Christy Moore - Biography



By Scott Feemster

Christy Moore is an Irish singer, songwriter, and guitarist who is one of a handful of people who brought Irish folk music out of the backroom jam sessions in pubs and homes and out in to the mainstream, combining it with influences from rock, pop, and jazz music. He is arguably one of the architects of modern Irish folk music.

 

            Christopher Andrew “Christy” Moore was born in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, on May 7th, 1945. His father was a grocer and owned his own shop and was involved in local politics, while his mother was a keen music fan and was often caught singing around the house to Clancy Brothers records. Christy and two of his five siblings, Ailish and Barry, all went on to be notable singers, Barry adopting the stage name Luka Bloom later in life. When Christy was young, he met troubadour folk singers the Grehan Sisters and John O'Reilly, and became aware of the deep well of Irish folk songs, though, admittedly, at the time, he was more impressed with the new music called rock n' roll than he was folk tunes. Regardless of influence, Moore took up the guitar and bodhran, the small Irish frame drum played with a double mallet. He played briefly in a band with who would become his long-time collaborator, Donal Lunny, called the Liffeysiders, and later the two formed a duo, called the Rakes of Kildare, which also lasted a brief period of time.When he was out of school, Moore moved to Dublin and took a job as a bank clerk and became fascinated by the local folk scene that was developing in the city in the early 1960's. Though he played a few gigs in the evening that went over well, he couldn't work his way into the Dublin scene as much as he wanted, and when a crippling labor strike struck Ireland in the mid 60's and forced Moore out of work for a few months, he decided to pack it in and move to England to find work and try his luck as a folk singer. Moore spent the next few years gaining a reputation in the U.K. with his mix of traditional Irish and British songs, and made frequent trips back to Ireland for gigs and radio appearances. During this time he made connections and acquaintances with many Irish ex patriots, including Luke Kelly, Margaret Barry and Seamus Ennis.

 

            Moore's popularity was such that he needed to take the next step and become a recording artist, though an audition for the well regarded Transatlantic label didn't turn out well. Regardless, Moore got noted songwriter, (and brother of Brendan), Dominic Behan to produce an album of traditional folk and political songs called Paddy On The Road (Mercury), released in 1969. The album has become something of a rarity in later years because, for some reason, only 500 copies were pressed. Though Moore was thrilled that he finally had an album to show for his efforts, he was disappointed that the English musicians who backed him didn't seem to have the proper feel for the Irish material he was presenting. Moore decided to move back to Ireland and set upon finding some musicians who could play the fiery brand of politically-charged folk music he wanted to produce. Moore teamed up with his old friend guitarist/bouzouki player Donal Lunny, uillean piper and whistle player Liam O'Flynn, mandolinist Andy Irvine and bodhran player Kevin Conneff to produce Moore's 1972 album Prosperous (Tara), an album that marked a turning point in Irish folk music. Suddenly, there were younger Irish musicians taking up traditional instruments and songs and injecting new urgency and fire into them. The combination of Moore, Lunny, O'Flynn and Irvine worked so well together that they decided to carry on as a group, at first calling themselves CLAD, but soon changing the name to Planxty. The quartet toured relentlessly and recorded the landmark albums Planxty (Shanachie)(1973) and The Well Below The Valley (Shanachie)(1973) together before Lunny left to form The Bothy Band. Moore recorded 1974's Cold Blow And The Rainy Night (Shanachie) with the band, before he decided to resume his solo career.

 

            Moore set to work on a solo album that would show all of his strengths, and decided to split his 1975 album Whatever Tickles Your Fancy (Polydor) between an acoustic side and an electric side. The acoustic side featured Moore's voice, guitar and bodhran playing, while the electric side was similar to the hybrid folk-rock style Fairport Convention was popularizing around the same time. Moore followed up Whatever.. with his self-titled Christy Moore (Polydor) in 1976, this time concentrating on the acoustic-based narrative folk songs that were his strength. Moore took on a heavy schedule of touring and playing gigs, one of which was captured on his 1978 live album, Live In Dublin (Tara), recorded with guests guitarist Jimmy Faulkner and Donal Lunny on bouzouki, guitar, vocals and keyboards. 1978 also saw the release of The Iron Behind The Velvet (Tara), another acoustic-based collection of mostly traditional songs performed with a full band featuring Andy Irvine, Faulkner and Moore's brother, Barry. Moore kept his connection with his former Planxty bandmates, and by late 1978 the original four members were keen to try the band again. The original quartet of Moore, Irvine, O'Flynn and Lunny added fifth member flutist Matt Molloy to the band and recorded the 1979 album After The Break (Tara), followed the next year by The Woman I Loved So Well (Tara)(1980). He completed one more album with Planxty, Words And Music (Shanachie)(1983), before leaving again. Wanting to branch out from the traditional sound put forth by Planxty, Moore joined with Lunny in 1981 and formed the side band Moving Hearts, whose aim was to combine traditional Irish music with contemporary elements from rock and jazz. Other members of Moving Hearts included guitarist Declan Sinnott, saxophonist Keith Donald, bassist Eoghan O'Neill, drummer Brian Calnan, and uillean piper Davy Spillane. Moore recorded two politically-charged albums with the band, 1981's Moving Hearts (Green Linnet) and 1982's Dark End Of The Street (51%) before leaving to concentrate again on his solo career. To say that the 1980's was a busy period for Moore would be an understatement, as he managed to be a member of Planxty, Moving Hearts, and be a solo musician all at the same time. Moore released a whole series of solo albums throughout the 80's, including Christy Moore And Friends (RTE)(1981), The Time Has Come (Green Linnet)(1983),     the critically acclaimed Ride On (Green Linnet)(1984), Ordinary Man (Green Linnet)(1985), The Spirit Of Freedom (Green Linnet)(1985), Nice N' Easy (Polygram)(1986), Unfinished Revolution (Warner Bros.)(1987), the watered-down for American consumption Christy Moore (Atlantic)(1988), and Voyage (Atlantic)(1989), with guest artists including Sinead O'Connor, Mary Black, and Elvis Costello. As if Moore wasn't enough of an Irish national treasure with his work in the 70's, his prodigious output during the 80's combined with populist political commentary in his lyrics cemented his stature in Irish music as that country's equivalent of America's Woody Guthrie.

 

            Moore entered the 90's still touring and releasing albums, though his pace slowed down a bit to near human levels. Moore completed the over-produced Smoke & Strong Whiskey (Equation) in 1991, and then returned to a more traditional, stripped-down sound with King Puck (Grapevine)(1993), a collaboration with Donal Lunny. Moore released the rousing live offering Live At The Point (Grapevine) in 1994, and then followed it with another critically-acclaimed stripped-down studio effort Graffiti Tongue (Grapevine)(1996), which featured the song “North And South (Of The River)”, written with U2's Bono and The Edge, which offered a plea for healing in war-torn Northern Ireland. In 1997, Moore's years of constant touring and recording, combined with his admittedly strong attraction to copious amounts of alcohol and bad food caught up with him. His doctors told him he had heart disease and if he continued performing at the level he had been, it would kill him. He retired from live performance for a year and tried to take care of his health, and by 1999 he returned to the studio with keyboardist/producer Leo Pearson to make the album Traveller (Columbia), a giant left turn for Moore. The album was techno-pop utilizing synthesizers, drum machines and heavily effected electric guitar, (some of which was played by U2's The Edge), along with the traditional Irish instrumentation usually featured on Moore's releases. The album was greeted by surprise by Moore's fans, but was generally well reviewed. Moore tried to stage a return to performing live again in 1999, but his health still wasn't up to it and he had to cancel his planned tour. Moore used the down time to his advantage and wrote his autobiography, One Voice, which was published in 2000.

 

            Though it looked like Moore's days of heavy touring were over, he was not done recording albums. Moore got together with Donal Lunny and Declan Sinnot in 2001 and recorded the album This Is The Day (Columbia), which, sound-wise, split the difference between his earlier stripped-down acoustic records and the sound captured on Traveller. Moore followed the record up with a series of low-key appearances at Dublin's Vicar Street theater, and put out a live document Live At Vicar Street (Sony) in 2002. After being profiled in an Irish television special, renewed interest was shown towards Planxty, and Moore joined together with Lunny, Irvine and O'Flynn to stage some low-key reunion shows, and the live album Live 2004 (Sony) was released. The members of Planxty kept their reunion open-ended, and did not rule out working together in the future. Moore returned to his solo career with the critically-acclaimed 2006 album Burning Times, which featured his own compositions mixed in with covers of songs by such songwriters as Phil Ochs, Richard Thompson, Bob Dylan, and Morrissey. Again, Moore took to playing some shows, although in a much more low-key manner, and put out the double album Live In Dublin 2006 (Columbia) documenting his stand at the Point theater in the city. Though still hampered by health issues, Christy Moore continues to be one of his country's most treasured performers. He still lives in Ireland with his wife Val and his three children.

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