Folk-punk poet Jinx Lennon’s unique take on modern Ireland has been unleashed via a new album, writes Ellie O’Byrne
The tale of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe is such a classic David and Goliath story that it was probably only a matter of time before the now-retired sergeant, victim of a vicious smear campaign for exposing wrongdoings within the force, had a song written about him.
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down, McCabe,” Louth folk-punk singer-songwriter Jinx Lennon growls on McCabe + the Big Machine, a track on his newly released double album. It’s the type of tale Lennon feels naturally drawn to.
“I thought the man had so much integrity,” Lennon says. “He just seemed a fella who wanted to do right, and to me, it’s a story that sums up this country, really. It’s an important border story too, because it was in Cavan that his problems started, in Bailieborough. In my area.”
Capturing the symbiosis between grit and humour in life in the border counties is Lennon’s mission on his latest, typically idiosyncratic release, Border Schizo FFFolk Songs For The Fuc**d: a double album recorded in just two days and populated with cocaine-addled undercover cops, B&B landladies, football fans, violent pyromaniacs, domestic abusers, scratch cards, the North Louth housing list, and the manhole covers of Dundalk town.
“There’s so much to write about up here,” Lennon says.
Patrick Kavanagh’s books really resonate with me: he gets the flavour of where he’s from, in Monaghan. It’s really important to me to get that into your music, to tell the stories of where you were born.
Lennon, 56, has worked as a porter in Louth County Hospital in Dundalk for the past two decades. That means, of course, that he’s now designated a frontline worker in the Covid-19 crisis. What’s that like? His response is level, philosophical.
“We were expecting a spike, but we’re coping with it, and it’s pulling together pretty well at the moment,” he says. “It’s all day to day, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I still don’t have enough hours in the day, because I’m working on music the whole time too. I do miss the gigs, but there’s no use sitting on your arse; there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Lennon’s latest release is his ninth studio album in 18 years. Yet the closest he’s ever got to “mainstream” success was in 2002, when the building boom collapse saw Lennon’s song Bubble Electrician briefly capture the public imagination.
His music and solo stage shows are polarising: in some quarters, he’s one of Ireland’s unsung musical heroes, likened to Mark E. Smith or John Cooper Clarke for the off-beat genius of his lyrics. For others, his raw unfinished sound and surreal tics (like the “Free State Nova” sunglasses he performs in) will always be incomprehensible gibberish.
He has, however, always had a bit of a cult following in Cork, frequently appearing on double bills alongside punk poet Wasps Vs Humans in recent years, while at the beginning of his solo incarnation, he was championed by Eoin O’Sullivan of local punk act Super Stanley 800.
Lennon had ditched bands in the late nineties, deciding the format just didn’t work for him, and was building his own distinctive one-man act throughout the early naughties.
“Eoin was such a lynchpin of the Cork scene at the time,” Lennon says.
It was really important for my confidence, to have that support. I still love coming to play Cork.
Critical acclaim for Lennon’s new album has been unusually high. Having risen to prominence during a recession, and always having written about society’s darkest corners, with another recession now looming, does Lennon feel a renaissance of appreciation for his music on the cards? What’s most important to him now, he says, is spreading a message of positivity to help people through the tough times.
“There were a couple of albums that were really dark and there was no light getting back out at all, and it’s really important to me to be sending out a positive, uplifting message.” he says.
“The message is, get off your backside, life is for living, get up and create and don’t let life destroy your head. There was a point where I was pissing myself off with all the macabre darkness: you do need a light, and you do need a balance.”