Poking through a drawer at home recently I stumbled upon a minidisc containing a radio documentary that I produced in 1997 about the legendary Irish folk singer Christy Moore. The documentary – titled Welcome to the Cabaret – and a written report about it together formed the thesis that I had to submit for my BA in Communication Studies at Dublin City University.
(The player says the file is 1:14 long, but it’s actually just 45 minutes. You can, if you wish, download the programme from archive.org.)
Christy was – and still is – a musical hero of mine. A lot of the singing I do is inspired by him, regardless of whether the songs come from his repertoire or not. I remember putting considerable work into researching the documentary and crafting questions that I hoped would generate good answers, long before it was certain that I’d manage to secure an interview with the man himself.
I did eventually get to interview him. Generously, given that it was a student project and he was one of the biggest stars in the Irish music industry at the time, he spoke to me for around 90 minutes. The detailed research paid off with what I thought and still think was a pretty good interview. There were many points where he opened up and answered the questions very honestly. To pick just one example, at one point he says the following, addressing a question about the perception of him as a sometimes bad-tempered performer:
“Well I do recognise now that for a number of years in my life I was a very angry person, but I also recognise now that anger is not always a good thing. In fact very seldom is anger a good thing. And I kind of realise now that when people come along to listen to somebody singing they will be affected negatively by anger. If I go to hear somebody singing songs I’m not interested in hearing anger. I think there’s a different way of doing it now.”
If you’re at all interested in the man and his music you’ll probably enjoy the documentary. Being almost 20 years old now it’s somewhat dated of course. His career has taken a few twists and turns in the intervening years, but he continues to sing, record and tour when his health allows. Indeed I was lucky enough to see him playing in Dublin just last year.
My preference at the the time would have been to create a piece featuring only his voice and music. However, my thesis supervisor at the time insisted that it needed to include other voices to fulfil the requirements of a final year project. Listening to it again now I think the extra voices actually do help to round out the story a bit, even if it’s a bit strange to have them popping in unannounced. The approach I took in the documentary – with no narrator – didn’t allow me to actually say who the voices belonged to. I had an introduction and/or post-script where I credited them. But even as “anonymous” voices they lend some authoritative commentary.
The audio quality isn’t great. A lot of the music came from my cassette collection, which won’t have helped. With the benefit of experience now I think the whole thing could have done with being tightened up a bit, not least at the start where the montage of music is too long. But overall, almost 20 years later, I’m still proud of it. It certainly documents a very important Irish musician at a certain point in time.
Those other voices were:
- Tony Clayton-Lea, music critic with the Irish Times
- Paul Ward, the university chaplain at DCU who had, as a younger man, been deeply involved in the Dublin folk scene, including running a folk club at which Christy Moore played from time to time
- Jimmy McCarthy, one of Ireland’s best contemporary songwriters, many of whose songs Christy sang, most notably “Ride On”