27th October 2006
Reviewed by Davoc Rynne
SINGER AT WORK – NOT “ON HOLD”!
It was 4.30pm when the Flying Enterprise pulled into the Railway station in Dundalk. This was our fourth train of the day and our sixth railway station. But no doubt about it – this old Victorian railway station was the finest, with it’s spectacular cast-iron columns and canopies with original waiting rooms, ticket offices, it even has a well stocked museum. In fact since leaving the town of Ennis five hours previously – no hassles no problems. With great difficulty we will forgive Irish Rail for charging us €17.50 for two beers and two sandwiches. Why? Well the stories are long and the sentiments run deep. The sheer magic of trains and railroads is very special. Childhood holiday memories merge with long rattling journeys across merry ol’ England. Poker games in carriages on trains with no toilets. “Leg of a duck leg of a duck leg of a duck” as the mighty steel wheels run over the rail joints. Telegraph poles laden with multitudes of pottery insulators, smoke, steam, soot and smells fly by the windows. Puffing and hissing and clackety clack as it goes over metal bridges and clunkety clunk as we go under bridges and into tunnels. As Willy Nelson sings “the sons of the engineers ride their father’s magic carpets made of steel”. Has it all changed beyond belief? Is the romance gone forever? Well, yes and no. No hissing and puffing fire
engines, smoke or steam. No water towers, signal boxes, flags, whistles or uniforms. Now I have to be careful – I did see a guard in Limerick Junction with a rolled up green flag – but alas, he didn’t use it! Now the train rides silent and smoothly. Poor old “leg of a duck” is gone forever, it seems that it was simple to get rid of him! They figured out that the rails could be just welded together. No need for joints anymore. I miss them! But yes yes to the toilets that work and the trains that run on time. “Are you right there Michael are you right, do you think that we’ll be home before the night”. When Percy French wrote this song about the West Clare Railway, I don’t think he was driven by romance. Indeed the Railway Company sued him – I wonder did they win? But I digress.
We are on our way to a Christy gig. We taxi to the Park Inn out the Armagh Road. We are allocated our room – big, minimalist and adequate. We could be anywhere from Arizona to Shanghai. The carpets, walls, bed quilts, menus and pictures are all designed with coloured cubes. We are well squared out – but we have a comfortable room within sight of the Cooley Mountains on one side, the wee North everywhere else. We are as happy as larks!
But hey – we must get going. This hotel is in cyberspace – we must meet the people especially across the border. We must drink pints and talk.
“When first the border started and ’twas seen that smuggling paid
King George he ordered out his men to try and stop the trade
‘But don’t’, says he, ‘pass Silverbridge, lest ye not be seen again
For there’s not a cop could ever stop the Boys from Crossmaglen”
Mark drives the taxi – he’s from the Falls Road in Belfast. He explains how you tell where the border begins by the surface of the road. He is homesick. There are tough men in Crossmaglen – he likes them. He shows us the monument near Silverbridge dedicated to the ten Hunger Strikers. We talk about the troubles. “What do you think of the support and attitudes of the people down south?” There was a sigh and a long answer – “Ever since the British imposed border was marked out by the Boundary Commission in the 1920s, the people of the Free State washed their hands of it, they stood by and did absolutely nothing. No governments or groups did anything to relieve the stress and pain of the people trapped in a …….. “But but wait a minute” I protested, “We had to get on with it, raise families, pay our way. We had a sort of freedom and we had no British troops on the streets. We had lives to live”. He sighs again, “If my neighbour, friend or relative was in trouble I would give him a dig out”. We had no answer to that. Case closed.
In jig time we arrived at the Silverbridge Resource Centre and GAA Club – a huge place that appears to be in the middle of nowhere. We are an hour early – doors open at 7pm. “Do ye know it is a dry gig?” Indeed we do! Which reminds me of a local song, the last verse which goes:
“So all you bred tea-totallers, if sober you may be
Be careful of your company and mind what happened to me
It wasn’t the boys from Shercock or the lads from Ballybay
But the dealin’ men from Crossmaglen put the whiskey in me tay”
Mark drops us at Garveys down the road from the club. The young barman pulls us two great pints. Sitting next to us is a local man originally from Askeaton in County Limerick. We ask him is he going to the gig up the road. What gig? This is not the answer we expected. A picture of Michael Collins throwing a sliotar into a hurling match is on the wall in front of us. A framed Proclamation hangs on the opposite wall. Another punter hears our accents and gives us a huge Mile Failte. We talk GAA – at least Turlough does – I get lost after the first sentence! I butt in and ask about British Army helicopters using the Crossmaglen GAA pitch as a base. He looks at me strangely – “but sure that was about 12 years ago”! Oops – how we forget. This young man was probably not even born when the infamous “Beware – Sniper at work” was in action. Later I am told that the sign is still there but with the words “on hold” added. A man down the bar, who up till now has been very quiet, buys us pints. We drink to his health – sláinte. He overhears we are staying in a posh hotel in Dundalk. “Ach ye could have stayed with me – I have four rooms to spare”! Big hearted generous people.
There are a dozen park attendants, the door is now open and there is a fast moving queue. We are in a mighty big hall that is filling rapidly. Right on time our two boys enter from stage left and Christy without a word goes straight into it with “Viva La Quinte Brigada”. Now this of all songs is a gigantic epic – it deserves and demands the best of attention. God I wish he had started on something lighter – Janey Mack Alive we have only just sat down!! Ten glorious songs later we get “The City of Chicago”. Christy gives a great boost to the then “very young Kevin Barry Moore for all his musical talent and genius”. The same Luka inspired Christy to sit down and start composing his own songs he tells us, as he gives us two of them. “On the Bridge”, is a simple and short but very poignant song about the scandalous abuse of Irish women prisoners of war. Next we have “The Wise and Holy Woman” – Christy’s mother Nancy is here along with “the bounty we gain from nature’s abundance” to the sheer magic of calling on the stars “to shine a light please shine a light on me”. Now Christy himself is quoted as saying “it never did too well on the high stage”, but hold on a minute Christyboy, musicians and singers are only messengers from a higher authority! With the “clear water, fresh air that we breathe and the wonders of the world” yes, yes let the light shine on us.
McIlhatton. Happy go lucky times with a ‘divil a care’ in the world. We drank it together – Christy and I – way back then. We saw the salmon in the bog and the dogs had run away even before we had started. If you say the goat collapsed I believe you, but I didn’t even see him. Hey Bobby Sands – yourself and Christy make a great team.
Richard Thompson penned a beauty with Beeswing. Everything here is superb. The music and sentiments ebb and flow together. Free spirits galore and we all aspire to that. We are smitten with grief for the man who attempts to woo her with his hearth, babies on the rug and his couple of acres. “Even a gypsy’s caravan was too much like settlin’ down”. What was she like?! “As fine as a beeswing”.
The audience is never sure whether to laugh or cry at Stitch in Time. This is a huge important song. Hard hitting in every sense of the word. Needles and thread, rolling pins and frying pans – simple domestic tools brilliantly used as weapons of punishment. If a drunken abusive husband ever had the tiniest nightmare that this might happen to him when he wakes………………..!!
The most extraordinary thing about Don’t Forget your Shovel is that it has survived. 6,559 Paddies diggin’ their way back to Annascaul is far far removed from the Ireland of today. Now we have 49,000 Poles diggin’ their way back to Khodawa!!! And who was Enoch Powell anyway? Who knows, who cares. Maybe this is the whole point. This song is a reminder/historical document of the bad ol’ days of the 1980s – long may it remain intact.
Where do we leave the great Wexford man Declan with the classic St Louis Blues? First recorded over 88 years ago – it is steeped in history. Her man has walked out on her “Ma man’s got a heart like a rock cast in de sea”. Declan sure can sing and play de blues! His mighty skills on the guitar come shining through. He puts us in an entirely different mood after Christy’s songs. This is good, it allows us to listen differently and it acts as an interlude.
Over two and a half hours and twenty eight songs later and I have only talked about a handful of them!
I leave as the encore begins. The huge bar on the other end of the building is all geared up. I walk in and I’m the only one there. “Is it over?” “Very nearly – he’s into the encore”. Five people attend me and as quickly leave to start prepping for the invasion. I am told there are 820 fans inside. Suddenly everyone of them mill into the bar! It rapidly fills up with the chattering masses. In one minute all available space has run out. Chairs by the dozen are brought from the main hall. The place is abuzz, everybody high and as yet not a drink in them! Most of people I overheard were first timers. Old veterans in their mid 30s talk of seeing him four years ago. Wonder what that makes me!!!! A very very very old fan!!
Why does Christy change guitars at least half a dozen times throughout the gig? I used to think he was moody about the instrument or maybe he wanted to change to a different colour! Or was he bored with one and wanted to try another? No – the answer is quite simple – he’s not able to tune it!!! As a would-be musician this fascinates me. I play me whistle away but have a terrible ear. I get fed up with musicians who spend all night tuning. Give us an A they seem to say all night. No jigs or reels, just an oul’ A that blasts away! And they are always right and I am always flat! So gather around me would-be musicians with poor ears. Christy Moore has five hundred plus songs – is an accomplished singer and musician, has been on the road for over 30 years – but he cannot tune his guitar!!
We head backstage. Mick, Paddy, Jim Aiken and the lads are there amidst a hive of activity. Lots of fans and lots of people ‘minding’ Christy. No sign of Declan – he’s the wise boy and has gone off for a bite to eat. We join him. Later we have a ‘set list’ conversation. Christy says Mick always does them. “You mean Mick decides what songs are to be sung and you read them off the floor”!! “Nooooooooo, he writes them down as I sing them”. All news to me and fascinating. “The two of you can run a real tight gig but in actual fact ye are winging it all the time”! “Correct”. I dig a bit deeper. “Declan, how can you tell what he’s about and where he is going?” Declan puts his hands in the air – so it’s magic! Only someone with Declan’s genius could bring the magic to life!
We talked about the importance of the songs. There was a story in ancient Ireland about enemy torture. The unfortunate victim was deprived of music, water and food – in that order! “We have ways and means of making you talk”. But it does go to show how music/song was so important to our ancestors. One of the messages in the CM guest book online describes a song that had a special meaning to the writer but adds to the sentence – “but sure it’s only a song”! And Christy’s lyrical response – “ONLY a song!! What divine pastures you must dwell upon”! Songs and music are never ONLY!