Acclaimed singer-songwriter Seth Lakeman has forged a career of turning local history and English folk stories into songs that pull on the heartstrings as much as they get you up and moving. On his latest album, A Pilgrim’s Tale, he takes on the journey of the Separatists from England to the New World with the accompany tour taking him to places with historical significance to that story in the 400th anniversary of the journey of The Mayflower. The second sold-out date brought him to St Andrews Church in Immingham, a beautiful 800-year-old building with important roots to the Pilgrim’s plight. One of the Separatists, Francis Hawkins, is buried in the graveyard, and more than twenty of the town’s streets are named after Mayflower passengers.
A better setting to hear A Pilgrim’s Tale is hard to imagine. Seth and his band – comprising Benji Kirkpatrick on guitar, bouzouki, banjo and drums, bassist Ben Nicholls and Alex Hart on back-up vocals, electric guitar and harmonium – gathered at the head of the nave to an intimate crowd. The first half focussed entirely on the new album, played in full without any interruptions and complete with Paul McGann’s pre-recorded narration. Each new song immersed the audience into the story which focussed as much on the Pilgrim’s as the native Americans they encountered. The sound of Seth’s distinctive baritone and trademark vibrato reverberated off the church walls. Behind the band, projections of the historic journey were displayed, adding more depth to the entire experience, together with the lights were perfectly in tune with the shifting moods of the music. Standout songs included ‘Sailing Time’, ‘The Great Iron Screw’ and ‘Foreign Man’ and culminated in the evocative instrumental ‘Mayflower Waltz’ before intermission.
The second half saw Seth in his usual jovial form, bantering with the audience, and leading his band into a set of some of his most beloved songs. They were almost entirely taken from fan-favourite albums Kitty Jay and Freedom Fields with the audience singing, clapping and stomping along to classics including ‘The Bold Knight’ and ‘Lady of the Sea’ and his take on the traditional ‘The Setting of the Sun’. The audience were also treated to a new song – newer even than A Pilgrim’s Tale – a jig called ‘Changes’ dedicated to the farmers. With the addition of a Jew’s harp, it was a jaunty, energetic song that would have had people on their feet if there’d been room enough. Finishing the set off was a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Kitty Jay’ that demonstrated Seth’s prowess with the violin, the sound was pure and stirring, the bow moving so fast it was a blur. That would have been a fitting ending alone, but the three-song encore was more than welcome.
In such a historic setting, the album came alive, allowing the story of the Pilgrim’s to wash over the audience. Entertaining and awe-inspiring, no doubt, but also educational and how many acts can claim that?
A Pilgrim’s Tale is available now. Seth Lakeman plays Trinity Arts Centre in Gainsborough on Saturday 8 and Blackfriars Theatre & Arts Centre in Boston on Sunday 9 February.