Late replacement on the tour he might be but Winter Mountain, dude, is proper zen. See, the man known to his mates as Joe Francis, has broken a duck today. He’s had a full body massage. There are plenty of places in Wolves where zen might not be the desired effect of such an endeavour, but this was a Thai one and it worked. His songs are calm and downright lovely too. “American Honey” is fun – written about a road trip that he and his brother went on, and a truly beautiful song for a friend that passed away in the shape of “January Stars”. “Dancing Off The Edge Of The World” is written for his new girlfriend (a fact that some in the audience find funny for reasons that are unclear) and the set is bookended superbly too. A cover of “Dancing In The Dark” is done with skill and really brings home the lyrics in a way that The Boss’ bombast doesn’t, while the last one “Stronger When You Hold Me” seems to be perfect for the warmth that has so encapsulated this set. He reckons he’s usually fired up on stage, he’s not here and it evidently suits him.
To begin at the end – nearly. Seth Lakeman ends his main set here with “Kitty Jay” and, upon the conclusion of this fiddle-based masterclass, he comes to the front of the stage and says this: “Thank you for supporting live music.” He says it again after he and Francis encore with “The Last Rider” and adds: “…thanks for not staying at home with Netflix.”
The reason for starting with that is simple: this is surely why Lakeman is on the stage here tonight, for the first time in a little venue in the shadow of Wolves football ground, barely three months since he was on tour with his “Freedom Fields” celebration: because, finally, he can.
For 75 minutes tonight, Seth Lakeman does what he was born to do. Sing songs about his environment, everything here is hewn from the West Country earth. “Lady Of The Sea”, “The White Hare”, or “The Hurlers” – they are shot through with a class.
There’s a tenderness too. “Portrait Of Your Wife” sends everyone into a reverie and “Solomon Browne” never fails to hit the mark, but there’s plenty of upbeat stuff from the new record, too. “Coming For You Soon”, “Side By Side”, “Higher We Aspire” (“I wrote loads of stuff in lockdown to avoid the homeschooling that was going on….”) “Shoals To Turn” underline how good this album is, and the latter is so rugged you can almost feel the stormy, rocky seas.
Francis had joined him for most of the second half of the set, and his harmonica work on the always brilliant “Hold Your Fire (The Colliers)” works perfectly, and “Change” gives a real festival feel – which, when the audience stands in the aforementioned “….Rider” is truly the case.
In Wilson’s set he’d said to the audience that he was delighted to be on the stage with Seth Lakeman, and that he believed him to be “one of the most important folk artists in the UK”. All of that is true, and he writes marvellous songs, but there’s one thing you simply can’t ignore: he just adores playing live.