Seth Lakeman celebrates twentieth anniversary of Kitty Jay at Birmingham Town Hall

Words and pics by Emily Doyle

On 28 February, Seth Lakeman’s tour party rolled into Birmingham for an evening at the Town Hall.

It’s twenty years since the Devonshire folk artist appeared in the public consciousness with the release of Mercury Prize nominated Kitty Jay, and in celebration they’re treating audiences to the album in full.

A hushed crowd fills Birmingham Town Hall as Lakeman and co kick off their first set with the opening four tracks of said album. Everything sounds just as haunting as it did two decades ago. Lakeman’s vocals are unchanged, a crisp and measured tone cushioned by tenor guitar and double bass. Vocalist Alex Hart deftly weaves melodies around Lakeman’s tales of Dartmoor folklore.

Towards the end of the first set, the band drops away and Lakeman walks to the front of the stage. Commenting on the great acoustics of the hall, he announces he’s going to do the next track off-mic. What follows is the highlight of the evening.

‘Farewell My Love’ is a raw, forlorn tune that sees Lakeman in call and response with himself. Pitch perfect fiddle is answered by a warbling vocal, set to a minimal drone that challenges how much can be done with how little.

There’s pin-drop silence in the busy room. The lack of amplification feels timeless and primal.

To a wave of applause Lakeman steps back over to the mic for the title track, ‘Kitty Jay’ – a fiddle tour de force which originally catapulted him into the spotlight back in 2005 when he performed it live on TV at the Mercury Awards. Percussionist (and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire member) Cormac Byrne reappears on stage to bring the track home, before we go to an interval.

For the second set Lakeman seems glad to get away from the dark sound of Kitty Jay and into the more jovial sounds of his later work. The atmosphere in the room shifts noticeably as favourites like ‘Lady of the Sea’ and ‘Take No Rogues’ get the crowd dancing in their seats.

A rockier, more American-sounding side to Lakeman’s work comes through – though he brings it back to basics in the encore with a joyous rendition of ‘Scrumpy’s Set’, one of his early compositions arranged for fiddle, bodhrán, and guitar.

It’s celebratory, and rightly so; everyone in the room is beaming ear to ear.

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