Landless are a quartet who sing traditional songs in four-part harmony. Lily Power, Meabh Meir, Ruth Clinton and Sinead Lynch met in NCAD and released their eponymous EP in 2014. After an active few years gigging in Ireland and abroad, they are currently recording their debut album, Bleaching Bones. Look out for it later in 2017.
Tell us about your rehearsal process?
Ruth: Often we will have arranged and learned our harmonies remotely before meeting up to sing something together. Because we all have such different schedules – and Meabh lives in Belfast – this is the easiest way to make the most of our practice time.
Sinéad: Then we each learn our separate parts and try out the songs when we meet – it’s very exciting to hear it come together.
How do you find your songs? Are there particular themes you’re attracted to?
Ruth: Songs can come from archival research, from our own music collections or from hearing something sung at a singing session. There’s nothing like hearing a great live rendition of a song to make you fall in love with it. A lot of our songs have darker themes, frequently death or loss of some kind. I think most singers of traditional songs would say the same!
In 2016 you performed at Trad Rising with a bunch of other groups, a lot of them young. Do you think it’s true to say traditional music is gaining popularity among young people in Ireland?
Ruth: The last few years in Dublin have been a really productive time for traditional singing in particular. I think it’s sustained by the mutually supportive atmosphere, as well as the excitement of being surrounded by so many talented and inspirational musicians. Traditional music, more generally, has always been around – just look at the popularity of The Fleadh.
What draws you to unaccompanied singing as a performance style?
Ruth: Around ten years ago, I heard the singing of Francy Devine and also Meabh Meir – who I met at NCAD. I was struck by the power of the unadorned songs, and set about secretly learning one. I then drunkenly cornered Meabh at a party to sing to her, and convinced her to sing songs in harmony with me in order to make it less terrifying!
Sinéad: I have been singing since I was a child but started traditional singing just over seven years ago after becoming interested in traditional music and attending sessions. I got obsessed with folk music when I found Anne Briggs, and it exploded from there.
Can we expect any major differences between the EP and the album?
Ruth: Even more minutes of unaccompanied singing!
Sinéad: I think we have tighter and more intricate harmonies – we’ve had almost three years more practice since the EP.
Apart from the album, is there anything else you are looking forward to this year?
Ruth: We’re guests at the Inishowen International Folk Song and Ballad Seminar at the end of March. That’s always a lovely weekend and a great chance to pick up some new songs.
Sinéad: We’re hoping to head to Slovakia in September for a festival of traditional music, they have they most amazing singing tradition, lots of harmonies!
Photograph by Brian Flanagan