Live Review: Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman + Andy Lenton, Nettleham Village Hall, Nettleham, Lincoln – 22nd March 2024

photo by Greame Tait

The folk club at Nettleham Village Hall can always be relied on to deliver the highest quality acts to entertain the local congregation and this particular evening was no exception with what can only be described as folk royalty in the shape of Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman. They originally joined forces back in the nineties when Roberts, at that time performing as part of a duo with fellow Barnsleyite, Kate Rusby, required a backing band and hired the three Lakeman Brothers. Over time and a few personnel changes the musical collaboration would morph into the pop/folk outfit Equation before, at the turn of the century, Roberts and Lakeman peeled away to form a duo both musically and personally. Since then they have released five albums and have twice achieved the accolade of Best Folk Duo at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. This spring finds the duo back on the road for an extensive UK tour ahead of the release of their new album ‘The Collection’, a compilation that brings together sixteen of their favourite recordings between 2001 – 2018, including several from their earlier albums that have long since become a scarcity for CD or vinyl enthusiasts.

The duo kicked off the night’s proceedings with ‘The Wisdom Of Standing Still’ from their 2012 release ‘Hidden People’ that set the template for the evening’s repertoire, covering some of their finest work over the last twenty years. For the most part Roberts sat behind keyboards, her finely structured arrangements supported exquisitely by a voice that effortlessly weaves between traditional folk, old music hall and timeless pop sensibilities, always offering the perfect conduit to the narrative that constantly reveals the skills of a master wordsmith and a poet with the keenest eye. Lakeman relied exclusively on his guitar playing, of which he is undoubtedly one of the finest of his generation, switching effortlessly from driving rhythms to fiery lead lines, rapid strumming to intricate fingerpicking, often within the same song, but always complimenting and supporting his partner.

The first set included two songs from the duo’s most recent album and first for five years ‘Almost A Sunset’ that came out last year, starting with ‘Ropedancer’, inspired by the perils of being a tightrope walker, and ‘Eavesdropper’ which explores the origin of this seventeenth century noun. There’s also room during the first set for a song that since its release has become a staple of the duo’s live shows since it first appeared on their 2015 album ‘Tomorrow Will Follow Today’. Telling the heartbreaking story of a solitary whale shunned from his own species for communicating in the wrong key, ’52 Hertz’ is a fabulous example of Roberts’ ability to hone into newsworthy storylines and wrap them in a lyrical narrative that pierces the most stoic of hearts. ‘Darling Isabella’, with its inspiration stemming from the postwar comedic and musical duo ‘Flanders and Swann‘, explores a very different musical and lyrical aspect whilst ‘A Song To Live By’, which closed the first half and written for the duo’s twins, is a truly wonderful example of Roberts’ poetic heart and has fast become a crowd favourite.

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman live at the Nettleham Village Hall, Nettleham, Lincoln. - 22nd March 2024.
photo: Graeme Tait

During a short interval for refreshments, not forgetting the raffle draw, many of the audience took the opportunity to avail themselves from the delights on offer at the merchandise table and have a quick chat with Roberts and Lakeman before the second set got underway. Initially Roberts returned to the stage unaccompanied to perform one of the first songs she ever wrote. Having grown up within the mining community of Barnsley during the the turbulent period of the eighties she was inspired to write ‘The Ballad Of Andy Jacobs’ though it would be many years later before she felt comfortable enough to perform the song and even longer before it would be recorded as part of the duo’s sophomore album in 2003. Despite the passing of time the song still carries a reverence as well as a real sense of relevancy, due in part to the current political climate, while Roberts’ passionate delivery betrayed a real sense that this song, nominated as ‘Best Original Song’ at the folk Awards in 2013, and the characters within are never far from her heart.

During the second set the duo took a break from performing their own material to play a song from one of the real icons of the British Folk Scene. Back in 2015 Roberts was asked to join the legendary seventies folk rock band Fotheringay, placing her firmly in the shoes of possibly the finest singer of the genre, Sandy Denny. For this evening’s performance the duo chose to play ‘I’m A Dreamer’, a song that appeared on Denny’s final album ‘Rendezvous’ which was released barely a month prior to her tragic passing after falling down the stairs at her home. It proved to be a wonderful choice of song delivered with all the sensitivity and grace of two musicians who understood the poignancy of the piece.

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman live, at the Nettleham Village Hall, Nettleham, Lincoln. - 22nd March 2024
photo: Graeme Tait

Most of the remaining songs from the second set came from last year’s album ‘Almost A Sunset’ including a rousing rendition of ‘The Fall Of The Lion Queen’ and both parts of the epic ‘Red Rose and White Lily’ before, having been warned in advance that there would be no encore, the final song of the night ‘Pew Tor’. This song, inspired by a beautiful part of Dartmoor, close to both the duo’s hearts and home, wonderfully transported the listener across the miles leaving the audience with a sense of peace and warmth as its closing refrain lingered long after the final notes had drifted into the ether. A very special night delivered by a truly inspiring musical duo.

The night’s proceeding got underway with Lincolnshire singer songwriter Andy Lenton treating the local congregation to a selection of songs, many with a strong connection to the local area. Having opened with a version of Steve Tilston’s ‘Slip Jigs and Reels’ Lenton continued with his self penned and award winning song ‘In Common Tongue’, a lament for the dying-out of local dialogues in everyday use, in particular the ‘yellow belly’ Lincolnshire dialogue, that immediately showed him to be an adept guitarist with a great ear for a melody. He cemented this opinion with further songs that drew on his home county’s history and geography such as ‘Summer Solstice’, ‘Fire and Brimstone’ and ‘When The Mayfair comes To Town’. And while their themes may be local to Lincolnshire, the quality of the writing would undoubtedly make these songs enjoyable regardless of their geography.

About Graeme Tait 110 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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