Treaty City Rising: Emma Langford

Photo credit: Conor Kerr

Photo credit: Conor Kerr

Ahead of her gig at London’s Swanley Park Folkfest this weekend, Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Limerick singer-songwriter Emma Langford about her home city, Patreon, and dogs on Instagram.

In the earlier instalment of this week’s mini-series on artists from the Irish city of Limerick heading to the UK for gigs, a (hopefully) succinct outline was made on what brought the city’s current musical momentum together, and the civic, social and sonic threads that were woven to create it. Alternative and independent music of all rough-hewn kinds are rightly getting their flowers at the moment, while the success of last week’s Féile na Gréine festival was proof positive that community spirit can build great things. But there are always other stories being told. Limerick is a city that’s always had an innate grá for folk and singer-songwriters, but few have stepped into those shoes in recent years, with as much drive and as much genuine love for the form, as Emma Langford. Veering between the polish and accessibility of American folk, the vernacular of Irish creation, and an honesty that is entirely personal, Langford has been spent the past few years relentlessly gigging and plugging away, first on a solo basis and latterly leading a three-piece on international tours.

It’s a strategy that’s paying dividends - aside from being one of the more visible faces of her city’s music scene on Twitter, documenting her ongoing grind, singles have garnered serious radio play on national and local levels, lighting up specialist playlists and generating momentum for a growing live following. Far from being land-locked, though, 2019 has already seen Langford take in tours of Germany, engagements in America, and this weekend, Swanley Park Folkfest in London.

New single ‘Goodbye Hawaii’ has just been released, and continues to impact well on radio and online. Just before a flight back from O’Hare Airport in Chicago after a trip to Milwaukee Irish Fest, Langford uses a rare few moments of downtime to discuss how she feels about it. “‘Goodbye Hawaii’ has followed me around for about six years now. I released it as a track off the new album, as I've finally come to a version of it that I really love, so I'm delighted that everyone else loves it too! It always goes down great when I play it live, I'm still reaching new audiences all the time so my "trumpet solo" usually comes as a fun surprise to many in the crowd. That being said, I'm excited to move on now, to new material.”

Amid the hustle and bustle of single releases and radio campaigns has been an important step for Langford as an artist going forward: the launch of her Patreon, where reveals of new material and patron-voted covers are amid the offerings for monthly subscribers. What challenges and upsides are there to a much more personalised method of delivering music? “I've really enjoyed building my Patreon following, it's interesting - it could definitely be more user-friendly, intuitive, and interactive, but aside from technical issues I can't see a down-side to the platform. It's been really lovely building an intimate community around my music, I feel like I know a handful of my fans more personally now and they're a big part of how my career is unfolding! The only possible pitfall of it may be feeling pressure to deliver content, but I haven't experienced that yet!” 

Langford has been front and centre in the wider Limerick scene in recent years, with everything from near-relentless gigging to participating in some lovely community projects, including the community-made tribute video produced by Limerick musicians for Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan after her passing. As the city continues a current golden-era, Langford collects her thoughts on how things are for it as a music destination. “Limerick never ceases to surprise and amaze me. It's a blank canvas in many regards, we have all these multi-purpose spaces, and the creative community are so open and excited about new projects - the most exciting to happen recently was new indie festival Féile na Gréine, which celebrates music of all genres in venues all over the city. I missed it because I was away, but the crowds and the feedback from it looked just amazing, and I think it captures what Limerick's music scene is like right now - diverse and buzzy and open-hearted; we're just growing and improving all the time.”

The topic of Limerick would be incomplete without asking Langford about a pet project of hers, pun entirely intended. Dogs of Limerick is an Instagram account that does exactly what it says on the tin, taking some time to get pictures and little chats with the city’s canine population and their humans. “Dogs of Limerick happened because I love dogs, and other people love dogs, and people love getting the chance to share their dogs on the internet, so I wanted to create a platform for that. I spend an awful lot of my time online promoting, booking and planning various elements of my career, and Dogs of Limerick is a nice little escape from all of that. I don't have to think too much. Plus, having an account like that allows me to walk up to strangers and introduce myself to them and their dogs? It's the BEST.” How about those changes to how Instagram presents likes and other numbers, in a move to evade the stresses and strains of online validation in younger users? “I love Instagram's new setting, I hope it stays - it takes the focus off numbers and makes the Instagram experience way less stressful. I hope other platforms head in the same direction where there's more of a focus on actual engagement and quality content.”

Coming up this weekend, Langford’s never-ending tour brings her to London for Swanley Park Folkfest, where she plays on Saturday. It’s not her first experience with the gig, but it’ll allow her a chance to collaborate with new musicians and creatives, in a breath between legs of gigging closer to home. “I played Swanley Park Folkfest when it was in its first year in 2018, it's a gorgeous family-friendly festival in a totally stunning setting, so it's lovely to be asked back. 

I'm playing this year with two musical comrades, James OR from Cork on guitar and vocals, and Conor Kennedy from Coventry on feet - he'll be dancing! - we've never worked together as a trio, so I'm excited to see what we come up with. I've just flown into London this morning from Milwaukee Irish Fest, where tons of musicians of varying styles and genres were up on stage together performing impromptu collaborations, so I'm hungry for more of the same.” 

Staying busy and maintaining momentum can be tough for any artist, but Langford is taking everything in her stride, on the way to some major milestones next year, including her second full-length. “I'm hoping to take it a little easier in December and the start of the new year, but best laid plans and all that: I always swear I'll take time off, but something too deadly to turn down usually comes up! I'm going to be releasing my new album in the new year, so once this current swathe of shows is finished, I'll be putting the final touches on artwork, getting my music videos made, and planning to take over the world. After that, who knows, maybe I'll take a nap.” 

Emma Langford plays Swanley Park Folkfest this Saturday, at Swanley Park in London. More information and tickets are available here. New single ‘Goodbye Hawaii’ is available now across all streaming services, with the accompanying music video now on YouTube.