Ye Vagabonds, Varo, Landless and the new Irish trad bands

Ye Vagabonds.

The cur­rent wave of new Irish trad bands can be traced back to the form­ing of The Gloam­ing in 2011. Five musi­cians of dif­fer­ent ages and from dif­fer­ent musi­cal back­grounds, The Gloam­ing were deter­mined to look out and around in as many, all encom­pass­ing direc­tions as possible. 

They looked back not just to tra­di­tion­al Irish music, but to clas­si­cal music, both con­tem­po­rary mod­ernism and the clas­si­cal canon. And out, to Irish music in Amer­i­ca, but also to jazz and the blues, and to all man­ner of world music, to Africa, the Amer­i­c­as, Asia and beyond. And they did (and do) so with an unabashed and unapolo­getic seriousness. 

Paving the way, The Gloaming.

To everyone’s slight sur­prise, The Gloaming’s three album and var­i­ous res­i­den­cies proved a huge com­mer­cial suc­cess. Which has opened the door to a num­ber of bands made up of sim­i­lar­ly seri­ous if some­what younger musi­cians, almost all of whom are in their 20s. And each of whom is as keen to broad­en and stretch the scope of ‘trad’ as those 5 stal­warts in The Gloaming.

Lankum were the next to enjoy that sort of rel­a­tive­ly high pro­file suc­cess. Their sec­ond album, Between the Earth and the Sky won the RTE Folk Album of the Year in 2018, and last year’s The Live­long Day was, if any­thing, even more lauded.

Land­less’ Bleach­ing Bones.

And they’re now signed to the mighty Rough Trade, who’ve set up Riv­er Lea, an imprint aimed specif­i­cal­ly at these shores. And the lat­est addi­tion to that ros­trum is Ye Vagabonds.

The Car­low duo who make up Ye Vagabonds had been res­i­dent at Walshe’s in Stoney­bat­ter, before the youknowwhat, where they were often joined by Land­less. Land­less’ debut album, Bleach­ing Bones, was record­ed at Guer­ril­la Stu­dios, in Dublin, which was set up by John ‘spud’ Murphy. 

And Mur­phy was also the pro­duc­er on those Lankum albums, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Katie Kim (reviewed by me ear­li­er here and here), who is also on Riv­er Lea. And more recent­ly, he worked with Varo on their debut album there. 

So to vary­ing degrees, they all move in sim­i­lar orbits but their take on trad is very much their own. Lankum for instance, are invari­ably com­pared to the Pogues. They pro­vide a sim­i­lar­ly punk-infused, in your face assault on the tra­di­tion­al bal­lads and songs they dive into. While Ye Vagabonds pro­duce a much more mea­sured, stu­dious approach, very much in step with that of The Gloaming. 


And all three are huge­ly invest­ed in drone music, which looks on the one hand to indige­nous music from all over the world. And on the oth­er, to the avant-garde of La Monte Young and the Vel­vet Under­ground

And both Land­less and Varo are, if any­thing, even more dis­tinc­tive. Land­less are four female singers who per­form tra­di­tion­al bal­lads from the all around the British Isles unac­com­pa­nied by any instru­ments, sculpt­ing their melodies with extra­or­di­nary four-part har­monies. While Varo are a female duo, one from France and one from Italy, who fil­ter tra­di­tion­al bal­lads through the prism of Euro­pean Baroque music.

You can, and should, lis­ten (for free) and then down­load their albums from Band­camp; Varo’s epony­mous Varo here,

 Ye Vagabond’s The Hare’s Lament here

and Land­less’ Bleach­ing Bones here

And you can see Land­less on Blue of the Night

this Varo video

and Ye Vagabonds below.

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