Christy Moore is arguably the most celebrated Irish musician, and indeed was once voted the greatest living musician of his nation – no small honour, one that can only be earned by decades of consistently high quality of music and becoming a massive influence on every young musician of note across a range of genres, yet Christy has achieved just that.
It is however ironic given that much of his material comprises protest songs and one is actually considered by the Irish courts libellous and cannot be performed in Ireland, but still featuring on Moore’s website. That is The Stardust song, written in mourning of the 48 avoidably killed and many more injured as a result of a fire in a Dublin night club in 1981. Wikipedia relates the story of Moore’s wars with officialdom:
“They Never Came Home”
In July 1985, Irish folk singer Christy Moore was found guilty of contempt of court after writing and releasing a song, entitled “They Never Came Home“, about the plight of the Stardust fire victims, seemingly damning the owners of the nightclub and the government. It contained the following lines:
- In a matter of seconds confusion did reign/The room was in darkness, fire exits were chained.
- Hundreds of children are injured and maimed/and all just because the fire exits were chained.
Because it appeared to imply that the obstruction of the exits was solely responsible for the deaths and injuries, the song was banned and removed from the Ordinary Man album it had appeared on. As the album had just been released, it had to be withdrawn from circulation and re-issued with “Another Song is Born” in its place. Early versions of this album are considered rare and collectible. The lyrics of the song are still “banned” in Ireland as libelous. Christy Moore was prosecuted, although he has since been known to sing the song on occasion.
This song was played for 10 weeks outside the “Silver Swan” as part of the protest over the re-opening of the pub in 2006. It was played every night from 6PM until 8PM whilst the families and supporters demonstrated in front of the filling station. The song was reputedly played for so long that three tapes failed, leading the protesters to use a CD player, which failed after eight days. They then resorted to an MP3 player (connected to an amplifier), which lasted for the duration of the protest before failing a week later.
Moore’s lyrics have got him into trouble on a number of occasions, especially when his car was stopped. Again, details from Wikipedia:
In October 2004, Moore was stopped and detained by Special Branch officers at the Welsh port of Holyhead, taken into an office and questioned about the lyrics of his songs. The following day, he released a statement saying: “My driver and I were stopped and held for two hours at Holyhead last Monday, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002. My driver and I were held separately in two interrogation rooms. I found the whole experience threatening. I was questioned about the contents of my briefcase.” Despite initial reports to the contrary, the singer’s van, which was full of musical equipment, was not searched. “I was questioned about lyrics of songs and I was asked a lot of personal questions about members of my family and my children and about my home. At no time was I given any explanation as to why I was being held and interrogated in this manner”, he added. He said the fact that Irish people are still being treated this way on their way to Britain is very “saddening”. “I had hoped to deal with this matter out of the public domain. But seeing as it has become a news item, I feel the need to offer my side of the story. I found the whole affair quite frightening.”
This incident is referenced humorously in my personal favourite of Moore’s songs, Welcome to the Cabaret – a perfect combination of bluesy guitar, Irish roots, delicious lyric and Moore’s fearlessly political nature. In fact, it is just one facet of the personality of a versatile and generous musician, writer and performer, truly one of the finest songwriters and lyricists of his generation.
His lyrics and gently-sun lilting ballads sung in a fine and attractive voice often bely the vituperative words, angry fist in velvet glove you might almost say, or at lease disguised by those lilting tones. Equally Moore has the talent to write about almost any subject with charm, good humour and skill.
He also defies each pigeon-holing, being in part a singer in the tradition of Irish folk music, but going off at many other tangents. I have a copy of Where I Come From, described thus by the Guardian:
Rather than assembling old tracks, the feted Irish singer has re-recorded 43 songs from his epic career for this three-CD retrospective, adjusting lyrics and adding two new songs. It’s both entertainment and history lesson, recalling the turmoil and injustices of the UK’s recent past on cuts like The Birmingham Six, and celebrating Irish joy on, say, The Ballad of Ruby Walsh. The more dulcet tones of Moore’s later years doesn’t diminish his anger; the naked vocal of Smallcrows 2 skewers tabloid bloodsuckers. A still unique mix of politics, humour and lyricism.
In a sense, Moore started out like a genial version of an Irish early Bob Dylan, tongue slightly in his cheek and not afraid of a touch of self-deprecation, witnessed by repeated songs about the alcoholism that afflicted Moore for many years but from which he has since recovered. Good to know then that it did not take away his sense of humour or his fury, with a well-aimed barb at Diageo. This is from the same Wikipedia article:
The new Arthur’s Day is a swipe at the Guinness-sponsored music festival, or Alcoholiday
My ambition now is to see Moore perform before it’s too late, though since he performs rarely, usually with Declan Sinnott, it may be a chance to grab when the opportunity arises, much as I went to see the amazing John Martyn not that long before he died. I will drink to Mr Moore with a pint of the black stuff and wish him good health and long life – and preferably a gig somewhere near Essex in the foreseeable future!