Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman:
‘Traditional repertoire has given us both so much…’


Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman were the 2016 winners of the ‘Best Duo’ at the 2016 Radio 2 Folk Awards. Shire Folk caught up with them to find out more about their brilliant music, their twin daughters, work/life balance and all the glamour of being out on the road!


SF: At the start of your careers, who were your musical heroes?

Kathryn: I was obsessed with the Silly Sisters (Maddy Prior and June Tabor) from a very young age thanks to my mum playing their album and learning all their songs. We used to recreate (as best we could) the wonderful harmonies on the way to clog dance practice every Tuesday. I remember going to see them live in about 1984 in Sheffield, which blew my mind as a 10-year-old fan!

Sean: Steve ‘Scats’ Redman, Chris Newman, Nic Jones, The Beatles, Lindsay Buckingham, Peter Buck, the list goes on and on.

SF: When you start planning a new album do you have an idea how many of your own songs you will include against songs from the tradition?

Kathryn: We don’t plan as such, there is no theme, there is never a title until the very end, it is never a ‘project’!

The songs that end up on an album are the ones that we feel are good enough to make it out of the living room and into the public domain. They each have to tell a story or make an emotional connection with us first of all, before we take it out to other people. Whether they are self-penned, traditional or covers is not really a consideration until we are writing the sleeve notes and applying for licences etc.

Sean: We just like to keep adding our two penny’s worth to the evolution of the traditional canon. We feel there is an element of responsibility about it. Traditional repertoire has given us both so much and has influenced a fundamental part of who we musically are.

SF: With the twins Poppy and Lily, how easy is it for you both to balance a life on the road with family commitments?

Kathryn: We work hard at keeping a work/life balance and keeping things as regular as possible for the girls. We are very fortunate to have a really supportive family, both in Devon and in Yorkshire and a great network of friends who help out when we are on tour. Very often during the school holidays the girls come on tour with us, they are expert at wrapping cables, putting together my flute and are in charge of selling CDs. They are learning that it’s not all glamour out there!!

Sean: So much of our time is spent being as normal a family as we can. Our logistical planning is practically military. Kathryn could command a small army, I’m sure of it. The work/life balance is something we are continually working at and assessing.

SF: Do you prefer the writing of songs or playing them live to an audience?

Kathryn: Both are a very different discipline and equally enjoyable. Writing songs can be both easy and difficult; for me there is no particular pattern to it. Finding quiet time is sometimes tricky. We might be in the middle of a great writing session and suddenly it’s school pickup time so everything has to stop, or a neighbour will see the light on and pop in for coffee and a chat. We feel lucky that we are able to be flexible and work around other commitments although it does mean sometimes still being at it at 11.30 p.m. or answering emails at bedtime!

Playing live is a great opportunity to relate to and communicate with others – it’s a validation that what we are doing has value and worth. It sounds strange to say but if someone tells me after a gig that a particular song made them cry I feel as if I have done a good job – it means that I have shared an emotion with them.

Sean: Playing live is the thing for me really. I can’t really understand the notion that anyone who creates something artistic wouldn’t want to share it with other people. Then there’s the addictive adrenaline element to it. Some folks want to jump out of planes or ride roller coasters; I get my fill of that excitement from playing on stage. The writing of songs is a much more insular process. Much less attractive to me.

SF: The lovely song ‘52 Hertz’ from your album Tomorrow Will Follow Today must be the only folk song about a whale that actually survives. Tell us a little about how you came to write it?

Kathryn: I have long been totally obsessed with whales and when I read the account of 52 Hertz in a science journal I felt it was a story worth sharing. The notion that humans are not the only species who might struggle with miscommunication was intriguing. It has long been thought that whales have an emotional intelligence and, whether he is lonely or not, the idea that he is trying so hard to be heard struck a chord with me.

SF: Are there any new projects in the pipeline that you can tell the readers of Shire Folk about?

Kathryn: As I said earlier, we don’t really set out on projects. After such a busy 2016 we are hoping for a little bit of quiet time at home on Dartmoor to get some writing and recording done, but we have no deadline or stress to fulfil anyone else’s expectation. When we feel we have enough tracks that we are happy with there will be another album – it could be next spring, it could be 2018, who knows?

Graham Hobbs

FEATUTRE HEADING: blah blah balh


Feature Intro:After having won the Musician of the Year award at this year’s Folk Awards and playing with almost everyone from Jon Boden and Eliza Carthy to Hannah Ja


Feature Interviewer SF: Question

Feature Interviwee BH: answer



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