One thing The Spook Of The Thirteenth Lock should never be accused of is lack of ambition. The band released their self-debut album in 2008, followed by ‘The Brutal Here and Now’ in 2012, an album conveyed via English, Irish and Italian. Recent years have seen them hone their craft further still, not alone in terms of their scholarly routing of Irish history but in the expansion of their sound to match the density of the subject matter. The original band was augmented by an 18-piece guitar orchestra for 2016’s ‘The Bullet In The Brick’ EP, the titular composition taking up a full side of vinyl and focusing on events around the 1916 Easter Rising. In a sense, it was the dress rehearsal for ‘Lockout’; a more substantial conceptual work in four movements that attempts to come to terms with a multi-faceted and complex social-political event in Irish history.
The Dublin Lockout of 1913 was a major industrial dispute between the workers and employers of Dublin, lasting just six months yet marking a watershed moment with far-reaching implications. The difficulty of an undertaking like this lies in straddling the line between historical objectivity and personal experience. The emotional aspect is one that The Spook Of The Thirteenth Lock conjure up so well over the course of ‘Lockout’. It’s an album etched biographically and geographically, firmly rooted in Dublin yet universally animated through the guitar orchestra’s explorations of experimental folk, post-rock, trad, and krautrock. And crucially, in Allen Blighe they have a vocalist who is audibly passionate; wholly invested in his subject matter as he inhabits the role of the Lockout’s narrators.
The four movements snake through various motifs and scenarios, the album’s set-up evoking a time of poverty and desolation: children shivering, “gaunt and thin”, and a roll call of the great and the guilty as Blighe sees them. Contained within the trad bedrock and post-rock inflections of Movement I, though, is a sense of hope, the workers organising and rising up (“He who would be free/ Must strike the first blow”). The band depicts conflicting scenes through sound, as the push and pull of a tumultuous time claims victims and elevates victors.
Movement II gets off to a rousing start, with rumblings of violence and a pulsing unison of guitar strings bolstering trade union leader Jim Larkin’s statement: “I am here today in accordance with my promise.” The guitars slash and a motorik backbeat propels the song as the policemen’s batons fall on skulls – violence explicit in the lyrics, “blood and panic”, and implicit in the music. Trad territory is left far behind as the band’s post-rock tendencies take precedence, and the many guitars layer upon one another and discordantly peal into the ether.
The Spook Of The Thirteenth Lock don’t shy away from the harrowing imagery, or the harrowing truths – there is a reason we are listening to this album. There is a story to be told, and a multitude of stories within that main concept – lives to be accounted for and people to be held accountable. ‘Lockout’ gives voice to those people as well as the major players, taking in the Lockout from both sides of the picket line. Shifting from a funereal dirge into a gentler, riff-led indie rock section, Movement III recounts profiteering in the face of appalling living conditions – tenement collapse; infant mortality personified in the suffocation of a child; a spotlight on the working classes.
If the weighty mid-section offers the bleakest illustration of the Lockout, Movement IV once more offers a glimpse of hope with Katie Kim assuming vocal duties, as Constance Markievicz and the Sufragette movement feed the starving families in the kitchen of Liberty Hall. The piece is bookended with scenes of Jim Larkin’s speech, at first witnessed by Markievicz, and then in the first person by Larkin himself. As Movement IV and ‘Lockout’ itself winds down, the threatened crescendo advances and suddenly pulls back, cutting the orchestra dead as Blighe’s monologue takes precedence – it seems a statement that the subject outweighs the art, almost as if the band is merely a vehicle to convey this story rather than an important entity in its retelling.
That’s not the case. As much as ‘Lockout’ is a historical text, it’s also a collection of tightly composed songs that surge and recede with the momentum of those turbulent six months. The musicians breathe life and soul into what could easily have fallen victim to sermonising and staid diatribe. Instead, they pull an event of great significance into the present day, proffering its themes of defiance and hope as a reflection of modern Ireland. In their transformation into this hydra of guitars, what The Spook Of The Thirteenth Lock have done with ‘Lockout’ is create a sonically literate, textured and diverse ensemble piece that moves deftly through genres and time signatures, enriching its characters and enlivening an era.
Don’t miss the ‘Lockout’ album launch on Friday, March 16th in The Pepper Canister Church, 2 Mount St. Crescent, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2 as part of the St. Patrick’s Festival, with support from Landless (one of our Plec Picks from 2017!)
Tickets cost €13.50, with doors at 7.30pm. Get yours here.