False Lankum by Lankum


2023. Crikey. If the year carries on like this, it’s going to be the best year ever for new music. I’ve been completely blown away by seven new albums this year, all of them contenders for best album of the year and we are only on Day 89. Let’s recap….

Oh Me Oh My by Lonnie Holley

Working On A World by Iris DeMent

Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam by The Comet Is Coming

Nowhere And Everywhere by Unthank|Smith

All Of This Is Chance by Lisa O’Neill

Moving On Skiffle by Van Morrison (this has completely reaffirmed my belief in Van Morrison as an effortless genius (even if he is occasionally misguided (but what’s so wrong about being anti-government (I’m anti-governement (but I wasn’t anti-lockdown (to be discussed at a later date)))))).

One of the problems with recorded music is that the traditions of folk songs tend to be discarded. Folk music was once about passing songs from one person to another by listening to a performance. In this way, different interpretations, lyrics, arrangements and melodies were not only allowed, but encouraged. The problem with recordings is that “definitive” versions of songs can be assumed to exist and any variations merely tolerated. Of course, Bob Dylan has been instrumental in keeping the folk tradition alive by constantly re-interpreting his own songs and giving a lie to the idea of a definitive version of one of his songs.

The same can be said to be true about the whole genre of folk music. What style of music constitutes “folk music”? The increasing popularity of the genre which ran parallel to the development of pop or rock music from the Fifties onwards meant that the musical style of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel, Gillian Welch and others has come to be accepted as not only a sufficient condition for folk music but a necessary one. That was a convoluted sentence. What I’m trying to say is that “folk music consists of one person and a guitar or banjo” is a simplistic, yet widely accepted, definition. What about The Byrds, The Third Ear Band, Grateful Dead, Quintessence, The Incredible String Band, The Clash and Half Man Half Biscuit? Can their music be classified as folk? (Yes).

In the end, it doesn’t matter unless you are trying to write about music which, as I’ve said before is a bit like dancing to a ham sandwich. At some point, I have to bite the bullet and write that “Lankum play Irish folk music” and as soon as that gets written down, an assumption can be made about the style of music that they play. The Dubliners, Planxty, Clannad, Christy Moore and The Pogues will be amongst many artists that spring to mind. Lankum are not only nothing like those artists, but I can categorically state that the music that Lankum play is nothing like any music I’ve ever heard. If I were to say that this album is a mixture of “Irish Heartbeat” by Van Morrison and the Chieftans, “Metal Machine Music” by Lou Reed, “The Songs Of Robert Wyatt And Antony And The Johnsons” by The Unthanks , “Assiniboine And The Red” by The Small Glories, “I Was Real” by 75 Dollar Bill and “Liege And Lief” by Fairport Convention, then maybe I’d come close to describing it’s majesty, beauty, menace and outrageous excess.

The opening song on the album is “Go Dig My Grave” and is nearly nine minutes long. It is brilliantly uncompromising, especially for an opening song. Isn’t the first song on an album meant to be the most accessible? The opening half of the song consists of Radie Peat singing unaccompanied. Oh yes! This is folk music. As the instrumentation is slowly introduced, the main protagonist becomes pregnant by a boy who subsequently disowns her so she goes to her parents’ home and hangs herself. As the song progresses, more and more discordant notes accentuate the horror of the narrative until the final five minutes consist of a rising and falling drone (repeated 14 times), underscored by menacing percussion. The creativity, imagination, daring and artistry involved in this song, and the accompanying video, are astonishing.

Radie Peat learned this song from the singing of Jean Ritchie, who recorded it in 1963 with Doc Watson. The comparison between the two versions beautifully demonstrates the evolving nature of folk music.

Clear Away In The Morning” is not quite as menacing and describes the feelings of a sailor when a schooner is laid up for the winter. Despite the hard graft of the life, he yearns to get back out on the sea. “Take me back on the bay, boys. Clear away in the morning. I don’t want to go ashore boys. Oh, bring her ’round.” The singing is beautifully harmonious but with a threatening musical accompaniment, overlaid with the sound of a siren who has escaped from the Odyssey.

Master Crowleys” is, at first listening an Irish diddly-dee jig played by Radie Peat, her sister Sadhbh and Cormac Begley all playing concertinas. Of course, it is much more complex than that as the instrumental develops into a mad, wild manic menagerie of noise.

Newcastle” is more restrained and features a heartfelt vocal performance from Radie Peat. The song is derived from a ballad printed in 1620, which was called “The Contented Couckould, Or A Pleasant New Songs Of A New-Castle Man Whose Wife Being Gon From Him, Showing How He Came To London To Her, & When He Found Her Carried Her Backs Again To New-Castle Towne”. Now you’ve seen the title, you don’t need to listen to the song to know what happens.

Netta Perseus” is one of two original songs on the album (apart from the three short instrumental “Fugues”). As with many of the songs on this fabulous album, it starts simply with a gentle vocal from Radie Peat but soon develops into something more astonishing as sounds from the centre of the Universe threaten to absorb us all into a unified whole. Or something like that.

The New York Trader” tells the story of the captain of a transatlantic ship who receives a supernatural vision in a storm which causes him to confess the sins he has committed in his life. The crew throws him overboard and the storm subsides. Halfway through the song, there is a pause and the final verses are sung with a much more aggressive musical accompaniment. The 14 verses are sung by one of the other members of the band, either Daragh Lynch, his brother Ian or Cormac MacDiarmada. The Lynch brothers called their band Lynch when they first started but soon realised that the connotations of the word were offensive and changed their name to Lankum. Ian Lynch said “The bottom line is that we didn’t want to continue operating under a name connected to acts of racist violence. In modern Irish parlance the term is used to describe getting jumped on by a gang, but it seems that everywhere else there is a different understanding of the term.”

Lord Abore And Mary Flynn” is a Child ballad, sometimes known as “Prince Robert”, in which Robert is poisoned by his mother who disapproves of his marriage. When his bride discovers the truth, she takes the ring from his finger and dies. There are another 14 verses to this song which lasts over eight minutes.

I first heard “On A Monday Morning” by The Unthanks, when it sounded like a humourous song. Gee whizz! I’ve had a great weekend, partying hard but now I’ve got to go back to work. “If only I could trade in this liver” is funny, when sung by Niopha Keegan, Rachel Unthank and Becky Unthank. The gorgeous harmonies are uplifting, the regret of a hangover is worth it for the great time they have had.

Exactly the same song, delivered by Lankum, is completely different. The protagonist hasn’t been surrounded by friends, dancing the night away. He has spent the weekend by himself, in a dark corner of a bar or sipping whisky at home until the small hours, friendless, lonely and suicidal. Trading in his liver is a serious request. (The version in the video is not the album version).

Finally, the incredible 13 minutes of “The Turn“. The first three verses describe loss and impending doom at a funereal pace, using just two notes. “When this all is over, when this all is dead, they’ll pick apart the notions that rattle in your head. The ship’s already moving, it’s never going to stop. The sun meets the horizon as you look upon your lot.” The pace quickens as variations of the words “Turn, we’ll find better days burned to the ground. Mourn, it’s the only way. We’ll make a sound” are sung ten times at a faster pace until, after eight minutes, the voices fade away and are replaced by a cacophony of noise which builds and builds before quietening to a deafening silence, leaving me emotionally drained.

If we have to go back to definitions, Lankum make progressive, independent, underground, uncompromising, brilliant Irish music. To have the privilege of listening to two such courageous, unyielding and emotionally uplifting albums in the course of a few weeks is a wonder.

False Lankum by Lankum

All Of This Is Chance by Lisa O’Neill

    Published by wilfulsprinter

    Music lover

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