For almost a decade now Lau have been forging their unique version of a folk music trio. They still insist that, fundamentally, that’s what they are, Aidan O’Rourke on fiddle, Kris Drever, guitar and vocals and Martin Green on accordion. However, no one who has followed their progression over the years could be left in any doubt that they have comprehensively redefined the boundaries of that configuration. The combination of exploring their own musicianship and the seemingly endless parade of collaborations that they’ve sought out has led them into territories as varied as jazz, rock, classical and electronica. With just 3 studio albums released under the Lau name they’ve never been in a hurry to release new material, we’ll get it when they’re good and ready. There’s an old quote from Martin Green that nicely sums this up, “Paul McCartney said he never spent more than three hours on a song. With Lau we never spend less than three weeks.”
Rather than waiting for an album release, the better way to keep up with Lau has always been to seek them out in performance. An outfit doesn’t get to win “Best Group” at the Radio 2 Folk Awards an unprecedented four times without being a stand out live act. So it was with high expectations that I approached their Wickham set, having not seen them live for a couple of years. I wasn’t disappointed.
Lau’s instrumental pieces are multi-faceted creations; in a more symphonic context you’d identify movements within them. They can be lyrical and atmospheric, my Wickham notes summarised Torsa, a track from their last album, Race The Loser, as “an evocative soundscape”, Torsa being a tiny island south of Oban that was part of Aidan O’Rourke’s childhood. In contrast, other tracks were frenetic romps, ideal for festivals. Interspersed with the instrumentals were songs delivered in Kris Drever’s unmistakable vocal style. His version of Lal Waterson’s Midnight Feast raised goose bumps on a hot summer afternoon. In his own song, Ghosts, the lyrics gently evoke the memories and emotions of generations of migrants but the whole nonetheless delivers a hefty punch in the context of current debates on immigration. The entire set earned an ecstatic response from a packed audience.
Backstage, I had the chance for a wide ranging chat with Kris Drever. Naturally enough, we first dealt with all things Lau. They plan to continue being busy with festivals throughout this summer whilst also working steadily on new projects and material. Ever seeking out new collaborations, on the Monday after their Wickham appearance they were at Snape Maltings with the Elysian String Quartet, bringing together folk song and classical arrangements in ways that I suspect Benjamin Britten never imagined but might very well have applauded. As for new Lau material, yes, they’re working up new ideas all the time but they’ve no immediate plans for another album. What they are planning, for next year, is to put together a series of mini-festivals under the banner of “Lauland”. Intriguing, but that was as much as Kris was prepared to divulge.
Kris was happy to give his perspective on how the members of Lau have adapted to the closely integrated way of working demanded by the trio’s material. It’s taken a few years but he feels it’s now no longer a question of individuals bringing material into the group; the three of them have built up such a thorough understanding of what the trio can do, Lau now feels to them like a single instrument. So it’s hard to see themselves as three individuals any more. If this seemed a surprising admission from such renowned individual musicians, he was ready with an explanation. The very fact that, separately, they have so much highly regarded independent work, gives them the confidence to lose their individuality within Lau. Cue change of conversational direction to see what Kris himself has been up to.
His second solo album, Mark the Hard Earth, was released back in 2010 and, whilst he admits to actively looking out for new material, he doesn’t feel under any pressure to put together a follow up. In this last year, though, he’s released Storymap with banjo player Éamonn Coyne and reckons that has largely fulfilled the need for independent work. But Kris has also been spending time in recording studios as the producer of other’s albums. Last year he worked with Bella Hardy, producing, playing a variety of instruments and singing, on her album of songs from or about her native Derbyshire, The Dark Peak and the White. His current production project sees him working with Breabach. At the time we were talking, he’d listened to demos and was about to go into the studio with them. To say he was fired up with enthusiasm for their new material doesn’t really come close.
You might think all this professional involvement with music would be enough, that the rest of his time might be taken up with a passion for…. well maybe fishing. But no, since his recent move to Glasgow he’s been introduced into a far wider range of musicians stretching from folk into the far reaches of jazz and indie rock. And so, if he’s got some spare time it’s a case of “gather some lunch together, go round to someone’s flat and play the afternoon away”. Playing just for pleasure, he reckons, is the most precious leisure activity.
Review and Interview by: Johnny Whalley
Photo Credit: David Angel