27 April 2006

'I don't lose any sleep as long as there are great songs to sing'


(Filed: 27/04/2006)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWriter's block is just the latest of Christy Moore's demons. But he's not bothered: he is a better man now, he tells Colin Randall

The trouble with Christy Moore, said a seen-it-all Dubliner before the show, is that he wrote all his best songs drunk

Dry, and dried up: Christy Moore.

The trouble with seen-it-all Dubliners, Moore might have said back, is that they have no idea what they're talking about. Later, as Moore overcame his horror of big venues to perform brilliantly at Dublin's Point Depot, I thought both views have force.

Some of Moore's most memorable songs were indeed written during his drinking years. Delirium Tremens ("Goodbye to the port and brandy / To the vodka and the stag") was his precursor to sobriety. Yet Moore can also count among his finest works North and South, a powerful view of the dying phase of the Troubles written in the mid-1990s, long after he took his last drop. Not much has followed since, and Moore readily owns up to writer's block.

"My songwriting has dried up," he says, in subdued mood after the last of his run of Dublin concerts. "There was none at all on my last album. But it doesn't bother me because I consider myself a singer who occasionally writes songs rather than a singer-songwriter. I constantly try, but don't lose any sleep over it as long as there are great songs to sing."

To most fans, it hardly matters. Moore dips into past repertoire, songs about life in Ireland, love, tragedy and the radical causes he espouses. He makes other people's songs seem his own, too, even when they are Dylan's or Morrissey's. Sometimes, he forgets the words, but a gift for repartee allows him to turn this into part of his triumph. Moore's forthcoming UK tour will re-acquaint fans with this marvellous stage presence.

Moore grew up in small-town Ireland and started work as a bank clerk. But the troubadour's life seemed more romantic, so in the mid-1960s he headed for England to become a popular folk-club fixture. Alcohol, and later drugs, featured prominently in his life until a heart attack in 1987 sent its sobering warning. Even then, it took him two years to give up.

He once told me he'd reached the stage where he "had to drink to exist, drink to work, drink to think, drink to talk, drink to drink". Now, nudging 61, he doesn't miss it at all. "I cannot even remember when I last had any compulsion. I don't enjoy the company of heavy drinkers. I'll stay as long as is prudent and then slip away."

When he sees people damaged by alcohol or drug abuse, he says nothing. "When I was there, I didn't want anybody interfering, and resented anyone suggesting I had a problem. I wasn't receptive until I was f***ing beaten, and then I was glad of a helping hand."

Giving up brought its own problems. He became more obsessive about work, and had a breakdown at the end of the 1990s. His comeback in ebullient form is a tribute to his resilience.

In darker times, Moore eagerly embraced Irish republicanism. Hardened by Bloody Sunday, he took pride in singing for IRA prisoners and dedicating a song to a bomber. But in successive interviews throughout the 1990s, I noticed him softening in clear parallel with progress towards a patchy Ulster peace.

He has no regrets, but welcomes the end of the Troubles. "There's a very different atmosphere in Belfast, Derry, the Six Counties. Problems remain but I don't know any people straining at the leash to go back to war." In the past, Moore has seemed a truculent character, capable of bursts of rage. He feels he is a better person now. But there is also another side not everyone sees, beyond even the disarming honesty about his professional and personal demons.

I have known him for 35 years. Although I have praised his work, my criticism of his republican stance might easily have made him a sworn enemy. But when I tentatively asked, a few years ago, if he would make a tape for the wedding of a friend who adored his music, he recorded two songs and a spoken message of beautiful simplicity for her. My memory of a terrific gesture, sadly, has outlived the marriage.

-- 'Burning Times' is out now. 'Christy Moore: Live from Dublin, 2006' (CD and DVD) is out May 22. For tour info, visit www.christymoore.com/gigs.php

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