Gripped from the outset, the sell-out crowd surrendered willingly to Lankum’s enchantment.
Four young Dubliners, Lankum combine originals with impeccably chosen and artfully arranged traditional songs. Their close four-part harmonies are powerful enough to stir the dead (almost) and their use of uilleann pipes, harmonium, accordion, fiddle and guitar is beautifully judged.
They’ve played on Later…with Jools Holland, they’ve been nominated at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, and it quickly becomes obvious why they’re so lauded. This is music that really matters, whose immediacy belies its artistry. Radie Peat has a voice like a well-tempered blade – it cuts but does not tear, it is an arc of silver almost visible in the air above the audience. Pure and sharp, it is perfectly supported and supplemented by the male voices of Ian and Daragh Lynch and Cormac MacDiarmada.
But all four share the stage equally, taking parts and leading songs by turn. Lankum are a true ensemble – there’s no showboating here, just four musicians playing parts that ensure the success of the song. A favoured technique is the drone (often the harmonium’s role) creating a haunting tension throughout the song. And these are songs of blood, sorrow, work, lust and violence. Lankum bring in psychedelic, ambient and other contemporary influences to give their arrangements a sense of the new, much like their English counterparts The Unthanks, with whom they share a love for down-tempo melancholy and moments of fragility alongside the customarily saucy, witty folk yarns.
The song they chose to play at Shane McGowan’s 60th birthday goes ‘I’ve been spat on, shat on, raped and abused – I know I am dying and I wish I could beg for some money to take me from the old main drag’. This shows the resilience, resignation, bravery and honesty that define Lankum.
Performed Fri 18 May, 8:50pm at St George’s Church, Brighton