One of the biggest surprises of last year was the release of Shirley Collins Lodestar, her first album in more than 30 years. But for Geoff Lakeman, this isn’t a comeback; it’s more of a step forward. You see After All These Years is the 69-year-old’s first solo album, well… ever.
And with an abundance of award-winning folk offspring often over for Sunday lunch, this is a more-anticipated-than-average debut release. The surname is a bit of a giveaway, and with his sons Sean, Sam and Seth, and daughter-in-laws Kathryn Roberts and Cara Dillon all shining lights of British folk, it’s about time the grand-daddy took to centre stage.
He’s already an established performer in the West Country folk scene and patron of the Cornwall Folk Festival. But, until now, singing and playing have taken a backseat to his 50-year career as a Fleet Street journalist (one of his proteges was a young Alistair Campbell, which means – in a strange kind of way – Geoff Lakeman is responsible for The Thick Of It…).
And if the family cast-list for After All These Years isn’t star-studded enough, he also invited his neighbour – some chap called Nic Jones – to sing backing vocals on one song. Geoff says that he nabbed Nic and persuaded him to come in and make a rare recorded appearance when the folk legend was out nearby walking his dog.
But for Geoff, this clearly isn’t an exercise in nostalgia; he has also invited some newer leading lights of the folk scene – Sam Kelly, Jim Causley and Jamie Francis – along for the ride. Which all adds up to quite a lot of anticipation for the album to deliver. And it certainly does.
The production by Geoff’s eldest Sean Lakeman is clear and unfussy, with Geoff’s voice and concertina to the fore. It’s a record that could have been made anytime in the last 50 years, vintage without being retro, but many of the song lyrics bringing the music sharply up-to-date.
It starts with three belters, the first being the rousing Farmer’s Song, written by Geoff’s friend and fellow Cornishman, Roger Bryant, about farmers forced to plough no more as their way of life, which has lasted for generations, is no longer financially viable. This introductory track sets the course for the album with Geoff Lakeman taking a commanding lead both vocally and musically with his talented backing band orbiting this bright new(ish) star.
Next up is one of three original songs by Geoff, Tie ‘Em Up, which he describes as a ‘protest shanty’. It’s another lament for a traditional industry forced on its knees, this time highlighting the plight of fishermen told not to take their boats out because of the ‘Days at Sea’ law. It showcases another great Lakeman songwriter and may explain where the rest of his boys get it from. If this isn’t a contender for the next Fisherman’s Friends album, I’ll eat my sou’wester. More original songs on the next album please, Geoff…
England Green and England Grey follows, again a broadly political song, penned by another talented West Country songwriter, Reg Meuross. Geoff’s impassioned delivery is enhanced by Nic Jones on backing vocals. An instant classic.
But before you fall into the trap of thinking this is a political album, the material begins to diversify… The next track is the first of five traditional songs arranged by Geoff, with Ye Lovers All and Bonny Irish Maid both performed solo. The trad/arr tracks all have the feel of well-performed sing-alongs from many years of folk club appearances, and Geoff is never less than totally committed to recounting these age-old stories. His voice may lack the sweetness of his extended family’s tones, but he has a characterful delivery which commands greater authority.
Geoff Lakeman’s love of Americana is evident in his choice to cover the spiritual A Wide, Wide River To Cross by Buddy and Julie Miller and Cara Dillon’s enchanting triple harmony backing vocals bring to mind the McGarrigle Sisters. Elsewhere there’s a hoedown feel to the upbeat When the Taters Are All Dug by American anglo-concertina player Jody Kruskal. Taking the album in another direction is the tricky concertina instrumental The Road Together by Máirtín O’Connor.
Add to that a comic song The Doggie Song, another Geoff Lakeman original, and this becomes a very varied selection. That said, it must be hard to put together a dozen songs from a lifetime and many decades as a performer, so it’s not surprising that After All These Years is a showcase for Geoff’s many talents and interests.
And if After All These Years comes across as a ‘Best of’ Geoff Lakeman, it’s because that’s in essence what it is. And it’s a glorious listen, one that will delight much more than just the grandkids. We look forward to that difficult second album from Geoff but politely suggest a more rapid release schedule…
Samples from All These Years:
After All These Years is released 3rd February via Geoff Lakeman Music
Fri,Jan 27th – Unit 23 , TOTNES – with Reg Meuross
Sat, Feb 4th- The David Hall, SOUTH PETHERTON, Somerset
Sat, Feb 11th- NR. MINEHEAD – Blazing Stump Folk Club, Recreation Hall, CARHAMPTON, Somerset
Thurs, Feb 16th – Black Swan Folk Club, Peasholme Green, YORK
Fri, Feb 17th – Northwich Folk Club, Harlequin Theatre, NORTHWICH, Cheshire – supporting Pete Morton
SAT: Feb 18 – SETTLE, Yorkshire- Lion’s Den Inn
Sun, Feb 19th -SOUTHPORT – Bothy Folk Club, Lancashire
Sun, Feb 26th – Folk on the Moor, IVYBRIDGE, Devon
Weds,March 1 – OVERTON Folk Club, Hampshire
March 26th – April 1st – BULGARIA and ROMANIA with The Reunion Band.
THURS, April 6 – B-BAR, Barbican, PLYMOUTH.
Fri, May 5th -ST ALBANS, Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans
Fri, May 12th – Caroline’s Kitchen, Churston Traditional Farm Shop, Churston, Nr. BRIXHAM Devon
Sat, May 13th – HOLBETON, village hall, Devon( with Steve Jenner as support)
Fri, May 26th to 30th – BUDE Folk Festival, Cornwall
Fri June 2nd – Village pump Folk Club, TROWBRIDGE
TUES, June 13 – POLPERRO FESTIVAL, Cornwall- solo concert
SAT, July 1 – ABBOTSBURY, Dorset (Show of Hands annual Fest’)
AUG 5- 7 – SIDMOUTH folk festival devon..solo gigs
Fri Aug 25th – Mon,Aug 28 – CORNWALL Folk Festival, WADEBRIDGE
THURS, Sep 14- TOTNES Folk Club,Devon
Photo Credit: Matt Austin