When the Dublin-based band Lankum: Dublin Folk Miscreants takes the stage at the Barre Opera House for its 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12 performance, the audience will see a decided change in the look and style of a traditional Irish band.
Irish bands tend to play sets of reels and jigs with the vocalist — often a woman — singing perhaps a quarter of the set. We hear fiddling along with whistles, pipes and usually guitar or bouzouki. Lankum, a quartet, is forging its own sound, one that sets it apart from bands like Altan, Patrick Street and other contemporaries. This quartet features a lot of four-part harmony songs, but doesn’t lean on the old saws of Irish music, like “Kesh Jig” or “Maid Behind the Bar,” preferring to find material that few bands perform.
Lankum eschews snappy performance attire in favor of the “street punk” look. The three male members are a scruffy looking bunch, and only female singer Radie Peat tempers the street look that these guys enjoy.
We must, however, praise Dan Casey, the BOH executive director, for he has found Ireland’s fastest rising band. For starters, Peat, who both sings and plays concertina and squeeze box, was voted best folk singer in the first annual RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards presented in October. Lankum, the band, took home the honors as best folk group. Band members also include Cormac Mac Diarmada on fiddle and vocals, Ian Lynch, vocals and uilleann pipes, and Daragh Lynch, vocals and guitar.
Lankum has been hailed by The Guardian newspaper as “the most convincing band to come out of Ireland in years.” They are primarily known for the gritty folk songs from the streets of Dublin.
Formerly known as Lynched, the band is named after a child-murdering villain from a classic ballad. Their repertoire spans humorous Dublin music hall ditties and street songs, classic ballads from the Traveller tradition, traditional Irish and American dance tunes, and their own original material.
Listening to Lankum, one hears traditional songs influenced by legendary singers such as Frank Harte, Planxty, The Dubliners and the Watersons. You might also detect subtle traces of the group’s collective influences from American old-timey music, krautrock, ambient techno, psychedelic folk, black metal, drone, punk and rock ’n’ roll.
Lankum gravitates toward murder ballads, anti-recruiting songs and humorous songs. They also write serious songs. As Lynched, their 2014 debut release, “Cold Old Fire,” was met with acclaim.
This is a band that is not relying on the tried-and-true Irish repertoire so prevalent in the past four decades. A lot of the songs they play aren’t terribly well known. The band finds their material in libraries and second-hand bookshops among other places.
Lynch, the uilleann pipes player, said in an interview that, “There is a fabulous resource in the Irish Traditional Music Archive here in Merrion Square (Dublin) and it has really, really great collections of all types of material, from old cylinder recordings of Patsy Tuohey to videos and digital collections and some of the lesser-known printed collections, ballad sheets and all the rest of it, and I’ve spent many, many hours rooting around in there!
“There is also the National Folklore Collection here in Dublin, where I have been working for the past number of years. They also have a great collection, with lots of field recordings from collectors going around in the 1970s, stuff that hasn’t been digitized yet. So there are treasure troves all over the place,” Lynch said.
The Opera House scored big by booking Lankum as one of only five select dates in this, their first American tour. Lankum may not be a familiar name to you if you are a casual fan of Irish traditional music. However, this is a band that is pointing to a new direction in the music and creating waves that should lap on American shores for years to come.
The Irish Echo says, “Lankum is an important group that sings songs for today — a more intriguing act you’re not likely to find.” TradConnect calls their latest release, “Between the Earth and Sky,” “the most exciting album of traditional Irish song in decades.”