Posted May 8, 2008
I want to kick off this ongoing series on the webzine with a look at a seminal political artist. Christy Moore is a powerful vocalist, song interpreter, and a passionately political person and performer. To many he may be simply a folksinger, but Christy Moore is a voice for the voiceless.
For over thirty years his music has been a window through which the world has viewed the struggle for justice and self-determination in Ireland. His songs have taken listeners inside Britain’s high security prisons and amplified the voice of imprisoned revolutionaries. His song “Ninety Miles from Dublin” was written after a meeting with Irish Republican prisoners in 1979. The song describes in vivid intonation the brutality that our comrades suffered in prison, and exactly what they had to do to preserver. Other songs Christy plays (he collects songs from a wide array of writers) have focused on victims of state repression, from Chile to Chicago.
Christy Moore, born in 1940’s Ireland, came of age in music during a renaissance in folk music. In the U.S. Bob Dylan had changed the landscape and traditional—and nontraditional—folk music was all over Britain and Ireland. Folk music could communicate ideas from the past, present, and future, which was part of the allure. Even on his first recorded LP Christy was singing about Irish labor hero Jim Larkin. Songs about struggles for a better world have remained at the heart of his songbook ever since.
In the early 1970’s Christy joined forces with an incredible group of fellow Irish traditional music devotees to form the group Planxty. Planxty, along with the Bothy Band and others, inspired a massive upsurge in interest in passionate traditional music. This folk revival coincided with the rebirth of the national struggle in the north of Ireland, which burned brightly throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s and Christy rose to prominence. Despite the controversy surrounding the republican cause, Christy never shied away from supporting the movement. Even when it looked like he could sell more records with less politics.
Although his music will always be associated with the Irish republican movement and specifically the 1981 hunger strikes, Christy is a true internationalist and his back catalogue demonstrates this beautifully. Some of Christy’s most memorable tunes have focused on the insurgency in El Salvador, the Cuban revolution, and the fight to defend the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Other memorable songs include the powerful indictment of class exploitation, “Ordinary Man”, which looks at the wealth of the boss through the eyes of the redundant worker. “Viva La Quinta Brigada” is undoubtedly a crowed pleaser at any Christy Moore performance. The song details the commitments and exploits of the Irish radicals who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain.
There is so much to say about Christy Moore, an artist and fighter of many talents. So let’s get down to the songs. Here are eight Christy Moore songs that won’t just tell you more about the man behind the guitar, but they’ll tell you more about the world. And for you rarity enthusiasts, all tracks are bootlegs or unreleased. Just click on the title and save the file and your Mp3 is ready for a listen.
“No Time For Love” [Live in Derry, Ireland November 2004]
This song is one of the most effective political songs I know of in the English language. In one sense it’s about state repression in the north of Ireland, but it is equally about repression and resistance around the globe. The title refers to a predawn raid on an activist’s home” “no time for love if they come in the morning/…and the sound of the siren is the cry of the morning”. Performed live in front of an audience in Derry, Ireland; a town at the heart of the republican struggle. The audience knows full well of what Christy sings, because he is singing their song.
- “Viva La Quinta Brigada” [Live, unknown source] is a rousing historical song that spells out in no uncertain terms who fought in Spain and why: “Franco’s allies were the powerful and wealthy/ Frank Ryan’s men came from the others side”. Legendary socialist and IRA man Frank Ryan is not the only character examined here. We learn about Protestants and Catholics, socialists and republicans, and Irish people of every variety who volunteered to fight in the International Brigades.
- “Peoples’ Own MP” [live in Italy, unknown date]
This ballad about fallen IRA leader Bobby Sands asks the eternal question: “How many more must die now, home many must we lose, before the island people their own destiny can choose?”. Bobby Sands was a young man who joined the republican movement because of the brutal repression that the British state and sectarianism had brought upon his community. He became a leader in prison, which was a political battleground in the late 1970’s. When the British government removed political status for Irish prisoners Bobby led a hunger strike to protest conditions to reestablish political status. This hunger strike for the right to be considered Prisoners of War (not common criminals) would eventually take the life of ten brave IRA and INLA activists. While in prison Bobby Sands, 27 years old, was elected to British parliament. Thatcher moved to block it, of course, but the damage had been done. The people had their own Member of Parliament!
- “Quiet Desperation” and “Natives” [Cambridge Folk Festival, 1985]
These two songs came to Christy by way of a song exchange with First Nations songwriters from North America. Both songs tell of the rage both on and below the surface in indigenous communities. “Natives” plainly defends the tradition of resistance to oppression, seeming to pay tribute to the generation that created the American Indian Movement. “Only the very safe can talk about wrong and right/ of those who were forced to choose/ some will choose to fight”. “Quiet Desperation” is a song about the loneliness that grinding poverty and isolation creates. It’s a restless song about longing and doing without.
- “Victor Jara” [Live in Derry, 2004]
Victor Jara is a fitting individual for Christy Moore to pay tribute to in a song. Jara was a Chilean folksinger associated with the leftist New Song Movement of the 1960’s. His close connections to the left-leaning Allende government meant he was a special target when the US-back rightist coup came to power. Victor was arrested, tortured, and eventually executed. This fate was shared by so many of the men and women whose struggle Victor put down in song.
This inspiring tune was penned by the late English Communist songwriter Ewan MacColl. The lyrics trace the story of Fidel, Che, and their comrade’s earliest attempts at overthrowing Cuba’s hated Batista regime through the eventual revolutionary victory. It’s a triumphant song, complete with a reassurance that the smashing victory of the revolution in Cuba can and will be replicated around Latin America. The final verse spells out hope for the future quite clearly: “The fire lit on that Cuban beach by Fidel Castro/ Still shines all the way to Terra del Fuego/
Sparks are blown upon the breeze/ people rise from off their knees when they see the night is burning/ It blazes up in Venezuela, Bolivia and Guatamala/
Lights the road that we must go in order to be free”.
MacColl wrote this song as part of a trilogy of songs about the Cuban revolution. Representing northern England and Ireland respectively, MacColl and Moore represent the same tradition. Both masters of folk song interpretation, both have shared a commitment to radical social justice and a classless future.
- “Ordinary Man” [Live, unknown date]
The everyday struggles of working class people is a theme that has reoccurred in Christy’s work for forty years. This is one of his most iconic songs—something of a hit you could say—and one of his most plain spoken and effective. The song is sung from the point of view of a worker who was fired and is contemplating what his life and family will be like with no stable income and a dark economic future. The boss, it is bitterly noted, will experience no such loss from the workers sacking, in fact he will profit.
Christy has too many great songs to discuss here. It also should be said that Christy is not just a political singer, but a performer connected to the whole range of human emotions and experiences. He also has a host of songs about Irish society (and its foibles and shortcomings), outrageous misadventures, the power of the church, and the frailty of human beings. His songs cover a lot of ground, not merely imperialism and class struggle! As stated previously, Christy is a song collector. With a handful of notable exceptions Christy performs other people’s lyrics and tunes. Some are from Irish history and have attributable author, others are from today’s most contemporary songwriters. He even recently recorded a song by Morrissey, entitled “America, You Are Not the World”. The song is an exasperated look at the United States, in all of it’s arrogance and posturing.
For avid fans and newcomers alike I’ll list a couple of Christy’s political classics. One of Christy’s most beloved tunes is surely “Biko Drum”, a defiant and rousing song about Stephen Biko, slain leader of South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement. “The Boy From Tamlaghtduff” is an absolutely heartbreaking song about Irish revolutionary Francis Hughes. Hughes died alongside Bobby Sands during the 1981 hunger strikes. “My Granny’s Dustbin Lid” shows the role of the unbossed and unbroken women of republican movement, including warning of approaching soldiers with the clamorous use of garbage cans. The song “Burning Times” looks at the persecution of pagans in early Christian Europe, which specifically took at the power of women in society.
OK, one last little gem. Some of you may be familiar with Eammon McCann, a long time Irish socialist and journalist. Did you know he sings? He doesn’t really, but old friend Christy brought him on stage to sing a socialist ballad by none other than George Orwell. The song is called “Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland” and it is a hoot to listen to. That should be enough downloading for today. This will be an on going series, with more Mp3s with each installment.