Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lankum – Irish Traveller Ballads - Review

Lankum is the new name of a band UK newspaper, The Guardian, has called "The most convincing folk band to come out of Ireland in years." Their original name, Lynched (presumably a play on the surname of the founding brothers, Ian and Daragh Lynch), was dropped last autumn in protest at the "ongoing systematic persecution and murder of black people in the USA." The new name derives from the ballad, False Lankum, sung by Irish Traveller John Reilly Jnr.

This act, the motivation behind it, and the choice of new name give quite an insight into this four-piece from Dublin. Apparently originally formed as an experimental psychedelic-folk-punk duo by in the early 2000s, the group is now in its most stable incarnation yet with a total of four members.

Radie Peat

In addition to Ian (uilleann pipes, tin whistle and vocals) and Daragh (guitar, vocals) are Radie Peat (vocals, concertina, Russian accordion, tin whistle) and Cormac Mac Diarmada (fiddle).

The repertoire were we offered this evening included less of the band's claimed influences of punk, ambient techno and black metal and stuck to a folky set of traveller ballads, protest songs and traditional Irish reels and jigs.

The band showed up looking like they had come for a jam session in their local pub, and engaged the audience in a similarly informal fashion. They opened with a couple of upbeat numbers and with a little more encouragement several people would have been on their feet. However, a succession of slower songs followed featuring the more melancholic undertones of the pipes and accordion. While these undoubtedly showcased an extremely talented group and offered a broad selection of Irish ballads from the historical to the political, from love to comedy, the tempo was lost. And although the set finished with a seamless arrangement of 3 jigs followed by a comic (if rather lewd) ditty that ended in a fast-paced fiddle frenzy, all the audience could offer was some clapping along with the ever-hastening beat, despite an explicit invitation from Ian Lynch to get up and dance.

Epitomising the understated, self-deprecating charm of the Irish, Lynch concluded the evening with "Cheers fellas, nice one" to enthusiastic applause. I couldn't help but wonder though, if the set had been slightly misjudged. An Irish pub audience would have got the historical references and in-jokes and offered more energy back to the band. A few more predictable jigs might have got the Fez crowd going sooner and made for a more satisfactory experience all round. Nonetheless, in terms of genuine folk talent, Lankum have it in spades.

Review and photographs: Lynn Houmdi


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