KATHRYN ROBERTS & SEAN LAKEMAN | INTERVIEW
Fresh from another win at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, husband and wife duo Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman are set to tour again. This time they’re promoting their latest EP Saved For A Rainy Day, a collection of live favourites, covers and rarities, as well as trying out new material for their next album. John-Paul Davies spoke to Sean Lakeman about life on the road, working with your wife and Trump’s wall.
Saved For A Rainy Day is a treat for your followers – live favourites that you’ve never committed to record before. Will there be any new material on your upcoming tour?
This EP really is a rarity, things that have been knocking about. People have been asking for various songs and each song on Rainy Day stands alone. It’s not meant to be a body of work, it’s a collection. We’ve been writing quite a lot of new stuff over the winter. Having the luxury to road test new material before going into the studio to record, that’s something we like to do. We tend to do quite a lot of live work. It’s where we put our focus.
When you were recording the EP did you think your version of Bruce Springsteen’s Matamoros Banks would be released in the first months of the Trump presidency?
Not really! His whole ‘wall’ thing hit a very raw nerve with us. We spent a lot of time in America, especially down in the south west states. We’ve seen that whole area, around New Mexico, we’ve witnessed that whole “problem” of immigration first hand. So when Trump started banging on about his wall we thought: we have to play this song. We have to rekindle that and put it out. I don’t think we thought it might become a reality. In our eyes Springsteen is a great folk writer – the poignancy of the lyric and the subject matter – he documents his society amazingly well. But we haven’t been over there since 9/11. We were in Cleveland when it happened. Then a year after 9/11 all their work visas changed and it became a lot harder to go and work there. Certainly none of our peers in folk music work in America anymore.
There is a lovely moment on Saved For A Rainy Day when Poppy and Lilly join you for their reward chart song, Smile And Shine. Is it difficult managing a tour schedule with two little twins to look after?
It is, it’s hugely difficult. The preparation that goes into it is massive. There’s a lot of goodwill from grandparents and friends. And, logistically working it around school and school holidays. It’s a huge operation, not something we do lightly. A huge amount of effort from all sorts of people goes into making that work so their lives are as smooth as possible.
My wife and I met at work and worked together for six years. How do you find it writing, recording, touring and living together?
It’s brilliant. We really are best friends. It’s like hanging out with your best pal all the time. We’re lucky enough to travel around the country, have nice lunches and explore new towns. Apart from driving for hours and hours it’s a bit like being retired! Looking at museums and art galleries, it’s brilliant.
You’ve been awarded Best Duo at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2013 and last year. How much is your relationship a part of your success as a duo?
I think massively, to be honest. When we go out and play gigs, we present our personalities. We try to approach a gig as if we are inviting an audience into our front room and play them a couple of hours’ worth of songs. The way our relationship comes over is absolutely paramount to the way people react to the songs and the performance as a whole. We very much lay ourselves bare. We’re obviously doing something that people like.
The folk community is like one big family and you’ve worked with many of the leading lights on the British scene. What’s next for the Roberts Lakeman duo?
We’re loving the new songs that we’re playing. Hopefully we’ll be able to record them quite simply. Our last album, Tomorrow Will Follow Today was just us two: we didn’t have any guest musicians, predominantly guitars and with Katherine on piano and woodwind. And that’s what people hear live and that’ll be the core of what we stick to, rather than embellishing it too much. Our personalities are our USP.
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, Pontardawe Arts Centre, Thurs 27 Apr. Tickets: £12/£10. Info 01792 863722 / www.npttheatres.co.uk/pontardawe
[photo MATT AUSTIN]