Christy Moore,
One Voice: My Life in Song
(Hodder & Stoughton, 2000)

Christy Moore is one of Ireland's finest singer-songwriters in the folk tradition. Until illness caused him to curtail his live appearances a few years ago, he was packing crowds into concert halls and arts centres like no other act. He is a performer of of the top calibre. He combines great musical performances with a natural style of chat and comment -- comic and often deadly serious.

Now with this autobiography, Moore breaks new ground with a different form of memoir. Instead of the usual chronology of birth, school, career, etc., Moore has chosen a format based on his music.

In this book, he takes about 250 songs that he has either written, made famous or simply likes hearing and has woven a story of his life around them -- and it works. One Voice can be read as a biography going from cover to cover. It can be a bedside book, to dip into at random. It can be a reference book giving background information on some of the most popular folk ballads of the past century.

Moore was born in Newbridge, County Kildare, in 1945. His father died 11 years later while undergoing surgery to remove an ingrown toenail. Like so many top stars he was far from an overnight success. He began to sing professionally in 1966 after leaving a job in a bank. From then he performed in folk clubs throughout the United Kingdom. He recorded solo albums, was a founding member of Planxty and later of Moving Hearts. Then in 1983 went back to solo performing.

It is interesting that in this book he recalls 1986 and lists playing in the Royal Albert Hall in London, Carnegie Hall in New York and Caesar's Palace -- not in Las Vegas but in Bunclody, County Wexford, a country town with a population of less than 3,000. That is Christy Moore's strength and popularity -- he values his fans above all.

To give a flavour of the book I will take a few well-known songs and look at how Moore sees them.

"Whiskey in the Jar," which he learned from hearing the Clancy Brothers -- not the Thin Lizzy rock version -- is what we call "an ould come all ye." Moore likes the song but says that he only sings it at home. He has not performed it in 35 years. When he first heard it in Ireland, which was ultra-conservative and bound up in religion, he wanted this to be his anthem. The entry under the song recalls his interest in this brash music and recalls people he met who instilled a love of folk music. He also remembers how the music is often submerged in management, accounts and promotion as the artiste becomes more famous.

"Delerium Tremens" is one of his own compositions. It got few air plays but always got the live audience going. It is a fun song with barbs. By poking fun at establishment characters it highlights their hypocrisy or ultra right wing views.

"The Old Triangle" by Brendan Behan helps him recall his many visits to prisons to perform for the inmates. His first was to a women's prison in Dublin where the ladies only wanted "a bit of craic and a good laugh," but as he says instead got the "eejit me trying to be a serious folk singer." Not all the gigs were so traumatic.

Not all of the songs relate directly to the emotions of the text. "Sam Hall" sees Christy reproduce a poignant letter to his father 42 years after his death.

His entry for "The Croppy Boy," a traditional ballad of the rebellion of 1798, gives him a chance to write about his views on violence, bombs and peace. Although he has written passionate songs on those involved in the Northern Ireland conflict, he is at heart a man of peace.

Each chapter contains the full lyrics of the song (over 250 of them), the author where known and also when Christy Moore first heard it. There are also hundreds of illustrations.

This book is a treasure trove and should be sought out by any person interested in folk music, Ireland, the latter half of the 20th century and good writing.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]