Cork-based reggae outfit The Light Runners are no strangers to the rigours of the road. Recounting their stories in their upcoming E.P. was another process entirely. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks to guitarist Mark Fenny.
The Light Runners are a world-travelled proposition to say the least. Featuring a diverse range of musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Denmark and Ireland, the band fuses several elements of reggae from through the genre’s development and history with an African rhythmic sensibility. The end result is energetic but earnest, staying true to the band’s stated aim of maintaining authenticity to roots reggae, aiming to explore and confront the anxieties of the current age.
The band have been gigging steadily for the past few years now, but the band’s background and experience stretches back years, and spans a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, that have shaped and informed the band’s music. Guitarist Mark Fenny explained the band’s convergence on the Irish reggae scene. “We’re a mix of musicians from all over the world, from all different avenues. Myself and the bass player happened to be playing in a cover band at the time, and the lead singer, Lazare, approached us and asked ‘do ye want to be in a reggae band?’ and we said ‘absolutely!’. We’ve been doing that ever since, that was in 2014. We’ve been going from strength to strength, really, we had our debut at Electric Picnic this year. It’s been a nice little journey so far.”
‘War and Migration’ is the band’s new E.P., bringing together work from numerous recording sessions after collaborative songwriting and road-borne fine tuning. The process of bringing all these disparate elements together was another labour of love. “Myself and the bass player wrote the title track, we brought the rhythm and chords to our lead singer, and he did the lyrics to it. He writes about 90% of our lyrics, ‘cause he’s just got a great head for it. The theme is ‘war and migration’ because we wrote it at the time of the Syrian refugee crisis, so it’s very much a reflection of that, it’s not even symbolic, it’s in your face. He wanted to express that message, so he took that song that we had written for him, and wrote lyrics on top of it… (The E.P.) was recorded in three different locations. We did some work with a guy called Ciaran Culhane up in Limerick, great time for him. He did two of the songs, which we recorded two years ago. We got an offer to record in the School of Music, a magnificent studio, and we cut another three tracks. Then we did more vocals in Dave’s (bass player) garden shed. That all got mixed by (Charleville man) Darren Rea, he recorded the last of the vocals, mixed and mastered the whole thing. He’s always amazing at what he does.”
With the combination of experiences and stories that the band’s members have to offer, ‘War and Migration’ is a record heavy with personal investment and earnest storytelling. Fenny gets into the impact on the creative process that these stories have had. “Some of the lads used to play in bands in the Congo, two huge soukous bands, OK Jazz and Zaiko Langa Langa. The latter were a massive band, they toured Africa and Europe. Once they got a bit of money together they said ‘that’s it for us, we’re going to move to Ireland and start again’. Because even though they were playing with one of the biggest bands, they were still being paid very little. The Congo has (also been in the grip of) dictatorships, our drummer was falsely imprisoned for many weeks because of his views on the government at the time. The guys from Ireland? Our lives are very boring (laughs).”
The band have been hard at the festival circuit this year, but a unique stop for them was at IndieCork’s festival centre last month, playing the Dali venue upstairs on Carey’s Lane. For the band, the opportunity to ply their craft through the venue’s newly-installed Arcline sound-system was one not to be passed up. “If you give us a bigger stage, we’ll give you a bigger show, so we absolutely loved being on that stage. It was so much fun, we got to jump all over the stage, we weren’t shoehorned in, like we usually are. So that was a lot of fun, and it was nice for IndieCork to think of us and bring us onboard. We’re more than happy to be a part of Cork arts and culture, and really let people know that we are supportive. We were quite happy with that sound, too.”
The band plays on November 20th at Cyprus Avenue, to launch the extended-player. Although they’ll unfortunately not have the opportunity to christen the building’s new venue, they’re bringing a new setlist and the band’s usual energy to Caroline Street. “We are going to do our best to put on a show for everybody. We purposely made it very cheap, it’s only €5, because we just want to cover the cost of the venue. We want all of our friends and family to come, everyone, have fun, have a good experience, and (help us) officially release the new record.”
The Light Runners play Cyprus Avenue on Tuesday November 20th. €5 in the door, kickoff at 7.30pm.