A Voice for Dark Nights

Radie Peat

A Voice for Dark Nights

Lankum singer Radie Peat's solo performances revolve around the dark spectrum of folk music. Anna Murray reviews her recent set at Temple Bar TradFest.

Radie Peat is best known as a member of Dublin folk group Lankum, a band born in Dublin sessions but with a punk heart. The multi-instrumentalist and singer is also in demand as a solo performer, as in this concert on 27 January at the Pepper Canister Church as part of Temple Bar Tradfest. 

As a solo artist, Peat treads a path divergent to that of the band; though there were versions of past Lankum tracks (such as ‘What Put the Blood?’ from their 2015 album Cold Old Fire), her solo set showed more influence of American folk, and focussed on her own idiosyncratic arrangements of songs ranging from ‘Lord Randall’ to ‘You Are My Sunshine’.  

Unfortunately, tech problems with her guitar amp led to some last-minute changes in the setlist, but this seemed to little faze Peat, who clearly has a wealth of knowledge of English-language folk songs. The opener, an American version of the traditional song ‘Lord Randall’ taught to her by her mother, setting the tone for the rest of the set – a capella, personal and startling. 

A brutal honesty
Peat is at her most captivating when her voice is exposed and allowed to explore the full range of its unusual tone. She prizes the direct and unadorned in both the sound of her voice and her approach to melody, filling her performances with hard angles and a brutal honesty. There is a strained quality to her voice that imbues it with a kind of emotional intensity. It is a voice for dark nights and firesides rather than airy daylit churches.  

It is no wonder then that she gravitates towards the darker spectrum of folk and traditional music, with a significant number of the songs in this set being murder ballads like ‘What put the blood?’ (discovered by Peat through a Mary Delaney recording), accompanied only by a suitably anguished sound of a Russian accordion. Dave Goulder’s ‘The Easter Tree’, a cappella, is taken slowly, the semitone drops in the melody relished and resonating.  

It was her performance of Liam Weldon’s ‘Dark Horse on the Wind’a dirge-like lament marking the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising – that most lingered after the gig had ended. Taken significantly more slowly than Weldon’s 1976 performance and with the addition of a rich harmonium drone, the lines of the tune are dragged and stretched to breaking point, gorgeously emphasising those moments where voice and drone met and diverged. Peat gradually adds to the complexity of the harmonies and fragments of bassline across the piece, piling on the emotional pressure until it collapses back, unresolved.

The harmonium appeared too in more unexpected places, such as accompanying her playing of a set of concertina tunes, and in a suitably dreary version of Shane MacGowan’s ‘The Old Main Drag’, for which she was joined by guest singer Lisa O’Neill. In contrast, Lankum bandmate Daragh Lynch joined her on a rich baritone guitar for a bubbling,  movement-filled version of the ‘The Hares on the Mountain’, giving her a chance for a moment to explore a little more lightness and gentleness. A final guest appearance saw her sister Sadhbh join her for a set of jigs on concertina, including ‘The Mug of Brown Ale, ‘’The Frost is All Over’ and ‘The Rambler’.

Peat’s striking voice breathes a new emotional life into these old songs, showcasing an artist coming into her own as a solo performer. 

Published on 4 February 2019

Anna Murray is a composer and writer. Her website is www.annamurraymusic.com.

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