Christy Moore,
The Box Set 1964-2004
(Sony, 2004)

This is a marvellous social history not only of recent Irish history but also of the development of Christy Moore from typical folkie through activist to veteran performer. The box of six CDs will delight the true fan of folk music. It will enthrall new fans. It will bring back four decades of memories to casual listeners. It may not be found great by some of his concertgoers like those who shout and whistle through half of each song and call him to sing "the Blackwater song" ("Bright Blue Rose").

Among 101 songs, including around 57 previously unreleased tracks, are outtakes, deleted songs, rehearsals, monologues, introductions and pieces recorded in his garden shed. No one will love every one of these tracks and many will be played only occasionally, but on first hearing, I defy anyone to skip over any track -- you might easily miss a gem. If there were such an animal as a radio DJ out there who played folk music on a regular basis, this set could give him or her a good series of shows.

It is not possible to review even a fraction of the tracks so I will just dip into each CD for random items.

"They Never Came Home" was released back in 1986 but was banned and had to be withdrawn. It is the poignant story of the Stardust Disaster when 40 young people died in a fire during a St. Valentines Day dance in the Artane suburb of Dublin. "Nuke Power" by Doc Whelan recalls when the ESB wanted to build a nuclear power station in the ancient southeast corner of Ireland. They now generate electricity by wind power on the site. "Don't Forget Your Shovel" is here alongside "Hey Ronnie Reagan" -- the latter is funny but also touching and revealing.

Christy Moore takes the words of Samuel Beckett and makes an interesting song with them on "Poor Old Earth." He sings Jimmy McCarthy's song "The Contender" as "Jack Doyle" in a recording from a community centre in Sheep's Head, Co. Cork. The social conscience is far from dimmed and who can listen to "Anne Lovett" without thinking of our island as bad as it can be.

One of the true joys of this release is hearing Moore give new life to some very well known and loved songs. John B. Keane's "Cricklewood" is a case in point. The set is worth the price just to hear this beautiful interpretation with just voice and guitar, recorded in the garden shed.

One track from a fan who had committed the mortal sin of making bootleg recordings at concerts is the classic "Viva La Quinte Brigada," recorded in 1991 at Barrowlands in Glasgow. He notes it was "taped down the hall with a ghetto blaster under his arm and the microphone stuck up his **** (arse)." The quality is not great but the passion of Moore and the crowd more than make up for it.

My hometown (Wexford) songwriter, Pierce Turner, gets two outings in the set. His song "Among the Wicklow Hills" gets a new treatment and his name is used for a spoken track "I Love the Way Pierce Turner Sings." The latter describes a Turner concert then moves on to Pavarotti, ballet, drugs and some thoughts on performances.

Christy Moore singing "Danny Boy" is a fascinating take on an often-murdered classic Irish song.

The green CD has a number of very early recordings and I began to wonder if I was listening to someone else. Whether it was the recording equipment or that a young Christy sounded very different, I cannot decide. He includes some of the classics of the folk revival of the 1960s and, despite the quality on some, they are well worth a close listen.

On "Weila Waile" you get a bargain of two for the price of one as Moore performs two versions on the one track. He again confounds us with "Whiskey in the Jar." We are used to the popular versions by the Clancys and Phil Lynnott but he goes back to the Colm O'Lochlainn collection for a new (or older) melody.

Decades before George Clooney helped revive bluegrass and gospel in O Brother Where Art Thou, Planxty recorded a lovely version of "Down in the Valley" and it is included here.

As you may have guessed, I like this box set. But it is more than a collection of CDs. With a booklet that is like a mini version of his book One Voice included giving background to the songs and some spoken comments on the introductions, you are getting one of the most comprehensive compilations of recent years.

One final point, there is some strong language, particularly in the spoken pieces.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 17 April 2004

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