The Celtic Connection’s Cindy Reich caught up with Christy Moore as he was taking a break in west Cork before starting a new tour in the autumn. His latest album, “Folk Tale” was released on the 28th of October.
CR—You just finished up your new album—how do you feel about it???
CM—Grand, glad it is done. We started recording a totally different project, which we abandoned and this current project emerged from it. Both Declan (Sinnott) and I are happy with it.
CR—Any of the usual suspects in the songwriting department, like Wally Page, or John Spillane or even yourself?
CM—No, there’s a few of my own, alright, and I’ve re-visited a few songs from the back catalog. Songs that I’d recorded before and didn’t like the recordings at all and did them again with Declan.
CR—When you did them the first time, did you not like them at the time, or when you hear them now, with some time in-between, do you prefer a different sound?
CM-Well, one of them was recorded 35 years ago, and a lot of things change in 35 years. And recently, people had started to ask for the song again, so I took it out and looked at it. A couple of the other songs I get requests to do quite regularly but haven’t been doing them. I went back and listened to them and then thought, “That’s why I don’t do them, because I didn’t like the way I was doing them”. I don’t know…I suppose I did them again because I could do it. I was able to re-visit the old work and take a fresh look at it. Not everybody will be happy about that, but it doesn’t matter.
CR—At the end of the day, the only person that needs to be happy about it is you, isn’t it?
CM—Well, I think myself and Declan. Declan is a songster. Even though his primary purpose in life as he sees it is to play guitar and to make music, he is very much a lyrics man. He’s a great sidekick, because he goes into the lyric as well and gives me his honest opinion at all times. He kind of feels this is the best album we’ve done. We’ve been recording for 10 or 12 years and this is the 4th or 5th album we’ve done and this is the one he’s happiest with. That counts for something to me.
CR—You are very generous with yourself and with your fans. You are very interactive with them on your website—far more than most artists. Do you ever get tired of all the requests, though? The constant requests to come to the U.S. or Australia, or some other request?? You answer the same questions constantly, but always very gently and respectfully. Doesn’t it ever get old?
CM—Not really, no. I consider it all kind of a privilege that they are that interested. Occasionally there might be something that might get to me a bit, but never something as generous as that—someone asking me if there’s any chance I’ll come and sing where they live. I got into this thing about five or six years ago and it suddenly dawned on me that for the first time I have kind of an ongoing dialog with people who are into the work. That’s not really happened in my working life before. Even bands—take Moving Hearts or Planxty. Nobody in those bands was as interested in the songs I sing as I was. They were all into their own thing. When I go home—I have a wonderful family—but none of them are that interested in my songs. They love me, thankfully, but around the world are a limited number of people who like the songs I sing and I just consider it a privilege to hear what they have to say. Its lovely.
CR—I never looked at it that way, but you’re right. You’re the one most interested in the songs you sing and now you have a shared audience of people who also love the songs.
CM—Yeah, for someone to write to me from Australia or America or Canada or Ireland or anywhere—and to say they like the work and they talk about a specific song or tell me their five-year-old daughter loves to sing the song, or their grannie loves the song, I love all that, you know?? Two of the songs I re-recorded are as a result of interaction with listeners. They had contacted me about these particular songs and I went back to both and re-visited them, and it was on the back of that kind of sharing.
CR—Well, it’s a two-way street. As one of those people who are really into those songs—to be able to have a dialog with you through the website or with others through the 4711 ( a forum for Christy fans within the website) it’s a rare opportunity to talk with the singer or talk with the songwriter in the case of your own songs. To be able to indulge in the love of the song with the person who brought it to life.
CM—It’s something that’s come up in my life in the last five or six years that I cherish. Occasionally there’s a downside—we have been hacked and we have been attacked and we have been abused—but it doesn’t happen very often. Not everybody approves of my interest in it either, but I understand that. There would be people who think I’m a bit ga-ga for involving myself as I do, but I don’t see it that way at all.
For me, it’s like having a conversation. Particularly when I’m out on the road, and you go back to your room at night, and the adrenaline is still flowing and you can’t sleep for a while. It’s kind of nice to open the thing up and say hello to a few people. You get requests along the road as well. Someone will say, “I’m coming along next Tuesday night, and it is possible to sing such-and-such… And sometimes it is possible, but most times it is not. Its nice to hear a gig is going to be a special event for somebody for a specific reason, and maybe to be able to respond to that.
CR—Does it surprise you at all, or does it put pressure on you when someone writes to you and says, “I’m coming from Australia specifically to go to your gig, or I’m coming from America just to hear you sing”. Would you rather not hear that or does it not bother you either way?
CM—Well, I have to say—sometimes it does bother me a little bit. Recently a family—a man and his wife and their two children came from New South Wales (Australia) and the way they wrote to me about it, they were coming specifically to Ireland to the gig. In earlier times, when I read stuff like that it used to freak me out a bit. I used to say, “Don’t tell me until after the gig, please!” you know? But now, it’s just a lovely thing.
CR—It’s a testament to the songs. You talked about songs you recorded 35 years ago that people have asked you to take out and play again. You have to think of the durability of those songs. After 35 years, it’s another generation oftentimes coming into these songs and they are discovering them and want to continue to hear them.
CM—Well, some of the songs are timeless, you know? Some of the songs I’ve been blessed to encounter are as old as time itself. They are songs that have endured for centuries and people will still sit and listen to them. There is something very sacred in that. They are imbued with some sense of longing or celebration or whatever, and that sensibility just sustains.
To me, if I sing “The Well Below The Valley” in 2011 to a thousand people and it stills the night, very much in the back of my mind would be that this song would have been sung over a thousand years ago—albeit in different circumstances—carrying the same effect of stilling the night.
And every time I sing that song, I’m filled with emotion. The same with “Lord Baker” or “Little Musgrave”or “Cliffs Of Dooneen”—these kind of timeless songs. There are modern songs as well, songs that have been written of late, also have that. And I know some of those songs are going to live on and on.
CR—You have some of your own songs that have stood the test of time as well. Is there any song of your own that you might put in that category? That seems to have those same qualities?
CM—Well….maybe… but time alone will tell. It’s less than 40 years since I wrote my first song and I’ve only written maybe 100 songs in 40 years. I don’t write that much. I’m just interested in songs whether you write them or I write them or they are ancient is immaterial to me. But I suppose you do get a bit of a kick out of singing your own song, alright..
CR—But your not being precious about it. There are people who are good singers, there are people who are good songwriters, there are some that are both, but a good song, regardless of who writes it, is one that has that power to evoke the emotion to create the space that you just spoke about. And I think in your catalog are some songs you have written that evoke that moment. And its not a question of quantity, its quality. You could have written one song in 40 years, but if it was a mighty song, so what? It’s the power of the song, not the number.
CM—I know instances of people who have written one great song. I think of Phillip Stewart who wrote that song, “Away You Broken Heart”.
CR—Is that maybe one of the songs that your are bringing back out on the new album?? I’ve hardly ever heard you sing that song in a live situation.
CM—No, I’ve done it maybe once or twice in the last five years. Its one of those songs that just every now and then comes out. I never examine why it comes out, but when it does come out, it means something. I certainly sang it once in the last year, and it just appeared. And it stilled the night. And it created a really powerful vibe. “Away you broken heart”… Stand me somewhere near the ocean…I will wait there wave after wave.” I got that song from a woman who delivered it to me in a real roundabout way. It was about 10 years before I actually met the writer. I never heard a song of his and I don’t know if he ever wrote another one.
CR—You listen to a wide variety of music, and you go and listen to other people. You go to singers clubs on occasion and listen to people. Your tastes are varied and I think it brings a certain fullness to what you produce because you are not stuck in one particular spot. You have a wide curiosity about different types of music that are out there.
CM—I kind of view it from the other angle. I see it as being really narrow, as the only thing I am listening for is the emotion in a song. I don’t care what genre it’s in. If the song does the business for me or makes me close my eyes and takes me away somewhere… Or if it makes me laugh or makes me sad or if it makes me want to sing it. So in a way, my tastes aren’t that varied. All I’m listening to is the song. That’s what I want.
CR—I hadn’t thought it in that way, because they come from many places, but there is a common thread in your songs that you sing and it is that emotion. And I think that is why, 30 years, 40 years down the road, people still come back—to the old songs from 30 years ago, but also to new songs from two years ago. There is some fundamental emotion in those songs that are grabbing those people at a visceral level that make them go after those songs themselves.
CM—For some reason, when you were talking there, I started thinking of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. The Woody Guthrie songs I sing are songs that can make me cry. And the same with a few Bob Dylan songs I’ve sung. Some nights they nearly make me cry. And they aren’t the famous songs or the well-known songs, which I can kind of listen to, and like. But every now and then I hear a song that just makes me cry. Or makes me laugh, or makes me happy. It’s a wonderful world, the world of songs and music, and its such a privilege to be a part of it.
CR—But isn’t that the effect they’re supposed to have? So much of modern music is manufactured in a certain way to present a certain sound to the greatest common denominator. There’s no emotion, no connection—it is what it is. But the power of the song should be what you just described. It evokes an emotion in you that takes you outside of yourself.
CM—And that’s what endures.
CR—Now there’s some you don’t sing. You talked about songs that make you cry and I remember you saying once that you can’t sing “The Boys Of Barr na Sraide” anymore, because it is just too sad.
CM—Well, with that particular song, it wasn’t that…there’s a song called “Kilkelly” that I couldn’t sing because it was too sad. I sang “Barr na Sraide” for quite a long time—what turned me against it was that kind of pagan celebration of the killing of the wren. And I just got turned off by that, you know? “..and on St. Stephens Day, went out and we killed the wren…” Even though it’s an ancient ritualistic thing, I got real uncomfortable singing about it. I don’t think I’ve spoken about that before. Its just when you mentioned it.. Originally when I learned “Barr na Sraide”, I was very caught up by some of the verses in it—by people caught up in dark exile. The heartbrokenness of dark exile. But what eventually what killed it for me was the poor little bird getting killed on St. Stephens’ Day.
CR—The bird was harmless—it hadn’t done anything.
CM—Exactly. …up with the poker, down with…
CR—Up with the kettle and down with the pan, give us a penny to bury the wren….
CM—The wren , the wren, the king of all birds, on St Stephens’ Day was caught in the furze. Up with the poker and down with the pan, give me a sixpence to bury the wren..
You have it, fair play to you, you have it.
CR—Not bad for a Yank. I want to only bring this up because it created such a stir, and it cracked me up.
CM—What was that?
CR—When you played with Coldplay at the Oxegen Festival this summer. I thought it was absolutely brilliant!!! If someone had told me that Coldplay had been performing “Ride On”, with or without Christy Moore I would have laughed my head off.
CM—When Will (Champion) the drummer, was 12, his mother took him to a gig of mine in Southampton. And at 12, he came to that gig and he always remembered it. He loved that a guy came out on a stage with an acoustic guitar came out and made a big racket. He started coming to my gigs, and he’s come along on and off ever since. And I think it was through Will that the band invited me to share their stage and it was a lovely experience and it was great fun!
CR—I’ll bet it was, and you just introduced to a new legion of listeners—whether they come along or not, its something new they were exposed to. But there are several things I really appreciate about you that make you stand out. One, is your ability to convey the emotion you that you feel in the songs. I think that is one of the things that make you such a powerful singer and why they get affected at your gigs when you sing. And when I say emotion, it can be sad or it can be raucous and fun. The other is your social conscience and the way you use your ability to speak for people that have no voice, and thirdly, that you can translate through generations. So at a Christy Moore gig there will be grannies with white hair and five-year-olds sitting on their daddy’s lap, singing the songs. There will be 16 year olds, and 25 year olds and 70 year olds…. That is quite rare. You don’t see that at a lot of gigs.
CM—I love that aspect of it. I love to have three generations of a family come to a gig just to hear songs. An amazing thing happened…a couple of weeks ago I was playing in my hometown of Newbridge, and afterwards, this woman was there with her two sons and they were 9 and 11 and they asked me why didn’t I sing “Burning Times” and why didn’t I sing “Whacker Humphries” and why didn’t I sing “Green Island” and I thought that was amazing that young kids of that age would know about and want to hear those
songs. It blew me away.
CR—And those are not simple songs!
CM—That’s the thing about it! They’re quite complex and difficult songs.
CR—It’s a gift to be able to connect with a five-year-old and a 55 year old with the same songs. And we’re blessed to have you share that gift.
CM—All gifts are given. Everything is given and some of us are blessed to have been able to accept them and hand them back again.
CR—Which you do. You give back in spades. But lets talk about your social conscience. You have a deep social conscience and you use your voice for those who have no voice—whether it be travelers rights or pedophilia, for example. That you are able to take what are often difficult or sensitive subjects, given the country you live in, the demographics or whatever, and you are keeping these subjects in the public eye. Is that innate in you, or did you pick it up from singers such as Woody or Bob Dylan or did you just feel that you needed to speak out for social injustice?
CM—I never analyzed it to tell you the truth. I became aware of a certain kind of song when I was quite young. I heard songs of struggle as a small boy, but at the time I didn’t know they were songs of struggle. When I heard Woody Guthrie and I heard Ewan McColl and I heard some of the songs Luke Kelly sang, something was awakened in me—the fact that struggles were still going on. It was o.k. to sing about historical struggles, but wouldn’t it be really, really good to be singing about the world we live in now? About 1965, 1966 I realized that. And it kind of brought me around in that direction a bit, but the beginnings were there from the time I was a boy. It’s a bit like that song about Victor Jara. “..his hands were gentle, and his hands were strong..” and it describes how he grew up listening to his mother singing. There would be a bit of that in my story as well.