Monday, May 18, 2009

Seth Lakeman / Megson / Nancy Elizabeth @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Sunday 17th May 2009

After hotfooting it all the way from Brighton’s Great Escape Festival (three days of relentless gigs in sweaty dives…just the way I like it) it was nice to sit down in the sumptuous surroundings of The Symph Hall for part of the second annual English Originals season. Managed to catch the awesome voice of Vijay Kishore in the foyer beforehand but the gig proper kicked off with Nancy Elizabeth. The word ‘ethereal’ springs to mind here, gentle vocals washed over my fevered brow and she delivered a nicely chilled set that would probably have been better suited to a much smaller venue. She was a real charmer though and chatted between songs revealing that she hadn’t bothered with a set list because she wanted to see how things would go. That’s a brave move, but refreshing too. The traditional folk song that she sang (acapella) and seemingly just on a whim proved a particular highlight. Keep your eyes open for her debut album coming out in the summer.

Next up rising folk duo, Megson, who pretty much hit the perfect balance in terms of their set (some cracking upbeat jiggy numbers and a few more melancholy tracks – the ying and yang of folk) and their vocal interplay. Both Debbie and Stu have strong, clear voices, Debbie’s revealing more of her natural Teeside accent…what a lovely thing to hear…someone singing in their ‘real’ voice. One or two tracks had a touch of Deacon Blue about them (no bad thing), but there was also a distinct Seth tinge there too, setting us up nicely for the man himself. Highlights included a song called ‘4d a day’ all about the life of working youngsters back in ye olde days of pits and stuff. In this world of MP’s claiming for their moats and the old dodgy banker pocketing £20million for being completely and utterly inept it was all the more poignant. Megson seem to be playing almost everywhere over the next few months (although not at the Moseley Folk Festival which is a bit of a shame) so you’ve got plenty of chance to see ‘em (and I heartily recommend that you do).

On to the man widely credited with making folk appeal to a much wider audience…Seth (or Sexy Seth as my other half insists on calling him). As I’ve come to expect he gave 100% from start to finish (playing for a good 90 minutes) and delivered all of the biggies including Poor Man’s Heaven, The Lady Of The Sea and that Mercury nominated title track Kitty Jay, which pretty much kicked off the whole Seth-mania thing. He also unveiled a couple of new tracks, ‘The Circle Grows’ and ‘Hearts and Minds’, the latter being the stronger of the two and seeming (at first listen) to be something of a protest song against corruption, the financial system and the general sorry state of the world today. If it is then Seth’s putting folk right back where it belongs, after all wasn’t it the original protest music? There’s plenty to protest about these days too and who better than Seth’s to deliver an album that does just that? Whether he’ll want to get all political is another debate altogether, I’m not sure all of the audience at tonight’s gig would approve but since when has great music been about pleasing a demographic eh? It was a good gig all round but, being constructive, I would’ve liked a bit more of the originality hinted at in the name of the season. Seth for example did a wonderful collaboration with local hip hop group Moorish Delta 7 a few months ago which would have added a really fresh twist to the evening if he'd recreated it. Again I’m not sure all of the audience would approve but folk needs to stay fresh if it’s going to continue winning over new converts and a few surprising collaborations during evenings like this would make all the difference. If you want to know what I mean check out the whole Imagined Village project

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