CONCERT REVIEW: Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, Crowland Abbey, Lincolnshire Rural and Community Touring
If folk music is all about storytelling with instruments, Dartmoor-based couple Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman showed the genre is so compelling.
A Russian mermaid, a Belgian giant, a lovestruck whale and Napoleon in exile on St Helena were just some of the tales told at Crowland Abbey on a windy Sunday night.
The two-time winners of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards' Best Duo category showed sensitivity, intimacy and delicacy in drawing their audience in with a concert fitting for the iconic building which hosted their performance.
During the concert, Sean said: "It was fantastic as we drove to this place, which we could see from miles away, to find out that it was the place we were playing in.
"It's a great thing for us and it's always nice to play the 'Live and Local' gigs because it's an audience that's normally unfamiliar with a folk gig.
"Folk is a broad church and a very wide genre, but we deem folk to be story-telling and making a connection with somebody's personal experience or something from their past."
In a two-hour performance, the sedate sat alongside the satirical as The Cows of Mystery, 52 Hertz (the song about a singing whale) and The Poison Club blended in with The Wisdom of Standing Still (the song that made this reviewed buy all four of Roberts and Lakeman's albums that were for sale at Crowland Abbey), A Song to Live By and Bruce Springsteen's Matamoros Banks.
But one of the highlights of the concert was Kathryn's song of tribute to ex-Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny, Been on the Road (So Long).
Also striking were their own songs, such as The Wisdow of Standing Still, The Isle of St Helena, The Cows of Mystery and Darling Isabella.
Kathryn said: "One of the reasons why we enjoy doing these kind of gigs is because we get to visit other smaller communities.
"So we feel as if we're right at home because, for us, folk music is something that should be enjoyed in a live setting.
"It's about making a connection and, for audiences, there's something special about being up close and personal with somebody who makes music."
Originally from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, Kathryn and Sean's musical and personal partnership goes back more than 25 years when they came together, along with Sean's brothers Sam and Seth Lakeman, to join "Barnsley Nightingale" Kate Rusby.
Kathryn said: "We got together as a bit of fun and formed a group called Equation.
"A guy from Warner Brothers came along to sign us up and we experienced a side of music that we hadn't experienced before, working with lots of top-notch studio producers.
"It was an education we wouldn't have had otherwise and we got to enjoy all the finer parts of making music, making videos and working with posh photographers.
"What it did was set us in good stead for when we got older, in terms of what works and what doesn't work when it comes to making the business of music your living."
Currently, Kathryn and Sean balance their musical lives with those of being parents to twin daughters.
Sean said: "We do music because we've never done anything else.
"It's our identity but we choose our projects carefully, with regards to our children.
"But when we sit down to write a song, it comes fairly easily because we've been friends for a long time and married for a long time.
"We work in a three-yearly cycle which is very slow for some people.
"But we don't feel any pressures as we have a life outside of music."
Kathryn and Sean's album catalogue spans nearly 17 years, starting with their first release as a duo, the aptly-titled "1".
The obvious "2" soon followed, backed up by "Hidden People, Tomorrow Will Follow Today, Saved For a Rainy Day" and finally, in 2018, "Personae".
Kathryn said: "South Lincolnshire is quite rich in its agricultural and military heritage and there are a lot of folk songs that have made it out of the county.
"We like going to parts of the county where we feel there's a unique identity going on.
"From our point of view, there's something special about looking out on an audience which getting what we're doing, whether by crying or just by enjoying it.
"That's something which is very hard to do when your gigs are on a TV screen which doesn't convey the intimacy and magic that goes on."
Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman showed why superb musicianship and scintillating vocals are such an incomparable mix.
Review and interview by Winston Brown