the fiddle is involved. Fiddle means Celtic most of the time to a lot of people… Would you say you're more from the English tradition? I mean can you identify the differences between English, Scottish and Irish folk music? And English folk music you wouldn't call that Celtic would you, it's something else?
Lakeman: No, you wouldn't. The easiest way to describe it if you were thinking about it musically is that English music is straighter and stretched out, whereas Irish and Celtic music is pushed, and hence you get the lilt behind Irish tunes. The English tunes are not quite as immediate – a bit 'twee' some
people say.
Thompson: Right. A good description – 'twee'.
Lakeman: It's all about approach really.

Lakeman: Ok, now my turn. What's the favourite song you've written over the past ten years of your career?
Thompson: I think my favourite is one called Fifteen, because of the subject matter. It's a song about a young man who was shot dead by Victorian police. I was really proud of the way I was able to tell the story, from the mother's perspective, but with respect and sensitivity towards to the people involved, yet still getting across the sense of injustice and outrage in the story.

Lakeman: Great song! So do you prefer playing solo or with other musicians. And why?
Thompson: You know I call myself a folk musician as well. I don't have the same knowledge of the genre as you do, or the ability to play it. But I come from the same place when it comes to storytelling. When I play solo, the approach and delivery is more folky, and when I play with the band it's more rocky. So for me personally, the folk element and that connection – emotionally and intellectually with the listener – is more satisfying.

Lakeman: How big is folk music in Australia?
Thompson: It's in a state of change, where the old guard – the purists that we talked about – are changing. And there's a new, more inclusive crew coming, which means it's getting bigger and bigger.
Lakeman: Yeah, it's interesting, because in Germany there's a Celtic scene but not really a folk scene yet. So, it's interesting to know that there are places for that music in Oz.
Lakeman: So what's next for you?
Thompson: A new live album later in the year. I was going to move to the UK in May to harass you, but we just decided that it's time to move back to Melbourne and get a place after the last six or eight months of being gypsies around Europe.