Bridgewater Hall 29th May 2009
Singer-songwriter and all-round musical bard Christy Moore has since the mid-nineteen sixties carved out a fascinating parallel career; co-founding member of pioneering Irish folk group Planxty and later fusion-folk group Moving Hearts; headlining folk singer drawing upon a wide range of influences taking in the North and Latin American social protest song tradition as well as English, Irish and Scottish folk music such as the Watersons and Hamish Imlach. In fact these two facets to Moore’s career trajectory came together on his second album, ‘Prosperous’, recorded by legendary English folk producer Bill Leader. This was in all but name the debut recording by Planxty and featured the four long-time members. Here the traditional Irish repertoire of ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ and ‘Cliffs of Doneen’ was selected side by side with contemporary Dylan. In the larger picture Planxty marked a conscious break with the likes of the Clancy’s and the Dubliners and attracted a whole new audience to Irish folk. Furthermore the group acted as the catalyst for new bands such as the emerging Clannad, the later Bothy Band and even prog-folk such as Horslips.
It was with this towering reputation and yet down to earth manner that Christy Moore came onto the stage to rapturous applause from a passionate and devoted audience. Among them were members of Christy’s family (the song ‘Michael Hatton’s house’ being devoted to them) and the association with Manchester dates back to the nineteeen-sixties when the then up-and-coming singer had digs in Longsight, and has frequently returned to the city to perform. Moore’s repertoire in the first part of the concert is laden with songs telling tales of emigration of the Irish diaspora such as ‘I pity the poor immigrant’ and ‘I’m missing you’. However, he leaves the audience in no doubt that he feels at home in his adopted city of Manchester with a cry of ‘Tis grand to be back at Bridgewater’. While there was no doubt this was a Christy Moore concert and not a Planxty one, he still found time to play in a traditional vein on bodhran for ‘John Reilly’ and the Planxty favourite ‘The well below the Valley’ (another Moore original) which went down a treat. One can only hope the band rekindle the spirit of the 2004 Dublin reunion with a UK tout at some stage.
Moore occupies a unique position in Irish music; that of the social conscience of modern Ireland. This has meant in practice singing about polemical topics in Irish society, challenging the establishment, and in recent times this has included a critique of the gap between the rhetoric and practices of the Catholic church. The new song, ‘God works in strange ways’ and especially the reworking of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Magdalene Laundries’ leaves the listener in no doubt of Christy’s views on the subject, but he is content to let the songs speak for themselves. Throughout proceedings Moore engages in friendly banter with the audience and is generous enough in the second part to respond positively to request songs. Of the new material from the excellent and recently released ‘Listen’, ‘Does this train stop on Merseyside?’ impresses as does a startling and radical revision of Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on you crazy diamond’ which becomes an altogether different song in its condensed acoustic version.
After an extended sabbatical in the nineteen-nineties, Christy has returned to solo perfomances, ably assisted by guitarist Declan Sinnott and so it was in this pared down format that the evening unfolded on the second night in his adopted city. On songs like ‘I’m an ordinary man’ the sheer melodicism of Moore’s songwriting craft comes to the fore and Sinnott’s electric and acoustic guitar playing proves to be the icing on the cake. Equally Moore has always had a sensitive ear for other songwriter’s songs that he might adapt and so Bob Dylan has been fertile territory with a rendition of ‘Lonesome Hattie Carroll’ as well as Moore’s brother Luka Bloom on the superb ‘City of Chicago’, another tale of migrant saudade.
Of course among the Christy favourites, the anthemic ‘Ride on’ has always had pride of place (the live version of the song in Dublin from the mid-nineteen nineties with the audience singing along is a classic) and listeners replicated the 1994 version, participating with equal passion. Running the fomer a close second was a rousing version of ‘Lisdoonvarna’ where Moore sang the verses almost like a rap. By now the audience were off their seats, helped in no measure by Christy recalling in song a trip to Germany in 1990 and the footballing exploits of the Irish national team in that year’s World Cup.
However, Moore has never been an artist who has limited himself to songs relating exclusively to the Emerald isle, however proud an Irishman he may unquestionably be, and it was the reflective side to his character that was emphasized in the encore. Some might argue that taking the tempo down after what preceeded was a misguided choice. This, though, would be to ignore Moore’s passionate espousing of the underdog, the downtrodden people who have no voice in the celebrity-obsessed media. It was with this thought in mind that the singer performed flawless renditions of ‘Viva la quinta brigada’ and ‘Victor Jara’. Fitting, then, that for the former, devoted to Irish recruits to the Republican cause during the Spanish civil war, an exhibition of the war was being aired in a Manchester museum, and that one of the presumed assassins of Chilean singer-songwriter Jara had been caught that week. In sum a marvellous evening of mastercraft singer-songwriting from Christy and in just over two hours almost thirty songs were performed with no interval required. Tim Stenhouse