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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Royal Festival Hall, London, May 26th 2009

I make no apologies for returning to see Christy Moore and writing yet another overwhelmingly positive review of his show. Moore is simply a performer beyond compare, with a power and passion to match the Patti Smiths, Neil Youngs or Nick Caves. He’s in the space from the moment he hits the first chords of ‘The ballad of wandering Aengus’ (if you don’t know, it’s a poem by W. B. Yeats) to the last crash of a rollicking high speed ‘Lisdoonvarna’.

Christy Moore
He talks to himself, sings the lines of the next song quietly to get the rhythm right in his head almost before he finishes the previous one, and chides and encourages accompanist Declan Sinnott like a jockey would a horse: “Come on Deccy, that’s right Deccy, steady there now, Deccy”. There may be a set list, or a loose assembly of rehearsed songs, but Moore seems to pluck them from the air, a chord or two being the most Sinnott has to choose the right guitar and start playing. “Hup, hup, come on now, Deccy!”. And as he sings, you sense he feels the fury, shares the pain, lives the injustice of the victims of tyranny, prejudice, religious hypocrisy, racism and political oppression who inhabit so many of the songs. He’s an angry man, and at times you feel glad you’re not any closer. Even the absurdly funny songs, like ‘Casey’, about the controversial former Bishop of Galway, Eamon Casey, as famous for refusing to meet Ronald Reagan as a protest against his policies in Nicaragua as he was for the sexual indiscretions that saw him leave the church, somehow have an edge of menace in Moore’s hands.
Declan Sinnott (L) and Christy Moore (R)
Moore’s no slouch when it comes to writing songs himself, but as this evening shows, he’s at his best interpreting the work of others, and he certainly has an eye, or should I say an ear, for a song that might shine from the Christy Moore treatment. So if you look at the material from his new album, Listen, there’s only one solo composition on there, and a couple of collaborations. Of these he performs a cracker from Dublin composer Wally Page, ‘Duffy’s cut’, about the mysterious deaths of a group of Irish railway labourers in Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century, and the very lovely ‘Gortatagort’ (“John Spillane wrote this about his mother’s home, but it’s about everyone’s home”). There’s also the title track of the album, Hank Wedell’s ‘Listen’, Donagh Long’s ‘China waltz’, and the very moving ‘Does this train stop on Merseyside’, written by Ian Prowse. Some of these have been in Moore’s repertoire for some time, and they were joined by a host (at least twenty-five songs I counted) of other older favourites, like brother Luka Bloom’s ‘City of Chicago’, Moore’s own ‘Viva la quinta brigada’, Page’s ‘Smoke and strong whiskey’, Jimmy MacCarthy’s ‘Rode in’ and ‘Missing you’, and Moore’s powerful interpretations of Dylan’s ‘The lonesome death of Hattie Carroll’, and Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Magdalen launderies’. There was even room for Ewan McColl’s wistful London love-song ‘Sweet Thames flow softly’.
From an almost perfect performance two moments in particular stood out. The first was Moore’s incredibly delicate version of ‘Beeswing’ (which earned that highest of Irish compliments - “Fair play to the man, fair play to Richard Thompson”). The second, Moore’s unaccompanied ‘The well below the valley’. “I started off with a guitar playing songs by Bill Haley” said Moore, “and then I saw the Clancy Brothers and started singing that stuff. But it was when I heard John Riley sing this song that my career changed”. Using a bodhran (that most abused of musical instruments) to set up the rhythm, Moore sang this darkest of songs (incest, rape, child murder and damnation) to a perfectly still, silent and sold-out Royal Festival Hall. Simply sublime. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate) Christy Moore
Listen and watch: Christy Moore and Declan Sinnott doing No time for love

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