THE GONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
Thanks to artists like Lankum, folk music has been enjoying renewed acclaim in Ireland in recent times. Now, with the support of RTÉ, it’s also getting its own National Awards Ceremony.
There was a small hint of apprehension in the voice of Lankum member Ian Lynch when he last spoke with Hot Press back in 2017, around the time they released their phenomenal Between The Earth And Sky album. He was worried that, having changed their name from ‘Lynched’ (with its racist connotations) to ‘Lankum’, fans might be confused and the band might lose momentum. A brief recap of their recent highlights suggests that their fears were somewhat unfounded. “Hanging out with Christy Moore, eating sandwiches and playing music in his kitchen,” Ian enthuses. “That was my biggest highlight. That was a pinch yourself moment.”
“Singing ‘Sergeant William Bailey’ in the Royal Albert Hall,” adds his brother, Daragh Lynch. “Going on Jools Holland Live was a good laugh,” chimes in Cormac MacDiarmada.
“I think it was the most adrenaline I’d ever had in my life,” laughs Radie Peat. “We’d barely done radio up to that point, never mind live national TV.”
“Signing with Rough Trade,” continues Ian. “They have such a reputation, but finding out that it was all true was such a great thing.” Anything else?
“The first time playing the National Concert Hall,” says Radie Peat.
“Ah yeah, for Shane MacGowan’s birthday!” adds Daragh.
“The constant meeting of people you would’ve considered on another planet. Finding out that most of them are just normal, talented people,” finishes Radie.
Highlights aplenty then. But the most surprising aspect about Lankum’s collective personality is that, despite being hailed as figureheads for a new generation of innovative folk artists in Ireland, the four members are continually in awe of most of their own peers. In conversation, they’ll casually champion the likes of Ye Vagabonds and Lisa O’Neill, while figures like Andy Irvine are given an almost divine importance.
The good news is that they’re all part of the inaugural RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards. Taking place in Vicar Street at the end of this month, the event aims to “celebrate the huge range of folk music being played in Ireland today.” There are nine categories in all, with Lankum being nominated in four of them (and Radie also being nominated for Best Folk Singer).
The fact that this event is even happening is surely a sign that Irish folk music is going through a renaissance at the moment.
“I think so,” Ian nods. “There’s so much going on at the minute.”
“You look at that list and there’s so many great artists on it,” says Daragh. “But for every person that’s nominated, there’s another one who wasn’t, who maybe hasn’t released yet or gotten the attention they deserve – but they’re going to sessions around Dublin and they’re incredible artists.”
“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” agrees Cormac. “And they’re all really unique as well,” Radie points out. “There are so many different offshoots of folk right now. People are doing so many things to make it their own.”
“I think that’s the nature of folk music,” says
Ian. “It’s always been able to take in influences from different strands of music going on around it. Different influences feed into folk. It’s a really rich musical form.”
This is readily apparent in Lankum’s most recent album. Between The Earth And
Sky encompasses everything from rousing reimaginings of classic folk ballads, to eyeopening state-of-the-nation addresses. Two of their songs, ‘Déanta In Éirinn’ and ‘The Granite Gaze’, are dramatic reflections on an Ireland slowly shaking off its dark religious past and searching for real social justice. Both of them were nominated for Best Original Folk Track. “I think they’re very ambitious songs in what they wanted to achieve,” explains Ian. “Especially the way that people took to them and the way they’ve talked about them.”
“I remember when the Pope visited,” says Radie. “We were at a protest and ended up outside the last Magdalene Laundry and we played ‘The Granite Gaze’. It suddenly felt like the entire song had been written for that moment. The whole reason was just to perform it that day, through a bad PA, with me struggling not to cry.
“We’d had so many conversations when we were writing it, the reasons why we were writing it, how we felt. It was an upsetting thing to talk about. Then it was a mad experience to be in a group of people and all of them felt the same way as we felt. It felt like that was why we’d written it.”
Activism on these and other issues has resulted in Ireland reassessing its own identity. “Folk music has always got ideas to a wider audience,” says Ian. “If you look back at the last five or six decades, you could see what was happening socially come out through the music of the times. I know it’s a clichéd thing to say, but it’s a mirror reflecting society back to itself.”
“THERE ARE SO MANY DIFFERENT OFFSHOOTS OF FOLK RIGHT NOW. PEOPLE ARE DOING SO MANY THINGS TO MAKE IT THEIR OWN.”