The question you tend to ask yourself when observing a Christy Moore gig is: how many more years will the man continue to revel in the live arena? To watch Moore perform is to witness a troubadour who has been on the road for nearly half a century.
Respectably upholding the great tradition of gifted balladeers that came before him such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Luke Kelly, Moore continues to produce a distinctive voice that gesticulates to a collective consciousness: it speaks to the soul, to posterity, to the living, and the dead, screaming out the injustices of the world, in full knowledge, that to sing, to make a sound together, perhaps is our only hope of coping with the great tragedies that we encounter in life.
Despite Moore experiencing something of a “national treasure” phase of his career, the message he delivers remains as clear as it was when he first began to frequent small folk clubs across Britain in the mid 1960s. Songs of solidarity, like Guthrie’s, ‘Sacco and Vanzetti’, or his own, ‘Viva La Quinta Brigada’ are history lessons disguised in song form, polemics dressed up as folklore.
Indeed the surroundings of The Southbank Centre tonight feel a tad bit plush to be hearing tales of communists fighting for a more egalitarian society. Unlike other champions of The Left in the music business, such as Billy Bragg, Moore doesn’t use his singing career as a platform to preach, or to talk politics; his coyness and slick delivery of mixing the back catalogue with a gentle poetic quality, as well producing a fiery and raucous sensibility, is perhaps the reason he’s successfully become such a darling of the mainstream, who has continued to ride a tidal wave of commercial success for decades now.
There are few singers that can move from pathos to humour in the flick of one guitar chord, but Moore does it with ease, accompanied by Declan Sinnott, who adds a more nuanced texture to the basic structure of their songbook. We encounter tales of emigration and heartache in ‘Missing You’ and ‘City of Chicago’, and we’re back to cabaret style with ‘Honda 50’ and ‘Lisdoonvarna’. He even dedicates ‘Joxer Goes to Stuttgart’ to Irish footballer, Damien Duff, who is sitting in the audience.
Moore, much like the audience, seems to be savouring the show like it could be the last. It was to London that he travelled in 1966, finally taking a leap of faith to become a full-time musician, changing his potential destiny as a life-long bank clerk, to one of the roaming vagabond.
Just before he sweetly serenades us with ‘Sweet Thames’, we’re told of a gig in King’s Cross, many moons ago, where he first played this number, accompanied on stage by the man who wrote it, Ewan Mac Coll. Moore tells us “it remains, still to this day, one of the happiest moments of my life.” And so it goes: the songs inseparable from both the people, and history from which they’re gleaned.
He leaves, as humble as he arrives, bowing to the audience. Perhaps it should be the other way around, but he’s disappeared before we’ve the chance to attempt to pay our respects.