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Luka Bloom The Irish Emigrant - Music
Irish Emigrant Online - July 1989 | Febr 1990

Into The Arms Of America
Hot Press - 25 Feb 1990

The Pop Life
Luka Bloom at Tramps

The New York Times - March 21, 1990

Bloom Seeks Rock Fans
The Georgia Straight - 27 April 1990

Bloom Adds Humor to His Passion at McCabe's
Los Angeles Times - 30 April 1990

Luka Bloom @ the W.I.S.E. Hall
The Rogue Folk Club - May 1990

Luka Bloom
Nite Moves - May 1990

A Good Luka
Folk Roots - July 1990

Sounds Around Town
Luka Bloom @ The Knitting Factory

The New York Times - August 23, 1991

Ben & Jerry's Newport Folk Festival
Dirty Linen - Dec 1991/Jan 1992

Irish Emigrant Online - July 1989 | February 1990

The Irish Emigrant - Music

Reporter: Richard O'Shaughnessy @ GAO

July 17, 1989 - Issue No.128
- Luka Bloom (a pseudonym for Christy Moore's younger brother Barry) is back in Ireland again after a year in the States recording for two albums and supporting the Pogues, Hothouse Flowers and In Tua Nua. He's already started a tour with more dates to be announced. The last time I saw him, I was a protesting student demanding college authorities to 'freeze the fees'.

February 11, 1990 - Issue No.158
- Luka Bloom (brother of the man in black himself, Mr Christy Moore) has released an album which is receiving good critical reviews and quite a deal of newspaper attention. The great BP Fallon interviewed him for the Tribune, and he also received a large piece in the Independent.

Hot Press - 25 February 1990

Into The Arms Of America

Deciding he'd achieved as much as he could within the confines of the music scene in Ireland. Barry Moore changed his name, packed his bags and took off for the USA. There, as Luka Bloom, he was fjted for his live performances, awarded a major international record deal and his debut album, Riverside, given the four-star treatment by Rolling Stone. On a visit home, he tells Bill Graham about his emigrant s success story and explains how a man who was regarded as a folky in Dublin came to cut a rap track in New York.

It's the standard hotel interview scenario as the record company person solicitously nursesmaids the pair of us. Alongside the debris of earlier dialogues the biscuit-tray, the drained coffee-cups, the empty Perrier and beer bottles is a copy of a Rolling Stone record review, hot off the fax-machine, a glowing notice that describes my companion as a decidedly artful musician who s gathered a reputation for his electrifying live shows and whose soaring major-label debut album is a dazzling entrance.

Luka Bloom Later, standard practices continue as this decidedly artful musician ponders the trappings of his newly-discovered fortune with typically chirpy bemusements like his Burlington Hotel suite with its round double-bath, hardly on the Playboy Mansion scale, but far from where he was reared and the limousine the record company charters to convey him home whereas once, he took public transport.

And this is a guy who also needs two bases, one in New Jersey, the other in Dublin. But he isn't some tax-exile tourist, a passage migrant wintering out in Ireland. This is an Irish emigrant who s sustained by and has gained from his double-life. Barry Moore renamed himself Luka Bloom and finally found fate giving him a wink, a friendly nod and a free pass.

His story is both heart-warming and an example to anyone who's ever felt their career has been stuck in an Irish bog. Throughout the Eighties, the old-style Barry Moore was numbered among Dublin's also-rans, a charming man but one of life's support acts, a junior member of the Irish folk contingent who seemed trapped in a perpetual state of transition.

Caught between generations, codes and cliques, Moore knew the Irish singer-songwriter school had got stultified and needed to be rescued from its ingrained habits. But without acceptance and clout, within the new rock circles, he found few allies who sympathised with his vision. So, in the last throes of desperation, he changed his name to Luka Bloom and high-tailed it to America. Lo and behold, the Dublin duckling was transformed into a New York swan, returning with a Warners contract and a skilled, light-fingered album, Riverside, that s genuinely innovative in its spare but sleekly atmospheric mix of acoustic guitar and responsive percussion.

So, Luka, cad a tharla?

It would take a prodigiously sainted man not to score some points about his previous neglect. It would also take an insensitive, tactless journalist not to realise this Luka Bloom story starts in the sump of his earlier Dublin disregard.

When I changed my name, he says, I had surrendered to the fact that I wasn't going to create anything in Ireland that would let me perform and record in an international arena. So I just decided to get out. And initially, it was very painful because I am, and always was and will be, very rooted here for family reasons and just reasons of loving living in Dublin. But I just felt in this unbelievable rut.

Psychologically, he felt stymied by the incestuous nature of the Irish scene. His face had become too familiar. In America it was different. I didn't have the psychological baggage of the Hot Presses and In Dublins and other people around who I would allow myself to get fucked up about, he observes. You know how so many people in Dublin are so self-conscious because you write songs and you walk down the streets and you see those people who would be reviewing those songs when you perform them. So there's this constant sense of being closed in. A sort of Valley Of The Squinting Windows thing. And in America, I was completely liberated from that.

Actually his name-change, first suggested by Billy Bragg's manager, Peter Jenner, happened in Ireland. Equally he actually left Ireland twice, the first time temporarily just after he recorded his 88 debut album, Luka Bloom, for Mystery Records, a trip taken deliberately, he stresses, because he could only get used to being the stranger, Luka Bloom in a strange land.

But that album was a victim of the political and contractual shenanigans between Mystery and their Irish distributors, WEA that flared after the multinational's former managing director, Clive Hudson's departure. It wasn't so much released as limped out to the shops and hardly helped his cause.

Besides he now says, that album sounded out of date three months after I recorded it though I don't mean to denigrate the people involved in it. It's more a reflection of me it's just that my whole mentality changed very dramatically within three months of going to America.

Possibly decisions were still in the balance when he first returned home to Ireland but the Mystery/WEA feud forced his hand. At the time, Luka recalls, it was very traumatic but it also proved to be very productive because it precipitated a sort of a rock-bottom of despair which made me sever all my relationships with everybody in Ireland in a professional capacity and, like the other emigrants, jut get out of here.

In America, Luka now believes he was in the right place at the right time for the first time in my life. Tracy Chapman and Michelle Shocked had launched the new acoustic aesthetic but there were few males to match them. Certainly none with Luka's combination of freshness and his hard-won performing experience and expertise. This time, the drudgery of hiking himself and his guitar around Ireland actually worked to his advantage. He agrees: I couldn't have done what I m doing now when I was 24 I would have blown it. And assessing his American competition, he continues, calmly and without any over-inflated sense of himself:

To be honest, most of the solo artists I encountered in America, were still doing Simon And Garfunkel stuff. You're absolutely right. The standard of solo performance I've encountered in America hasn't been all that great. But I also have to say to you that the reason this particular situation happened for me was because I never worked as a solo artist. I think of my instrument as a band, as an instrument of noise. I don't treat it like a six-string Gibson traditional thing. I think of it as a means to make noise. My whole outlook is to try to create the dynamic of a band. And that's what makes it different. I don't think it was just because I was working in a more difficult arena in Dublin.

Luka will own up that he suspected it was a propitious time to try his luck in America. Otherwise he had no masterplan beyond a determination to avoid demos and instead promote himself through live performance. The Mystery album didn't enter his scheme.

He found a management team in Glenn Morrow and Tom Prendergast, the latter a transplanted Limerickman, and won support slots with The Pogues, Hothouse Flowers and The Violent Femmes. Finally, without any reference to Dublin, Warner's New York office bit.

The years of neglect in Ireland initially made him suspicious, Luka now concedes: I went in to my first meeting with Warners totally suspicious, aggressive and uptight and they listened to me for twenty minutes and then they said, we don't know what you're talking about, we've come to your shows six or seven times, we love your gigs, your songs, your approach, we want to sign you, what's your problem?

So I kind of went Oh! And since that time, everyone who's worked with me on this record has worked with a view of understanding and then fulfilling my dream and we did it.

Going to America changed Luka Bloom's fortunes; it also affected his music. Riverside may be bare but it isn't spartan or impoverished. Like Mary Coughlan's forthcoming album which was recorded in London, Luka Bloom's music has been refreshed by the change of partners and venue. Too often, Irish singer-songwriter albums can fall victim to a false democracy where everyone pitches in with their stock licks. But Luka's New York players knew the value of underplaying, understood that sometimes a song needs only a kiss on the cheek.

His own philosophy was also transformed. Nobody would have connected the old Barry Moore with rap yet in the new guise of Luka Bloom, he actually performs an LL Cool J song, I Need Love. Says Luka, I deliberately set out to learn a song that would be known to people but that in being known to people and knowing where it came from, it would automatically take me out of that folk bag so people would know this guy's not trying to be the next James Taylor.

Living in Hoboken, New Jersey, only a mute hermit could avoid rap: I didn't do that stuff in Ireland because I wasn't exposed to it. But being in Hoboken, just outside of Manhattan, that's the music I heard on the street all day with the kids coming down the street in their cars with the roofs off and these huge powerful systems in them. So it's LL Cool J, Tone Loc and Neneh Cherry all day.

But I Need Love isn't included on Riverside. Luka thought it might deflect attention from the remainder of his work: I wanted to make an album about just me and my songs.

Riverside is a genuinely Transatlantic album, sometimes tempered and transfixed by an emigrant's wonder at America. An Irishman In Chinatown, a waggish crowd-pleaser live, doesn't have the weight to survive continual listening on record but both Hudson Lady and Dreams In America are more substantial exactly because they're less literal. Of the latter, Luka explains:

Luka Bloom I wrote it as a result of encountering for the first time, the vastness and sheer physical beauty of America because when I travelled with the Hothouse Flowers we had one long drive through the Rockies. I was just completely overwhelmed and I suddenly realised that when people talked about the greatness of America, it wasn't just a right-wing political thing.

In the song, I wanted to create a panoramic feel but I wanted to do it acoustically and that was the exciting challenge. And I also wanted to write about the fact that as an Irish person, you always find yourself thinking about the emigrants and the pioneers. Apart from the fact that they wiped out a civilisation of wonderful people, there's this other aspect of them which is very beautiful this great spirit that took them across the continent. And I wanted to capture that sense of rootlessness and loveliness and sadness that you always find in America. Because you also find that if people had an Irish or a Russian background, they're very nostalgic about it.

Luka Bloom is equally expansive explaining other songs on Riverside. Like The Man Is Alive, whose first verse recalls his father's death when he was only 18 months.

It was the newest song on the album and it was also the most important because it covered the most important subject-matter in my life. It came about because of a very strange meeting I had with a woman in Vancouver who'd had the identical experience. And we also had the same birthday as it turned out. And she was also a songwriter and the youngest in her family.

There were so many similarities but what was different was that she had an entirely different attitude to her father and his death. I actually learned something from her that opened up a relationship with my father that I'd never had because I realised that my father didn't go and leave me behind. Everything he left behind, he passed on to different people who passed it on to me.

Potentially more controversial is The One with its stinging refrain: Why should you be the one to go out on the edge / Do you really want to be another dead hero? Luka concedes the song was inspired by Shane MacGowan but he insists he had other targets in mind. Like the voyeurs and parasites on another man's wound of fame.

I said to somebody earlier on that there's an aspect of the rock n roll life that's very reminiscent of boxing. Like there are people who derive a certain voyeuristic pleasure in watching other people go under.

He also defends himself against accusations that the song merely restates the obvious: I know that and from a critical perspective, that annoys and bores people And it sounds throwaway. But sometimes the obvious is not so obvious. And sometimes the obvious is needed. I didn't want to write an intelligent, deep, thoughtful dissertation. I wanted to articulate a genuine sense of anger.

Luka Bloom's American sojourn has made him caustic about aspects of the business. Tracy Chapman, or more accurately her entourage, get the back of his hand: To be honest, I actually think that was something that was very seriously manipulated, that actually became a very cynical exercise. Like the fact that she was a young black kid from Boston was really exploited on her behalf in a way that may have been detrimental to her. I found myself not trusting or believing it after a while.

But maturity and his new horizons also brings the gifts of insight. Like the time he first encountered his Iranian percussionist, Ali Fatemi.

You don't have to pursue anything in New York. Just simply living there means you're bombarded by the rest of the world. If you don't have time to see the world, just go to New York So I found myself being invited to see this Iranian combo in Columbia University and it was just two guys. And it was in this reverent, church-like environment though the music was light-hearted just like a folk club and only afterwards did I realise it was total improvisation, a sitarist and this percussionist with finger drums. And sometimes when I closed my eyes, it just sounded so Irish or so potentially Irish.

I think, like everything else, my ears have opened up a lot, he says. I used to have a very arrogant attitude to music which, like all arrogance, is born out of ignorance. I felt I didn't really need to listen, but one of the things I discovered in New York was the joy of listening and the joy of learning. All the possibilities that you can do anything with a song.

Looks like Luka Bloom has found his world, his oyster and his pearls.

Bill Graham
© 1990 HOTPRESS -

The New York Times - March 21, 1990

The Pop Life

Luka Bloom at Tramps

Two years ago, Barry Moore, an Irish folk singer who had been performing in his native country for eight years and felt he was going nowhere, decided to change his name to Luka Bloom and begin again in the United States.

"I wanted a name that was as pretentious as Iggy Pop or Bono or Sting, that didn't mean anything but that had a good sound," he recalled the other day. "It was a total joke."

His first name was adopted from Suzanne Vega's hit song "Luka". The last name came from James Joyce's Leopold Bloom. And if the name was a joke, it still helped Mr. Bloom to get a new musical lease on life. In a short time, he built a reputation as one of New York's most exciting acoustic folk performers, and the word of mouth helped win him a record deal on the Warner label Reprise, which recently released his debut album, "'Riverside". Tomorrow evening, Mr. Bloom will appear at Tramps.

"Riverside" is an effervescent collection of original songs with subject matter ranging from an upbeat contemplation of the suicide of Picasso's widow, Jacqueline ("Gone to Pablo"), to the surreal experience of moving to New York and observing its street life ("Hudson Lady").

"I wasn't interested in writing about Picasso the artist," said Mr. Bloom about the song "Gone to Pablo". "What attracted me was the story of this woman who lived in isolation for years after he died and ultimately surrendered to the sorrow of life without him. Although people view suicide as a selfish, cowardly act, I felt there was great dignity in her passing away and a sense of hope in her being reunited with his spirit."

It is only in the last several years, Mr. Bloom said, that he has found his style.

"While in Ireland I ended up boring the pants off myself with the music I made, which was sensitive, folk oriented and nonchallenging," he recalled. "Then when I started doing something interesting, I found myself ignored. That was when I realized I had to leave Ireland and change my name."

The exuberant acoustic style that Mr. Bloom evolved was inspired partly by the post-punk rock of Irish and Scottish bands like U2, Simple Minds and the Waterboys, three bands he said he admired because he found their music "very direct, passionate, lyrical, and people oriented".

"I spent a couple of years trying to find a way to bring myself into this music," he said. "First I tried a band, but I couldn't get the right human chemistry. Finally I took what I learned from working with a band and blended it with the intimacy I cul"

Stephen Holden
© 1990

The Georgia Straight - Music - April 27 - May 4, 1990

Bloom Seeks Rock Fans

"Clueless" folkie goes from opener to headliner.

Irish folksinger Luka Bloom had to come to the U.S. to find a new name ... and the confidence that is rapidly making him one of the most perceptive performers of the moment.

Luka Bloom With a combination of intoxicatingly percussive guitar, a deep bagfull of haunting melodies, and an unusually thrilling voice, Luka Bloom would be the freshest thing to hit the folk scene since Suzanne Vega ... if he cared anything about such a scene. "I don't like to consider myself part of any traditional music world," said the Irish singer/songwriter in a recent call from London, England. "I seek out stand-up rock audiences, because I like that kind of energy. I'm not out to soothe some passive crowd of folk worshippers. They have to like a fair bitta noise: I play acoustic guitar, but I tend to play it loud."

As the younger brother of Irish music superstar Christy Moore (Luka Bloom took his first name from the well-known Vega song and his second from James Joyce's central character in 'Ulysses'), this raising star has forged his own path into genreless territory. And, like a song title on 'Riverside', his Reprise debut album, he's "Over the Moon" about his fírst flush of success, something he talks about with his mild, softspoken accent, punctuated frequently by a staccato Woody Woodpecker laugh.

"I just finished my first tour of Europe, with the Cowboy Junkies, and I'm amazed at how quickly people have picked up on the album. I played in Holland last night, for the first time ever, and 600 people were there and they knew all the words to my songs."

Bloom has made several trips across Canada, building his own audience while opening for Hothouse Flowers, the Pogues, and the Violent Femmes, but has only recently become a headliner: he's supporting local faves Spirit of the West at the Commodore Friday and Saturday (May 4 and 5), then booting across town on the second night to his own gig at the East Side's WISE Hall, with songwriter Bill Morrissey opening.

Bloom has written songs for 20 of his 34 years, and one thing that has elevated this tunesmith above the average strummer is his abiding musicality, more so than the expert storytelling that characterizes many of the folk ghetto. "I guess my aggressive style is a bit of a trademark, but I also use a very full, open sound for a lot of my slow tunes, and I really value dynamic variety in my performance - or anyone else's, for that matter."

Zippy but sparsely accompanied songs like 'Rescue Mission' and 'Delirious' make ideal single choices, especially because their lyrics and music are so concise. "If you can say it in three minutes, why take six?" Of his next album, Bloom says, "It would be easy right now to go into the studio with a bunch of very cool musicians and come out with a 'safe' record. But, if anything, it will probably be more raw."

"Actually," he says after a considerable pause, "I haven't a clue what I'm gonna do next."

Initially, the artist avoided record-company types, worked on his live performance, developed a street buzz, and eventually the biz came to him, giving him a choice between labels. But along the way, he's had to deal with the pros and cons of living in Moore's shadow.

"I think the most important thing I've learned from Christy has been to respect my audience. That's one of the things I admire most about him, that he has great love and respect for his fans, up and down the line. I have watched aspects of his career and learned a thing or two, I suppose, but our approaches are ultimately very different. Bein' his brother may have been a problem for a while, back in Ireland where he's so very well known, but not elsewhere or today."

While Bloom cities some examples of Irish artists who have made it big in Britain, he says it remains an alien experience. "It is somewhat difficult for an Irish person to break past the sense of being an immigrant in England, and just a person who writes songs. I've heard people talk about the experience of being a black performer in the United States, and sometimes I have felt that way as an Irishman in England."

Like horizon-seeking Irishmen before him (U2 is an obvious example), Bloom felt profoundly changed by his initial visits to the U.S. "Just around the time I changed my name, everything else changed as well." Bloom giggles at this ass-backwards recollection, but he describes a solo jaunt to Washington, D.C. in 1987 as a surprise point in developing a whole new attitude. "Not a new personality exactly, but definitively a new sense of optimism. It's not just the music, but the madness that is North America. I truly enjoy the urban culture and the music of the cities."

"Nobody gave a shit about my background or who my brother was or anything. I just started with my new songs and my guitar and, I tell ya, it was the time when I became who I am. I had the music and the ability already, but I didn't have the confidence. I struggled for too long and became too weighed down by my own history. In going to America, I severed my connections with that history and gave myself the opportunity for a completely fresh start."

Does he ever wonder about the validity of discovering his persona in the anything-goes freedom of a land not known for looking back? "No", he laughs, "in America, they think history is bunkum and that has certainly worked in my favour."

Ken Eisner

Los Angeles Times - April 30, 1990

Bloom Adds Humor to His Passion at McCabe's


You'd think that a singer who renamed himself Luka Bloom after the characters of Suzanne Vega and James Joyce, respectively--would have more of a sense of humor than Bloom (ne Barry Moore) evidences on 'Riverside', his earnestly passionate but not exactly yuk-filled debut album. Luckily, the Gaelic groupies who packed McCabe's for the Irish folk singer's two shows Friday got to hear Bloom in laughter as well as Bloom in love.

His romanticism can be weighty on record but was more catching live, in the context of Bloom's between-song wit and the sheer velocity of some of the fastest, most forceful 12-string you'll ever hear. Though there was no skimping on the self-serious material--the worst offender being 'Gone to Pablo', his mawkish glorification of the suicide of Picasso's lover--Bloom atoned with a reverent rendition of L L Cool J's gushy rap ballad 'I Need Love' that put a nice cap on his own more heated romantic odes.

© Los Angeles Times

The Rogue Folk Club - May 1990

Luka Bloom @ the W.I.S.E. Hall

Luka Bloom The Rogue Folk Club
is pleased to present LUKA BLOOM
at the W.I.S.E. Hall, 1882 Adanac Street, on Saturday, May 5th.
Doors open at 8:00. Opening the show is Bill Morrissey at 9:00.

Born Barry Moore, brother of Irish folksinger Christy Moore, LUKA BLOOM took his name from the long-suffering Leopold Bloom, the hero of Joyce's Ulysses, and he's also the inheritor of a particularly Irish mix of mysticism and moonshine, a carousing spritituality that marks musicians as distinct as Van Morrison and U2.

Last year LUKA BLOOM was signed to Reprise Records purely on the strength of his live performances after winning support slots and rave responses on tours with acts like The Pogues, Sinead O'Connor, Hothouse Flowers, The Violent Femmes and The Proclaimers. His first album, Riverside, was released in January.

"... (he) did the nearly impossible: held sway over a rowdy, rocking crowd for close 45 minutes with just an acoustic guitar and his voice, singing well-crafted songs about Picasso, passion, Chile, and delirium with a warm, beautiful voice and some fine guitar playing ..."
San Francisco Calendar

"Luka Bloom hoots like a steam engine, laughs like a madam, spits out the lyrics and strums acoustic guitar with the ferocity of a speeding locomotive."
People Magazine

"He can leave you laughing good-naturedly one minute and close to tears the next, linking one emotion to the next through warm, spirited tales."
The Gavin Report

That live performance is perhaps most notable for the unnerving band-like quality. LUKA BLOOM is an acoustic rock singer with a sound that seems bigger than one man and his guitar. As Ireland's Hot Press commented, "For one man and an instrument, he extracts more sounds and nuances than seem humanly possible."

Tickets are $8 for Club Members, $10 for non-members, and are available at Black Swan, Track and Highlife Records. Tickets are available at the door, or reserve by calling 736-3022.

Nite Moves - May 1990

Luka Bloom

The night sometimes seems dangerous. We wonder what it hides.
It sometimes brings us closer and forever changes our lives.
- Luka Bloom, 'The Man Is Alive'

The lines were written by a man who gave up his identity, moved to America and was reborn as - Luka Bloom. A poet. Though he denies the effect of his written word, prefers to have them sung, his lines capture the essence of what Luka Bloom represents - the boy and the man. The coming to terms with, the growth of self.

Luka Bloom When Barry Moore made the transition to Luka Bloom, he left behind his public identity in Ireland to take on a fictitious, and as he called it, "pretentious" name and identity for his music, in New York. "It doesn't relate to me personally (his name); it's a totally pretentious name, it's just an identity for my music."

The songs are structured around life; some, personal introspections, others, public domain. The rhythm of his acoustic guitar guides the listener through the plot while his voice gives an emotional account.

'The Man Is Alive', one of the tracks of his debut album Riverside, is a documentation of his inner struggle to find his father, who died when he was 18 months old. But it's more than that - like so many of his songs. It's an account of a woman he met, the soul mate.

"Strangers talk in open ways, we cannot always understand." It reiterates the meeting between Bloom and a woman who lived a paralled version of his own life. She, Glenda, also lost her father when she was a baby, 18 months old. The song tells of the meeting, the talk "among the totem poles underneath the Canadian moonlight / she told me all about her childhood days on the Vancouver mountainside."

They met for only a few hours, but within that time discovered more about themselves than each other. It resembles a scene out of a novel by Emily Bronte: "He's more myself than I am" explains Cathy, the heroine in Wuthering Heights. Never have those lines had more of an effect than when you listen to the song and hear Bloom speak of the "magical" meeting of the twin souls.

Together, Bloom, a writer from Ireland, and Glenda, a songwriter from Vancouver, find that thread that runs through and parallels our lives to ones we may never know. A bonding between friends, but it gave them a chance to look at themselves through the other's life.

It's the kind of gothic realism in Bloom's songs such as 'Dreams In America', 'The Man Is Alive', the light-hearted stories, 'An Irishman In Chinatown', and the heart wrenching accounts of life, 'Gone To Pablo' that make him such a unique artist. His ability to capture an emotion in a word and hold it through the song.

"When I was 15," Bloom says, "I knew nothing. Now I know I know nothing and it's alright. The whole purpose of all this is learning. You take up a little bit and impart it, and you go. You realize how little you know and carry on and learn some more."

This album is what he's learned about himself and what surrounds him. He's imparted it and is now carrying on.

S. Decembrini

Folk Roots - July 1990 - No. 85


Ken Hunt hears why Barry made a change

Changing one's name is often rather like making a pact with the devils of expediency. The reasons are many and various for doing it but, like the snake after sloughing its skin, the emerging creature is supposed to look brighter, more appealing, at very least different. It may even have grown through the experience. In some areas of musical endeavour, at certain times, changing one's name has been de rigeur. Think of Harry Webb, Tommy Hicks and Declan McManus as Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and Elvis Costello. Add your own personal favourites.

Luka Bloom as a name may have more of a literary ring to it than most, certainly more so than those tough, American sounding names in the '50s or the present day heavy metal acts whose stage names too often sound like bodily functions. Allegedly, 'Luka Bloom' is the quasi-Joycean product of the marriage between a Suzanne Vega song and the character in Ulysses.

Folk Roots His earlier folk incarnation - Barry Moore - made a couple of albums, Treaty Stone in 1978 and No Heroes in 1982 and played and sang on Christy Moore's The Iron Behind The Velvet in 1978. Furthermore, Christy Moore recorded several of his songs, most notably his 'Section 31' and 'The City Of Chicago', while Moving Hearts covered 'Remember The Brave Ones'.

To be blunt, his career never really blossomed as he wished. Consequently, like countless Co. Kildare people before him, he decided to make the move to the Promised Land, in order to try and make his mark. He uprooted to the United States in October 1987.

Asked about the reason for his change of name, his initial reply may sound a tad evasive: "You know the reason as well as I do!" On the other hand it is a question which he will be answering for a long time to come. A 'fuller' answer emerges: "I changed my name because I'd been struggling in Ireland for a number of years and most of the struggling was to do with myself, finding a musical direction, an attitude that I was comfortable with. Finding a way of gigging and of working and of writing. I couldn't seem to find it. Some people take up music and start playing and everything very quickly falls into place for them. I just seemed to try all sorts of things for years without feeling any comfort at all." While playing folk clubs, bars and pubs, he was desperately trying to establish what it was he was trying to communicate to his audience. It eluded him for years.

Feeling "no sense of belonging in the folk clubs" put him in a quandary, the solution to which came along in the mid 80s. The music that fired him, that he wished to gravitate towards, he describes as "early U2, Waterboys, big-sounding stuff that was very positive but wasn't pompous or bombastic. When I talk about bombastic I talk about that big classical rock thing that went on in the '70s." Inexplicably, Queen of all people - epitomises this for him.

The first contemporary music that he "hooked into was this early U2, post-punk music that was very melodic, very aggressive, very raw, but it was positive." Its approach moulded his song writing. He strove "to write songs with this rawness in mind. I worked for a little while with a band in Dublin; we were called Red Square. I was working with guys who were ten years younger than me. I was changing, really changing all the time."

Having redefined his territory, as it were, around 1985 or 1986, and convinced himself that he was at long last back on the right track, he admits that persuading anybody on the Dublin scene of that was more problematical. He felt trapped there and just as assuredly felt that the British or European folk scenes would not be the key to his salvation.

And lest it be thought that he has overlooked his bloodiness in all this, he recalls that "still being tied in with Christy Moore" was a contributory factor. Not only that, there was the further confusion of his name sounding like Gary Moore's. He desperately wanted to start afresh with "a clean slate".

Initially he made New York his base. It proved disagreeable. "It was too hectic, too fast, and I wanted time to settle into being Luka Bloom. I wanted time to settle into being in America. I wanted time to find some centre for myself, to begin the process of working." Thus he opted for the comparative peace of Washington DC. "It was like the folk club thing but I didn't go into a folk club: I went to a bar that put on rock bands, folk bands, all sorts of different music. Because I didn't want to start out again in a folk club in America. I wanted to find a venue that was sort of anonymous in a way so I wouldn't be put in a bag immediately, where I could present my songs in my own way. I just wanted a stage in a room with people." A Wednesday night residency at "a little club on Bleecker Street called the Red Lion" in New York also helped to get the word around.

Word spread about him - hardly surprising given the strength of his live performances - a process abetted and speeded by supporting spots for The Pogues during May and June 1988 and Hothouse Flowers during the following October and November. "In that period I played to 30,000 people twice in 30 cities around North America. All of a sudden there was this name out there but nobody knew how to contact me."

A mystique developed. "The only way that any of the record companies could get in touch with me was to look up the Village Voice, see where I was playing and go to the show because I didn't have any management office or agency representing me. A couple of companies started to come and see me regularly." This interest resulted in him signing with Warner Brothers in March 1989.

However, his debut album - Riverside - for their Reprise subsidiary was not his debut recording. Beforehand a track appeared on a 1989 anthology called Time For A Change for Bar-None Records, a label with whom the group They Might Be Giants was associated. Bar-None Records became very good friends and championed his cause but he stuck out for big label interest, even though they became his managers about two months before the Warners deal. "Recognising that I was going to get a major deal they asked if they could have one track on the compilation and Warners agreed to it. It was going to be one track that wasn't on the album, so we picked Trains from a demo that I did."

Now, curiously, the way these things often go, there is a further twist, for antedating both of these releases was an album released in 1987. The rarity value of Luka Bloom - "a collector's item" - should not be confused with rare quality, he stresses. "It was done for an independent label - Mystery Records - and it ran into legal difficulties about three weeks after it was released and so it was shelved. It was never properly distributed. It sold about 1500 copies. I recorded it about four weeks before I went to America. lt was released six months later and was out for three weeks and then it was gone again."

He has no misgivings about the disappearance of 'Luka Bloom', dismissing it as "very misleading", although he has a fondness for some of its songs. Indeed he went so far as re-recording 'Gone To Pablo', 'Over The Moon' and 'Delirious' for 'Riverside'. Temporarily going into the third-person singular, he remarks that "Luka Bloom's first album" is 'Riverside'. "I did an album under 'Luka Bloom' that was never properly released anywhere, so really it's like a demo that leaked."

'Riverside' though, it might justifiably be said, seems directed at America, the same way that Paul Brady's post-Hard Station albums are. The American experience has clearly coloured Bloom's songwriting, even if chronologically some of the songs were penned before his departure. Thus 'Gone To Pablo' with its references to European art galleries seems to adopt a faintly non-European viewpoint in parts.

"An album, to me," he explains, "is more than just a collection of songs. It's like an art exhibition in that they have to complement each other. I have other songs which I would have loved to put on the record but they just didn't work as well in the context of the rest of the album. I wanted the album to have a very broad, dynamic feel to it and a broad range of influences. I wanted it to be interesting and sustaining. That's why and how I came to pick the songs that I did."

Unlike earlier work, which frequently had a political strand to it, 'Riverside' mostly eschews such statements. "I didn't really have any material that was politically relevant in the here and now, at the time of doing the album. I really didn't. The closest thing to a political song that I have actually got on the album is 'This Is For Life'.

In recent years I have gotten more suspicious and less enthusiastic about political songwriting. I never really regarded myself as a political songwriter in the first place. Where I write about political issues it tends to be in the context of people's experience and individual's experiences of political systems. Very rarely have I sat down to write about an issue: I'm rarely motivated in that way. I've written a song about AIDS, I haven't a song about crack dealing because I'm not politically motivated in that way. I have to be viscerally hit by something; I almost have to experience it. And one of the reasons for that is that I feel that people too easily these days come to write songs about things and they do it in a way that is sensationalising. And they do it in a way that I sometimes am suspicious of because I feel like it's a career move, like people feel a need to have a social conscience because it sells records. I feel there's been a lot of that, particularly since Live Aid and the Amnesty International tour."

Two of the strongest songs on the album do, however, have political undercurrents. They make their statements by using individuals' plights in order to make points of wider relevance. 'This Is For Life' is a song about a now-failed marriage between one of the Guildford Four and a prison visitor: "I still sing that song even though Paul HilI's been released because I feel in some way it's still relevant to any relative of anybody who's doing a life sentence, but I didn't set out to write a song about political prisoners. Maybe I should. I don't know whether I should or not but I'm trying to be as honest with you as I can."

The politics of 'The One' are perhaps less apparent. "That's the politics of the voyeuristic side of the biz. It's something which operates not just in rock & roll but possibly even more so in folk music. You encounter so many people who would like to claim to have been the person who had the last drink with Luke Kelly or the last person to have shot up with Jimi Hendrix. It's about this side of the music culture which wants to see blood. It's where I relate the music industry to boxing, where people want to see somebody perform, they want to see somebody do really well but they also get a serious kick out of watching them fall. There are people who want to be right at the front passing up the bottle on stage, bringing the drinks backstage, providing the drugs in the dressing room." 'The One', he agrees, could be about any number of music industry figures: its direct inspiration, however, was Shane MacGowan of The Pogues.

Thematically the album is far from onedimensional. Its best songs are as sleek as an otter's pelt, although - trapped by metaphor - the lapses can be rather mangey. But 'Dreams In America', 'Gone To Pablo', 'You Couldn't Have Come At A Better Time' and those two specific songs show that Luka Bloom has clearly arrived in his own right.

Amateur psychologists will probably revel in his motivation for the change of identity, let alone his striving to develop enough velocity to escape his past. The more musically inclined may well just find a lot of pleasure in his songs and performances. Stick to the mysteries in the songs.

Picture and article from Jolande Hibels


The New York Times - August 23, 1991

Sounds Around Town

Luka Bloom @ The Knitting Factory

47 East Houston Street, Manhattan, (212) 219-3055.

The Irish singer and songwriter Luka Bloom is a kind of contemporary folkie: he talks about love less as youthful passion than as the mature reward that comes after youthful passions are spent. If he's at times overly earnest, his voice is so rich and confident that you're almost always tempted to believe what he's saying. Mr. Bloom performs at midnight tomorrow with a $12 admission.

Karen Schoemers
© 1991

Dirty Linen - December 1991 / January 1992

Ben & Jerry's Newport Folk Festival

Fort Adams Park, Newport, RI
August 10 & 11, 1991

A little over a year ago, driving almost 500 miles from Baltimore to Newport for a two day folk festival would have seemed madness to me. Now after attending the last two Ben and Jerry's Newport Folk Festivals, it seems an act of true deprivation not to make this an annual pilgrimage. This year, blessed with almost perfect weather and an eclectic lineup of folk and roots musicians, the Festival was another unqualified success...

Luka Bloom Sunday, August 11, 1991

Irish folksinger Luka Bloom put on a truly dynamic solo set that featured both old ("Jacqueline" and a very energetic "Rescue Mission" that began with a long and impressive rhythmic guitar introduction) and new (a beautiful encore of "Blue Water") material. The biggest surprise was the dedication of a tune to his "great grandfather L.L. Cool J", which turned out to be the rap star's "I Need Love".

Joe F. Compton
© 1991 Dirty Linen

© Rena Bergholz - Luka Bloom Page