Christy Moore: ‘Some of the things I did back then would make me wince now’
After almost 45 years of recording, Christy Moore has gathered his 45 best songs on a triple CD, ‘Where I Come From’
“When I started singing, 50 years ago, there was no such thing as songwriters. Think about all the songs handed down through the millennia – it just didn’t dawn on me to view myself as a songwriter. Songs were things you collected, cherished and passed on. I would travel to Galway or Roscommon or Manchester just to track one down.”
Moore pulls out a photocopied issue of Time Out from 1969, his fingers running over the listings until he finds his name. Three years after leaving his job at a bank to immerse himself in the English folk-club circuit, he played on the same bill as Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl in London. The awe that came from sharing a stage with a songwriter of MacColl’s calibre sowed a seed, Moore says.
But it was through the “journalistic approach” of Woody Guthrie (and later Bob Dylan) that he learned to find a voice, to chronicle matters of consequence and to subtly expose injustice.
The opportunity to do so arose in 1978 when Moore visited the H-blocks of Maze prison, in Northern Ireland, meeting paramilitary prisoners who were on a blanket protest over their rescinded political status. That inspired 90 Miles to Dublin, its title a nod to the frustration of seeing an issue so close to home eliciting apathetic silence. Evidently, Moore’s first composition touched a nerve: the song sold out and was promptly banned.
Though the craftsmanship would evolve, that same strand of social commentary courses through Where I Come From, not just charting critical events in Irish history but picking away at the scabs they left behind.
There are songs for Bloody Sunday, Veronica Guerin, the Birmingham Six, the Stardust nightclub disaster (another song of Moore’s that was banned), the Holocaust, Haiti, Anne Lovett, Giuseppe Conlon, abuses in the Catholic Church, Irish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War and the strip-searching of women in Armagh Gaol. Taken together, it’s difficult to think of another artist who not only refuses to shy away from taboo topics but tackles them with thought-provoking compassion.
“There are subjects in this collection that are very important to me,” he says, lowering his voice as he leans forward. “Even though it mightn’t reach that many people, it’s all there. They’re little monuments, and I’m glad they’re marked.”
Moore gets up and walks over to something else he wanted to memorialise, gesturing at a photograph of himself outside the home he grew up in. “I often think of that house, that life, that world,” he says. “It’s totally gone from the face of the earth, but it’s in the [title] song, and I get transported back there when I sing it, even if only momentarily.”
Those moments of transportation define Moore’s live experience. It’s the rousing craic, sharpened wit and electric atmospheres evoked in the anthemic Joxer Goes to Stuttgart, the ever-evolving Lisdoonvarna (now updated to include Swedish House Mafia) and Welcome to the Cabaret, an icebreaker developed to settle nerves and woo crowds. He records every concert – “I treat it as a special entity, not a place for promotion” – mindful that every spontaneous dip into the repertoire could produce an unforgettable one-off.