The Family of Things: S2 E4 Jack Lukeman
Today’s guest with host Helen Shaw is modern troubadour Jack Lukeman, singer, songwriter and once time leader of the 90s band Jack L and the Black Romantics. Jack shares his journey from growing up in Athy, his apprenticeship as a motor mechanic ,to ending up discovering his stage self as a busker in Amsterdam and becoming part of the very lively and bohemian nightlife culture of Dublin in the early 1990s.
During the past year, in the lockdowns, he’s adapted well to the virtual world and performs regular Saturday night online gigs, drawing fans from across the world. It prompted him to release a Lockdown sessions album ‘Streamed’ and release a duet he’s created with recording of his Dad, Sean Loughman snr singing.
Jack shares with Helen his love of music and singing, ‘it’s a vocation, it’s my life’, he says and talks of how he has used the lockdown time, when his international tours with Jools Holland and gigs with Sting, have been postponed, by embracing a new project and shaping a dream-like film around the diaries and story of his grandfather. We hear Jack’s music from the early days in the mid 90s with the Black Romantics in the Da Club in Dublin to his stage performances and lockdown sessions. An uplifting sound-led story of a man who has made and shaped his own path in life.
Oh, it’s everything I mean, it’s my religion, it’s my belief system, it’s my history, it’s the very essence of what I do and what I am and what I try to do to other people. I try to share the joy of singing because I was lucky enough to be born with a voice. Music is a vocation, it’s my life, really. It’s a spiritual act. It’s a physical act. It’s a cerebral act.
Hello and welcome to The Family of Things, a podcast about life and how we choose to live it. I’m Helen Shaw and my guest today is a man often called a modern troubadour, a singer and performer well known for his high energy stage performances and stamina, a roof lifting voice and his distinctive stage look of dark locks, hats and lots of black leather with the occasional cane thrown in as well.
It’s Jack Lukeman, Jack L, who’s locked down singing sessions have entertained thousands across the last year and who I’ve had the pleasure and fortune to work with a few times before.
Jack joins me today from his home in Athy which of course is also now his recording and performance space.
Thanks for joining me today. I mean, Jack, you’ve been so busy in lockdown with the lockdown sessions, but one of the really beautiful things you did was this recording with your dad, Sean. Tell me about that.
Yeah, I did an album called The Lockdown Sessions Vol 1, that’s a threat, because we don’t want volume 2 we want out of the lockdown of course.
No, no one lockdown album is quite enough.
Well I’ve done so many lockdown sessions, I mean, at this stage it must be nearly 50 of them, my own songs and different artists you could definitely get a volume 2 depending on how long things go on for. You know, I got into doing the live lockdown sessions on a Saturday night at 8:00 pm on Facebook and it became a regular fixture for everybody to meet up, I suppose, on a Saturday night. And the whole thing of learning how to, you know, make a gig work across the Internet has been fantastic.
You feel like a pioneer, you know, trying to figure out how to make this thing happen, but
How to make it work.
Well, just that thing of, you can read people’s thoughts as they’re watching the gig and they can talk to you as you’re doing the show.
It’s so mad, isn’t it, that they can actually talk back to you now?
Yeah, and it’s like a radio show then, because, you know, people send in requests. And actually something my dad said to me, which I thought was kind of sweet, was that it reminded him of growing up and they’d be listening to BBC and, you know, it was after the war and people would be putting out requests over the airwaves to different people because people are tuning in from all over the world. So it’s fantastic. I mean, it’s an amazing experience, I have to say.
But I did so many of these that I said I’d do a lockdown best of and I found some old recordings while I was doing it, because I had the time, because I’ve got so many old recordings of my dad singing, where I’d recorded him singing a couple of songs. But I had a beautiful version of him singing Young at Heart, the Sinatra classic, and That’s Life. So I was able to, you know, do a duet with him on That’s Life. I was able to strip away the music that was there.
So it was great. I always wanted to do it, you know, do a duet, get it down on record. And I just wanted to get his voice on record because he has a beautiful voice.
That’s Life by Sean Loughman Snr and Jack Lukeman plays
And I was, you know, lucky enough to get it through the gene, and as I was saying, my mother’s good looks just so she doesn’t feel left out. But I, yeah so it was a fantastic thing to do. And it was lovely because he had a stroke about, well it’s two years ago now. Obviously, a stroke set you back. His voice wouldn’t be as good as it was then. So it was great to capture it then.
That’s Life by Sean Loughman Snr and Jack Lukeman plays
And to make the most of it and people, people have enjoyed hearing them, so
Oh it’s lovely. It’s such a lovely thing.
We might be getting him out on the road and make a few bob off him now when the whole thing opens up again.
What did your dad think of it? I mean, what did Sean think when he heard it?
Oh, chuffed, yeah chuffed, you know. I mean, music has always been a great thing and he’s been a great inspiration, you know, seeing him sing songs like Old Man River when I was a kid, kind of opened my head up to the magic of music and how it can lift people out of the everyday and just a way of expressing themselves. And I suppose it was a great inspiration, you know, the old sessions at home and just his general love of music.
Now, my mother had a great love of music too. My mum would be into, you know, The Beatles and Elvis. Whereas my dad, you know, he’d got the older stuff with the crooners, Sinatra and Nat King Cole. So it was all the big bangs of music. I think it was a very good place to start.
Young At Heart by Sean Loughman Snr plays
So, yes, I’ve got a great love of all the old classics.
And Jack, I know the family business is the garage, and you went into it as a mechanic, as a young fella.
But was your dad really, in a sense, a frustrated singer?
Would he have loved to have had the life that you’ve ended up having?
Well, he’s a very, he’s definitely an optimistic, upbeat person. So he was always very happy, just, you know, working and he loved sessions and stuff.
Young At Heart by Sean Loughman Snr plays
I think coming from a small town as much as me growing up, I never thought that was a possibility to actually, you know, you know, it was another world that didn’t exist around you, the world of music and the arts and showbiz, if you like. So
And making a living from it.
And making a living from it, yeah. That was, that was the, that’s still the hardest part.
But yeah, I’m sure he would have, he would have loved to, and sang and is famous locally for singing. You know, he was the man to sing at your wedding or your funeral for that case. So I’m sure he would have, would have loved to have sang as well. But so that’s why it was so nice to get him on record singing. And, you know, they even played it on a few shows on Radio 1, which is fantastic.
Young At Heart by Sean Loughman Snr plays
As I say, you went into the garage as a mechanic, as a young lad, but you headed off to Amsterdam when you were 18 and in some ways that becomes a turning point for you, because while you went over there, I think to the tulip factory, to the bulbs and sorting them out, you kind of then discovered a little bit of a way to sing and make a little bit of a living out of it.
Yeah, I was serving my time as a mechanic. I kind of left school quite early. I kind of drifted from summer holidays to just working in the garage, as my father had before, I left school at 15, as my brother had as well. So it was just, you know, it was a different time. You didn’t really, that’s what you were going to do. But everybody knew I was not destined for mechanics, but at least it was there for me.
And about three years into it, I mean, a friend of mine was heading off to Holland. His brother had been over there, you know, working in the factories and it just sounded like such a cool thing to do for the summer. So off I went and I suppose left the mechanic thing behind. And yes, we were living in a campsite and kind of things drove me, I suppose, towards busking where we were trying to get a job someplace else and we sold our tent and were sleeping in ditches.
And an opportunity came to sing a few songs with a guy who had a guitar. And I could see people were interested when I would sing. And also I was, I suppose, making more money than I was doing anything else. So, yeah, that’s the, I suppose, the leap of faith where you feel you can actually survive as a musician. So singing on the streets is a great way of, it’s the greatest theatre of all, you know. You have to learn how to catch people’s attention with your music.
And I can only imagine that Amsterdam, Jack, must have been such a mind blowing city to visit at that point, at that age and almost a chance to reinvent yourself again because you’re allowed be whoever you want to be when you’re busking on the streets in Amsterdam. Was that in a sense where you started to discover who you were as a performer?
It gives you the self belief that this is possible to do this. As I say, coming from a small town, you don’t see it and you’re not around that kind of thing. So it’s kind of a pipe dream. But it was always through default and, you know, it’s always, you know, things that’s the great lesson in life, is that sometimes things going wrong can set you up to do something else. As with me getting out of working in factories and being able to survive singing.
And yes, going to a different country is always a great opportunity to reinvent yourself. And especially, you know the 90s, it was early 90s. The 90s, I think were a very special time. I think they will be viewed a bit like the 60s in some respect, where there was this kind of optimism heading towards the millennium. Technology had come in. We all thought, you know, all the Internet stuff. We thought we could probably do that within a few years, but we’re only kind of able to do it now.
So we all thought we were going to be cyber punks or whatever. And so so, yeah, it definitely allowed me to gain self-confidence and yeah, open your eyes up to the world. And from there I was either looking at doing the whole bohemian traveling thing of going to the kibbutz in Israel and all the kind of stuff. But I said right I’ll go back to Dublin and give it a blast. And that’s kind of where I went back and started playing in places like The Da Club, met up with The Black Romantics and began to, I suppose, grow an audience and experiment with what I could do.
And a persona.
Yeah, yeah. I suppose. I mean, I’ve had a few personas over the years, I suppose. I just kind of enjoy, you know, create your own culture. I take a little bit of everything and yeah, I mean, I always look at The Da Club as like serving my apprenticeship as a performer.
And Jack for those now who have no idea what The Da Club was like or that image you’re giving us of Amsterdam or Dublin in the 90s, I mean, there’s a sense of you started to meet up with like minded crew at the South Circular Road at that basement flat where you were living.
What was it? 38 South Circular Road.
Yeah, I met up with David Constantine, had an album called 38SCR that he was making of his own songs. And Martin Clancy, who I still work with to this day, was producing it. And so the guys were doing some stuff and we met up through mutual friends, my friend Anna McPartlin, who’s a famous writer now, I knew her from
You know her from home.
Yeah, I knew her from, yeah from, she used to go on holidays to Athy. So, yeah, I met up with the guys, and they had a studio in the house and they were recording and sure it was a Shangri-La, we all moved in and we used to, you know, we’d record all night. We’d see how long we could record for, you know, all these crazy, crazy stuff. And even though we had no deadlines those days, we’d create deadlines.
And yeah, I started touring with Dave. He had, his band was called Serious Women. We toured Germany and did a lot of interesting shows around Dublin and kind of from there then I got in with The Black Romantics who were mostly all based out around the Bayside area, Howth. And General Keith, the bandleader, was looking to do a show of Jacques Brel songs. And I mean, I knew Jacques Brel via Scott Walker, who did the English, because Jacques Brel is originally in French, though he was a Belgian.
And so we had put this big band together, a kind of a Pogues type band, you know, fiddles and accordions and just fantastic musicians.
Six months ago, we got a video in the post, a band that we didn’t know about, I don’t think anybody knew about. They’d just recently formed called Jack L and the Black Romantics.
And we started a residency in the Da Club, which is just off Grafton Street on Clarendon Market, I think it’s called, is this little street not far from the Gaiety.
Jackie by Jack L and The Black Romantics Live at the Da Club 1995 plays
And, you know, back then, we would go on at 12 o’clock at night. There was a late night scene in Dublin then musically.
You know, you had, even the Gaiety had that, you think Velure that used to run all night.
Jackie by Jack L and The Black Romantics plays
So we’d go on at 12 o’clock and it was just word of mouth, you know, he was selling the place out continually and it was just such a little speakeasy and such a kind of a happening place. And it was a place that everybody passed through.
You know, I think Tommy Tiernan supported us one time there, you know, it was a mixture. Agnes Bernelle would come down and sing with us.
And Camille O’Sullivan was around the scene then as well.
Camille was doing Alive and Well and Living in Paris down there with a crew. And everybody, you had Damien Dempsey, Doctor Millar, Mundy, Paddy Casey, Juniper, when they were, you know, pre Damien Rice and Bell X1. So it was just, so it was a fantastic place. I saw so much stuff.
Jackie by Jack L and The Black Romantics plays
And there was a real vibe. And of course, you were young. I mean, I was just looking because I do remember the midnight at the Olympia gigs and seeing the whole Black Romantic show there is incredible. But I just fished out something from ’96, which it’s just worth remembering because I think the piece they’re saying you were 23 then, you can correct him.
But the line goes when Jack L does Jacques Brel, he brings all his youthful, full blooded vitality to the part. When he emerges on stage at Dublin’s Da club, for instance, decked out in frock coat and brandishing his cane it’s like watching Johnny Depp doing a film version of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. That was a pretty cool write up.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t, I haven’t seen that one. It’s pretty good. Yeah, I’ll go with that.
Jackie by Jack L and The Black Romantics plays
So that was the Irish Times on March 1996. It’s kind of interesting that whole night scene you’re talking about in Dublin. There’s now this conversation and movement about trying to resurrect that, like hopefully after the pandemic when we can actually go back to the city. But there was a really lively and bohemian scene where there was, you know, eateries that opened into the early hours. There were cafes that people would go after those kind of gigs and hang out.
Yeah, there was just a nice kind of optimistic vibe at the time. And it still feels to this day like a very, very different time. Less rules, you know, the old health and safety will be the death of us all, I always say, because you can’t do anything now. But back then, you know, we would do the shows, you would leave the place in the early hours, it was always bright when you left the place. Now places still exists like Whelan’s in Dublin is a great bastion of that thing where you can enjoy yourself into the late hours, though I you know, I’m probably passed that at this stage, but
We both are.
Yeah, but. But the Velure Club, yeah, used to run all night and you had every room in it, which was in the Gaiety. It would have a different thing on in every room. You’d have salsa in one room, you had the main venue open
Exactly. I went to the salsa. Yeah, great.
And the main room itself, like in the Gaiety, which is one of my favourite theatres in Dublin, would have some band on and then you go somewhere else and something else would be happening.
But maybe it’s also to do with being young that there’s that magic about it. I mean, that’s why I feel particularly sorry for people who are in that age group now in the pandemic because everything was switched off for them. And much as the virtual gigs and the lockdown sessions are brilliant, you know, you do miss that whole vibe of being in a room with loads of people enjoying live music.
Oh, no doubt. I mean, I know it’s not compared to people dying, it’s down the list. But, yeah, you know, last year I just thought kids are going to miss, you know, their first gig out, you know, their first festival,
Their first everything.
Because I remember when I was a kid and Féile was kind of the first thing that happened. That was a big festival. And I had a car.
It was an old orange Corolla that was falling to pieces. But we all piled into it. And I remember I’d a black leather cowboy hat, off we went. And it was just like a weekend apart from what the everyday mundane is. And I think that festival thing is very, very old. So I think it’s a very, very important, inbuilt, primordial thing in us that we have to have a few weekends
Where we go wild.
Where we go wild. The Elysium mysteries, all that kind of stuff , you know.
I got the worst food poisoning ever at Féile and I think it took about three weeks. It was one of those ones where whenever I hear the word Féile, I just think of the, it was the sausage, the sausage breakfast in the B&B, where the lovely lady had obviously reheated them. And I did, I did feel I was going to die.
Yeah. You know, I thought it might have been those sandwiches they were selling in every garden. I’ve had that festival experience too, yeah.
Talk to me about the look and that whole look that you developed then in terms of the clothes, the makeup, mascara, leather, everything that was going on.
I mean, it’s again part of that time and magic in it. But what was influencing you and what were you thinking in bringing all of those elements together?
Yeah, it was always, I suppose, I was a magpie. I was taking a little bit of everything, but I always did like the show in the biz, you know. Even though in the 90s grunge was a thing and everybody was wearing their day clothes or, you know, work clothes basically ripped jeans and all that. But I just always felt it was an opportunity to dress up and I always, you know, liked dressing up.
I always just liked not, well I suppose, it was a lot of extravagant stuff like the old
Well, I suppose the old PVC trousers and, you know, red frock coats and yeah canes and I mean in particular songs like Jackie, which was a Brel song.
The Jacques Brel song, that you still do.
I would, for certain songs I would have different characters. I always liked the idea of method singing where you became the character.
The King of Soho by Jack Lukeman plays
And I’ve always seen singing in the old shamanic sense, you’re trying to crack reality. You’re trying to shake people. You’re trying to break, not only the fourth wall between you and the audience, but the fifth wall which is the wall inside people’s heads. Because music did, you know, I travelled via music when I was a kid, you know, from just hearing songs of names and I’m going, where is that? What is that? And the romanticism of it. And, you know, the old palace of your imagination.
The King of Soho by Jack Lukeman plays
And that’s what songs stoke.
I mean, I just was never going to be a shoegazer I suppose. I just
You’re a showman.
Well, it wasn’t, it’s not in particular that I went, I’m going to be a showman. I just started singing. The way I sing is quite a physical act.
You know, it’s, there’s a lot of high C’s and there’s a lot of dramatic songs.
The King of Soho by Jack Lukeman plays
So it just lent itself to that. I can’t say there was a premeditation that I’m going to be David Bowie, you know, or I’m going to be Jacques Brel or whatever. It was just the music I was making, yeah, the fashion of the time, maybe. But I mean a lot of stuff, I was always into the old second hand shop, I’d go in and find a tuxedo that somebody maybe died in and I would, they would be the things I would wear and the more flamboyant and outrageous, I suppose. I mean, I think back to some of the things were just downright wrong.
But a bit like alter egos.
Going into clothes and costume allows you to be bigger and more than yourself as well, because we all come from, as you were sort of saying, you come from a small place. We come from a small island.
Sometimes it’s hard then to see yourself as this projected other and having another name, even when you use the Jack L, but also having these costumes, these masks allow you to be bigger as well in terms of a stage and a physical presence and also mentally that you can move into these characters.
Yeah, I mean, I suppose we all, you know, we all grew up in the black and white kind of Catholic Ireland where, you know, curtain twitching and all that kind of stuff. So I was always very much so against that and trying to, I suppose, enhance myself and just enhance the, I don’t know, I just I was always. Well, I was, you know, just simple cultural things like Top of the Pops every Thursday night you’d put it on.
And you saw all these people who were completely different to what your everyday was and you went, right, that’s the thing for me, you know, that’s where I want to go.
You mentioned Bowie there.
And when I think about those early shows and the persona and the Black Romantics and all of the ways that it was coming together around that time, there’s also an element of androgyny around it. Things that you see with David Bowie or Marc Bolan from before him and with T. Rex, that’s how old I am, that you have a sense in which some of those characters and performers and singers were able to morph in the gender lines and embrace both in their performance and their characters and the way they played with it. Was that something that you thought about as well?
Yeah, no I love the flamboyance. Androgyny is great. And just the whole Dionysian thing of just going for it when you’re doing something is so bloody liberating. I mean, I’ve always, one of my bad sayings is that, you know, being on stage is the licence to be an asshole, you know, it’s to do what you want to do. And I mean, I used to do costume changes and all that stuff in shows and for different, different characters and different songs.
And it always just seemed very, very natural to me, you know, and I always enjoyed the freedoms of it, you know, songs like Ode to Ed Wood. I like girls and I like boys. I like leather I love your toys. It was just a celebration of freedom.
Ode to Ed Wood by Jack Lukeman plays
Also just shaking people, you know, out of, out of, you know, small mindedness
Small mindedness as well, you know. So, and I always saw that as the duty of any rock and roller or any rock and roll music or any music is to shake the foundations of reality and create your own reality.
And Elvis, you know, cracked the world open as Sinatra did before him. I mean, Sinatra was where they created teenagers basically, the whole idea of teenage fandom and, you know music, I always say music and business are an oxymoron. Music is this magical thing that nobody can really, it’s made of spirit. It’s playing with air waves. It’s messing around with words. Obviously, business is a different thing and it’s always a battle between the two.
But it’s just such a fantastic fun thing to do and has helped us all, especially at this time. Music has become more important. I mean, I went out and I got to do a few shows in September when things opened up a little bit.
When we opened up a bit.
Yeah. And the Limerick Concert Hall, you know, they were social distanced and they were streamed and all that. And down in Kerry I did one as well. And I’ve never felt music so potent.
It just felt like you were doing something important, just that feeling of like war time or something when we were people were suddenly allowed out and about again and some kind of normality. And I’m looking forward to, you know, getting back to that.
To getting back.
Much as I’ve enjoyed stopping and chilling out for the first time in my life really. Um, well, saying that I’ve been, I’ve been doing the live shows every weekend, which is quite a task in itself.
You’ve been working very hard with the shows and doing the Facebook, the Facebook and the YouTube sessions. And you can see from the reaction from your fan club what it’s meant to them.
And I do know from having worked with you in a very long radio series with Julie Feeney called High Fidelity, how loyal your fans are.
Like, it was remarkable whenever we did anything, there’s just this incredible following you have, particularly with women.
But in a sense, they’re very loyal. And I could see when I’m looking at the Facebook and the lockdown sessions, your fans have been right behind you.
For me, that’s been the fantastic thing about that is, you know, solidifying, I suppose, that community where we all meet up on a Saturday night and people chat, you know, people are chatting while you’re doing the songs to eachother.
Chatting in Facebook.
I’m asking, you know, but that’s the thing you can’t, you obviously can’t hear them, but you can see it.
And then you, you know, you’re asking how they are and you’re getting stories sent in, you know, we did like whatever it was the 20th anniversary of Metropolis Blue. And people were saying the first time they were at a gig and
Rooftop Lullaby by Jack Lukeman plays
It just, there’s been so many things in it that have been so moving, you know, reading people’s, you know, stories at the time of where they were when they heard a song and it did something.
And also just when I started doing the live streams, which was really weird because you’re not, there’s nothing, you can’t practise for them you just go online and there’s a thousand people watching you and there’s nothing in between the songs except your inane babbling. So it was really weird.
But when I, when I finished and I was actually able to sit down and read the comments and I saw people who I, you know, met years ago and I hadn’t seen in years and then just, you know, fans who were just delighted that they had something that felt almost normal on a Saturday night. It was really, really moving.
Rooftop Lullaby by Jack Lukeman plays
In some way it has solidified, I suppose, the fan base, and it’s given me something to, I’ve been doing my own stuff, but I’ve been doing other artists a lot as well. So and it’s almost like doing a thesis. So every week is this big build up where you’re learning all these songs.
You’re learning songs.
You know, Dylan, Cole and Cash, all the big names, Elvis, Bowie, The Beatles, It goes on, 80s nights. And we did like recently we did moon tunes
Moon River by Jack Lukeman plays
Which it was a full moon, so every song I could get about songs containing the moon, which there is a lot,
There is a lot
There’s several volumes in that one, too.
There’s a few albums of moon songs. I can see a whole new album of moon songs coming Jack.
I wrote half of them. I mean, the moon features so much in what I do.
Moon River by Jack Lukeman plays
But so for me, it’s been like staying fit both, you know, musically, mentally and learning all this tech as well. And then just, just I’m really interested in the idea of how shows can work. I mean, basically what I’m saying is that people go, oh, yeah, it’s not like a real gig. Yes, obviously. But there’s something else going on. Music still moves people.
The fact that people tune in mostly in real time and stay tuned in for the whole thing that people want that old
Felt presence of something happening in real time that we’re all experiencing together.
And that’s very in the moment and very mindful, you know, that we’re all experiencing something in real time. That fascinates me. That’s what life is about. It’s a series of moments from the magic to the mundane. And you just have to know how to turn the mundane ones into the magic ones, which they can’t be all the time.
Billy Mag Fhloinn said a while back, I think last December to me that what we’ve really missed in the pandemic is this idea of communal joy, the idea of sharing something together, whether it’s a football match or a music gig or being in a place where we feel more than one.
What we miss, which is what you’re describing in your virtual sessions on Facebook, is that people are not just enjoying the music, but they do feel that in one moment they have a shared experience and a shared joy.
In many ways sometimes it feels like people are, you know, enjoying the chat in between, probably more so than the music.
Yeah, initially I was not, I was, I never did anything like that. It’s all fresh to me. But it’s been a fantastic learning curve. And as I say it works.
And you’ve really embraced it like, you know, fair play to you, you’ve really embraced it. Because some artists, and it’s very understandable, have been intimidated by the technology and they’ve stopped doing anything, which is a terrible loss.
But you also mentioned Jack, and I think we’ve all had this experience in the last year of watching funerals on live streams of people we love and loved.
And you had that experience of singing at funerals as well for your uncle.
Yeah, I’d two uncles who actually passed away and I, I sang at the funerals, you know, that was the weirdest thing is as people, you know, having to be, I suppose, people not being able to come together to celebrate the person is one of the hardest parts of the whole lockdown. It’s been a very, very hard time there’s no doubt about it. We’ve never, I think World War Two is the only thing to equate with this. But as I say, it’s you know, at least there’s people not dropping bombs on us and there’s not, you know, there’s not the imminent invasion of anybody so. And we have all this technology, I suppose, that we can do things.
The things we’re really losing is that idea of the our social self.
And it’s been great that this has enhanced community, as in people look at what’s around them and what’s going on. But, yeah, it’s been awful to see the demise of so many businesses that have been around for years, so many music venues, so many people I know who can’t gig online or there’s no way for them to. I mean, I feel very lucky and privileged that I’ve been able to maintain, you know, movement musically that I could continue to perform.
But, yeah there’s been, there’s been a lot of work involved too. But it’s been worth it in the end.
And Jack, for somebody who’s normally travelling and touring a lot, this has been, as you say, a period when you’ve been at home performing from there in Athy and has that been interesting? Has that been quite a change that you’ve been in situ, that you’ve been back home for this, such a lengthy period?
Well, I am actually over in Laois direction over that way, over near Stradley is where I live. So I’m out in the country and it’s been great. I mean, I’ve always loved living in the country. I love going to places like L.A. and experiencing the madness of that and then coming back to the middle of nowhere in Ireland. It’s one of the greatest things. And I’m the kind of person who would literally watch the grass grow and have been, because I have to cut it.
But just experiencing nature, seeing the seasons change is something I just love. The Irish weather, yeah, it’s got its problems, but I actually enjoy it. I enjoy being out. It’s, you feel alive, you’re cold, you’re hot. It’s, it’s, I don’t know those things I love and I’ve loved having a year now or more of being able to stay in the one spot and just see the seasons change. I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t travel again, of course I will, but I’ve done so much of it that it’s kind of I’ve done it.
So I’m in some respect, I’m looking forward, you know, to getting back at it. But I’ve enjoyed the virtual thing very much so. And I think and hope it will remain something that can happen in the winter months. And now people, everybody’s learned how to do it. It’s been funny seeing the arms race of people getting better TVs, getting better Internet so they can enjoy it more has been fun to watch as well.
And, you know, seeing what other people were doing made me go, wow you can you can watch it on TV. You know, I didn’t know any of this stuff before I started. It was just a phone and what it could do. But yeah, I’m looking forward to getting back on the road, I suppose.
And you’ve toured with loads of people, obviously with Jools Holland a lot. You’ve a really good relationship with Jools Holland and you’ve toured with tons of big names and obviously that’s back on the cards when, fingers crossed we open up. And that will really be starting from the summer. You’ve got a gig coming up which was postponed with Sting, I think.
Yeah, there’s a Sting gig in Germany that’s been there, I was supposed to do last year. So I’m just waiting to see is it on this year. And then I’ve got, yeah I’ve got a lot of legacy gigs, there’s Jools Holland Tour in the UK, so I’m just waiting to see how things go like everybody else.
I mean, how did you connect with him and how did that relationship develop with Jools?
Well, it was just through, I suppose, gigging around the UK a lot. And I’ve been touring with him for a good few years now and played great places like the Royal Albert Hall and just so many fantastic places. And yeah, he’s just a music lover. You could talk to him about music all day. He loved the album I did of Randy Newman.
Baltimore by Jack Lukeman plays
Just a natural music lover that you could sit down and talk to for hours and just a fantastic touring group, I mean, he has people who’ve been with him since he started, really. And it’s just this big family.
Very loyal crew it seems.
Yeah, yeah. All the amazing singers, you know, Marc Almond hanging out with him and touring with him as well with his show. So there’s been so many great opportunities that have obviously come through it.
You’ve toured with Neil Sedaka, with Imelda May. There’s a huge range of artists that you’ve had the opportunity to be around. Have you a sense of a favourite gig or one that you felt that really blew your mind?
Yeah, well, I did get to play with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra in Manhattan outdoors with the full, I was singing, you know, singing, you know, singing some of my own stuff and then singing, I think it was when I had the Randy Newman stuff out. I did a few of those songs and I ended up, you know, I sang New York, New York with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra with a couple of thousand people looking at you, looking back, we were on the harbour, it was on one of the piers.
So I was looking back at Manhattan with a flyover with cars going by and skyscrapers. And you’re singing with them and you’re going, well, if there was Carlsberg moments, this would be it, promote Carlsberg. But, you know, this is this is like a dream stuff. And then, you know, I’ve got to tour across America, the Fleadhs with, you know, Elvis Costello headlining and lots of other, Van Morrison.
And in some ways, you’ve travelled enough, you’ve filled your boots with it, that you wouldn’t miss it. But you certainly when you had those opportunities, you maxed them out. There’s such an array of people you had the chance to work with.
And you learn from everybody. You know, I remember seeing Elvis Costello performing at the Fleadh in Boston and, you know, it was acts all day long, all the bells and whistles. And I think it was when he had the album out of Burt Bacharach songs and he was the headliner. He walked out with a guitar
I loved that album.
Yeah. He walked out with a guitar and a piano and somebody playing piano with him. But anyway, he after seeing all the bells and whistles and everybody all day and big bands, he came out with just that, songs that were amazing and the whole place was singing and he just blew everybody away.
So you learn lessons like that, like the Old Man River thing of, you have all the technology, but it breaks down and you sing without any amplification and people tune in more so and remember it more so because it’s something different.
Ol’ Man River by Jack Lukeman plays
The same as with him coming out and doing that, proved to me how it doesn’t have to be turned up to 11 all the time volume wise, you know, dynamic is everything to me in a show and doing shows has always been a fantastic, you know, it’s something like flying a plane.
You try and get the plane off the ground. You can take a nice, relaxed take off or you can just shoot right off like a rocket. Depending on the song you do, you get it up there and then you’re trying to, you know, play with the dynamic of the energy in the room or the energy online or just the energy you’re playing with yourself as regards songs you’re doing. And then you try to land it. You can, you know, land it with a big tune or you can just bring it down gently.
Ol’ Man River by Jack Lukeman plays
You’re basically playing with energy and as, I think it was Tom Waits said.
It’s the art.
Music and songwriting is something interesting to do with air. You know, you’re just vibrations. So it’s a constant learning curve.
And I saw you doing that, playing with the dynamics in the National Concert Hall once when it was the interval and it’s the concert hall so it does have a little bit of that formality around it. It’s not Vicar Street, it’s not Whelan’s.
And so everybody was doing their normal thing in the interval, you know, queuing for a drink or chatting and suddenly there’s a sound from the grand piano in the foyer there. And it’s Golden Brown.
I always remember it because it was that moment where you completely changed the energy of what, this is a really predictable moment to something that became something else.
Golden Brown by Jack Lukeman plays
That was one of the gifts of that is to make the National Concert Hall a venue where nobody knew quite what was going to happen because there you were playing well, somebody else was playing the piano, but you were singing Golden Brown in the middle of the interval, surprising them.
Yeah, no, the interval thing I just always, you know, you cool down. It’s like you have to start from zero again and the energy drops and then you have to build it back up again. So what I remember in my head was at the time I went, right they want the interval, OK but I’m going to go out and play during the interview just to, just yeah as you said, break the what was the obvious,
The expected norm
The expected. Yeah.
And I remember it was you know, it was a bit raucous and people were hanging over the banister and stuff, I think.
They kind of, I don’t know if people are still allowed do it, but at the time it seemed like a very good idea. And yeah, there you go.
People remember it because it’s not the obvious. It’s always the things you, the things outside of the ordinary that kind of stay with you.
Because music is an experience. And in some ways at those events it’s a shared experience.
But, Jack, what does singing mean to you, because in many ways, I can’t imagine you not singing even if you weren’t travelling. It’s so much part, as you say, of your experience of being alive. But what does singing itself mean to you?
Oh, it’s everything. I mean, it’s my religion. It’s my belief system. It’s my history. It’s the very essence of what I do and what I am and what I try to do to other people.
I try to share the joy of singing because I was lucky enough to be born with a voice and then just, you know, what it does culturally, what it does historically, what it teaches, how it’s a never ending lesson to learn things and to experience other parts of the world and to mind travel, if you like. It’s a spiritual act. It’s a physical act. It’s a cerebral act. You know, it works on all the levels and it’s older, you know, they think maybe we made music before we could talk.
So it’s the great communicator and it’s something we take for granted. But I always think that songs and music are like the little, the magic that still exists in our everyday life because everybody turns on the radio or to have a song to. And it moves us in ways that we don’t understand. It doesn’t have to have lyrics. It can just be music, a major to a minor chord shifts something that’s in our heads that we don’t quite understand.
I know scientists tried, you’ll see theories, you’ll see people explaining the world away, but nobody knows anything has always been one of my main mantras in life, um, but everybody likes to pretend they know everything. And we’re in the age of that where, you know, if you don’t agree with what I agree with, you know, you’re out, but nobody knows anything has always been, I think, a very helpful, um, antidote I’ve used just when people say you can’t do things.
Music has been a you know, a vocation, it’s my life really. It’s the only thing that made sense of the world, or enhanced it enough that I could bear it.
And Jack we started with the beautiful song you’ve released with your dad singing, but I know one of the other thing that most of us have been doing in the last year in the pandemic is spending time where we can with our family if we can be close them being aware just of how precious those relationships are. And you were mentioning, I think also that you’ve done this project, musical artistic around your granddad.
Yeah, my grandfather, Jack Keogh, he had a kind of a memoir, you know, he was he died in the 90s, but he left behind a whole books of drawings and muses and poems. And it’s always been a thing I’ve had and wanted to do something with. So I you know, I was basically learning how to use film, trying to shoot a little movie. So I basically did a duet with him.
It’s and it’s music. It’s inspired by those AMSR recordings, audio, meridian, sensory I can’t remember what the third word is. But it’s basically speaking really quietly and drawing people in and telling stories.
“You can’t but help here, it’s home.”
They were very popular on YouTube, people listen to them going to sleep at night, so I want
They’re kind of fetish apparently.
Well there is that aspect of it, too. Yeah, but I’ve always liked, but that’s oddly, it’s another thing I’ve learned. I learnt from comedians. I remember one night watching a comedian in the White Horse in Dublin years ago and the audience were talking over him.
And he just started to whisper and the whole place just quietened down, even though he was saying nothing.
So there’s something about the whisper that draws people in.
Commands us yeah.
I will relive again the memory of times I used to know.
So I was interested in that, and I’m a massive film fan, you know, and now that we have the ability to make a movie on our phone or on our iPad or whatever, I made a 20 minute movie incorporating footage that I shot in the area that I live, the nature of the place, it basically it’s from the perspective of how everything shut down in that first lockdown and we went back to the early 1900s.
Where there wasn’t cars on the road and you could hear the birds sing and all the stuff that people were noticing. And that made me think of my grandfather, Jack Keogh, and his era. You know, he would have been a great inspiration. I have great memories of we would visit on a Sunday and he’d be sitting in the room with John McCormack blaring. The room would be full of smoke and he would be listening to John McCormick just sitting there listening to it, you know.
Things like that were really inspiring to me. So
It’s a gorgeous project, Jack. And again, there’s been a few blessings or opportunities in this time when everything paused where we’ve been able to do things which sometimes we put on the back burner. And that project about your granddad is definitely one of them, where you’ve created something where you might have been too busy normally to do it.
Well, it was also nice to create a 20 minutes of music rather than where I’m always dealing in the three to five minute pop songs or rock and roll songs or whatever the format that we are all used to. It was great to just make a piece of music that lasted and to speak and not. I mean, there’s a song in it, there’s a good story, there’s a song in it called Tuberara Well, which is a place that my grandfather kept referencing, but I couldn’t find the song.
It’s a local song, in Athy. And I looked online. I couldn’t find it on YouTube, I couldn’t find it on Google or anywhere. And then I rang up my father and I said to him, do you recall, do you know song called Tuberara Well, “as oft I have stood on the bridge of Athy”, and there it was in folklore. There it was in his head. It had been recorded.
Tuberara Well by Jack Lukeman plays
And so there was beautiful things like that. So the song features in it and but it was also just to show, you know, my, my grandfather, Jack Keogh, his brother Dan Keogh was in the First World War on the, fighting for England. And then my other grandfather or great uncle Pat was in the old IRA, you know. So you had these one of those families where you had the two sides doing two different things and just so much history there that was just nice to capture in some shape or form and not to do it in a conventional sense, to do it in more of a dream time kind of sequence. Yeah and it’s just also the visuals were just a celebration of the beautiful place that we live in in Ireland.
It’s wonderful. And I hope you get to release that.
Yeah, I’m trying to you know, I still have a few little bit things to do with it. So it’s not released yet, but hopefully, uh, I’ll get it out this year. I mean, I’m also kind of looking at trying to get an album together for when things do open up, because pre to the lockdown, I was doing an album of my own stuff. So I’m kind of actually just getting back into that now, trying to finish off the album I was doing with the hope of getting out the end of the year or in the New Year, getting some new songs out there.
Jack, it’s been lovely to catch up and talk with you again. And I’ve been enjoying the streamed album, and particularly Here Comes The Sun, one of my favourite songs, it always makes me feel better that song. Is there one, beyond your dad’s lovely song, from that lockdown album that lifts you.
Forever Young kind of was the Dylan song was one that I really enjoy singing and just you can bathe in it and it’s got sorrow in it, but it’s got such joy in it too. And it’s, you know, it’s one he wrote for his kids, but it’s just something to say to us all, you know, just don’t, don’t, don’t let go of the child inside because that’s what will keep you alive. And that’s what, you know, is one of the most beautiful parts of you.
Forever Young by Jack Lukeman plays
So I’ve really enjoyed singing that. There’s been a few you know, songs like Girl from the North County, is another Dylan song which isn’t on the album, which is why volume two is pending. But there’s been so many.
Oh, bring it out. You’re allowed bring it out Jack. I’m going to let you have lockdown 2.
I’ve got to concentrate on the originals though or I’ll never get it done.
Forever Young, again I love it. I played it at my eldest brother’s funeral two years ago, that with the Here Comes the Sun.
And it was just, so they’re both songs, which, you know, that way when you have an opportunity to pick songs, now sadly there was no live singer at that.
It was a crematorium in London. But it was so beautiful because the right song, and this is what you mean about the power of music and song, the right song at the right moment can change us and change the mood.
Yeah. Suddenly, suddenly the world is a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful moment, be it of a melancholic nature or be it of just unbridled joy. Um, it can.
Yeah. And sometimes it allows you to say goodbye as well within that.
Most definitely. And so many people have requested Forever Young, um, you know, which is, which is lovely as well on the livestream gigs that you get to commemorate people. And it is an up and down roller coaster ride doing the thing, because in one request you’re, somebody’s talking about somebody who’s in hospital or somebody who has died. And then you getting someone telling you somebody has been born and you celebrate their new grandchild or someone’s birthday who’s eight years old or, you know, it’s just it’s the symphony of life is right there on
An emotions. All the ways in which we feel.
Forever Young by Jack Lukeman plays
Jack, it’s been, it’s been great to talk to you and wishing you the best with the new album, whether it’s lockdown 2 or the one that you were about to bring out before the pandemic interfered with all our lives.
I’ve got a few new tunes going.
I hope you also get to tour soon. Great.
Look forward to them, Jack. And best of luck with the touring when it starts again with Jools and that gig hopefully with Sting, which will eventually happen. So take care and talk to you soon.
Thanks for having me.
And that’s all for this episode of The Family of Things, my thanks to Jack for making it happen. And we’ve put some links to Jack’s music in the show notes so you can continue to enjoy his voice.
If you like what we do, please do support it. Consider becoming a member of our patreon community for as little as a euro a month really helps us make season two or use our tip jar on the website, TheFamilyofThings.com. And if you want more, we’re making a brand new podcast with the gorgeous Panti Bliss called The Panti Personnels, intimate one to one conversations with unique performances. Our first episode with Bressie, Niall Breslin is out. And coming next is an American in Dublin, the lyrical and funny Galia Arad. Check it out, The Panti Personnels. Thanks for listening.
In this episode you hear songs including:
That’s Life – (Dean Kay/Kelly Gordon) Sean Loughman Snr and Jack Lukeman
Young At Heart – (Johnny Richards/Carolyn Leigh) Sean Loughman Snr
Jackie -(Jacques Brel) Jack L and The Black Romantics Live at the Da Club 1995
Jackie – ( Jacques Brel) Jack L and The Black Romantics (Wax album version)
The King of Soho – Jack Lukeman
Ode to Ed Wood – Jack Lukeman Rooftop Lullaby – Jack Lukeman
Moon River -( Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer) Jack Lukeman
Baltimore – (Randy Newman) Jack Lukeman
Ol’ Man River – (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein) Jack Lukeman
Golden Brown – ( The Stranglers) Jack Lukeman
Tuberara Well – ( folk song) Jack Lukeman
Forever Young – ( Bob Dylan) Jack Lukeman
Find out more about Jack and his music and gigs www.jacklukeman.com
The Family of Things is an independent podcast from Athena Media, the host is Helen Shaw, the digital editor is John Howard and the theme music is by Michael Gallen – from Ana Gog ‘The Old Haunt’.