Sam Lee: Live At The Gulbenkian Theatre | Unconventional Folk Immersion | Live Review

Source: Mark Newington

2020 sees Sam Lee continuing to push the boundaries and expectations of what Folk music is in this
day and age. Lee has found himself as a singer who has made a career as taking some traditional Folk
music themes and interpreting them with very much his own unique twist. With his recent album
Old Wow‘, Lee expands on some of these musical explorations and combines his experimentation by
introducing Bernard Butler as a Producer and has released an album with the Earth very much
beating at its core. Tonight’s show at The Gulbenkian Theatre see’s Lee on the initial run of his promotional concerts.

Tonight’s show see’s Lee backed by a band consisting of some of the artists who performed on the
album, but also sees the live debut of Butler adding guitar to the set up. As much as this is a Folk gig,
with Lee’s interpretation and musical twists it is far from generically conventional. Alongside bands
like Lankum, it feels like he is working hard to push the boundaries of what conventional Folk music
is and then proceeds to do just that from beginning to end. What is clear throughout is that the key
component in this is his voice and the evening is centred justifiably centred around it.

Opening song,and album opener, The Garden of Eden has a really quiet starting with double bass and Lee’s voice as the band creep slowly in. This idea of musical subtlety is the key to Lee’s performance. There are standout moments for all musicians, especially Double Bass player Misha Mullov-Abbado, whose playing at times drives the sound in a way not dissimilar to Danny Thompson.
Ultimately for the band there is an overall sense of everyone playing in harmony no matter how big
or small the sound is. ‘Lay This Body Down‘ is probably the finest example of the band in more
grandiose sound starting with all on stage with the exception of Butler singing and then just building
and building to a genuinely sing along chorus. ‘Phoenix Island‘ highlights vocally how strong this
collective is. Musically the highlight, perhaps as with the album, is ‘The Moon Shines Bright‘,
combining two songs including a section of the very well covered song ‘Wild Mountain Thyme‘, but
much like everything else Lee well and truly makes it his own.

Butlers inclusion to the evening brings a mix of brilliance, subtle improv and at times genuine
hilarity. His Guitar playing on the earlier songs adds to the music but not done in a riff making
overwhelming sense. With a combo of E-Bow and pedals its just adding to the groove that is being
made by the rest of the band. There is a moment where Butler is welcomed back on stage for
Blackbird‘ until its remembered that it hasn’t been rehearsed. He is then given the interval to learn
one song and insanely the gap at the encore to learn the shows finale which he is then brilliantly
aided by pianist and Double Bass player nodding and pointing at strings for every chord change.
Something that could have gone horrifically wrong is completely nailed by all on stage and at the
same time clearly exhibiting that they are all having a brilliant time, as are the audience.

The concept of ‘Earth’ extends beyond the performance on the stage. As you entered the show
tonight there was a leaflet on the seat promoting the singing with Nightingales shows that he puts on
in the spring. Also as part of the tour there is following nature hikes in every town he is playing to
allow a fully educational and themed event (that will beat any high tech cinema for total immersive
experience). However the thing with the planet is that it is, by its very nature, unpredictable and
unfortunately Storm Dennis put pay to the planned walk in Canterbury.

It is evidential through tonight’s performance that Sam Lee is a singer who is unequivocally
committed to his causes. Whether this be the exploration and interpretation of folk song or the
support and promotion of causes such as Friends Of The Earth, he uses his position to be able to
ensure that both are fully understood. This evenings show magically combines these two things and there is no doubt that all that attended left more conscious of both and smiling at what they had
see. Ultimately a tremendous evening for those of us that braved the storm to come and see.

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