Four hundred years after the Mayflower set off from England to discover uncharted land in The Americas, Seth Lakeman seeks to commentate the historical event in a concept album of song and spoken word. The Devon man seems an ideal choice for such an undertaking, and he has committed himself, heart and soul, to the venture.
He has researched the events surrounding the voyage in great depth before committing to song. Growing up a few miles away from the quay where the fabled ship left on its mighty adventure, and the local man being one of the foremost purveyors of modern British folk, he has produced a fine chronicle of the trials and tribulations of those on the ship, whilst highlighting the injustices and devastation brought to the indigenous Wampanoag tribe, who had inhabited the land peacefully and untainted for 10,000 years before the arrival of the pilgrims, themselves seeking sanctuary from religious persecution.
It’s an epic journey of huge historical significance and merits a testament that will hold up. I am happy to report that Seth has made a terrific album, where the music swells and ebbs as much with the emotions of the protagonists involved, as with the wild Atlantic ocean faced by the seafarers. The songs are placed in their historical context by a narration by Paul McGann, (written by Nick Stimson). He places just the right amount of gravitas and emotion to inform, and connect the listener to the music. The narrated pieces are short, succinct, and to the point, allowing the music to flow and tell the full story. And what splendid music it is too!
Lakeman’s lyrical lecture begins with a young Wampanoag girl’s premonition of an invasion of foreigners who will reap desolation and havoc on her people and her land on the stirring ‘Watch Out’. The view of the indigenous people is kept to the fore on songs such as ‘The Pilgrim Warning’, and the moving ‘Bury Nights’ with Cara Dillon’s sweet vocals adding another level of pathos to the mix. Perhaps Cara could have been used on lead vocals to vary the delivery from such a wide cast of characters featured on the album, but it’s a minor quibble, and maybe due to my love of the lady’s voice rather than any misdirection from Lakeman.
Usually lauded for his strong percussive tenor guitar playing and fine fiddle skills, sometimes this overlooks what an exceptional lyricist he is too. One of the main themes of the whole album is condensed in a few words, with emotion wrought out of each syllable, again with the soothing voice of Cara Dillon.
Saints and strangers. Once we had many. Now we have few. Once we were stronger than you.
Tunes such as ‘Pilgrim Brother’ and ‘Sailing Time’ are swirling anthems with Seth’s fiddle doing what he does delightfully best, and hard to sit still to. A history lesson you can dance to? Has Seth uncovered a new niche market? Certainly after listening to the album one’s curiosity is piqued and I found myself wanting to learn more about the actual events surrounding The Mayflower voyage.
Seth Lakeman is due to tour ‘A Pilgrim’s Tale’, including many towns and cities which played significant roles in the events that unfolded four hundred years ago. This is Seth Lakeman’s tenth solo album, and in terms of cohesiveness and sheer musicality, it may well be his best yet.