Live | Sam Lee @ EartH

Sam Lee, photographed in Wick woods, Hackney; Sept 2019

Entering EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney) for the first time, I was almost overwhelmed by its beauty. Its simple and stripped bare architecture. Its sloped wooden seating reminding me of a US school gymnasium hall. A slogan draped across the front of the stage read “No Music On A Dead Planet”. The audience spoke amongst themselves in hushed whispers, almost in anticipation of the education and the entertainment we were about to receive.

Sam Lee is a captivating performer. He always has been but seems to be growing even more over time. Constantly in movement when not singing, dancing to his own beat, a band leader as well as a song collector. The stories told in-between the songs gave new meanings to old tales, especially in the case of ‘Spencer the Rover’ and ‘Turtle Dove’. Lee’s experiences and love of travelling across the country and over the isles, capturing these songs for posterity before those who are able to tell them are no longer here to do so come across powerfully, with both a warmth and a humanity that would be impossible to fake.

Starting the set in the same way he does the album he’s promoting Old Wow, he begins with ‘Garden of England (Seeds of Love)’, his voice being gently joined as it builds by his expanded backing band and the quiet genius of the album producer Bernard Butler. The band throughout the evening were nothing short of remarkable, from Anna Esslemont’s beautifully understated violin playing through to James Keay’s reflective piano. The added vocals of Mara Carlyle and Cosmo Sheldrake joined in on various points through the 15 song set, none more so effectively than on ‘Cosmo’ and Sam’s a cappella reading of ‘Children of Darkness’.

When Butler wasn’t needed to play, he sat on the front row with the audience, guitar placed between his legs, content to join in what felt like an evening of celebration. A meeting place of the old and the new. The audience were in raptures from start to finish but none more so than on the final two songs, ‘Lovely Molly’ and ‘Goodbye My Darling’. The communion bow at the end was greeted by an impulsive standing ovation, one delivered straight from the heart and I woozily staggered back into the cold Hackney night, a better man for having experienced once of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time.