Christy Moore speaks through the medium of song. When a song takes flight, he looses himself within the narrative and becomes a conduit for the emotions expressed therein The passion and integrity of his performances, whether telling of the plight of labour workers leaders, singing tender love songs or relating tales of mischief and dalliance has made him a living legend. His contribution to Irish music is monumental through his association with Planxty, Moving Hearts, and his long running solo career.
Christy Moore was born on May 11th 1945. The eldest child of Andy Moore (1915-1956) and Nancy Power (1919-1992), he was brought up in Newbridge, County Kildare with his three sisters, Eilish, Anne, and Terry, and brothers Andy and Barry (aka Luka Bloom). After leaving secondary school, Christy worked as a bank clerk with the National Bank in Clonmel, County Tipperary before moving on to other branches in counties Mayo, Limerick and Clare.
Christy's love affair with folk music began when he saw The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem playing in Dublin's Olympia Theatre. He formed a ballad group at school with his classmate Dónal Lunny called The Rakes of Kildare and this began a combination that would bear fruit in the formation of Planxty and Moving Hearts. Donal would also work extensively with Christy during his solo career both as an accompanist and record producer
In 1966 during the National Bank Strike he emigrated to England working on building sites and oilrigs, and also for a time with EMI Records in Hayes Middlesex. He started playing in folk clubs initially doing floor spots and eventually turning professional. Touring the folk circuit, Christy honed his stagecraft and met influential artists such as Ewan McColl, Luke Kelly, Mike Waterson, Dave Goulder, Dominic Behan, and Hamish Imlach. Hamish (1940-1996) became a mentor to Christy and introduced him to club organisers as he did with another of his proteges John Martyn.
In 1968, Christy made his first radio broadcasts with RTE Radio in Ireland and BBC Radio in the UK. After unsuccessfully auditioning for Transatlantic Records, Mercury released his first album, Paddy On The Road produced by Dominic Behan in 1969. Christy's second solo album, Prosperous produced by Bill Leader, was recorded in the cellars of Andy Rynne's house in Prosperous, County Kildare in late 1971 and released by Trailer Records in 1972. Donal, uilleann piper Liam O'Flynn and Andy Irvine joined Christy for the recording as did Kevin Conneff, Dave Bland and travelling fiddler Clive Collins.
Prosperous became a seminal 1970s Irish folk album through Christy's impassioned singing and the innovative musical arrangements of traditional and contemporary material. It also spawned an offshoot when Christy, Andy, Donal and Liam formed Planxty. Named after a tune written by blind harpist Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) in salutation to his many patrons, Planxty was the most influential acoustic band of the early 1970s. Donal's musical career had meanwhile taken him through stints with 1960s groups Emmet Spiceland and We4. Liam was a pupil of legendary piper Leo Rowsome and ex-Sweeney's Men member Andy had returned from his travels in Eastern Europe. Planxty's sound was fresh and innovative with complex arrangements for uilleann pipes, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, and bodhrán. They recorded three albums — Planxty, The Well Below The Valley and Cold Blow And The Rainy Night — all released through Polydor. Melody Maker voted the latter its Folk Album of 1974. Planxty toured extensively throughout Ireland, Europe and the UK and gathered a huge following from both the folk and rock fraternities. Donal departed first followed by Christy in 1974 to resume his solo career and was replaced by Paul Brady.
Christy's new solo career got off the ground when ex-Planxty sound engineer Nicky Ryan introduced him to guitarist Jimmy Faulkner and bass player Declan McNeilis. Fiddler Kevin Burke also came on board. Kevin had played with Arlo Guthrie on his Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys album and recorded a solo LP Sweeney's Dream on Folkways before returning to the UK and was playing with Tom Madden and Chris Andretti in a trio called Lazy Reel. Christy and his new outfit started a Monday night residency at The Meeting Place in Dorset Street and a Saturday night residency was soon added by public demand.
Christy signed a new recording contract with Polydor Records and released his third solo album Whatever Tickles Your Fancy in 1975. Recorded in Ashling studios, Rathgar, with Dónal Lunny producing, the album was an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary folk songs given both low-key acoustic and electric folk/rock treatments. The musicians involved were Donal, who played guitar, bouzouki, bodhrán, and moog synthesizer, Jimmy on electric/acoustic guitars, Declan on bass, Kevin on fiddle and drummer Robbie Brennan. Local photographer Tom Collins took an atmospheric front cover shot of Christy in The Meeting Place.
Whatever Tickles Your Fancy opened with the traditional Home By Bearna learned from song collector Tom Munnelly. Dave Goulder's January Man, Ewan McColl's The Moving On Song (Go! Move! Shift!) and Bunch Of Thyme (learnt from Hamish Imlach's latter-day partner Muriel Graves) were songs Christy had learned touring in England. Tippin' It Up To Nancy came from The Grehan Sisters from Boyle in County Roscommon and Christy sang it to his own bodhrán accompaniment.
The electric side of Whatever Tickles Your Fancy began with Ewan McColl's The Ballad Of Timothy Evans, concerning the 25-year-old van driver wrongfully hanged for the murder of his wife and daughter on March 9th 1950. What Put The Blood, a brooding treatment of the traditional incest ballad, was learned from travelling singer John Reilly. John ‘Jacko' Reilly (c. 1926-1969) from Carrick on Shannon in County Leitrim was a major influences on Christy Moore's repertoire from whom he learned The Raggle Taggle Gypsies, The Well Below The Valley, Lord Baker and Tippin' It Up To Nancy. Felix Pappalardi, founder of American rock band Mountain and his then wife Gail Collins wrote One Last Cold Kiss, a tragic love story based on a local Nantucket legend. Trip To Roscoff was an original instrumental named after a known Seaport town in Brittany and written in the style of a traditional Breton Andro' dance tune. The album closed with a laid back and spacious eight-minute and forty-seven second arrangement of Van Diemen's Land, a transportation ballad learned from Mike Waterson of Hull, Yorkshire.
Critical reaction to Whatever Tickles Your Fancy was mixed. Reviewers loved the acoustic tracks while the use of a rock rhythm section caused consternation in some quarters. Christy played regularly in Ireland throughout 1975 and 1976, either solo or with a band comprised of Jimmy, Declan, Kevin and Robbie. He toured in the UK, France, Austria, Holland and Germany in 1976 with Jimmy as accompanist.
In 1976, Christy recorded a single Nancy Spain/The Humours Of Ballymagash produced by Nicky Ryan. Nancy Spain has become an Irish folk standard while the instrumental B-side, credited to The Ballymagash Band was comprised of three reels: The Star Of Munster/John Stenson's No 1/John Stenson's No 2. John Stenson was a County Sligo-born fiddler of the early 1900s who, like his contemporaries Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran, and James Morrison, emigrated from Ireland to the USA. The fictional town of Ballymagash itself was a rural outpost in Ireland created by journalist and satirist Frank Hall and featured in TV series Halls Pictorial Weekly which cleverly lampooned aspects of Irish social life. The original cast included a number of well-known Irish actors: Frank Kelly, of Father Ted TV fame, Eamon Morrissey, Paul Murphy, and the late Pat Daly best-known for his performance as the bursar in Lewis Gilbert's BAFTA-winning adaptation of Willie Russell's Educating Rita starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters.
Christy's next album with its black and white Polaroid cover shot taken by Tom McElroy of a sweat-soaked, bearded Christy, eyes closed lost in song was released by Polydor in late 1976. The stark simplicity of the sleeve photo radiated an intimate aura perfectly served by the choice of material and the accompanying arrangements. The completely acoustic Christy Moore featured ten tracks recorded in Dublin Sound Studios produced by Donal plus Nancy Spain recorded at Eamon Andrews Studios. Musicians involved included Bourke, Faulkner, McNeilis, Lunny and Andy Irvine. Special guest Barney McKenna's distinctive banjo playing added a Vaudeville touch to Johnny Jump Up while African drummers Lord Eric and Geoff Whittaker added native rhythms to Limerick Rake.
The mood on Christy Moore was low-key, eschewing the experimental strains of the second side of Whatever Tickles Your Fancy for a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere in which Christy's narrative gifts reigned supreme. Classic story songs from the Irish and English folk traditions such as The Dalesman's Litany, Little Musgrave, Scarriff Martyrs and Boys Of Mullaghbawn rubbed shoulders with the hilarious Johnny Jump Up and Lannigan's Ball which added light relief. Barry Moore's poetic ballad Ware Up To The Shore and Barney Rush's nostalgic Nancy Spain tugged at the heartstrings while the closing volley of Woody Guthrie's angry Sacco & Vanzetti offered a vibrant slice of social comment.
Tara Music released Christy Moore's next two albums, The Iron Behind The Velvet (1978) and Live In Dublin (1979). Christy was involved with organising the first Anti-Nuclear Rally in Carnsore Point in County Wexford. He also began a period of involvement with various political campaigns including the Anti Nuclear Movement, RS (Revolutionary Struggle), and the plight of political prisoners on the Blanket protest in H Block in the Maize Prison.
Planxty reformed in 1979 with Matt Molloy joining the original quartet, touring Ireland, the UK and Europe and recording After The Break (1979), The Woman I Loved So Well (1980) and Words And Music (1982). Guest members of Planxty during this period included Bill Whelan, Nollaig Casey, Tony Linnane, and Noel Hill. In the meantime, Christy presented his first TV series, Christy Moore and Friends on RTE in 1980 and also formed Moving Hearts who were undoubtedly tile major 1980s Irish Folk/Fusiom band. Moving Hearts mixed social comment slanted material with a potent fusion of Traditional/Rock/Jazz forms and played some incendiary live shows. They recorded two classic albums Moving Hearts (1981), a Number One album in Ireland, and Dark End Of The Street (1982) before Christy departed to resume his solo career in November 1982.
Now managed by Mattie Fox, Christy built up a huge following, releasing albums like The Time Has Come (1983), the classic Ride On (1984), Ordinary Man (1985), Unfinished Revolution (1987) and Voyage (1989). In the early 1990's he formed his own Newberry label and issued Smoke And Strong Whiskey (1991), King Puck (1993), Christy Live At The Point (1994), Graffiti Tongue (1995) and Traveller (1997). He also suffered some major health scares during the 1990s, which eventually led to him stepping down from full time live work in 1997. On recovery he adopted a change of performing lifestyle and now plays low key shows usually with Declan Sinnott and Dónal Lunny when available in support His recording career has continued with albums of the quality of This Is the Day (2001), Live At Vicar Street (2002) and his major work, a 6-CD thematically arranged box set for release in 2004.
A major television documentary series, Christy Moore Uncovered was shown by RTE and some years previously Nuala O'Connor and Phillip King's Hummingbird productions made a documentary film Christy. Christy also compiled and edited his first book, One Voice — My Life In Song in which he relates episodes and happenings from his life as a parallel to the lyrics of many of his favourite songs. In late 2003, the original four members of Planxty — Christy, Donal, Liam and Andy — reconvened and early this year played their first concerts in Ireland for 20 years. Most recently, in February, Christy received a Lifetime Achievement award from the I.R.M.A. (Irish Recorded Music Association).
This set, Whatever Tickles Your Fancy/Christy Moore, offers a snapshot from the heady days of 1975 and 1976 when Christy's post-Planxty solo career was gathering momentum. Songs have been good to Christy throughout his life. He has treated them with the respect and sensitivity that they deserve. These recordings prove that when Christy Moore speaks through the medium of song he has no equals.
John O'Regan — County Limerick, Ireland, February 2004