Singing in tongues
Only one folk singer could
fill five nights at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall — CHRISTY MOORE. In a rare interview, he talks about anger, the Bono connection and his latest album Graffiti Tongue.
Words: Kenny Mathieson
Photograph: Jill Furmanovsky
CHRIS'I‘Y MOORE FIRST sang in Glasgow 30 years ago. back in Ewan McCoII‘s day at the old Folk Club. He performs in more luxurious surroundings now. but has that priceless gift of being able to shrink a 2000- seat ball into an intimate space. and to make his audience feel he is delivering his songs almost on a personal basis.
He is. quite simply. a great artist in his field. No one sounds like him. and few would be foolhardy enough to try to emulate his accent. his brilliantly idiosyncratic but beautifully judged phrasing. his expressive way with a delicate ballad. or the inventive. tongue-twisting rush of his garrulous. semi-surreal monologues. His songs have always reflected a strong political awareness too. railing against injustice and persecution (and not only in Ireland). and there was a period when he admits to open provocation.
‘I went through a time when l was performing in a very angry way. and that would provoke an angry reaction,‘ he says. ‘I‘ve realised since then that I would have no interest in sitting down for two hours and listening to an angry singer — that ranting and raving was a turn off. even for me. It‘s much more challenging to take things that still make me angry. but to present them in a more reflective way. to find a better way of singing enough is enough.‘
Moore was a member of two of the most influential Irish bands of recent years. Planxty and Moving Hearts. but eventually took the decision to go out on his own. firstly with a backing band. and ultimately in the now familiar role of solo performer. He says he cannot quite bring himself to rule out being in a band again. but is happy with his chosen format. both as singer and writer.
‘l‘m SI now. but I‘m more excited by the work I’m doing now than I was 30 years ago. and that‘s a great bun.‘ he says. ‘l‘m very proud of what we did in those bands. but eventually I couldn‘t really play. the music got too complex for me. Playing solo. I‘m totally focused on my music. and I think it has developed in an organic way as a result.
‘I came very late to writing songs. and it‘s only really in the last five or six years that I stopped activer trawling the work of other writers and libraries for material. If they come.
12 THE LIST 21 Mar - 3Apr 1997
though. that‘s well and good. and I still see myself as a singer first — I‘d rather sing a good song of yours than a mediocre song of mine.‘ Late starter or not. he has developed into a powerful. highly personal writer. a fact evident again on his latest album Graffiti
’I went through a time when l was performing in a very angry way, and that would provoke an angry reaction . . . That ranting and raving was a turn off, even for me.’
Tongue. The striking title came courtesy of
another well known Irish singer.
‘It was the Bono fella who said I should call my next album Unit/in 'liurgm'. and I did. simple as that.‘ he says. ‘I like agit-prop graffiti. and l was tickled by that image of having a graffiti tongue. just in the same way that l have a romantic idea that I'm carrying on the old ballad tradition of songs being a
way of bringing the news — or the other side of
the news — to people. It‘s the first time I‘ve said this. but I don‘t like the fucking title now. And I don‘t like the sleeve either. I think it's pretentious. But it‘s a bit late now. isn’t it‘." .Vloore's obvious sense of connection with a much older folk tradition runs through all his work. however contemporary the
references in his songs. He cites not only the Irish tradition. but also Scottish singers like Davie Stewart or Jeannie Robertson. adding that ‘probably nobody in Scotland would feel I was connected with them. but I feel it. and in a funny way. I would even say I still feel more connected to the old songs than I do to the stuff I write.‘
While the singer acknow- ledges he has ‘withdrawn and become quite private‘ in the past decade or so — and rarely gives interviews — Moore has lost none of his relish for getting out on stage and doing what he does best.
‘Oh yeah. that‘s the rush.‘ he says. ‘That’s the big one for me — for some people it‘s the album. but for me it‘s the gig every time. I‘m always thinking about the next one. what songs I‘ll do. what order I'll put them in. The gig is the main event. and the chance to come into a place for four or five nights is brilliant. You can put down roots for a few days. get to know the people in the cafe and all that kind of thing that passes you by on one-nighters.‘
Christy Moore plays the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Tue 25—Sat 29 Mar (some nights are already sold out).