wed 19/02/2020

Album: Seth Lakeman - A Pilgrim's Tale | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Seth Lakeman - A Pilgrim's Tale

Album: Seth Lakeman - A Pilgrim's Tale

Folk star's Mayflower album casts off on the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers' sailing

Lakeman's Mayflower odyssey

The Dartmoor folk star’s latest album launches into a dramatic retelling of the voyage of the Mayflower, from its departure from the iconic Mayflower Steps in Plymouth (actually, the real steps are down to the women’s loo at the Admiral MacBride pub) to their landing on what the locals on the other side of the ocean called Patuxet. On the way, they set in to motion the founding of the United States and the decimation of the American Indian tribal nations.

The local Wampanoag tribespeople and the newly arrived Puritan refugees – all 106 of them, including 31 children – would in time forge a necessary alliance, and the scope of Lakeman’s song narrative begins with the ominous dream of a Wampanoag girl (sung by Lakeman with Cara Dillon) as the Pilgrims prepare for their fated voyage, and ends with that treaty of survival, and the brilliant, muscular “Digging Song”, as vibrant a piece of music as any that Lakeman has created over his illustrious career as one of Britain’s leading folk singers and songwriters.

Recording live in his Dartmoor home studio with Benji Kirkpatrick, and with separate contributions from bassist Ben Nicholls and vocals from Cara Dillon, Lakeman’s music on A Pilgrim’s Tale is vigorous, driven and urgent, a gunpowder-keg mix of bouzouki, fiddle, viola, tenor guitar, harmonium and drums. Kirkpatrick’s side drum, especially, is a key player in this drama, and the music as a whole framing the drama and historic resonance of the Mayflower’s voyage and its landing.

Each song is prefaced by a short prose setting, voice by actor Paul McGann, and written by writer-director Nick Stimson, with whom Lakeman is working on a musical drama at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal featuring 31 members of the Wampanoag tribe as well as Plymouth’s citizenry and Lakeman and his band. They’re succinct and important moments of context and history, whether that’s leading in to the shanty drive that swings through “Sailing Time”, the story of the "great iron screw" that saves the voyagers after a powerful storm in the song of the same name, or the dread and fear of “Bury Nights”, depicting terror and death stalking the new Pilgrim community in its first winter. As for the culminating “Digging Song”, in which tribe and pilgrims are forced to make mutually beneficial peace, here Lakeman’s voice gets some highly effective slapback delay, boosting the song’s urgency of purpose as the Pilgrims, and the Wampanoag, make a treaty for survival and start to dig in crops, sewing the seeds of the future to come.

Lakeman is a powerful local historian in song – from one of his earliest hits, “Kitty Kay”, through 2017’s Tales from the Barrelhouse, recorded at Morwellham. The drama in his telling of A Pilgrim’s Tale ensures that this particular voyage joins them as a powerful evocation.

  • Seth Lakeman is on tour with A  Pilgrim's Tale through to 15 February

@CummingTim

The music of A Pilgrim’s Tale is vigorous, driven and urgent

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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