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Songs from the Heartland

Going Out

Musician Jack Lukeman teams up with author Pat McCabe for a unique night of songs and stories

Anton McNulty

When fans of Jack Lukeman show up to the Mayo leg of his Irish tour in The Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar at the end of the month, they will witness a gig unlike any other the singer has performed in nearly 20 years.
Accompanying the Athy-born musician on stage on January 31 will be the renowned Irish novelist, Patrick McCabe, author of ‘The Butcher Boy’ and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’. The duo will be performing together for the first time in nearly 20 years, with Castlebar one of only three venues on the tour where they will be performing their ‘High Lonesome (Songs From The Heartland)’ show together.
“It is basically Pat reading and me following up with a few songs. I’m actually on the way to do a bit of rehearsing with him today,” Luke told The Mayo News last Friday.
The duo last toured together in the late 1990s when they travelled across the US together with a show featuring a combination of songs and storytelling. When McCabe launched his latest novel, ‘Heartland’, in Whelan’s in Dublin last September, they decided to give touring together another shot, booking three special gigs in the middle of Lukeman’s Irish tour.
The first of these three shows will be in Castlebar. Luke admits he carries a sense of nostalgia ahead of the reunion and the show’s ‘world premiere’ in Castlebar.
“It is not my normal show,” he explained. “There might be one or two of my own [songs] in there but essentially it will be a different show. It will be Pat McCabe leading the charge really and I will be backing him up with a few tunes. Pat is a pretty amazing orator who becomes the characters in his books and is brilliant to watch.
“We have been friends for years and it will be an interesting thing for me to do, outside from doing a normal gig. I’ve always had one foot in the theatre world and one foot in the rock’n’roll world, and this is more of the theatre world.
“I like to think that it harps back to the old storytelling, which the Irish are great at. What would our entertainment before this technology? It was people sitting around telling stories and singing songs. It is old school, if you like, in a way.”
For the show with McCabe, Luke says he will be learning new material and songs he is not usually known to sing. Luke has resisted ‘the norm’ since he first came to prominence in the 1990s.
He has never shied away from covering other artists’ songs – most recently he collaborated with the National Children’s Choir to record David Bowie’s classic ‘Starman’. Some in music circles have criticised him for covering other artists’ material, but Luke refuses to be fazed by such attitudes.
“I’m far past worrying about that. It is good to do other things because you can get caught in a loop. Every time you sing other people’s songs it inspires you to go in different directions and to expand what you are doing or refine what your doing. It is a healthy thing to do if you are creative in any way, to push yourself outside your boundaries,” he said.
The days of playing in front of sold-out concerts in the Point Depot in Dublin may be a thing of the past, but playing live shows is still part and parcel of the singer’s life. For the later part of last year, he was touring with The Proclaimers and Jools Holland in the UK, and in March he returns to the UK following the completion of his Irish tour.
“My natural state is to be out gigging and on the road. I get very itchy feet if I’m sitting around at home too long,” he stated, while also confessing that musicians have no option but to tour given the precarious state of the music business.
“Making an album seems to be the most avant garde thing you can do because everyone expects it to be free. A painter expects to be paid for his painting like a baker expects to be paid for his bread, but for some reason people think music is free. I know some people think Spotify is paying people, but it’s not. The whole thing is a bit of a con job really.
“I have been very lucky, but I would hate to be starting out again. It is very confusing and hard to get your head above the parapet with all the white noise going on and the decline in the sale of records.
“I have always been lucky – I have been able to draw crowds all over the place. I have always had a loyal fan base … I have worked very hard over the years, and anyone who comes to my shows knows I always give 100 percent.”
It may not be his normal show, but you can still expect nothing less than full throttle when Lukeman takes to the stage with Pat McCabe – and maybe a few surprises too.