The magic of Christy Moore

Issue 

By Mark Dalton

BRISBANE — Christy Moore is one of a handful of artists not afraid to make a statement about the wrongs he sees. His songs span many aspects of life, from great traditional ballads like "Lord Baker" and "Little Musgrave" to his own compositions.

Memorable among the latter are the very provocative "Wicklow Boy", a song about Nicky Kelly (who spent years in jails as a result of a frame-up by the Irish police) and "The Time Has Come", written for Peggy O'Mara when her son Patsy was near death at the end of his 61-day hunger strike in 1981.

Christy is well known also for his wit and includes some very humorous songs in his repertoire. But it is his sense of fair play that comes through and touches people, whether it is expressed in rage or good humour. For many people his singing is an assurance that others are aware of what is really going on in the world.

Over the years we have seen Christy both solo and fronting various bands. As far as I know, his first line-up was with Frank Lunny, Donal's brother, while they were both still living in Newbridge and Christy was still working as a bank clerk.

The Irish national bank strike of 1966 may have been the best thing ever to happen to Irish music, because it put Christy out of a job and on the road to becoming a folk singer. He moved to England and began to take his music seriously, playing in pubs and clubs and busking to cinema and concert queues.

He returned to Ireland in 1971 and recorded the album Prosperous. Even today, this album is regarded as a kind of benchmark for Irish musos. Liam Og O'Flynn, Donal Lunny and Andy Irving recorded with him on this album and went on from there to form the band Planxty.

Planxty, unfortunately, was short-lived. Christy left because of his desire to sing songs which directly reflected his own opinions on life and society; some of the songs he recorded over the next few years would have sounded incongruous coming from Planxty.

Planxty was re-formed in 1979 with the addition of Matt Molloy. A list of other musicians subsequently involved from with Planxty reads like a Who's Who of Irish music: Nollaig NiCathasaig, Noel Hill, Tony Linnane and Bill Whealan, to name but a few. Planxty gave us such songs as "Little Musgrave" (all 20 verses), "The Ballad of Farmer Michael Hayes" and "The Well Below the Valley".

The urge to create a link between Irish traditional and contemporary music spurred Christy on, and in 1980 he and Donal Lunny left Planxty to form a new band, Moving Hearts. Moving Hearts sounded, at least to me, like a traditional Irish band playing rock. Once heard they were never forgotten. I loved them.

They gave us such great songs as Jim Page's "Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette". "On The Blanket" also stands out, a statement on the H-Blocks of the British-ruled North of Ireland. Along with these we have what is to me the greatest song ever written, "No Time For Love", written by Jack Warshaw.

Moving Hearts have long moved on, but they left us with two great albums, and no doubt the time spent with Moving Hearts was crucial to Christy's development, allowing him to reach a wider audience than he could as a one-man show.

After Moving Hearts Christy resumed his solo career. He toured Australia several times in the '80s. Perhaps the most memorable of his visits was as a member of the group that toured as the Guinness Festival of Irish Music.

It is as a solo artist that we see Christy now. His presence on stage is awesome. His guitar playing, deceptively simple, complements his singing so well that no other backing is necessary.

His stories and introductions to his music keep the audience spellbound and only too willing to give him their undivided attention.

A Christy Moore concert is an event not to be missed. Although his latest albums have orchestral arrangements as well as traditional musical instruments on many tracks, his performance of these songs on stage minus the backing loses nothing. In my opinion he doesn't need the padding.

Christy Moore will be playing at Mayne Hall, University of Queensland, on April 14.