Christy Moore opens up on turning 75, his dad's death and meeting Johnny Cash in Longford

Eddie Rowley

Living legend Christy Moore is not the sort who gets star-struck, but he has a vivid and hilarious memory from way back of seeing Johnny Cash gliding along a street in Longford.

"That was quite incredible," Christy tells me, recalling the moment he copped the visiting American country great in the flesh.

Even more astonishing was the reaction of one of the town's butchers upon spotting The Man In Black outside his shop.

"The local butcher was so perplexed he didn't know what to do for a minute," Christy laughs. "Then he actually came out and handed Johnny a few steaks wrapped up."

He's reminded of this long forgotten amusing incident when I tell him my own star-struck moment of encountering the much-loved Moore in a Mullingar café for the first time back in the late '70s.

Today, Christy is revered as a national treasure, one of our great Irish icons - a legend. But he clearly carries the crowns lightly.

"To tell you the truth, it's just a word that gets thrown around very easily," he says, when I ask how he feels about his legendary status.

"It doesn't impact in any way upon me. I'm going to go down here now when I'm finished talking to you, and I'm going to peel the spuds and make the dinner. I don't pay any heed to it."

Christy is taking a trip back in time with the Sunday World as he chats by phone from his home in Dublin's southside coastal suburb of Dun Laoghaire to mark the release of a music compilation called Christy Moore The Early Years 1969 -1981. The package on vinyl, DVD and CD features recordings from his first six albums, EPs and rare TV performances.

We talk about a childhood trauma when his father, Andy, from Newbridge, Co Kildare, died suddenly during a minor hospital procedure at the age of 41.

"He went in to have an ingrown toenail removed and he never came home," Christy reveals. "He died under the anaesthetic. I was 11, and the eldest of six. Luka (the singer Luka Bloom) was only six months old."

At the age of 75, Christy still holds his beloved father close to his heart. "I have his picture here on the wall as I talk to you now," he tells me. "He's in his army uniform - he was in the Irish Army during the Second World War - and I look at him every day, and wink at him and wave at him."

The love and respect he holds for his mother, Nancy, who then raised her children single-handed and who died in 1992, also shines brightly to this day.

"I cannot imagine what course my life would have taken without my mother's guiding hand," Christy says.

Nancy (nee Power) came from Yellow Furze, Co Meath, and her son says she was also passionate about singing and songs.

"She had a repertoire of good ballads, which is where my interest began, where the seed was sown," he tells me. "We had a piano at home and it never gathered dust for it was in constant use. Not that Mammy ever had many idle moments, but she could often be heard having a wee jam session on her own in the front room.

"My very first song was Kevin Barry, whose memory Nancy was devoted to. My next song was The Meeting of The Waters - she also had a grá for Thomas Moore's melodies. With these two songs under my belt I performed at concerts in both Newbridge and The Curragh as a 10-year-old boy soprano."

One of Christy's childhood friends was local lad Donal Lunny, and the illustrious pair would later share many musical experiences, most notably with Planxty and Moving Hearts.

"Donal was the first guitar player in Newbridge, and he taught me my first three chords," Christy reveals. "We had a short-lived trio with his brother, Frank Jnr, called The Rakes Of Kildare."

Although music was his passion, Christy joined the bank after leaving school. "After passing six subjects in a low Leaving Cert exam, I found myself working in The National Bank from 1963 to 1966," he recalls.

It was a match made in hell. "I certainly encountered lows there during office hours, but as soon as I got out the door of those bank kips I became a full-on fledgling ballad singer around the towns.

"I learned Galtee Mountain Boy in Clonmel, Spancil Hill in Tulla, Limerick Rake in Askeaton…. my banking years were not a total waste of time! The bank manager in Clonmel called me aside one morning. He told me that my night time pub singing was noted and disapproved. He suggested I take up bridge or golf… I took the boat instead."

Christy then became "an apprentice folk singer in London" and he recalls: "I had nothing but a basket of songs, a guitar, a sleeping bag and a head full of determination. I was mostly completely broke, living hand to mouth, trying to get the start, but I was experiencing new sounds, singers and clubs."

It was the beginning of an incredible career in music, and today Christy - a husband, father and grandfather - counts his blessings for his good fortune.

He gave up the drink 31 years ago, and admits that as a result of his boozing he has memory blanks from the past while listening to The Early Years DVD. "I have no recollection whatsoever of some of the performance on the DVD…. I'm reminded of a line that the late Willy Clancy sang: 'He was very fond of black porter, shure twas bulging out both of his eyes'… I was that soldier."

Christy adds: "Putting the bottle down was a huge turning point in my life and I'm full of gratitude for those who helped me to do that. I would say to anyone going through it, there are many people willing to help you if you reach out."

At 75 Christy Moore admits he does feel his age, but he maintains a fitness regime to stay in shape for singing.

“There are times when it hits you,” he says. “Certain things have become more difficult. A lot of that would be to do with Covid and masks as well. I have hearing aids, and if you’re wearing hearing aids and glasses and then you put a mask on top of that the whole lot get tangled up.

“The glasses get fogged up, the hearing aids fall out, you can’t remember which shop you’re in… you’re in the fish shop looking for a pound of rashers. It’s very confusing, but on stage I’m grand.

“I did three songs in Vicar Street the other night with my son Andy for a streamed gig that’s going out shortly and it was great to be back up singing with the road crew around me. Once I’m on safe ground sitting behind a guitar nothing really affects me, not even age or Covid.”

Christy works out on a treadmill at home while watching sport and politics on a screen. “I’ve got to work at keeping enough fitness together to be able to sing and play. It’s a very physical thing, and to sing properly you have to be fit, you have to be able to go for the deep breath and you have to be able to sustain it for a couple of hours, and thankfully I’m still able to do that.

“I try and walk about 20 miles a week, and I try and stretch every day and do me best with the diet. I still tend to eat too much, but sure you have to do something.”

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