Lankum did us all proud with their performance of ‘Go Dig My Grave’ at last night’s Mercury Prize for which their fourth album, False Lankum, was nominated.
by Alex Gallacher
I know many of you were all rooting for Lankum to win last night’s Mercury Prize, who were hotly tipped to win by many. The crown went to London’s Ezra Collective with Where I’m Meant to Be. They are the first jazz artist to pick up the award since its inception in 1992, and their infectious jazz, funk, and Afrobeat has played no small part in helping to put London’s jazz scene on the map, which is currently in incredibly rude health. A huge congrats to them.
Lankum were nominated for their fourth release, False Lankum, released in March 2023. In his review of the album, Thomas Blake described it as challenging, raw, brutally honest and always rewarding, and that’s exactly how it felt last night watching them perform ‘Go Dig My Grave’. We knew they hadn’t won when the announcer used the words ‘uplifting’ to describe the winner before reaching into her envelope, not a phrase you’d use to describe a song that centres around the “emotion of grief – all-consuming, unbearable and absolute.” There’s nothing wrong with that – in the world of folk music, we love it…especially drone-folk.
While folk music has come a long way since I first started Folk Radio, no other band sounds quite like Lankum, and it was an exciting moment to see them up there on stage, knowing this would be the first time many may have heard them. It was an incredible live performance – seriously out there – Well done Lankum, you did us all proud!
The song ‘Go Dig My Grave’ was discovered by Lankum’s Radie Peat, who learned the particular version on the album from the singing of Jean Ritchie, who recorded it in 1963 on the album Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City. It is a member of a family of songs which seem to be largely made up of what are known as ‘floating verses’, originally composed as stanzas of various ballads, some of which date back to the 17th century.
“Our interpretation of the traditional song Go Dig My Grave is one that centres around the emotion of grief – all-consuming, unbearable and absolute. A visceral physical reaction to something that the body and mind are almost incapable of processing. The second part of the song is inspired by the Irish tradition of keening (from the Irish caoineadh) – a traditional form of lament for the deceased. Regarded by some as opening up ‘perilous channels of communication with the dead’, the practice came under severe censure from the catholic church in Ireland from the 17th century on.”
Here’s the performance for those of you who may have missed it: