There’s only one Christy Moore

He tends to shy away from too much publicity these days, but Dave Robbins got some sit down time with Christy Moore ahead of his appearance at the Marquee.

There’s only one Christy Moore

Video by Briona Gallagher

When you’ve been singing for 40 years, and your voice is somehow part of the national consciousness, one word will do.

When the Irish Examiner was offered an interview with Christy, I knew they didn’t mean Turlington.

A few days later, I am standing in the Marquee in Cork on a blisteringly hot day. The photographer is placing Christy here and there to compose his shots and the heat in the giant tent is oppressive.

“By God it’s hot in here,” says Christy’s assistant Mick Devine.

“I thought they had a heater on or something.”

“It’ll be hotter when there’s 5,000 people in here,” I reply.

“Oh that’ll suit him,” says Mick, nodding fondly at Christy.

“The more he sweats, the better he performs. He loves a hot venue.”

That, of course, is the iconic image of Christy Moore: eyes closed, completely immersed in the emotion of the song, his head spangled with sweat.

And what songs he has. Sometimes it seems that recent Irish political and social history — from anti-nuclear protests through the H-Blocks and on to Euro ’88 — could be told through his songbook.

Christy, who as we all know has the build of a prop forward (I discover later that he did play tighthead prop for Newbridge College) but he looks fit and strong, vigorous for his 70 years.

His face is open and he sits back to think about the questions I ask him. When he answers, it is the voice of a man who has come to know and accept himself.

He is a difficult interviewee, but not for the reasons I had expected. I’d read that he could be grumpy. Not quite Van Morrison grumpy, but with a temper on him.

“This whole thing about me being cranky,” he says, “that’s a manufactured thing. It’s a thing that was invented by a very small group of people who are annoyed by the fact that I won’t play in a room if the bar is open.

“I just won’t do that. I spend too much time preparing for my gig to have some drunk bellowing at me through a quiet song. I did all that. I did all that for the first 25 years.

"I’ve done that. A lot of people who say ‘oh he’s real cranky’, they’ve never been to a gig. There’s always great fun at my gigs, always great craic, there is great laughter and emotion.”

No, the reason he’s difficult is that he asks me questions. He’s interested in a piece of research I’m doing about climate change (later he emails for more details), about where I come from, about how I travelled down to Cork that day.

It’s genuine interest, and it’s there again as he chats to veteran Cork impresario Kenny Lee about the old days.

“He gave me my first solo gig in Cork nearly 40 years ago,” laughs Christy.

“He paid me £100 for it too.”

Christy is touring a lot this summer, and playing the Marquee tonight.

“I’ve always had a good relationship with Cork. I’ve sung a lot of Cork songs. I’ve recorded albums down here.

"You know, you come into Cork, and you think: ‘I played there, and I played there, and I know him, and I remember this’, and then you come to this, (the Marquee) which is completely unique, there’s nothing like this anywhere else that I know of, where for a month you will have Riverdance, you have your man Chic, you have the Frames, Status Quo, I mean Jesus, ZZ Top, Lionel Richie, I mean it’s crazy, it’s great.”

It’s obvious he loves gigging. At 70, the drive is still there. “What keeps me going,” he says, “is that there’s people who want to hear, I have new songs to sing, my voice is holding up. I just love doing it.”

He has the routine down now: arrive at 5pm, rehearse for 40 minutes and then it’s on stage, “so that when we do go out, it’s like we’re continuing rather than starting.”

He loves it when the crowd sings along, and they always do.

“The other night I was in Enniskillen and the whole front row was young kids and they knew the songs, and I love that.

"I love to see people singing along with the songs. There’s a lovely feeling off that. It’s a lovely thing. It’s a very special thing,” he says.

The old songs are there in many of us, like snatches of poetry learned at school, but there are new songs too; Christy is always ready for a new song to suggest itself, always thinking, always wondering if something will “become a song”.

“Very often the kernel of the song will appear when you are not trying to write a song,” he says.

“You know, I had great fun in Belfast last week with the tricolour going up the flagpole over Stormont. The reaction, when you look at it a certain way, it’s very funny.

"I mean, you’ve got Ulster Hall, King’s Hall, Queen’s Hall, Prince’s Hall, City Hall, they’ve got the Union Jack flying morning, noon and night, and this little flag goes up for three minutes, and there’s meltdown. You could have a great laugh at it.”

Humour is a way to deal with issues, and it’s often better than anger, says Christy.

“There is a well of anger in me about the whole financial crisis,” he admits, but suggests a funny song is a better way to ridicule the bankers than an angry one.

He hasn’t paid his water charges. He pays his tax and his VAT, but “Irish Water has been a money-wasting, non-transparent fiasco from the start… our water has been turned into a commodity for profit by people not dissimilar to those who led us to financial meltdown.”

Many of Christy’s songs are powerful because they are so specifically of a certain place. They’re often about identity, I suggest, and he smiles at the idea.

“I identify with things I really should have forgotten about. I identify with the school I went to, the national school, the secondary school, the GAA club, my home town, my county, my country, my province, identifying with, yeah, I’ve got all that baggage, and I love lugging it about.”

The talk turns to rugby, and again I find I am telling him something, a story about a friend belting out his song ‘La Quinta Brigada’ on the night of a rugby game in Toulouse a decade ago.

“I used to play for the Irish rugby team,” he says. For a second, I think he means play rugby for them — I wouldn’t put anything past him — but of course, he means music.

"When Warren Gatland was coach, the team manager Brian O’Brien used to get him to come in and entertain the players when they were in training camp ahead of big matches.

He lists the players who could sing. “Trevor Brennan, he was the best of them, he sang ‘Ordinary Man’ with me. Felix Jones, Damien Varley, Donncha O’Callaghan could all sing. Luke Fitzgerald. He sang ‘The Reel in the Flickerin’ Light’. O’Driscoll. He was all right. I told him to stick to the rugby.”

Nobody has to tell Christy to stick to the singing. He’ll be at it for as long as he’s able. Ride on, as he might say, or sing, himself.

Christy Moore plays Live at the Marquee tonight, July 4. Tickets from €45 on www.ticketmaster.ie . Details of other dates on www.christymoore.com

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