LANKUM – The Livelong Day (Rough Trade)

The Livelong DayComprising brothers Ian (Uilleann pipes, concertina) and Daragh (guitar, piano) Lynch, Cormac MacDiarmada (fiddle, viola, banjo, double bass) and Radie Peat (bayan, harp, keyboards), the Dublin quartet’s third album, The Livelong Day, continues to both mine and reinvigorate traditional Irish tunes, breathing new life into songs that might often seem to be exhausted.

Case in point is the opening number, a full ten minute reworking of ‘The Wild Rover’ that, a far cry from the usual rowdy pub singalong, is taken at a dirge-like pace with drone backing and Peat singing the verses in a version learned from the singing of Dónal Maguire by way of Pat Usher that, gathering in sonic power towards the end, restores the rather more downbeat final verse from the 17th century concerning Irish poverty.

There’s two originals here, the first up being ‘Young People’, which, set to a simple strummed acoustic guitar interspersed with darker instrumental clouds, is a reflective sway that talks of someone with mental health issues who has committed suicide (“Found them swinging / Four long years ago… his tongue was tasting the morning”), but offsets this mournful tragic tone with an underlying message about appreciating your friends and showing them you care.

The other self-penned track is the album closer ‘Hunting The Wren’, a pulsing intro and hollow drum fills setting the ground for a funeral march number resulting from a challenge giving to Ian to write a song based around the Wrens of Curragh, an outcast Irish community of prostitutes, vagrants, unmarried mothers, free-thinkers, alcoholics, ex-convicts and harvest workers who lived in furze ‘nests’ on the harsh plains of Curragh in County Kildare, the wren being an Irish folklore symbol of those who were tyrannised.

Returning to the traditional material, the shortest track, at just under five minutes, is ‘Ode To Lullaby’, a spare, brooding instrumental combining two American folk tunes that opens with baritone concertina and violin harmonics and, with almost bell-like effects at the end, serves as a bridge to ‘Bear Creek’, another instrumental, this time the opening drone giving way to a lively fiddle-led jig with old time American shadings.

They return to the ballad tradition with Peat again taking lead on a nine-minute ‘Katie Cruel’, it too transformed into a slow dirge, an American ballad with likely Scottish origins about a woman once much courted and now spurned, best known through the recording by Katy Dalton and which interpolates the line “I know where I’m going/And I know who’s going with me”.

The mood lightens slightly, even if the pace only marginally, for ‘The Dark Eyed Gypsy’ with its wheezing harmonium, male harmonies and late arriving pipes, the remaining number being the second shortest at four second shy of five minutes, ‘The Pride of Petravore’, once more stripping away any semblance of the original exuberance and joy to reconstruct it as an ominous instrumental as the pulsing drone gathers speed to a train wheels rhythm, a spooked tin whistle joins the flurry and the whole thing clatters to a fade.

Lankum take the body parts of traditional folk music and reconstruct them into experimental and often unsettling new shapes as earthy as the image on the album cover, like sorcerers transmuting light into a powerful, foreboding and yet somehow exhilarating darkness.

Mike Davies

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‘The Young People’ – official video:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Vision & Revision (Topic TXCD597)

Vision & RevisionIt can’t have escaped your notice that Topic Records is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. We’ve already had selected deluxe reissues of important albums but how can you really celebrate a catalogue as vast as this? Vision & Revision, subtitled The First 80 Years Of Topic Records, is the solution. Twenty artists, mostly from the younger generation, perform a song that was released on a Topic record some time in the last eight decades. I must congratulate Glen Johnson and Michael Mastrangelo who curated the set but I’m intrigued to know how they set about their task. Did they select twenty songs and parcel them out – surely not? So they must have picked twenty performers and turned them loose on the archives. Each one has a story and you’ll get dizzy following the cross-references.

The first disc opens with one of the old stagers, Martin Simpson, who sings ‘Beaulampkin’ which appeared on his first album. Martin didn’t join Topic until his third record but he learned the song from Hedy West’s Ballads. Of course, Sam Kelly learned ‘Shawnee Town’ from Martin and the baton moves on again. Another veteran is Martin Carthy who cites Sam Larner for ‘Napoleon’s Dream’. Martin heard Sam perform when he was just a teenager and Emily Portman gives Waterson:Carthy as the source of ‘The Bay Of Biscay’ – fifty years separate the two inspirations.

Martin is mentioned again by Chris Wood as the source of ‘Fable Of The Wings’, the Keith Christmas song adapted by Brass Monkey. It’s an unexpected choice and Chris takes it back to something like the guitar original. Anne Briggs is mentioned more than once and Kitty Macfarlane goes as far as singing ‘Go Your Way’ while Olivia Chaney borrows ‘Polly Vaughan’ from Hazards Of Love. Nancy Kerr namechecks June Tabor, Oysterband tackle Nic Jones’ ‘Seven Gypsies’ – an excellent reading of the song – and Peggy Seeger goes to Mike Waterson leaving The Oldham Tinkers to sing ‘Dirty Old Town’.

Another unexpected treat is Richard Thompson’s ‘The Light Bob’s Lassie’, a version of ‘Katie Cruel’ and there are two voices I haven’t heard before. The first is Irish singer Lisa O’Neill who sings ‘As I Roved Out’ with a mighty voice that takes absolutely no prisoners. The second is Lankum – please don’t ask me why I haven’t heard them before – whose lengthy take on ‘The Sea Captain’ closes the second disc.

There’s probably a great pub game to be had from matching twenty singers to twenty songs from the Topic catalogue but this is the official version. Sadly I won’t be around to hear what they select for the second eighty years.

Dai Jeffries

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Martin Simpson – ‘Beaulampkin’ :

Topic Records celebrates its first 80 years

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records is a deluxe double CD and double vinyl of the cream of contemporary British folk artists interpreting a song of their choice from Topic’s vast back catalogue (the only stipulation being that the song was at some time released on Topic). It includes newly recorded and never-before-released tracks by Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, Lankum, Peggy Seeger, John Smith, Sam Lee, Martin Carthy, Olivia Chaney, Lisa O’Neill, Oysterband, Nancy Kerr, Chris Wood, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Lisa Knapp, Kitty Macfarlane, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, Emily Portman & Rob Harbron, Rachael McShane & The Cartographers, Eliza Carthy & Olivia Chaney and The Oldham Tinkers. These artists have delved deep into Topic’s treasure chest to pull out all manner and variety of ballads and broadsides and breathed new life into them.

With its origins in the Workers’ Music Association, through the mid-20th century folk revival to the present day, Topic Records has established itself as not only the pre-eminent British folk music label, but one widely respected throughout the world. Topic has survived, grown and flourished – proof, if any were needed, that “grass roots” interest in traditional music, the artists and the label itself, has remained constant and strong. Topic has released some of the most influential folk recordings of modern times by a host of revered artists, from Anne Briggs to Peggy Seeger to June Tabor to Ewan MacColl and many, many more.

For 80 years, Topic Records has been a fervent and consistent champion of “the people’s music”. During that time, it has withstood wars, shortages, austerity, economic disaster, the vagaries of fashion, corporate onslaught and various cataclysmic shifts in the fortunes of the recording industry, to retain its proud and distinctively individual role as a beacon of integrity and true values. This fortitude has resulted in its unquestionable claim for being the oldest, surviving truly independent record label in the world.

“Folk music never goes away. You may not hear it, but it is always there, just over your cultural horizon. It lives in families, in communities, in the villages and towns and cities, and in the hearts of the people. Each generation takes what it needs and gives what it can to the tradition, each wave of newcomers turning another furrow, sowing new seeds. For eighty years, Topic Records has played a major role in this process, ensuring the old voices are still audible and creating a space for those that hear them to make new recordings of their own. Formats come and go, but like the music, Topic endures. Long may it do so.” – Billy Bragg

This 20-track double album comes in CD and vinyl gatefold formats, both housed in a special deluxe, debossed, silver foil-blocked sleeve. The vinyl issue is limited to 1000 copies only. A digital version of the album is also available.

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records will be released on May 31st 2019.

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BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2018 – Winners Revealed

Photo Credit BBC

The winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards 2018 have been announced in a ceremony broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio Ulster, from Belfast Waterfront in Northern Ireland.

A key highlight of the music calendar – now in its 19th year – the awards produced by 7digital saw a host of music stars come together in Belfast for an evening of recognition and show-stopping performances. The ceremony was presented by Radio 2 Folk Show host Mark Radcliffe and world renowned Gaelic singer, Julie Fowlis. Talented artists received prizes including Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year, Young Folk Award and many more.

Music legend Van Morrison presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to musician and producer Dónal Lunny for his massive contribution to folk music.

Photo Credit BBC

The Good Tradition Award went to the Armagh Pipers Club to recognise their contribution to the preservation, dissemination and progression of traditional music over more than 50 years.

Folk Singer of the Year was awarded to Scottish singer-songwriter and musician, Karine Polwart, a talented artist who is also a theatre maker, storyteller, spoken-word performer and essayist.

Photo Credit BBC

Dónal Lunny took to the stage to perform with acclaimed musician Zoë Conway on the fiddle, and earlier in the evening Cara Dillon performed accompanied by Sam Lakeman on piano and John Smith on guitar.

Photo Credit BBC

Opening the show with a rousing performance of Devil In The Woman was Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, driven by brass and electric guitar. And across the night there were also fantastic performances from Lankum, with their song What Will We Do When We Have No Money?, Paul Brady with a solo acoustic rendition of the ballad Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender, and finally, a nine-piece from the Armagh Pipers Club brought the evening to a close with a performance of three specially composed new songs.
The evening included the presentation of the 20th annual BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, an educational contest that exists to discover the next generation of folk acts. Mera Royle, a young harpist from the Isle of Man, was the recipient.

Photo Credit BBC

Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2 said: ‘I’d like to congratulate all of tonight’s winners – the calibre of nominees was extremely high and the wealth of talent that was seen on stage across the evening in Belfast was spectacular. The Radio 2 Folk Awards is an annual celebration of the thriving folk music scene – supporting both established and burgeoning folk musicians – and part of our specialist music content that Radio 2 is proud to broadcast across the year.’

Influential singer-songwriter Nick Drake was inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame to celebrate the lasting impression he has had on folk music, despite passing away at the age of just 26 in 1974. Had he lived, he would have turned 70 this year.

Olivia Chaney performed a special tribute with a sublime piano-based interpretation of Drake’s essential song, River Man. Olivia is a great fan of Nick Drake and a multi-talented singer, musician and songwriter. Her collaboration with The Decemberists, called Offa Rex, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2017. Her second solo album, Shelter, will be released in June 2018.

Photograph courtesy of Village Voice

Although Nick Drake’s music didn’t garner commercial success during his lifetime, decades after his early death, his music would find a wide and reverent audience. Featuring sublime and original guitar work which is heavy with meaning and mood, his work has been highly influential on singer-songwriters of all kinds. Actor Gabrielle Drake, Nick’s elder sister, was present at the Radio 2 Folk Awards to tell the audience how her famously shy brother might have felt about the occasion.

Later this evening (4 April) at 11pm on Radio 2, Lost Boy: In Search Of Nick Drake will be re-broadcast. In the documentary which originally went out in 2004, Hollywood film star Brad Pitt shines a light on the life and work of the cult singer-songwriter. Featured in the programme are contributions from producer Joe Boyd, engineer John Wood, Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, Gabrielle Drake and Nick’s late mother, Molly Drake.

The Folk Awards will be broadcast on Sunday 8 April on BBC Four at 9pm and on BBC Two Northern Ireland at 5.30pm, plus selected highlights will be available to watch at bbc.co.uk/radio2 after the show.

The full list of winners:

HORIZON AWARD presented by Jamie Lawson
Ímar

BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK presented by Val McDermid
Banks of Newfoundland by Siobhan Miller

BEST DUO presented by Rab Noakes
Chris Stout & Catriona McKay

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR presented by Leo Green
Mohsen Amini

BEST ORIGINAL TRACK presented by Ralph McTell
The Granite Gaze by Lankum

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD presented by Van Morrison
Dónal Lunny

BEST GROUP presented by Finbar Furey
Lankum

HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Nick Drake

YOUNG FOLK AWARD presented by Lynette Fay of BBC Radio Ulster
Mera Royle

BEST ALBUM
Strangers by The Young’uns

GOOD TRADITION AWARD presented by Tommy Sands
Armagh Pipers Club

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR presented by Karan Casey
Karine Polwart

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