Released in 1978 'The Iron Behind the Velvet' was
the second solo recording from the man who went on to become a legend
in Irish folk and traditional music.
Christy, a native of Co. Kildare, started in the music
business in the mid-sixties, when his life as a bank clerk was interrupted
by a bank strike, and he moved to England. There he became involved
in the folk music scene at the time, and spent a few years playing
pubs and clubs around the country.
His return to Ireland was marked by the album Prosperous,
which proved to be a milestone in the rapprochement of Irish music
to the popular mainstream. This album benefited from a collaboration
of the leading talents of contemporary folk music, musicians such
as Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Liam O'Flynn, and this one-off was
to lead to the formation of Planxty, a band who were at the leading
edge of the revival of Irish traditional music.
In addition to his work with Planxty , Christy continued
to explore new ground as a solo artist. During his first period
with Planxty he also managed to record his own solo albums, including
The Iron Behind the Velvet and Live in Dublin.
a short-lived Planxty revival in 1978, where they recorded two albums
After the Break and The Woman I Loved So Well, they decided to call
it a day and pursue their solo careers.
In the eighties Christy again teamed up with Donal
Lunny to form Moving Hearts , another ambitious and innovative Irish
band which sought to mix jazz into the folk-rock fusion.
Ever the wanderer, Christy was soon breaking out on
his own again, and it was in the eighties that he began to establish
himself as one of Ireland's leading solo artists with a string of
acclaimed albums and high profile tours. In 1997 Christy decided
to take a break from the music. In 2000 he made a short comeback
to perform a number of Dublin concert dates but for medical reasons
had to cancel after the first few shows.
GOLD VINYL BEHIND THE VERSE
(1978 hotpress review of the LP)
A cask of a man, Christy Moore's
music matures like finest barrelled malt. In the distilling, it
acquires its own flavour too but never without a kick to the stomach.
"The Iron Behind The Velvet"' indeed.
He's surely staked out his own parcel of acres. Neither a panderer
nor an elitist, Christy Moore may have unintentionally defined the
mainstream down which Irish folk can now flow. Of course it helps
when a singer can communicate in concert as Christy does but his
gifts are such that he can demand silence from the most boisterous
of Wolfe Tone fans while always gaining respect from the most academic
of purists. Blending populism with high musical standards, he reaches
a more varied audience than perhaps any other singer.
It may be the man. His music always sounds lived in and lived through,
with rarely a gap between the singer and the song. Again only a
man of his girth and authority may be able to relax and be gentle.
He's long past the age of having to prove anything.
Now with a new label, he's assembled a talented band of recruits
to accompany him into the studio for "The Iron Behind the Velvet",
an album that shows no decline in his powers whatsoever. Indeed,
it might be his best yet.
Veering between the humorous and the politically committed, lately
-written songs and other ballads, "The Iron Behind the Velvet"
covers a wide territory, the only subject left untouched, be it
by policy or otherwise, that of love.
This could be called a man's album. It's certainly one for the
boozer, with two songs about St. Patrick that transform the hazily-defined
cleric into a puckish Bacchus whose exploits, besides the exiling
of snakes, make the marriage of Cana look like a sodality outing.
The opener "Patrick Was A gentleman" has the saint introducing
whisky to the natives, a family gift since "his mother kept
a sheeben shop in the town of Enniskillen" Turn it over and
on "Patrick's Arrival", his bish is a mighty quaffer,
magically recycling the beer so that the flagons of himself and
his company never run dry.
But such uproarious cheek is balanced by "The Foxy Devil",
a song for hungover mornings - yet one that, for all its gloomy
reflections, has a far less harrowing final verse than Bunny Carr
and his health education campaign might prefer.
It was written by the least known member of Sweeney's Men, Joe Dolan
- who also contributes "Trip To Jerusalem", another irreligious
pilgrimage about an archeology dig in Israel when the distractions
had more substance than the work. The old song about a bare-knuckled
fight "Morrisey And The Russian Sailor" finishes off the
frolics and the roguery.
No, not the roguery for the triad of "The Sun Is Burning",
"Dunlavin Green" and "Joe McCann" take on oppressors,
modern and ancient. After the carefree velvet, the iron of struggle.
"The Sun Is Burning", an Ian Campbell song must be Christy's
song for Carnsore Point, a matter of real concern for him since
he is presently living within fallout distance in Carlow. No matter
that the song was probably written for the 60's anti-bomb campaign
of C.N.D., its lyrics are sufficiently open ended to describe the
horror of any nuclear explosion, be it by bomb or reactor.
"Dunlavin Green" about Wicklow casualties of '98 is the
one song that hasn't struck me so forcefully on first hearing but
any minor lapse is recovered by the closing "Joe McCann".
Written by architect Eamonn O'Doherty - by the by, the first manager
of Sweeney's Men - it concerns the Sticky leader whose shooting
by the British army in 1972 did not appear to square with the story
from the military press office. Christy delivers it with utter commitment.
But the songs don't complete the album. The players in particular
concertina-man Noel Hill and fiddler Tony Linnane show their paces
on three selections of reels while piper Gabriel McKeon has his
showcase with two airs. Nor could mention be omitted of the polka
that follows "Patrick Was a Gentleman" with its immaculate
change-over, or of the contributions of Moore's brother Barry, Jimmy
Faulkner and Andy Irvine, as the complete ensemble tailor accompaniments
that never obtrude but instead couture the songs in the height of
the folk fashion. In fact, I don't think he's ever been better served
by his musicians.
I've split the tracks into three groupings rather than cut by cut
but by that more orthodox judgment, the first side may nose out
the second by a whisker, due to my wavering doubts about "Dunlavin
Green". But any comparisons are against the excellence of the
complete album - that like the finest of folk albums will endure
and merit re-release for a future generation.
It won't give a dizzy head in the morning either. 10 pints or a
Christy Moore album - he deserves the best of that bargain.
Bill Graham (R.I.P.)