SAM LEE | LIVE REVIEW
St David’s Hall, Cardiff, Thurs 8 May
Sam Lee is introduced to the stage by a man announcing that folk music is trendy. “I don’t like that word,” says Sam Lee good-naturedly a little later, and if tonight’s audience is anything to go by, ‘trendy’ might be a bit of overstatement. Although there’s a good sized crowd here it’s mostly older people; it seems the kids aren’t that interested in folk right now.
Still, that’s not Lee’s fault. His delicate, thoughtful music isn’t well suited to the sticky-carpeted environs of the toilet circuit, and tonight he’s in the well-heeled bar of St David’s Hall, a venue not known for its youth appeal. Lee’s debut album A Ground Of Its Own was released two years ago, and received plaudits from just every critical outlet there is. Lee spent years living with Roma and travellers and learning their traditional songs. He takes these songs and fits them over complex, modern arrangements which foreground his formidable voice.
Some of the songs wouldn’t seem out of place on a Nick Cave album, such as George Collins, a ballad about love and death that ends with the death of the protagonist, but not before he’s taken six young maids with him. Phoenix Island, the lead song from his most recent EP, is a lovely, lilting thing with added audience backing vocals. Goodbye My Darling is a tender ballad, with Lee accompanying himself on the shruti box, a sort of droning Indian harmonium.
Lee’s band are a fine group of musicians with pride of place going to multi-instrumentalist Jonah Brody, who gives a good account of himself on ukulele, flute, piano, Jew’s harp and an enormous Japanese koto harp. Throughout the evening, meanwhile, Lee himself is a humorous and thoughtful guide to the music he performs, explaining the context of the songs and who taught him which song.
At the end of the set the audience give Lee a resounding vote of approval, and they wander into the night humming the old songs to themselves.
words DAVID GRIFFITHS