For generations of shoppers in Dublin, the electronics store Peats was part of the city’s retail fabric. Peats of Parnell Street – as it was affectionately known – was the place where many of us bought our first Walkman or turntable or in-ear headphones.
Then, in 2013, after nearly 80 years on the high street, it closed down. In an environment where big chainstores and homogenous pan-national business survives and local services struggle, few were surprised, but many were greatly saddened by its demise.
Radie Peat, the vocalist with acclaimed Dublin trad band, Lankum, felt especially saddened by its closure. It was her great grandfather who founded the store and it was her grandfather who moved it from Cabra to Parnell Street.
“I’d say every Peat in Ireland is related to them and a lot of us are very electronically minded,” she tells me when we meet in a coffee shop near her home in Dublin’s north inner city.
“And I’m always meeting people who have a memory of Peats; someone would say to me, ‘That’s where my mother bought a radiogram years ago’.”
Peat says she is saddened by the fact that the streets of our towns and cities are becoming more homogenised and points out that many of Dublin’s most talked about new pubs and restaurants are not independent entities, but are owned by the same, rapidly expanding group.
“I find that terrifying, to be honest,” she says. “Do we really want a city where everything is owned by the same people and where it’s all Lidls and Aldis and no corner shops?”
The changing face of urban Ireland has become a talking point for many in recent years and Peat says she hopes that artists like her aren’t squeezed out as the moneymen take over.
“It’s not easy for a lot of people to afford the rising rents in Dublin,” she says. “Even established artists can really struggle to pay it and more and more will be forced out.”
For now, she can just about manage to stay in the city of her birth.
“I lived abroad for years and when I came back to Dublin, I really wanted to stay here. It’s where I started playing music again and there’s a community of musicians that’s really inspiring. Even just having conversations with friends can spark something in me creatively.”
She grew up in a family steeped in trad and she learnt her first instrument, the tin whistle, when she was five.
“My older sisters used to go to music lessons on a Tuesday and I really wanted to go, too. It really helps not being the oldest in the family and I’d say the best musician of us all is Sadhbh, who’s the youngest.”
Radie is the only member of the Peat clan who plays professionally “and is trying to make a living” out of music.
“I used to busk on the street after I finished school. I was about 14 and I used to think my green school uniform would encourage the Americans to stop and give me money. I’d usually make enough to get a pizza slice and the fare for the bus journey home.”
Useful as busking was for steeling her as a musician, it was playing The Globe bar in the centre of Dublin for three years that gave her the tough skin she has today.
“Sometimes, people would stop and listen to you, but often they were chatting away and having their drinks and you’re just providing background music. It’s no harm for everyone to try to sing in that kind of environment because it definitely toughens you up, but I probably did it for too long.”
If Peat was comparatively well known in trad circles growing up, she became much more widely recognised when she become a member of Lynched – the self-styled Dublin “folk miscreants” who now call themselves Lankum. Although the original title was a play on the surname of founder members Ian and Daragh Lynch, the band were advised to change it due to the sinister undertones of the word in pre Civil Rights-era America.
Thus far, there have been two albums – including the Choice Music Prize-nominated Between the Earth and Sky – and a glut of glowing reviews, including an ecstatic five-star notice from The Guardian.
This week, Peat and Lankum have been on a short tour of the US, and before Christmas they were in a studio in Wicklow recording what will be their third album. It’s as yet untitled.
“We always have a lot of material we want to record and then it’s a matter of whittling them down. Our albums are hilariously long.
“Creating new music is the aspect I love most,” she says. “I enjoy performing, but it’s secondary to working on new material at home, arranging new songs or practising with the lads.”
The album will appear on the Rough Trade Records and Peat says signing with the seminal label behind The Smiths and The Strokes, among countless others, was one of the best decisions they’ve ever made.
“We had been approached by another label, who I won’t name. It was a major label, we didn’t like their approach. We were saying we didn’t want to be represented by a label and then Rough Trade came along and we went, ‘Do you know what, if there’s one label we’d be on, it’s Rough Trade’.
“I can’t say a bad word about them. They’re really trusting in us – and they’re lovely people.”
She is especially fond of Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis. “Through him, I’ve been introduced to some really great music including one of my favourite albums, Bright Phoebus [the 1971 album from English folk siblings Lal and Mike Waterson]. It’s kind of mad that I hadn’t known it before, but [the late] Lal Waterson has become a really big deal for me in terms of influence.”
She says she has been listening to a lot of Robert Wyatt songs at present but is unsure if the music any member of Lankum listens to permeates into the sound of their records.
“We do sound a bit like Andy the Doorbum, though,” she pipes up. “He’s a friend of ours from North Carolina and he does the most amazing arrangements, slightly off-kilter, y’know. There are times when we’re playing and we sound a bit like him and I’ll say that, and the lads will say, ‘That’s good! Keep it going.”
Lankum is only one part of the Radie Peat story. She enjoys collaboration and last year she performed with the Dublin-based Waterford pop-electronica musician Katie Kim for an acclaimed one-off performance.
And next, there will be an appearance at St Stephen’s Church, Dublin – colloquially known as the Pepper Canister – as part of Tradfest. She hopes to convince Sadhbh to play some songs with her.
“I think trad is in a really good place in Ireland,” she says, “and I think that embarrassment that Irish people had about the music, or their accents or their Irishness, has long gone thankfully. There are so many great trad tunes that we should be proud of – and there are more to come.”