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Seth Lakeman talks Dartmoor, Glastonbury and his £300 album which won a Mercury Prize nomination ahead of his gig at The Apex, in Bury St Edmunds

Renowned multi-instrumentalist and Mercury Prize nominee Seth Lakeman will be coming to The Apex in Bury St Edmunds on February 23.

The show is part of his tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his acclaimed album Kitty Jay, which received the award nomination and catapulted him into the mainstream.

The album was inspired by the legends and stories of Dartmoor in Devon, where Seth grew up. His solo performance of the eponymous track live on television drew unanimous praise from critics and started a journey which has spawned 11 further albums, BBC Radio 2 playlisted singles, world tours and a clutch of awards.

Seth spoke to reporter Kevin Hurst about his musical upbringing, the sudden rise to fame from an album costing £300 to make, his regular gigs at Glastonbury and what people can expect from the tour.

1. So Seth, how did you get into playing and into folk music?

“Folk is that tradition that I grew up with living down in Dartmoor. I started quite early on as my parents ran a folk club down on the edge of Dartmoor at the Who’d Have Thought It Inn, in Milton Combe.

“I was going there and earning my musical stripes so to speak and my love for playing and my enthusiasm for it was really driven by that family environment of having music around me most of the time.

“We had lots of big folk artists come, like Richard Thompson, and when you are 13 seeing people like that play in a room that only held about 70 people max in those very small intimate shows, it was really exciting and inspiring for me.”

2. As well as the fiddle I have seen you play quite a lot of instruments. What are a few of the others you play and what other types of music and experiences shaped your songs in the early years?

“As I grew up and explored the world, I was quite interested in the local history of the area and the narrative behind it all and songwriting-wise I have used the likes of guitars, banjos and a Bouzouki – which is a popular one for me.

Seth Lakeman
Seth Lakeman

“On a music front, growing up, I branched out further afield listening to everything from dance music which was big in the 90s to bands such as U2 and Crowded House.”

3. How did the Kitty Jay album come about and I read somewhere that it cost £300 to make, is that true?

Yeah, it cost around £300 for me and my brother to record, we did it on tape and in about a week we had recorded it and tracked it.

“It was a very definitely concept I had written, Dartmoor-themed stories and in terms of putting it together it was swift – sometimes good records can be like that and creatively you just don’t look up from the table.

“We were about 25/26, where you have a bit more freedom to throw everything at it. I made it and left it for a while and then the Mercury thing happened and it all exploded really, my career was in the making and I could go out and sing those songs to loads of people.”

Seth Lakeman
Seth Lakeman

4. With the 20th anniversary tour of Kitty Jay starting next month, when you look back to where the album took you and who it helped you meet and work with, what do you think about that whole thing?

“It was such an interesting time, for me on a personal level, but also how it reflected the area I came from, the people, the sound and unconsciously I was unravelling that sound out to a wider audience.

“It was incredible how it all came about and what it did for me and my boiling pot of creativity at the time and everything after it.

“It got me to meet some incredible people, like Van Morrison, and has taken me to many special places including Glastonbury Festival, which we did last year and have done around 14 or 15 times now, I guess we are the sort of act that seems slot into that festival well and we have always enjoyed that too.”

5. On the tour dates, as well as The Apex, you are going to some town halls, opera houses and chapels – what is it about those venues that you like playing?

“Mostly it is the acoustics, but you also get a certain spirit and conjure up some atmosphere at these sorts of venues.

“There is something very special about them, there are incredible places and spaces and I think the marriage of music and these types of venues work really well.”

6. And finally, what can people expect from the anniversary show at The Apex?

“The shows have really sold well, it is interesting how anniversaries do that. I usually like to look forward rather than back, but these shows are really exciting for us as we are filling all these places and there is a real buzz about us coming to play.

“I have not really listened to the album for about 15 years but I have had to come back to it for the show and it is a powerful piece of work for people to listen to again.

“We will be playing Kitty Jay in full in the first half and in the second half we hope to get people on their feet with some of the fan’s favourites from the latter years – it really will be a great night.”

Seth Lakeman’s Kitty Jay 20th Anniversary Tour will be at The Apex, in Bury, on February 23.