ICONS of Irish music don’t come much bigger than Christy Moore. The 68-year-old singer has just released a new album, Where I Come From.
A three CD collection, it features 43 songs culled from a five-decade career, and all are either written or co-written by the man himself.
“I started to think about how scattered my songs were,” says the native of Newbridge, Co Kildare. “I haven’t written that many songs when you consider I’ve been recording for 45 years. They are scattered over a lot of different albums and I just got the idea that it would be nice, while I’m still able to sing, to gather them together and present them in a collection.”
Often portrayed as an interpreter of other’s compositions and of songs from the tradition, Moore’s standing as a songwriter in his own right is validated by the release of Where I Come From. “There are songs that I’m really glad I’ve written. But when I recorded them before, they slipped by and nobody really noticed them very much,” he says.
“It’s a very busy world that we live in and I just wanted to mark them. I’ve a grandson now and it’s nice to know that I have that collection there if he ever wants to know, in 20 or 30 years time, what his grandfather did. Songs like ‘Imelda Riney’, ‘Song For Anne Lovett’ and ‘Veronica Guerin’, even ‘The Stardust Song’ — people know about that song but probably didn’t know where to find it.”
The new album was recorded at various locations around Ireland. There are studio recordings from Dalkey, Ballymountain, Monkstown, Blackrock and the Factory, plus live recordings from Belfast’s Waterfront, the Hall in Knocknagoshel, the Royal Spa in Lisdoonvarna and Whelan’s in Dublin. The title song of the album has special significance for Moore, who adapted it from a composition by his brother Barry, or Luka Bloom as he is better known.
“When I heard ‘Bogman’, or ‘Where I Come From’, as I call it, I wasn’t able to sing it in the way he sings it because he’s a younger man than me and his perception of the bog and Newbridge and growing up is quite different to my own. So I asked him could I play around with it and he gave me his blessing.
“I realised that part of it relates back to ‘Gortatagort’, the John Spillane song. John wrote that song about his mother’s place and to me this is about my father’s place. I’ve always felt that my father’s place, Barronstown, which is about four miles outside Newbridge, was my place of origin, even though only one of my grandparents came from there. For some reason I feel a kind of spiritual connection to it.”
One detects a sense of loss when Moore sings the poignant lyrics recalling a time that has long since passed. “I suppose it’s because they are all buried near there,” he says, referring to his ancestors. “I visit their graves and from the graveyard I can look over and see where Barronstown was. So it’s all that kind of folk memory. And I was so glad to have it marked because that place is obliterated now. I can’t even find where the house was, nor the well or the haggard or the hayshed.”
Many of the songs on the record are collaborations. Does Moore have a system or formula when writing with others? “Oh no, they are all different. Each collaboration has its own special relationship,” he says.
“Wally Page is the main man I’ve written with. With Wally, I would normally write a lyric and send it to him and he would put music to it. Lately, though, we’ve done the whole thing together, particularly with ‘Arthur’s Day’. I think we sat together from the outset for that one.”
Track 1 on CD 2 of Where I Come From is a new recording of ‘North and South of the River’, a reflection on the Troubles in the North, co-written with Bono and The Edge. How did the writing of it come about? “I was in Canada and I was making my way from New York to Toronto and on the plane the same day were U2 and the Waterboys. I think it was ’84 or ’85 and U2 were beginning to make a bit of noise, career-wise. While waiting for the bags to come through I started chatting with Bono. As Bono would say, ‘I really like your stuff man’, and all that. He said that we really must get together sometime and maybe write a song. And about 10 years later he literally turned up one day and said maybe it’s time to have a go at writing that song.
“I had the bones of the song which I wrote in Bellaghy and I showed it to him. We said OK, let’s have a cut at it. I can always remember one thing though — I had a corncrake in the song and he said the first thing we had to do is get rid of that corncrake. Thankfully I got the corncrake back into another song,” laughs Moore.
Over the years Moore has written and sung songs that have been considered controversial, and he has taken an amount of flack from some quarters. Has he ever felt he was ploughing a lonely furrow? “I never felt lonely. I’ve had a lot of people in my life who might disagree with what I’ve sung about but few would disagree with my right to do it. Even in terms of family — I come from a very strong family and we don’t all think or feel the same way. But we respect one another’s views.”
* Where I Come From is out now. Moore is at the Marquee, Cork, Jul 5
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