An Interview with Dublin Roots Band Lynched
By C.P.N. for KITHFOLK
Lynched is a traditional irish group from Dublin, Ireland, started by brothers Ian and Darragh Lynch as a folk punk duo in the early 2000’s. They have recently added the masterful playing of Radie Peat and Cormac MacDiarmada. Their new album, Cold Old Fire, seamlessly weaves together a punk energy, slow boil neo-folk darkness, and plenty of real old-time Dublin street grit into one beautiful whole.
It’s rare to see musicians in traditional music who can shred through tunes with the elegance of people steeped in Irish culture, but who aren’t afraid to leave some bad notes in there, if it means keeping the energy of a good take. This isn’t plastic Irish music with purple button-ups and hair gel. Lynched is the CRASS patch on Paul Brady’s shiny pants. My personal favorites on the album are “The Old Man from Over the Sea,” a disturbing english ballad sung by Radie; the Darragh’s chills-inducing cover of “Cold Days of February,” by the Incredible String Band; and “Cold Old Fire,” penned by the mysterious Berlin songwriter (and occasional Lynched and Blackbird Raum co-collaborator) Cian Lawless.
The lads from Lynched sat down with our correspondent (and Blackbird Raum conspirator) Caspian Reprisal a few weeks ago in Port Townsend, Wash., during their West Coast U.S. tour to talk more about their music.
Caspian Reprisal: You guys are all from Dublin. Is the music of Dublin often overlooked in the study of irish music? How important is it for you to represent the place you’re from? How does the melting pot of Dublin relate to the intensely regional traditions of Ireland?
Ian: Me and Darragh’s family are from Dublin, for as far back as we can ascertain. My mother’s side have been involved in the street-trading of fruit, vegetables and fish in the historic Liberties area of the south inner city for four generations, while our father’s family came from the north inner city. This is quite unusual, as the majority of people I know are from families who came to Dublin from other, usually rural areas, in the last generation or two. In this respect, I think it’s fair to say that we are pretty “Dublin,” and this has always been something that has come out in our music.
When I used to play in punk bands, it used to really bamboozle me as to why people from Dublin would put on an English accent when they were singing, and it still really irks me when I hear people doing it while singing traditional songs. It’s a very important thing for traditional singers to sing in their own accent and to be not be ashamed of it. But, for some reason, this can be hard for some people, even in the traditional music scene, to understand. In Ireland, the Dublin accent is commonly associated with working class people, or “scumbags,” and thus it is often castigated and looked down upon. You will never hear somebody on the TV or the radio with a Dublin accent, even in Dublin, unless they are being caricatured or being made fun of.
In some ways this attitude is replicated in the wider traditional music scene, in particular with the songs, which I feel can be often looked down upon. I think that this must go back to idea of Dublin being the capital, as well as the erstwhile seat of British power in Ireland. I think that, for a long time, the general consensus would have been that “real” Irish culture existed in the West, while Dublin was not much more than a debased British city with no culture of its own. In reality, of course, it has its own very peculiar culture, slang, customs, music (I think the others could tell you more about this), and indeed singing tradition. Ideas about the Dublin singing tradition seem to have changed in the last few decades with great Dublin singers like Frank Harte, Barry Gleeson, Jerry O’Reilly, and Luke Cheevers having given recognition and legitimacy to the the songs of Dublin.
Darragh: I get the impression that the music of Dublin, in terms of song at least, is often relegated to the status of slightly embarrassing and quaint second cousin to ‘real’ traditional music, so it is quite important to me to treat it with a bit more respect and dignity than it would usually be given. The fact that my family on both sides has a deep Dublin history, as Ian has mentioned, probably adds to this. Of course this is a huge generalisation and the singers Ian has mentioned, amongst others, are a refreshing exception. As regards tunes (this is the term we use for traditional dance music like jigs and reels), I think the other band members might have a better overview, but I do know that Dublin has been fairly instrumental (pardon the pun) in keeping the piping tradition going with the formation of the Piper’s Club, as well as producing legends like Tommie Potts, the Kellys, and the Glackins.
Radie: I have definitely come across an attitude within the purist traditional tunes side of things that considers Dublin tunes and Dublin musicians to be somehow less traditional or legitimate. I actually think this is a load of shite and some of my favourite trad musicians of all time are Dubliners, for example Tommy Potts and the Glackins. I would say this of course, because I’m also born and raised in Dublin, much like the Lynches, both my father’s and mother’s families are Dublin at least 5 or 6 generations back. I think expressing where I’m from isn’t really a conscious decision when making music but it definitely comes out either way.
Cormac: I was born and raised in Dublin but both my parents are from east Galway, so I spent a good part of my holidays as a child and teenager in Ballinasloe. People would ask where [I’m] from and usually respond with general positivity and appreciation for the music. In fact, the comment that stands out in my head is “Some good players up in Dublin.” I’ve heard the odd negative remark about the Dublin style or lack thereof, but never paid any heed. A lot people emigrate to Dublin so it’s had more exposure to players from other parts of the country.
Tell us about touring the states, does every white American really think that they are Irish? What places or aspects of the country as a whole impressed you and what didn’t? is it surreal being in “Irish” pubs in the states?
Ian: I love touring the states. Although the wider mainstream culture, over-the-top consumerism, and uncontrollable advertising leave me feeling quite alienated, this is usually balanced out by the amazing people that you meet along the way. To the average Irish person, North Americans are fat, loud, and ignorant, and I remember my father refusing to believe me that there were huge portions of the population who were nice, smart, who didn’t support U.S. imperialism, were aware of their country’s history, and who were not proud of all the fucked-up things happening in their name.
Obviously, every country has its own national caricatures, et cetera, but I’ve always felt that the U.S. is much cooler on the inside than the outside. In short, I am constantly impressed by people’s resilience, creativity, and ability to build real community in the face of all the odds. These are the things that people should be proud of, not the fact that their great-grandmother’s best friend’s postman came from a certain country 150 years ago. As for Irish pubs, it doesn’t really bother me. The “Irish pub” is another consumer good, just one more choice on the menu of infinite variety that is American consumerist society. At it’s worst, it offers nothing more than a racist stereotype of Irish people as hot-headed drinkers, with alcoholism as their only marketable export. At its best, it offers nothing more than bad Guinness. Whatever.
Darragh: I used to get really annoyed with every second Yank telling me they were “Irish”, but to be honest I’m a lot more sympathetic towards it these days. This might be because I’ve become a lot more interested in my own family history recently, possibly due to the songs I’ve been getting into, or possibly vice-versa, I’m not really sure. Anyway, I was out drinking with my parents a few months ago and we bumped into my ma’s uncle, and I got mad excited and sat him down with a pen and paper and got as much information as I could from him about our family history (some of that information ended up being represented in the album artwork by Glyn Smyth actually). I reckon it’s a similar feeling for Americans who have any Irish ancestry. I have been told by a few of them that they have family history in various European countries, but the only one they give shit about is Ireland, which I find a little bit strange. Has Ireland’s marketing campaign really been that successful?
As regards places in America that I was into or not, I loved all of it, and how the landscape changes so drastically from state to state. Things that impressed me were all the amazingly hospitable people we met, the musicians we played with, and the people who did things like invite us into their bakeries or restaurants and let us take whatever we wanted just because they liked our music, or were happy to let us into their house and show us around. Things I didn’t particularly enjoy were how controlled and regimented the whole society seems to be (jaywalking, arresting homeless people, laws against sleeping in vehicles, ID checks at every bar etc.) and also the absolutely fucking dismal selection of food at most places, how big the servings are, and the disturbing amount of corn syrup in every single fucking thing! No wonder the country has a problem with obesity!
There’s “Irish” bars all over the world, so it didn’t really phase me at all. It always humours me though, that these places are actually nothing like pubs in Ireland in the slightest.
Radie: To be honest, I used to find Americans telling me how Irish they are intensely irritating, especially before I had travelled much myself and I would only come across the archetype American tourist in sandals and a fanny pack telling me where their distant relative came from in Ireland, meanwhile mispronouncing all the place names. I definitely understand this a lot better the more time I’ve spent outside Ireland. And I have a much better idea now that I’ve actually spent a significant amount of time here in the States.
I get the impression that a lot of Americans are kind of grappling for a sense of identity. There definitely seems to be more of a tribal or scene culture over here, in comparison to in Ireland. People seem to seek out communities united by fashion, or music, or political ideals, or lifestyle, to be a part of to a greater extent. I think that identifying with your Irish heritage serves a similar purpose to this, and so I much more understand why it is that people want to embrace their Irishness. Bizarrely, as Darragh points out, Ireland seems to be a popular choice among the national identities. Someone here told me that that’s because it’s a way of being white but still being oppressed. As for what I think of the States, I was really impressed by how beautiful it is, some jaw-dropping landscapes, really amazing people as well. There are a lot of places I plan to come back to and see more of.
Your music subtly references a lot of different genres, while simultaneously being wholly trad Irish. What are some names from the tradition that inspire you heavily? What about bands from other genres?
Ian: To be honest, my musical tastes have gotten so pretentious over the last while that I don’t really listen to anyone unless they’re dead. Solo Uilleann pipers such as Tommy Reck, Willie Clancy, Peadar Broe, Sean McKiernan, Jimmy O’Brien Moran constantly amaze me. And, after many repeated listens, you can still find new elements to their musicianship. Likewise, the traveller singing tradition has always amazed me, and I still have never heard anybody singing with as much heart and feeling as the likes of Mary Delaney or John Reilly. As for other genres, I like all kinds of stuff, although I do have special soft spots for early ’90s grunge, second-wave Scandinavian Black Metal, and of course Iron Maiden’s first eight albums.
When it comes to Lynched’s music, we never sat down and decided on a specific sound we wanted or anything. We all just played together, adding or taking away elements until it sounded right. In this way, everything that makes up our musical consciousness must have made its mark in some way or another. But, I think the trick is to keep it subtle and just don’t make music that sounds shit because life is too short.
The music you’re making fits in a kind of in-between space and it seems like you could be comfortable playing with bands in the neofolk, folk punk, trad irish or a number of other genres. Do you adjust what you’re doing depending on who you play with? This in-between sound also gives you access to venues that wouldn’t have their doors open for a straight-up traditional band, for example, like squats and infoshops. What is it like bringing this music into new places?
Ian: These days, we have found ourselves adjusting what we do not according to what kind of music we think the crowd may be into, but depending on how loud/rowdy they are. I really prefer playing the quieter atmospheric songs, but if you’re playing an acoustic gig for a load of drunk people who won’t shut up then its good to be able to play a few more upbeat ones and a few sets of traditional tunes or whatever.
When we play in Ireland, we usually get a big mix of traditional musicians and singers along with punks and metallers and other assorted weirdos. I personally think that this is great and I can’t imagine many other bands with a similar kind of draw. There are people who come to our gigs who have never listened to traditional Irish music before and somehow we are making it accessible for them, which is probably one of the best things I can imagine doing. Playing in squats and info shops is similar, as most of the time you’re playing to people who would have very limited exposure to the type of music that you’re playing. They don’t always like it, or get it, but to me its always far more interesting to play these kinds of venues. In the states, the alternative would be a lot more Irish bars, and I think that would drive us all demented.
Radie: I think we do adjust setlists based more on the noise volume level of the audience rather than what we think they would like. Sure thats half the fun of it, playing something for people knowing its absolutely not what they’re expecting. I thoroughly enjoy introducing people to trad who wouldn’t usually come across it. I also like to think we do that with integrity, we don’t deliver nice bite sized chunks of easy to digest upbeat dance tunes… On a personal level, I love playing for purist traditional audiences on the other end of the spectrum, its hilarious, a lot of them really love it and are really positive about people doing something that is their own but not exploiting the tradition as a gimmick to do it, a lot of them also just think its a bit mental.
Your first record (Where Did We Go Wrong?!) is much more folk punk, though with nods to Irish music in form of psychedelic tin whistle solos and a funny cover of a Christy Moore (of Planxty) song. Is this something you want to distance yourself from now that you guys have a more serious and traditional sound, or is it all part of the same journey?
Darragh: Fuck off! I’m very proud of that album, as scrappy as it may be. I would never distance myself from it. We actually had double LP reissues of it for sale on this tour. It seems to have become a bit of a cult classic in some small pockets around the world, which I’m very proud of too. I think part of its charm is that it’s very unselfconscious and in no way tries to fit in neatly with any other sound. Just two cheeky young punks drinking too much, taking the piss out of themselves, their friends and the world, and being quite funny… if I do say so myself.
Speaking of Christy Moore, rumour has it that he actually heard your cover of “Ride On” [called “Sign On”]. Have you guys had any other funny interactions with the luminaries of Irish music? How are people in that community digging your music? What would Noel Hill Say?
Ian: Yeah, Christy Moore came to one of our singing sessions and half way through he came up and started asking me about Lynched. He said that someone had passed the Where Did we go Wrong?! CD on to him and I was surprised, because we only ever made a few hundred. He asked me about the “Ride On” parody, and I said “Yeah, ‘Sign On!’”, to which he replied, “Yeah, that’s it, good stuff!” He was really sound and only sang in the session when he was asked.
It’s nice when you meet one of your heroes and they’re actually really nice. The traditional scene in general has been very receptive to our music, which really inspires me, because they all generally know their stuff really well and do amazing things themselves. I think the singers especially are happy to see younger people getting interested in the songs and actually digging deep into the tradition. I think a lot of them are also sick of the over-produced, over-polished style of singing that has become the norm for traditional groups over the last few years. Obviously our sound is a bit more rough and ready, and I am sometimes surprised at the people who seem to find this a breath of fresh air. I don’t really know what Noel Hill would say, but hopefully nothing involving abortions.
Cormac: I was at a singers’ circle with Andy Irvine a couple of years back. I’m a huge fan and was quite nervous at being in his presence. I think i may have managed to say hello but that was about it. Like Ian said people have been very receptive to what we do and I think it’s different but accessible so that makes it easier.
Lynched plays songs from the English tradition and also from Irish travellers. It seems like a lot of trad bands wouldn’t have the comfort or inclination to dig into these sources. What attracts you to this material?
Ian: I think it is slightly disingenuous for traditional singers not to recognise the great contribution that the travellers made to the singing tradition. By the time that collectors such as Tom Munnelly, or Jim Carroll and Pat MacKenzie were recording singers from the traveling community in the late 1960s and early ’70s, there were still many who had retained a wealth of songs, ranging from the ballads which were sold on printed sheets at fairs and gatherings (often by travelers themselves), to songs composed within the traveling community, to the hundreds-of-years-old classical ballads (often referred to as the Child Ballads, after the scholar Dr. James Francis Child), which had long died out elsewhere.
For example, when John Reilly was recorded by Tom Munnelly in the late ’60s, he was singing a song (“The Well below the Valley”, or “The Maid and the Palmer”), which had disappeared from the English singing tradition over 100 years earlier, and which ballad scholars had believed to have died out completely. When Tom Munnelly found a vagrant traveller in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, singing it, rumor has it that many British scholars refused to believe that it was true. Planxty actually recorded a few of John Reilly’s songs, including that one, and I remember reading their liner notes which piqued my curiosity and led me to check out the original field recordings that were made. The traveller style of singing can be described as quite free-flowing and unrestrained by strict adherence to a strong rhythm, and to me, this often leads to a greater emotional level in the singing. Listening to a lot of these singers, and actually to a lot of traditional singers in the past, there is often a roughness in the voice, an earthy grittiness that you don’t really hear a lot in singing these days.
Darragh: For me it’s just good songs. The particular tradition is less of a concern for the most part. It just so happens that Travelers and English gypsies (and Dublin) have some cracking songs that emotionally resonate with me. The likes of “The Old Man from Over the Sea” we just heard on a record, loved, and decided to do. Not particularly because of where it came from, but just because it was deadly. Another factor may be that a lot of the really great traditional Irish songs have been abused for so long — like tired and pitiful old, underfed, emaciated, desperate donkeys, decked out with sparkly blinkers and spangly ribbons, whipped up and down some coastal beach, day in, day out, carrying fat, uncaring tourists on a short, overpriced journey to nowhere, with no discernable positive outcome but a miniscule boost to the local economy and a photograph to bring home — that we wouldn’t be that interested in singing them, so we go looking for fresh, agile young ponies.
Tell us about the process of making Cold Old Fire. What about recording at the Irish Traditional Music Archive? I’m curious about the album art as well.
Radie: Yeah we recorded it all in the basement of the Irish Traditional Music Archives with Danny Diamond, who is a friend, a brilliant musician and an all around lovely man. The process was pretty much blood sweat and tears, so rewarding when things came together and at the same time we all went a bit loopy. This was my first time recording and it was difficult in parts, theres a lot of existential shit that comes up, like, “Jesus, Im crap at this,” or, “Why do I think this is good music?,” “What is good music?” etc. Also in the mixing process we heard the stuff so many times that it was like when you say a word too many times and it stops making any sense. That probably needed to happen though, at least we can to sure that we gave it all we had.
Darragh: The plan was to make a recording with just the two of us on the odd spare evening that Danny had… Two are originals too, “Cold Old Fire,” which we wrote with the legend that is Cian Lawless, and “Lullaby” which I wrote during a brief spell of wonkiness and we arranged together. The recording process itself was intense. After deciding it was a great idea to go drinking til 5 in the morning the night before, leading to a slightly ropey first day, we all got really into it. We were fairly thorough and had more than one argument. I’m glad we did though, as it means all of us really put the effort in. The mixing was even worse, and we all lost it a bit, and nearly gave up caring at the last minute. I think we’re all pretty happy that we went so far down the rabbit hole of nonsense though, because we’re pretty happy with the results.
We had planned from the start to get Glyn Smyth at Stag & Serpent to do the artwork because he’s an old friend and, more importantly, a phenomenal artist. We actually drove up to meet him and thrash out ideas, telling him about our family history and my ma’s uncle I mentioned above! It’s always a big thing with him that every element of his images have a particular meaning and aren’t just for decoration, so the likes of the Norse/Celtic knotwork represent the formation of Dublin itself, while the grating is actually taken from where the River Poddle meets the Liffey, and is where the Vikings settled. It was called “An Dubh Linn” (The Black Pool), which is where Dublin got its name. The water and the woman herself represent the matriarchal lineage of our family histories in Dublin (me and Ian’s family have been selling fruit/veg/fish on Dublin’s Thomas Street for generations) and the face on the other side is a green-man like representation of the male element of fire from the album’s title. We had to wait a while because he has a pretty hectic schedule but it was well worth it. Much better than a picture of us on a cliff, holding our instruments and smiling, I think you’ll agree…
Plays banjo in a folk punk band called Blackbird Raum. He also plays Appalachian music on the fiddle. He enjoys long walks at the dump, reading anarcho-futurist sci-fi novels by candlelight, and “slam-dancing”. 420-FRIENDLY. CPN is pronounced CSPN
This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of KITHFOLK, a digital roots music magazine based in the US. For more information and to read additional articles: