As Lankum appear onto the matt black stage somewhere underneath Soho, it strikes you just how young they are. There’s a collection of interesting piercings, leopard print, and ‘end direct provision’ is spelled out in rhinestones on a guitar. Unremarkable, usually – but for the knowledge that this multi-instrumental four piece are about to create music that is almost timeless, that stretches back across generations.
Lankum’s sound seems steeped in the ancient fabric of Ireland, interweaving age-old songs and harmonies with their own compositions to create a sound that seems to have been called forth from the deep places that it’s settled across the land, like quiet drifts of snow.
Radie Peat’s vocals in particular are astonishing. In previous interviews, she’s mentioned her desire to ‘shush the pub’ during sessions – this being the best way of performing, saving oneself from the greater embarrassment of being talked over. As she breaks into What Will We Do When We Have No Money?, her voice sounds – in the very best way – like it’s been clawed up from the earth, smoked in peat. Like it’s made up from the green and grit of Ireland itself. Tonight, the pub is firmly shushed.
Altogether, it’s a set of contrasts. We shift from stark and weathered harmony to complex, delicate twists of the fiddle. Peat Bog Soldiers and Cold Old Fire remind us that Lankum have their roots in protest song – Granite Gaze is particularly poignant. Peat introduces the song by saying how proud she is that the lyrics “as our daughters sneak away across the foam” no longer apply, receiving an enthusiastic whoop of applause.
If this is all too poetic though, Lankum are also really good craic. A lot of the songs are brought to life by the short introductions the band give them: “This one’s about a load of Cork women slaggin’ each other about their husbands joining the army, or not” (Salonika) or; “this one, apparently, has a lot of psychosexual overtones. Some horny Victorian folk historian wrote about them in a folk journal in 1903” (The Tri-Coloured House).
A Brexit quip goes down especially well with the crowd of Irish emigrants and embittered Remainers: “What about Brexit? What about Brexit. What yiz don’t know is that the Irish invented Brexit, like, 100 years ago”. Many of the lyrics enhance this general sense of gleeful bawdiness, with Tommy Tucker, Father Had a Knife and closing encore The Irish Jubilee transforming the room to part gig, part ribald music hall. A superbly executed set.