The Guardian hailed them as the best folk act out of Ireland in years. Here’s the story behind research-loving Dublin trad-folk miscreants Lankum
IN MID OCTOBER 2015, a little-known four piece appeared on the BBC’s iconic alternative music show Later With Jools Holland. Performing harmonised folk tracks like ‘Father Had A Knife’, the Dublin act could already trace their roots back more than 14 years. They’d finally got their break.
That band are now known as Lankum (more on that later), and the rise of the melodic four-piece was already well underway back home in Ireland. The big shot across the water came as a surprise, however. A demo CD that Lankum had sent to “anywhere we could think of” stood out from a pile BBC Head of Music Mark Cooper was hunting through, and next thing – at two weeks notice – Ian Lynch and his band were performing to a prime-time BBC2 audience.
The roots of Lankum, though, reach back through well over a decade of live performance. Lynch has been around Dublin trad circles since the 90s, and much of what Lankum do now is drawn from his involvement in the the kind of music-loving exchanges that still happen between trad-sphere friends and around pub sessions.
Things also went much further for Lynch. “There are lots of recordings passed around, and we often record at sessions, too. I’ve found if you ask and explain why you’re recording, people are great about it. I’ve never had anyone say no. It’s normal for friends to exchange tapes on the trad scene, too. I’ve also worked in the archives at Merrion Square, The Piper’s Club, and UCD over the years, and spent a lot of that time working while listening my way through the archives.”
“We draw from a mix of ideas,” he continues, “and that contains a lot of crunchy pub and field recordings, which are very far from polished. Some are rough as hell. Then there’s techno, krautrock, punk and even black metal in there. It’s not crossover music, the presence is quite subtle, but the different elements do make up our musical palette.”
Lankum also produce original tracks (and the traditional ones are often heavily adapted), but much of their work is drawn from Irish, Scottish, English and even German folk traditions, and routed in that quiet exchange of shaky cassette tape recording.
“The songs we write definitely sound like they’re out of the 18th or 19th Century,” Lynch explains. “We listen to so much of this stuff that it happens very naturally, we’re very immersed in that tradition, so it’s not really that conscious”