Saturday, 30 March 2019

GIG REVIEW: Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Wednesday 27th March 2019

 Without a new album to promote, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman took the decision to downsize capacity wise on their return to Birmingham. Not that one of the UK’s premium folk duos are strangers to the Kitchen Garden, and proving adaptable in how shows are presented keeps performing artists fresh and connected with their fan base. There was no surprise of a near full house turning out for this gig despite the competing attraction of another Lakeman just a couple of miles down the road in the city centre. A full-on folk rock Seth Lakeman show at the Glee Club would surely have gone down well, just as the slightly less intense evening brother Sean delivered in conjunction with wife Kathryn in nearby Kings Heath.

A common thread linking each Roberts-Lakeman show is the unrelenting heady level of professionalism prevalent. Whether mesmerised by Sean’s intrinsic guitar playing or rarely hearing a note dropped by Kathryn’s sculptured vocals, the immaculate delivery of traditional and original songs frames each show. Intuition plays a deep role in how this vastly experienced couple serves their musical offerings. While sound innovation rarely deviates, the continual search for song material stretches far and wide consistently scouring the tapped and untapped traditional songbook and seeking inspiration from observational sources closer to home.

As we have come to expect from their shows, Kathryn eases between piano, solo vocals and occasional flute, while Sean concentrates entirely on acoustic guitar. A large degree of warmth radiates from their friendly banter that shines a faint light on family life and how this transcends to a duo regularly on the road. Family life also permeates some of their song inspiration, beautifully executed in ‘A Song to Live By’.

The vast majority of material selected for the pair of sets that formed this show are found on albums credited to Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman over the years. The elegance of 2018’s PERSONAE was most prominent led off by ‘Tribute of Hands’ and co-peaking with ‘The Knight’s Ghost’ and ‘Independence’. The latter was introduced as a song not frequenting many set lists recently, but still lived up to its billing as one of the album’s finest numbers. The change of pace that ‘The Poison Club’ injects into a set was also a feature of tonight’s show.

Away from the duo’s original material and dip into the traditional world, cover versions of Springsteen’s ‘Matamoros Banks’ and Sandy Denny’s ‘Solo’ stacked up well, although both aren’t new to Roberts-Lakeman shows. Neither is the majestic ’52 Hertz’, the pick of the duo's own songs and a moving composition turning and twisting into many metaphors for missed communication.

You do get the feeling that Kathryn and Sean are in the midst of a rich vein of form. They have hardly been prolific in their career on the album churning out front, but two exceptional releases in the last four years and a continual stream of live shows across the country keep them at the forefront of their genre and contemporary scene. This Birmingham show proved another outstanding renewal and it is not difficult to ascertain as to why they court popularity. Dedicated folk fans have tuned into their work for years, and maybe casual observers who only wish to occasionally dip into this genre would do a lot worse than check out the work of Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman. Whenever or wherever you check in, a consistency of high caliber music validates the choice.