Updated: May 22, 2020
Christy Moore was 75 years of age on 7 May. He was born in Kildare in 1945. I saw him singing on stage in the mid 1980s in London, the Dominion Theatre I think it was, with maybe a couple of thousand in the audience. I had been listening to his records for a few years but I was not prepared for the force and raw energy, the passion and emotion that I saw on stage that night. It blew my mind and changed completely my attitude to music and song. Memory pays tricks and I cannot really remember much detail of that night but I think he was alone, just Christy and his guitar, and I was with a couple of my brothers . I may as well have been on my own as I was transfixed.
For a long time afterwards I hardly listened to anything but Christy, going back through his catalogue and discovering new songs and old songs and of course, many places and great history. Through Christy I was educated in the struggles of the Irish people of course but also the Spanish civil war, and the oppression of people in South America; injustices against individuals such as Veronica Guerin and the young people who died in the fire in the Stardust club; he fought through his songs against apartheid and for the environment.
After a while Christy led me to other great singers and songwriters, John Spillane and Jimmy McCarthy from Cork for example. He made their songs his own. He had profound respect for others but they surely realized that he made their songs better. Christy’s ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ is better than the Pogues; Hattie Carroll is better than Bob Dylan’s; and he has surely the best, the ultimate, version of ‘Beeswing’ by Richard Thompson in his repertoire. Nobody else should play it now. I can hear him say on stage: ‘I heard this old song and I went up to So and So after the show and said Give me that old song’ and away he would go, his love of the song shining through as his voice soared and thundered, then faded and died, and the applause began, and the audience would shout for the next one from his jukebox.
Christy’s performance comes from love of his fellow man, a profound empathy with the plight of the oppressed and the underdog, a willingness to challenge the status quo which prefers power and money. He is not just singing songs. He is telling a story. Some of the stories make you cry, some make you laugh. He is a very funny man and often in a concert you wish he would say more. His voice is mesmerizing even in speech. Sometimes he stops speaking and he plays one single solitary note and then his perfect voice , rich and full, fills the auditorium and you know that nobody else will ever match him.
Every time he comes to Liverpool I wonder if he will come back again. Now he is seventy five I wonder how long he will carry on. He famously didn’t look after himself too well when he was a young man. And I often think back to that first night I saw him and thank God that I did because ever since it has been like having a friend in my life, who cheered me up and said the right things when I was sad, and unlike most of my real friends, has always been one who could sing a vast repertoire with every note in its right place.
The last time I saw him was in Ireland, in a little theatre in Wexford with maybe a couple of people in the audience, including one brother. Christy was definitely on his own on that occasion, just him and his guitar. It was just right. I wondered if that would be the last time and thought that if it was, it was a perfect ending, a great finale to the twenty times or so I had seen him in the intervening years. But maybe there is still time for an encore.
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