THE SINGER-SONGWRITER Ed Sheeran has repeatedly cited as his childhood hero has opened up about his Irish roots.
Luke Concannon is best known as the singer of folk group Nizlopi, formed in the early 2000’s when he was just 13 years old.
The band garnered a lot of attention with their debut album Half These Songs Are About You which included the single, ‘JCB’ - a song written by Luke about his struggles with dyslexia in school and his days spent accompanying his dad to work.
Luke and the band embarked on several UK tours where a teenage Ed Sheeran accompanied them as a guitar tech. Ed has repeatedly spoken about the influence that the band has had on his music and how his relationship with Luke has helped him grow into the world-conquering artist he is today.
More recently, Luke has been working on a solo career while living in Boston, Massachusetts with his wife, and in an in-depth interview with social campaigner Ruairi McKiernan on his Love and Courage podcast, he has opened up about his Irish connections and how they have influenced his music.
“Both my grandparents lived a hard, working-class life, and I remember that soaking into me. Why is it hard? Why do people have to work this hard, and be so stressed?”, he told McKiernan.
“I think having a foot in both worlds – in England and in Irish culture, in a working-class world and a middle-class world – created some tension that had to be resolved.”
Concannon revealed that he has grandparents from Counties Kerry and Roscommon.
In particular, his late Kerry-born grandmother had a strong influence on him.
“There was this peace and grace about her. She grew up in County Kerry, just outside of Dingle, speaking Gaelic, barefoot, eating the fish that her dad caught and the cabbage that her mum grew.”
“There was this sense of from-the-heart-ness and gentleness, and wildness – and craic. There was fun, and music. It gave me a sense of belonging that was so refreshing whilst growing up in the middle of England, where the land is very tamed, and it’s literally TV nation.”
“I think it saved my sense of self, my sense of what was possible.”
Growing up in a household full of Irish culture and traditions, he referenced the influence of Irish music on the music he has been making for the last twenty-five years.
“There’s something about taking those wild risks that I think is there in Irish culture. People talk about the Irish being mad. But nature is wild, and does do unpredictable things – and I think that’s where a lot of the possibilities in art come from.”
Having a strong sense of Irish history, too, has helped to shape his worldview.
“Ireland’s been good at holding a mirror up to the imperial nature of Europe. I think a lot of people have romantic notions about and love Ireland because it wasn’t an imperial and colonial power.”
In the true Irish sense, Concannon kept business and the family connected Their manager was a relative of Luke’s from County Clare, his mum worked on finances, his cousin was their social media manager and Luke’s girlfriend also worked with them.
As their fan base grew, so too did the stature of those who enjoyed their music.
“We inspired the young Ed Sheeran, Daniel Day Lewis was a fan, Tony Benn wrote me a letter wishing me luck with the politics of the songwriting. We did amazing things from this little independent community. But then we burnt out, as happens with a lot of folk groups who go out on a limb that.”
Concannon’s forthcoming solo album includes a duet with Ed Sheeran on a song called Streets of Boston, a song about the Irish emigrant experience.
In the summer of this year, Luke will embark on a solo tour of the UK and Ireland, and he has asked fans to put forward their living rooms as venues to host the gigs. You can find more information about the tour here.
You can listen to Luke Concannon’s revealing interview here on the Love and Courage podcast.
Here is Ed Sheeran performing Nizlopi's All My Life back in 2010.