Christy Moore makes a welcome return visit to Galway next week when he plays two concerts in Leisureland, on Thursday May 15, and Friday 16 (the latter is already sold out ). Ahead of his appearances here, he took some time to chat about his life-long love for music, his family and his current tour.
Moore’s current album is the excellent 3-CD retrospective, Where I Come From, which brings together all the songs that he himself has written, or co-written, throughout his career. The songs have been specially re-recorded for the album, for which Christy has also written illuminating sleeve notes for each track. “My purpose with the last album was to gather the songs together in one collection while I am still able,” he tells me. “I wanted to present my own songs in a collection of my own choice, my own running order and approved artwork. Had I not done so it might never be done, or else have been a mish-mash of songs from six different record labels thrown together by some record company executive with no intrinsic interest in the nature of my work. I am happy to have done this album; should anyone be interested in my songs in years to come they will have access to them all.”
If the album reveals where Moore comes from in terms of his music, the title track (which opens the album ) also sees him pay loving tribute to the Kildare of his childhood and family forebears. Christy was born in Newbridge in 1945, the eldest of six children born to his parents Andy Moore and Nancy Power. He has written about how much of his love of music came from his mother who was herself a fine singer (he remembers her in the song ‘Yellow Furze Woman’ ). Christy was still a boy when his father died, and I ask him are there any of his personal traits he thinks he inherited from his dad? “That’s hard to really know since he passed in 1956 when I was 11,” he replies. “I remember certain things about him, the sound of his voice, the songs he sang, the way he whistled. He left before I got to know him but I never forget him.”
Many of Christy’s songs have been fuelled by a strong sense of social justice. Where I Come From includes tracks on such defining Irish events and personalities as the Stardust disaster, the hunger strikes, Anne Lovett, Imelda Riney, Veronica Guerin, and the Birmingham Six, to name but a few. Did he grow up with that kind of social awareness or did it evolve as he discovered singers like Woody Guthrie and Ewan McColl? “Both my parents were involved in social issues,” he answers. “I became aware of social injustice at an early age, things were talked about in the house. Hearing the songs of Ewan McColl, Woody Guthrie, the singing of Luke Kelly, Pete Seeger gave me an awareness of the power of song. One of the first singers I ever heard singing Woody Guthrie songs was Galway's Tony Small who sadly passed last year.”
In his fine autobiography, 2003’s One Voice, Christy writes with great eloquence about the strong family bonds which have been a part of his life, both growing up and then starting a family of his own. How difficult did he find it to keep those bonds strong given that his musical career required him to be travelling so often? “I have been on the road since 1966,” he recalls. “When I met my wife Valerie in 1972 I was on the road with Planxty. Forty-two years later I am still on the road, albeit at a more moderate pace. Valerie held it all together as our family came along, grew up and departed the nest. She keeps the home fire burning, she is the heart of our family.”
There is a lovely passage in One Voice where Moore writes about ‘a small and secret drawer’ containing songs ‘that only like to be sung on special occasions’. “I love this ‘drawer of songs’” he declares. “There are songs that have been with me all my life that are very dear to me. They are seldom heard at gigs though one did pop out in Glasgow recently; at Barrowlands I did a song, out of the blue that I never did on stage before. I sang ‘Kevin Barry’, very quietly and accapella. Two thousand listeners sang it quietly with me, they seemed to know every word..it was a special moment. It’s the first song I ever learnt, my mother was devoted to the memory of Kevin Barry. It may never happen again, who knows?”
Alongside his powerful and passionate songs on social issues, many of Christy’s best-loved songs are his humorous ones and the old favourites are all present on Where I Come From; ‘Lisdoonvarna’, ‘Joxer Goes to Stuttgart’, ‘Delirium Tremens’ and more. He explains how the comic side of his writing developed; “When I started doing gigs most of my repertoire was serious trad songs. I spent six years learning my trade in English and Scottish folk clubs from 1966 to 72. There I befriended singers who used comedy in their schtick; Hamish Imlach, Mike Harding, Tony Capstick, Billy Connolly and Noel Murphy were among those who influenced me. Then for a while I got lost in the comedy side until one night in London a friend pulled me up with some cutting remarks about my set; after that I began to get back on track. I do appreciate the value of having light and shade in my set; I always remember one night at The Point in Dublin, my set had become very serious when this voice bellowed ‘for Jasus sake Christy, would you ever lighten up!’”
Bringing things right up to the present, Moore is particularly enthused about the current tour as it sees him performing alongside Mairtín O'Connor, Jimmy Higgins, Cathal Hayden and Sheamie Dowd. “We have been rehearsing on and off this past 18 months and we are making music that is very satisfying to my ears,” he reveals. “I have not been in a trad ensemble for the last 10 years and it is heart-warming to sit among such fine players as these. Two years ago I went to hear Mairtín's band in Dublin. I went home thinking ‘Jasus, I'd love to play with those four men’. It’s taken two years for the dream to come through and I am relishing the next two months.
“Beyond that, I do have a host of ideas all percolating away in this auld head….of course I am still working on a song to mark Sam Maguire's return to Kildare x(he last came in 1928 ). We got to a final a while back but the Galway boys saw us off!”
Tickets for Christy’s concert at Leisureland on Thursday, May 15th, are available from Ticketmaster and Zhivago.