The New Wave of Irish & UK Folk

It’s ironic - or perhaps, more accurately, a sign of the gravitas of the times - that some of the most vital sounding music being made in the British Isles currently is rooted in a form which stretches back for centuries.

Artists such as The Mary Wallopers (riotous heirs to The Pogues’ Celtic craic crown) and Dublin’s Lankum (ex-hardcore punks who discovered traditional music’s black-as-peat gothic intensity and won the Mercury Music Prize for their doom folk classic False Lankum) are winning over new audiences performing songs which have echoed across taverns, firesides, fields and harbours for hundreds of years.

Folk can often be misused as shorthand for any music performed on an acoustic guitar (bonus points if they’re sat on a stool), but what the wave of young artists currently finding such rich quarry in the traditional music passed down over the years all have in common is a deep respect for their source material, yet crucially the ability to alchemise it into new forms that burn with a newfound brightness, intensity and relevance.

Indeed, many of the records below feature songs whose authorship has long since been lost in the mists of time, but all of the artists bring something unique and innovative to them. Forging new routes from their folk roots, be it with their own additions to the canon or by recasting them in radical new settings.

London based nine-piece The Shovel Dance Collective explore folk’s past to uncover feminist, queer and working-class narratives, using drones and found sounds to bring their lost stories to life, while Angeline Morrison’s 2022 collection The Sorrow Songs: Folk Songs Of A Black British Experience presents self-penned trad. homages which speak for the lives of people who folk music’s aural histories have largely overlooked.

Sonically too, many of these albums feature instrumentation and arrangements that could make even the most placid argyle sweater-wearing purist run for the nearest axe to sever their power cables, yet these artists’ deep understanding of the songs mean they resonate with a fierce authenticity.

Featuring Lankum’s Radie Peat, ØXN set their murder ballads within a spooked miasma that’s more Jesus And Mary Chain than Peter, Paul And Mary. Newcastle’s Me Lost Me, meanwhile, strips folk music down to its very bones, refashioning it entirely using an experimental mix of electronica and jazz that bares almost no resemblance to what one might think of as the work of a quote-un-quote folk singer.

That’s the key, though. For these songs to still live and breathe and speak to new generations they need to inhabit the here and now rather than being respectfully curated museum pieces.

Chris Catchpole

Irish Rock N Roll cover

Irish Rock N Roll

The Mary Wallopers
Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay cover

Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay

Jim Ghedi, Toby Hay
RPG cover

RPG

Jayne Dent, Me Lost Me