Thursday, February 05, 2004


Towards the end of Planxty’s reunion concert in Dublin’s Vicar Street last Wednesday night, Christy Moore mentioned about how, ever since the band broke up in 1982, 22 years ago, they always talked about reforming but somehow never got around to it. It wasn’t until Leagues O’Toole devoted an entire episode of No Disco, Network Two’s alternative music programme, to traditional music’s first and only supergroup that they got the momentum to go on the road one more time. And as I listened to Christy, I suddenly realised: My God, they were worried that nobody would come. Twenty years on, they were worried that Planxty had been forgotten about.

Planxty were anything but that. The touts were hovering around Vicar Street an hour before the show, inquiring if anyone was boyin’ or sellin’ a tickeh. Gaybo and Kathleen Watkins arrived with half an hour to spare, and Gaybo looked like a man that was ready to rock. By half-eight, the joint was packed, and nobody was worried about the least traditional of trad accompaniments – a dry bar – as they waited on the Planxty reunion.

Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam Óg Ó Floinn and Christy Moore walked onstage to a thunderous welcome, and for the next two hours they played music the like of which the people had never heard before, nor will again. Afterwards, I thought I heard someone say that Andy Irvine played a bum note during one of the reels; the scoundrel was beaten senseless on the street where he stood by the outraged citizens.

It was amazing to watch them. The audience had heard the albums, or at least some of them. Some more had read the story of the band, how they met first in 1972 to give Christy Moore a dig out with his solo album Prosperous, how they formed Planxty, how they revolutionised Irish traditional music in a period of revolution, and how they had gone their separate ways, after less than ten years and six records. And now the four men were back, making their music come alive, and it was even more fantastic than anyone could have hoped.

Donal Lunny sat at the end of the stage. In our time, Donal Lunny has been a fixture in the music; anything that’s happened that’s worthwhile in Irish traditional music has had Lunny associated with it. Donal Lunny is the rock on which Planxty build their church, always there, always setting the bar high.

Andy Irvine, grand old hippy that he is, gave Planxty their chic. The shock of curls, still black but shot through now with grey, the bouzouki, the guitar, and the songs – As I Roved Out, Arthur McBride, and the West Coast of Clare, with the saddest opening lyric of any song written: “Sorrow and sadness; bitterness, grief.”

Liam Óg Ó Floinn was a revelation. In person, he looks like someone’s da; his hair is sensibly parted, he’s wearing a sensible shirt and slacks. He seems a very nice man. But every time he lifted his bellows and chanters, he brought the crowd to places they had never been. His was an artistry unmatched; every time the first skirl of his pipes was heard in a song, the crowd roared their appreciation, lost to his mastery. When he was sitting out, he’d sit there proudly and indulgently listening to the other three, like a father eyeing a son who’s made it to the Under-16 panel. It’s a given that the uileann pipes are the ultimate instrument in Irish traditional music because there’s something in them, something that resonates with the soul, if there exists such a thing. It’s something that is rarely captured on record, but to hear a master like Ó Floinn, live and in his element, is never to be able to go back.

Christy Moore has been The Beloved Entertainer for so long it’s easy to forget who he really is, and what he’s done. Since Planxty broke up, he’s been the Storm in the T-shirt, he’s been Lisdoonvarna, he’s been on the Late Late Show, he’s been the man who’s been able to release a lot of substandard albums without ever being called up for it. He’s also been the grumpy old man at concerts – his own concerts – who’ll stop in the middle of song to give out about the noise the crowd is making.

Last night in Vicar Street, returned to the environment that showed his talents at their best, Christy Moore was where he will be always remembered and cherished – at the right hand of Luke Kelly as one of our greatest of balladeers. The media has been hinting in the past number of years that the black dog of depression had been on Christy’s trail; with the strength of Planxty behind him, Christy turned around and softened that dog’s arse with kicks. He was like a man returned to youth, laughing with the rest of the band, cracking the good ones he hasn’t cracked in twenty years, and sometimes, listening to the rest of the band, his face bore the look of wonder that all the audience bore, wonder that he was in the same room with such artistry. You could see what it meant to him to be reunited with Planxty at the end as the band took their bows – Christy had them all with their arms around each others shoulders, and the delight was clearly written on his face.

For years Christy Moore has gotten annoyed at people for singing along with him. He believed it put him off, and he was more than likely right. But the God of Art and the God of Joy stood hand in hand in Vicar Street on Wednesday night, and the crowd were not to be denied. As the final part of the encore, Christy sang the Cliffs of Dooneen, and no-one could stop themselves from joining in what was an anthem for Moore, for Planxty, for the night itself, for the series of reunion concerts, and for the Irish nation itself, that nation of travellers, wanderers and wonderers. Reader, remember them this way:

You may travel far, far from your own native home
Far away o’er the mountains, far away o’er the foam
But of all the fine places that ‘ere I have been
Sure there’s none to compare with the Cliffs of Dooneen.

Or Planxty.