'But I like my music in the open air, So every summer I go to
Clare, 'Cause Woodstock, Knock nor the Feast of Cana Could hold
a match to Lisdoonvarna'.
Arena Magazine 1997 - Phil Cleary
Lisdoonvarna, Christy Moore, 1983.
Stumbling across Planxty and Christy Moore in a small theatre
in Limerick City in 1973 was as significant to me as whatever it
was that happened to St Paul on the Road to Damascus. For nothing
I'd known in sleepy Australia could hold a match to the evocative
power of that voice and the musical sophistication of Dónal Lunny
and Andy Irvine or the historical and political depth of the songs
and music I heard from Planxty that night.
Although there was a fair dose of the Irish nationalist in Christy
Moore 25 years ago Planxty's songs managed to creep past the circumscribed
Fenianism of the Clancy Brothers and the often maudlin folk scene.
From the darkly mysterious oral tradition of John Reilly, to the
rambling proletarian anthems of Woody Guthrie in songs such as 'The
Ludlow Massacre' -
It was early springtime when the strike was on You drove us
miners out of our doors ... I thanked God for the mineworkers
union And then I hung my head and cried
and 'Sacco and Vanzetti' -
I ain't got time to tell the tale, 'Cause the branch and the
bulls are on my tail I won't forget these men who died to show
us people how to live
to the poignant beauty of Ewan McColl's 'Go, Move, Shift'
Born on the common
by a building site Where the ground was rutted by the trail of
wheels The local Christian said to me 'You'll lower the price
of property' ... Go, move, shift
Christy Moore sang to the beat of a different, often international,
Drawing on Ireland's unique musical culture, never afraid to tramp
on the excesses of Catholic propriety, and capable of interpreting
and delivering songs with remarkable passion, he is a performer
like no other.
CASTLEBAR - 1996 - WITH LOUIS DE PAOR
In October 1996 I talked with him before a concert in Castlebar,
County Galway. Although more subdued on the question of Northern
Ireland and the Nationalist cause than in the days when he was singing
songs such as 'The Belfast Brigade' and was demonised as
that 'Provo Bastard' by loyalists in the north, the moment he took
centre stage his attack on the 'enemy' was as powerful as ever.
At night's end he swept all before him with a eulogy, Warrior
Woman, to courageous Irish Journalist Veronica Guerin. So intimate
was the song I wanted to join the local branch of the Red Guard
and go hunting for the heroin cartel that had shot her dead in broad
day-light at a Dublin intersection.
It left the audience believing they'd lost a treasured member of
their own family. Just as importantly it re-affirmed for those grappling
with this thing called post-modernism, the fundamental collectivism
and humanity of everyday life.
In the caravan with Christy in 1996
In the '80s the songs finding their way to Christy Moore continued
the trend towards diversity and universality begun with Planxty.
In 'Biko Drum', 'Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Russian Roulette',
'No Time for Love', 'Allende' (where the good
doctor lies with blood in his eyes and the bullets read US of A),
'Remember the Brave Ones', and 'The City of Chicago',
(the latter two written by his brother, Luka Bloom), Christy introduced
his audience to songs whose poetic form was as good as the best
of Bob Dylan but whose political message was unproblematic and collectivist
in a way Dylan's could never be.
Interspersed through the political anthems were ditties such as
'Messenger Boy' the love songs, 'Nancy Spain', and 'Black is the Colour'
(of my true love's hair) and the 'craic'.
I cry with joy when I listen to 'McIlhatton', a glorious
lark to the poitín (potato whiskey) written by hunger-striker Bobby
Sands not long before he died in Thatcher's H-block, Concentration
Camp. With lines such as -
'There's a wisp of smoke to the south of the Glen and the
poitín is on the air, The birds in the burrows and the rabbits in
the sky and there's drunkards everywhere. At Skerries rock the fox
is out and by god he's chasing the hounds And the only thing in
dacent shape is buried beneath the ground',
and a larrikin beat to kill for, any serious drinker who hasn't
had the pleasure has seriously missed their calling.
Whilst Christy Moore continues to exude recalcitrance and affirm
the great Irish tradition of rarefying heroes and martyrs, fame
has come at a price. The big performances at venues such as the
Melbourne Concert Hall remain technically flawless, however they
lack the intimacy of the village hall in Castlebar and tend to impede
the story telling and the gentle narrative so central to his musical
tradition. Still there are few performers who can stand before a
microphone with only a guitar and a bodhran and so fire the spirits.
As we watch the shallow debate over the Australian 'Republic'
unfold it's not hard to understand why our own musical culture has
struggled to peep above the global import. In the words and music
of Paul Kelly, Kev Carmody, Michael Thomas (Weddings Parties Anything),
Deborah Conway, Peter Garrett and a small number of others, the
journey into the politics of everyday life, indigenous and otherwise,
has taken a form to rival that of the contemporary Irish musical
It seems however that until we resolve the question of who we
are, the gurus will be gushing to the sound of Kylie and The Spice
Girls and the only person doing the encores will be Christy Moore.
Christy's book, 'One Voice' is
discussed in the music section.