A misted drizzle descends upon the Irish Centre in Leeds, a que snakes round its sides made up of patient fans eagerly anticipating the spectacle behold within it’s four walls. While the que gradually ticks forward I think back to the other acts I’ve experienced in the Irish Centre, to which I can count on one hand, but it has always proven a reliable venue for each of them, including tonights display for the avant-folk pioneers from Dublin, Lankum… Lankum consist of brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch, Cormac MacDiarmada and Radie Peat. In 2018, they were named Best Folk Group at the RTÉ Folk Music Awards, while Radie Peat was named Best Folk Singer, and rightly so.
On entrance into the Irish Centre we are greeted by a warmth of genuineness, an authenticity and character which seems to be a rarity and something that is diminishing through the bleak vacuum of gentrification that swarms the city. A lack of highly saturated block shapes painted onto the bare brick walls and the absence of “minimalist” Pinterest aesthetics remove the corporate pantomime to propel the bona fide realism of Lankum in the perfect and most organic setting imaginable. At the bar the two Guinness taps on either side are left continuously draining their barrels with a designated pint-tilter located at each pump.
As the sold-out Irish Centre crowd patiently stand awaiting Lankum’s arrival, I can’t help but admire the monolithic bass drum that lies to the back of the stage and imagine the earth trembling ripples that will be projected from it. Within a matter of minutes, a back mist sweeps across the venue and green spot lights move slowly across the crowd while Lankum walk on stage and take to their seats. A slow eerie violin welcomes the suspenseful atmosphere that engulfs the darkened room into a pale silence… A line of foil Christmas decorations float vacantly from the ceiling, suspended in time as the ominous meditative vines slowly erect and tangle out from the mystifying drones of the violin and the delicate chimes of the acoustic guitar. A small bulb stems from one of the snaked vines as Radie Peat rises above the cloud of unknowing to sing “I’ve been a wild rover for many’s a year” in a ritualistic hypnotic melody, almost unrecognisable from Joseph Crofts or the more well known version by the Dubliners. As Radie Peat continues, you feel a sense of elevation as the vines spiral around your feet, and crawl up to your waste and slowly to your shoulders fully submitting you spiritually into an introspective transcendence… As I peak through my eyelids around the audience, I notice that people of all ages stand alongside me, fully immersed into the ethereal ocean of sounds that are washed upon us, some stood with their eyes fully shut, and some stood attempting to understand the origins of this beauty that is projected onto them. Radie Peat sits eyes shut guiding her disciples through the journey of the darkness, along the uneven gravel paths of the moors, past the faded purple heather and the wild fungi. A triple harmonic vocal melody pilots the lyrics “Wild rovin’ I’ll give it over, wild rovin’ give o’er” resonating the hairs on the back of my neck to stand as the tapestry of harmonies rise and fall flickering like a concealed beacon in the still air revealing unknown fragments of land that stand surrounding it.
As the performance moves, a mixture of old and new tracks are played including ‘The New York Trader’ from their latest album ‘False Lankum’, the misty industrial dockland bellows of ‘The Pride of Petravore’ and a cover of ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’ originally wrote by the poet D. K. Gavan, but made famous by the Dubliners. Lankum seamlessly apply their sinister soundscapes to revert the gimmicks of traditional Irish pub music to reveal the gothic soundscapes and teleport the audience into the folklores and themes of death that lay at their genesis.
In-between the tracks, Ian Lynch reflects on his time living locally in Harehills and the price for a tin of beans at the time. While, Daragh Lynch explains how much worse hangovers must have been in the 1970’s before cautiously singing “If only the birds were booze, if only the sun was a party giver, if only I could trade in this liver, on a Monday morning…” of ‘On A Monday Morning’ the Cyril Tawney cover from their latest album ‘False Lankum’. As the birds fly in flocks against the storm that brews, the set draws to a closure, Radie Peat jokes with the audiences that ‘it’s ok to leave if you need to catch the last bus – we understand it’s a Sunday evening’ all while the bubbling dense seablite drains the contrast of the room into a stark black and white to welcome ‘Lullaby’ that of a cool salty sea-spray licking your face as you stand outside a small harbour-side bar in North Dublin. Perfectly orchestrating the dynamic of the atmosphere and setting the scene for the tragic love story of ‘Go Dig My Grave’ that stands before it. If you close your eyes, you may very well open them again to find yourself all alone on a fishing trawler drifting off the coast of North Dublin, and it’s 1968 rather than 2023…