Jack Lynch and Len Graham are legends of their fields: storytelling and traditional singing and song collecting respectively. They are in St. John’s this week for a trio of performances as a duo at several events during the St. John’s Storytelling Festival.
Attendees can expect “a miscellany of songs from the Irish tradition covering many themes,” Graham says, to which Lynch adds, “Everything from traditional Irish folktales to stories of outlandish happenings and fantastical flights of fancy all leavened with terminological inexactitudes (pure lies).”
For Graham, it’s his first time in Newfoundland, but having toured North America for over 40 years, he says he’s amilair with the great song collections made in Newfoundland, “particularly in the first half of the last century by collectors like Karpeles, Leach, Peacock, and other. Many songs in these collections turn up as versions in Ireland.”
Lynch has performed here before, as recently as 2014, and also speaks to the connections between our two islands, particularity in the disciplines of not the least in terms of story and song collections. “Being here and meeting locals like Tony Power and Andy Jones made me doubly aware of what we have in common, and strengthened my sense of a home away from home.”
Graham is considered an authority on Irish folk music, and spent the 1960s travelling around Ireland to record and preserve folk songs. The Guardian has called him, “another of the great naturals” and spoke of his “total empathy between the musician and his material.”
Dublin’s Jack Lynch has much experience touring as a storyteller in schools, libraries, hospitals, and prisons throughout Ireland, and has appeared all over the world, from England to Estonia and Germany to Jordan. He is also a founding member of the Dublin Yarnspinners and of Storytellers of Ireland/ Aos Sceal Éireann.
With clarity of story being so pivotal to their performance, deciding on which material to perform as they tour from country to country depends on how fluent the crowd is in English. So what they perform in Germany or the Middle East would differ from what they’d do in England or Newfoundland.
“When I work in countries where English wouldn’t be the first language, I will choose stories that don’t employ word-play (a feature of English as we speak it in Ireland). In English-speaking countries, I will tell stories that illustrate the Irish oral tradition and which chime with what I know of the local culture. At the end of the day these themes are universal, as is the humour,” Graham explains.
The duo have been touring together for just over a decade now, since the passing of Graham’s previous creative partner, the famed John Campbell.
“John was an absolute master,” Lynch says, “and I would have gone to the moon to hear him. When John fell ill in 2006, he suggested to Len that I be asked to help fulfill bookings that they had.”
Lynch played as many as he could, and since John’s passing, has continued working with Graham. “We share a sense of humour and a dedication to the tradition. Traditional song and story come from the same source, share the same values, and still fit together well as an entertainment.”
As a storyteller, Jack draws heavily on the scéalaí tradition as explored by Eamon Kelly and John Campbell. “The Scéalaí (storyteller) was one of the roles of the Seanchaí, a bearer of traditional lore and wisdom (Seanchas),” he explains.
“The Seanchaí worked out of a ’peasant’ tradition (as in other World cultures) and was a community figure who preserved and transmitted a wide range of lore — from genealogy, the lore of place names, methods of working, folk cures, and beliefs and so on.
“This sense of community has been eroded by numerous forces – colonialisation, globalisation, migration, technology, urbanisation, multinational media and so on. Traditional tales (local and universal) still speak to a sense of community, and through ramshackle heroes like Clever Hanns, Anansi, Coyot,e and many others, can still offer a resistance to tyranny.”
He says his tales are basically from the tradition, but hat he has also generated a large repertoire of Tall Tales related to basic folk attitudes. “Of late, I have started to develop a few personal tales inline with other tellers who see a need for a ‘NewTrad,’ which can deal in traditional structures with the new political concerns that confront us today.”
Catch the Duo the Following Events This Week:
FESTIVAL LAUNCH (5-7pm, Tonight @ Rocket Room)
Celebrate the launch of the festival with performances by Jack Lynch & Len Graham, balladeers and storytellers from Ireland, and tasty snacks and bevvies from Rocket. FREE.
ENGAGING EVENINGS AT THE ROOMS (7-8pm, Wednesday @ The Rooms)
Two of Ireland’s finest performers conspire to delight you with an entertaining show of great songs and heart-warming stories from the Irish tradition. Free with admission.
ACROSS THE WESTERN OCEAN (7:30-9:30pm, Thursday @ Rocket Room)
Len Graham and Jack Lynch talk about their travels with copious illustrations of songs and stories from the Irish Tradition. An informative, light-hearted, and interactive session with a chance for listeners to ask questions. $15 at the door; cash only.