THE SKY'S THE LIMIT
Lynched decided a name change was necessary due to the racist connotations of their original title. It had the potential to be a PR disaster, but the newly rechristened Lankum's unique trad/ folk sound has resulted in rave reviews for new LP, Between The
“We woke up to an email one morning from Geoff Travis saying ‘I really like the band and I’d love to put out your next album. This is a serious offer, so please get in touch’.” Ian Lynch, one quarter of traditional folk group Lankum, is going over how the band ended up putting out their latest LP on the revered Rough Trade label.
“We replied, of course, and it’s just worked out incredibly well. It’s been amazing for us, not only because they’re such a legendary label, but also because they stepped back and let us do our own thing. They had no problem with us doing 12 minute long songs and took no issue with cover design or anything. They were just fully supportive, and I’m hopeful that through them we’ll be able to introduce ourselves to a wider audience.”
Remarkably, this all happened during a period when Lankum risked shooting themselves in the foot by changing their name.
“I can tell you that the PR people
“What's happened in 100 years? We got rid of one set of colonisers and gave ourselves over to the Catholic Church. "
definitely weren't happy,” laughs Ian. “It did cause some fall out with promoters and then there were people cynically saying, ‘This is all about you trying to go on tour in America.’ But it wasn’t like that. It was just something we talk over and decided we needed to do. Looking at the whole situation, we realised we couldn’t continue with Lynched.”
Not that their resolve had ever dampened during the course of their career, but the name change appeared to act as a new stimulus for the band.
Between The Earth And Sky, which was released back in November, is a blistering record, encompassing everything from rousing folk ballads to bitter, eye-opening state of the nation addresses.
“The title of the album is to do with boundaries, borders and liminality,” says Ian. “We’d been working on many of these tracks since the moment Cold Old
Fire came out. I think even before that, we’d been playing the likes of ‘Sargeant William Bailey’. Then the last one to be made, ‘The Granite Gaze’, was recorded about two days before all the recordings went off to be mastered. So this was stuff we’d been going over for years and we’d been dropping songs into our repertoire at different stages.”
Many of these tracks are thoughtful reimaginings of folk songs from Ireland and beyond. In a companion booklet to the album, Lankum talk about how they discovered these songs, often hearing them being sung by fellow musicians. Ian notes that his time working in the Irish Traditional Music Archive informed his understanding of folk history, and all the members have a desire to preserve and breathe new life into the oral tradition.
But beyond that, there’s also a conscious effort to make these songs relevant for our current age. Ian doesn’t shy away from talking about about the social importance of folk music.
“I think that any song that would end up on our repertoire would have some kind of relevancy to modern day life,” he tells me. “There’s songs from the archives which speak about how great some girl is and songs which talk about the geography and scenery of somewhere in Ireland. That’s all great, but the ones that we end up playing are the ones that have some message and a truth to them. Songs that are pertinent to this age.”
This is plain to see in the opening track, ‘What Will Do When We Have No Money?’, an Irish Traveller ballad about poverty, sung beautifully by Radie Peat. Another track. ‘Peat Bog Soldiers’, was written by prisoners in a concentration camp in Germany, with obvious modern
But the two strongest tracks on the album, ‘Déanta in Éirinn’ and ‘The Granite Gaze’, were composed by Ian himself. Turning the ballad form on its head, they’re full of bitter recriminations about mass emigration, poverty, denial of rights for women (“the last gasp of wonder for the cretin on the throne/As our daughters
slip away across the foam”) and “cute hoors” in the Dail. These are modern anthems for a disillusioned generation. “I just had this thought when I went down to write it,” begins Ian. “You’re looking around and you’re wondering how much Irish people can take? Jesus Christ how much can people take before they break? And I wanted to address this long-held idea that Irish people are just very easy going – ‘Ah, sure it’ll be grand!’ – and say that sometimes these situations need to be taken seriously.
“And the whole Centenary threw this up again and it made us ask ourselves, what did we actually achieve? What has happened in 100 years? We got rid of one set of colonisers and gave ourselves over to the Catholic Church. The effect of colonisation is still on our national psyches, it’s left such a mark on us.”
‘The Granite Gaze’, dedicated to “to the women and children of Ireland, past and present”, is a plainly sung reproach of modern Ireland, with imagery that seers into the mind.
“I was always very interested in the whole motif of the ‘Sovereignty Goddess’,” says Ian. “The idea of the land being conceived by the sacred female, Ireland as a female character, and through her poetry and creativity is conceived. Aislings and things like that. Throughout Irish history, the sovereignty goddess gone from being a maiden that needs to be rescued to a nurturing mother. It goes through all these different stages. And I was thinking, what would the sovereignty goddess be like if she was here today? I imagined it as being a mother who can’t look after her own kids. Everyone being forced to emigrate to other countries.
Then the people who are still living here committing suicide and self-harm. It’s like Ireland is eating up her own children.”
Reviewing Between The Earth And Sky in November, I noted that a strange irony of mass emigration and government inaction is that many of the artists who remain here have given us powerful creative statements. We’ll see plenty more of that from Lankum in the future, I’m sure.