Gig review: Christy Moore at York Barbican

It was in the early 1980s that I first encountered the Irish folk singer Christy Moore, one of the founding members of Planxty and Moving Hearts. A few of us had been dragged along reluctantly to the Irish Centre in Leeds with the promise of a night to remember.

Christy Moore
Christy Moore

I bagged a spot close to the front, and leaning against a pillar, I spent the whole night transfixed as a small, rotund bloke with a guitar stood next to me sweating profusely and belting out some of the finest songs I had ever heard. I was a committed fan from that moment on.

I’ve seen Moore many times since then, in much larger venues, and as both a solo performer and, as now, with accompanying musicians, but nothing can compare to that first time.

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The York Barbican suits Moore’s style. Big enough to accommodate his legions of fans yet not so cavernous that the atmosphere is lost.

Set lists are not set in stone. Moore has an idea of what he is going to sing on any one night but often random thoughts pop into his head or a shout out from the audience will trigger a memory of a song that has dropped out of his repertoire.

There are some that always make it on there though like Ride On, Nancy Spain and Lisdoonvarna which always raises a laugh and a frenzied bout of stomping and clapping.

Many of Moore’s songs deal with loss, discrimination and oppression and no one gets the message across better. Ewan MacColl’s Go, Move, Shift about the persecution of travellers, Missing You which tackles the heartbreak of Irish workers forced by circumstance to seek work in London, Viva la Quinta Brigada about the Spanish Civil War and Ordinary Man which takes the listener right to the heart of the workers’ struggle.

And then there are the love songs; Nancy Spain and my all time favourite The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, another Ewan MacColl song written for his wife Peggy Seeger, and one which always has me fighting back the tears.

A few I’d not come across before including the humorous Lingo Politico which addresses Moore’s dislike of politics and politicians and some I’d not heard for a while the ‘Yorkshire song’ Dalesman’s Litany and Raggle-Taggle Gypsy, sung in memory of Planxty’s co-founder Liam O’Flynn who died in March.

A two-hour set of some 24 songs with no break must take it out of the 73-year-old Moore but, although he sits down now he shows no sign of letting up and a packed summer of touring is scheduled, many venues already sold out.