HIS FIRST time in Galway was in 1962 as a teen folk singing ‘wannabe’. A decade later he was back as part of Irish trad’s first ‘supergroup’. Ten years later he was a controversial supporter of the Hunger Strikers. And tomorrow he headlines the Galway Arts Festival Big Top.
Christy Moore is no stranger to Galway and has played the city numerous times across his near 50 year career as a folk singer and songwriter. The first time the Kildare man set foot here was as a teenager in 1962.
“My first visit was Race Week that year,” Christy tells me. “I was a 17-year-old with a guitar. The late Christy O’Connor got me up in O’Connor’s out in Salthill where I sang ‘Róisín The Bow’ and ‘The Jug Of Punch’. He invited me back the following night and myself and John Flood got off with two nurses. Ten years later I came back with Planxty to play in The Hangar where Leisureland now stands.”
At that now legendary show, the quartet of Moore, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, and Liam Óg O’Flynn blew headliner Donovan off the stage, and from there would dominate the 1970s Irish folk revival as one its most brilliant and inventive acts.
Those were also days of wild and outrageous behaviour. In his book One Voice, Christy mentioned dropping a tab of acid while playing with Planxty and The Dubliners during the Galway Races in 1972 and “seeing strange stuff, not all of it friendly”.
“I have put all that behind me now,” is all Christy will say today, before adding mischievously, “these days you are more likely to find me at confession with the Redemptorists, at the side entrance to the cardiac unit, or coming out after a bit of after-hours reiki...all that acid stuff was but a figment of my imagination...”
Throughout his career, Christy has never been afraid to take a strong stand on highly controversial issues, most famously against the proposed nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point in Wexford in the late 1970s, and in support of the republican Hunger Strikers in 1981. Taking such positions met with a vitriolic reaction.
In One Voice Christy recalled how Galway had a “very vocal anti-Republican element” back then and he was “taken aback at the way people turned on me”. However the city’s musicians did not abandon Christy, and one who stood by him and played the concert was the late fiddler Mickey Finn.
“I can remember that he put all his money in the basket, that he played his heart out, and that Galway has never been the same, for me, without him,” says Christy.
Playing Galway these days is a different experience and Christy has regularly played Leisureland over the last couple of years to near instant sell-out audiences. How does he feel the city has changed in that time?
“Everywhere has changed in my life time,” he says. “I remember Galway winning three-in-a-row; the Bishop of Galway banning ‘mixed bathing’ - the dirty minded bollocks; Des Kelly and The Capitol being Number 1 in The Irish Charts; when there was only one De Danann; Michael D presenting me with a platinum disc; Moving Hearts falling asunder in St Patrick’s Hall, and reforming two hours later in The Skeff.”
Christy’s companion at many of his Galway shows over the past number of years, and the Big Top show will be no different, is guitarist Declan Sinnott. How and when did the two men meet?
“I first met Declan at Hyde Park Corner in London in 1972,” says Christy. “He was after leaving Horslips and I was greatly impressed by his Afghan jacket and flares. He let on he did not recognise me. I thought that was really cool.”
What does Christy most value about having Declan by his side at the shows? “He always has spare plectrums and plenty of good movies on his Mac,” he replies.
Christy says he and Declan are determined to “take the Galway Arts Festival by storm”.
“It is our intention to drive the snakes from the field back down The Corrib,” he declares, “to awaken the spirits of Mickey Finn, Pete Galligan, Corky and ‘Mate’ Lydon. Myself and Declan are hoors for the bit of art.”
As well as playing many of his best known and loved songs, Christy will also be performing songs from his critically acclaimed Folk Tale album, which was released late last year. Not surprisingly, given the turmoil of the times brought about by the recession, issues of emigration and eviction abound.
The album opens with ‘Tyrone Boys’ which ends with images of people sitting in an airport waiting to leave: “All the young ones are leaving the island.”
“This is a reworked version of a song I wrote and recorded in 1986 for an album called Unfinished Revolution,” says Christy. “We still export the cream of the crop, people still being hunted from the land.”
Continuing the theme of eviction is ‘Michael Hayes’. It is not hard to see this as a song where the past echoes contemporary concerns for people fearing their homes may be taken from them if they cannot keep up mortgage payments.
“Eviction can be a cruel weapon of oppression,” says Christy. “Michael Hayes could take no more and struck out in anger and fear, it was his last resort.”
The album is not all doom and gloom though, there is plenty of Christy’s trademark, irreverent humour in ‘Weekend in Amsterdam’ and ‘My Little Honda 50’.
“‘Weekend in Amsterdam’ was written by my old neighbour in Newbridge, Paul McCormack, who is the resident bard of my home town,” says Christy. “He assures me this song is based entirely on hearsay and second hand information. I am indeed familiar with Amsterdam but, of course, not with the areas referenced. I tend to visit the galleries and churches of the old city. You’re more likely to find me on my knees in prayer than on my back in some coffee shop...
“‘My Little Honda 50’ written by Tom Tuohy, perhaps the greatest songwriter ever to come out of The Bog of Allen. My first ride on a Honda 50 was in 1961 when Slicey gave me a pillion over to Lawlors Ballroom in Naas to hear Brendan Bowyer.”
Christy Moore, with Declan Sinnott, and support from 4 Men & A Dog, play the Galway Arts Festival Big Top tomorrow. Gates are at 7pm. For tickets see www.galwayartsfestival.com or the festival box office on Forster Street.