With gigs having gone out the window from last March until god knows when, livestreams have been a godsend in giving us some hint of what we’re otherwise missing out on. While some have been lo-fi DIY affairs, streamed from phones or dodgy webcams in artists’ bedrooms, others have had huge amounts of thought and effort put into them to create an experience that lasts beyond merely scratching the live performance itch for a few months. Here in Ireland, The Mary Wallopers’ streams from their self-built home bar have built an impressive sense of community among their ever higher viewing figures, while Paddy Hanna styled himself as both musician and amateur chat show host for a long running series of Instagram streams last year. And just recently a slew of Irish venues have invited a series of artists into their empty rooms to film professionally recorded sets that will last long beyond the current situation, remaining on YouTube as a document of this uncertain time.
One of the more anticipated streams recently though has been the first full length glimpse of a new collaboration between Katie Kim and Lankum’s Radie Peat, streamed on Nollaig na mBan. With the pair having found their careers suddenly halted by the pandemic but living close by with a new abundance of spare time, the sudden creative drought led to a natural hunger to collaborate.
Having debuted as mystery mask-clad guests on The Mary Wallopers’ Halloween live stream, with Percolator drummer Ellie Myler in tow, their sinister and psychedelic updating of the traditional murder ballad ‘Love Henry’ (known to many as the source material for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ ‘Henry Lee’) was immediately the source of much talk and reverence among anyone who saw it, and was soon uploaded to YouTube in its own right. Taylor is back behind the kit for this stream along with her bandmate John ‘Spud’ Murphy on bass (who has also previously served as producer for both Kim and Lankum) for a night billed as ‘new arrangements of original material, folk songs and reimagined contemporary songs’.
Kim and Peat take their turns on lead vocals, opening with another two traditional folk songs, ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’ and ‘The Cruel Mother’. While Peat is well adept at infusing old folk songs like ‘The Wild Rover’ with a droning sense of dread in her day job with Lankum, the switch here from Lankum’s traditional folk instruments to electric guitar, droning synthesisers and Myler’s brilliantly malevolent drumming imbues these tracks with an ever more gothic, sinister edge, and the result feels truly unique.
A cover of Maija Sofia’s already stunning ‘The Wife of Michael Cleary’ soon follows, a vivid and emotional retelling of Bridget Clearys horrifying 1895 demise. Though the track was only released in 2019, it’s to Sofia’s credit as its author how well it sits alongside the older traditional ballads here, sounding as if it’s already a famous old standard. The less familiar material here strongly echoes Katie Kim’s acclaimed 2016 album ‘Salt’, and is at its most haunting when all three are singing in unison, accompanied by ethereal mellotron and stuttering delay pedals. ‘Love Henry’ brings things to a devastating close again, and the whole set is interspersed with arresting visual interludes of burning leaves, flickering candles and swaying trees from award winning visual artist Vicky Langan.
Ireland is undergoing something a folk revival at the minute, with Lankum’s increasingly unique output leading the way, but this collaboration takes thing ever further into new and uncharted waters. It will be disappointing if an album isn’t borne out of this remarkable project, as both artists and their collaborators have managed to combine the best of their own work to incredible effect, a conceptual collision of the old and the new that feels truly one of a kind. Cathal McBride