New York Times - July 8, 1994
Sounds Around Town
Luka Bloom @ The Bottom Line
15 West Fourth Street, Greenwich Village, (212) 228-6300.
Mr. Bloom, an Irish folk singer and songwriter with more than his share of stage charisma,
mixes probing confessional songs with political statements. Without putting down his
acoustic guitar, he even reaches into soul and hip-hop territory, and his folk version of
LL Cool J's "I Need Love" is a small revelation. Everything he does is stamped
with personality and punch. Shows are on Sunday at 7:30 and 10:30 P.M. Tickets are $17.50.
- Stephen Holden
Consumable - The Electronic Fanzine - October 1994
Luka Bloom, Zurich, September 25, 1994
What can you do if Sunday evening is approaching on a so-far wasted weekend? Only music
can save you, and if one of your favorite musicians is playing nearby, the choice is easy.
Many things were unusual this evening. A man got up on stage and the audience was silent. Was
he going to (finally) announce Luka Bloom? No. He announces the opening act, and it turns out
that the guy *is* Luka Bloom, but nobody recognized him!
While most opening acts don't deserve any mentioning, this one was different. An unspectacularly
looking woman named Katell Keineg (Irish, like Luka) enters the stage. She just started singing,
without a band, without even using her guitar. What a voice! I haven't heard such an acappella
number since Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz". And, while she uses her guitar during
the rest of the short set (which she pulls off well), her voice is absolutely outstanding. It can be soft
or cry out, goes high and low, and can even imitate the whistle of a locomotive train. The style is
not far from traditional Irish singer/songwriters, and the songs are excellent. I found out that her
first album "O Seasons O Castles" got released recently and I can't wait to get it.
Remember the name: Katell Keineg. And remember where you heard it first!
After such a strong opening act, the main act risks to look pale. However, Luka was never in
danger and got control of the audience quickly. I have hardly ever been to a concert with such
an intense interaction between artist and audience. He was obviously in a great mood and
his stories and introductions to the songs were hilarious. For example, when he started
playing his guitar at a frightening speed, he announced "this is another traditional Irish
ballad", and played... an incredible version of "When Doves Cry" by Prince.
Or the story about "The night I spent with Joni Mitchell and a French aupair [pause] Joni Mitchell
was playing on the turntable, while the French aupair was trying to fight me off". He also made
a lot of jokes and parodies of superstars, MTV, etc. He played songs requested by the
audience and the show ended by a woman of the audience singing on stage. Well, I'll
stop here, it's probably not that much fun if I tell about it. But go see him if you ever get
a chance, you won't regret it!
However, he wasn't just telling jokes. He mainly played great music that was more or
less equally distributed over his 3 albums. For the ones that don't know him (I guess
his cover of LL Cool J's "I Need Love" made it across the pond), he clearly shows
his Irish roots, but is not afraid of mixing them with other influences like rap. He sings
wonderful ballads, but can rock just as well. He has a beautiful, unique voice, and
plays an outstanding guitar.
I get the impression that he could easily write more commercial music and be a superstar
tomorrow. But he doesn't seem to want that and this is good. He looks happy at what he's
doing, and so does his audience when it leaves the concert; the two hours which he played
seem to go by too quickly.
- Reto Koradi
Dirty Linen - News - #54 - October/November 1994
Luka Bloom talks to Denise Sofranko
With only his audience and his two electro-acoustic guitars (Rudy and Judy) as support,
Luka Bloom is still as entertaining and exciting on stage as many bands. Brashly pacing
the stage like it's some kind of springboard, Bloom holds his audiences with his original
material and some unexpected covers. It's not unusual to hear a luscious version of the
traditional, 'Black is the Colour' and then later Prince's 'When Doves Cry' in the same
show. His richly romantic tenor has a slight tremolo and he gives his vocals an extensive
workout every performance.
To many followers of acoustic music and Irish performers in particular, the story of Barry
Moore's transition to Luka Bloom has been hashed through quite enough, thank you very
much. But, for those who don't know, a quick recap is important to give an indication of the
determination and drive that makes up this dynamic musician.
Bloom was born Barry Moore in Kildare, just outside Dublin, Ireland some 30-odd years ago.
As a young musician growing up in Ireland in the shadow of his famous older brother, Christy
Moore, the young Barry found himself floundering. He had become a victim of alcohol and
was suffering professionally. Realizing that drinking did not make him more creative or a
better performer, he swore it off and went about trying to further define what he did as a
performer; what worked, what didn't. His name and lifestyle change allowed him to literally
become another person. But he discovered that people in Ireland still found it difficult to get
past his background and accept this new incarnation. Barry made a decision to completely
change his surroundings and, on a flight to America, he became Luka Bloom. He spent two
years in the States playing standing gigs in bars in New York and Washington, D.C., shuttling
between the two cities and perfecting the dynamic performance style he's now become well
known for. Along the way he recorded two albums that gathered good reviews and a
growing base of loyal fans.
Bloom has successfully made the transition from his old professional life to the new. While
he lives in Ireland with his family, he frequently performs in the States, creating a sort of long
distance commute, and he still has strong feelings for his adopted home. "It's a friendship.
When I strap on my guitar, and walk out on a stage in New York to sing, it's a home gig.
That's my home show. I live my life in Ireland and I'm with my family in Ireland but when it
comes to performing and singing, this is my home town. It's very natural for me now. When
I left Ireland in 1987 and came to America, this became my home, my working home and
still is. I'm very comfortable with it. I love working in America. I love being in America.
I love traveling in America. I like being around American people. There's an energy
here that really works for me. I love it."
This year Bloom went back to basics and recorded Turf,
an album that captures the essence of what he is and what he does on stage. For those fans of
Bloom as a live performer, the only thing they will miss on this new album is the visuals and the
active interplay with the audience. During his live shows one is instantly struck by the energy
emanating from Bloom. The rocking, bouncing, and pacing onstage make you wonder if he's
got hydraulics in his knees or in his shoes. Frequently before taking the stage he will
announce himself: "Hello. I'm Luka Bloom. Please make me welcome." He connects
with the audience with a look or a comment to an especially boisterous fan in ways that few
singer/songwriters with acoustic guitars can. The long surveying look during the break of his
cover of LL Cool J's rap, 'I Need Love', sends yips and screams through the crowd.
He is indeed delightful onstage. Like many performers, he professes to getting energy from
his audiences but in this Irishman's case there's a step-up transformer somewhere; this isn't
Calm and relaxed offstage, he's not as willing to expound on his craft as might be expected
from such an extroverted performer. He's still charming, but a bit on the shy side. He stays
after shows to talk to fans, patiently listening to their stories of how his music has affected
them. A flip comment to the effect that Bloom was a good performer even offstage resulted
in his quick retort, "I never perform, this is what I do."
Admittedly, Bloom truly likes his audiences and finds it rather peculiar that people even
think of asking him if it's lonely being on stage by himself. "I always find it a surprising
question because I don't think of myself as being alone. I always think of myself as being
in a room with a whole lot of people.
I'm sharing something with them. That's one of the reasons I like those European
audiences, the Dutch audiences. They don't just sort of sit back and wait to be entertained.
From the very beginning they want to be a part of the whole thing. A lot of American
audiences are like that, too."
In fact it was a Dutch audience from a show Bloom did at Tivoli in Utrecht, Holland that
provided the introduction in the form of a mass chorus to the song 'The Fertile Rock' on Turf.
With Turf, Bloom has finally made the album that begins to define him, the one he
always knew was there. In December of 1993, he went into a Dublin studio with his
engineers and co-producers, Paul Ashe-Browne and Brian Masterson, and carefully
miked the performing space. Adding concert lights, monitors and everything for a live
show except the audience, Bloom began to record a set of songs that were as close
as possible to his live shows. He called on a loyal group of fans to be there for one
of the sessions, but there was one hitch. They couldn't make any noise during or
immediately following each song. That's asking a lot of any fan, especially Bloom's,
but they complied and the resulting album is one in which the listener feels he is the
sole member of the audience. "They were amazing," said Bloom.
"I talked to them about it and I said I really appreciate your coming, but I
don't need your approval. That's not the reason we're here. If anybody really
needed to express themselves, I just asked them to be quiet for 10 seconds
after the song was over. The song would end and there would be 10 seconds
of silence for the fade and then they could do whatever they wanted."
Turf is a sometimes global, sometimes very intimate look at what is
important to this songwriter. The turf, the land, the soil and all that it involves is
paramount here. Turf to an Irishman can mean many things. It's something used
to fuel fires in the winter, it's a treasured land often left behind. It's taking a stand
when your back's against the wall. It's sacred ground that is not meant to be messed with.
Bloom's feeling for the land, for Ireland especially, gets to the heart of the fact that Ireland is a
country that people seem to be constantly leaving, usually not voluntarily, but either because
they were physically forced or because they had to leave to earn a living. 'Diamond Mountain'
is a wrenching song that expresses the grief and longing of a people forced to leave their homeland.
"It's unusual in that it's not a song that's born out of any huge personal emotional difficulty or
anything like that," said Bloom. "It's a song that came about after physically being
on the mountain. So it is a very physical song. Diamond Mountain is a real place. It's the
most westerly of the 12 Pins in Connemara. You're on top of this hill and behind you are
the other 11 mountains and on the other side are the Aran Islands and the ocean and the
next stop is America. It's in an area where a lot of people emigrated from over the last
150 years. There's a dual thing going on in this area of a great sense of desolation and
of loss and of almost a bleeding of people, but also there's an incredible sense of
permanency from this amazing mountain."
While the subject of leaving and longing can get very depressing for anyone with that
experience, Bloom sees things in Ireland looking up. 'Freedom Song' reflects
the thought that perhaps there are some positive things happening, especially where
more and more women are assuming positions of power, both in the States and in
Ireland. Impressed by the number of women getting elected to office in the U.S. and
the fact that Ireland's president is a woman, Bloom wrote this song to try and distill
these feelings into a concise song that uses Rosa Parks and Nan Joyce as focal
points and symbols of things even more universal.
"I didn't want to write a song necessarily about those two people. I wanted to write a
song that reflected a feeling I had that if women were in charge of the world it would
be a better place. I just think that it's so obvious that if you look at power and politics
in history, the wars were started by men; the wars were fought by men. Women,
children and old people were victims of these wars. The imbalance is just so
obvious as to be outrageous. I just found it very encouraging that so many women
are coming to the fore in politics in America and its happening in Ireland also. It
really is quite remarkable the extent to which the new Irish president has managed
to effect the whole psyche of our country. The way that she has influenced not just
the way Irish people feel about themselves but the way the world perceives Ireland."
said Bloom. "I think that's a very positive thing.
I just wanted to write a song which reflected the struggle that particularly African/American
women have had and the dual discrimination of being both women in a male dominated
community and then also with the color of their skin. Having that sort of dual discrimination
and seeing how through that many of the women who have emerged from that community
have just been the most incredible people. Rosa Parks is an example to me of someone
who came from a very humble background, but whose determination and courage had a
huge impact on the whole society. Nan Joyce is somebody who had a family and came
from a position of powerlessness and whose voice in the early '80s came at a time
when the traveling community was just reaching a low ebb. The way they'd been
treated in Ireland they're not being allowed to live their lives the way they wished
with their culture of mobility."
While much of his songwriting does have political overtones, Bloom insists that his
purpose in writing is not to proselytize. He sees himself more as an observer,
vehemently insisting that he doesn't profess to know how to make the world a
better place and declaring that he wouldn't be the one to do it anyway.
"I do believe I have a responsibility to myself to be honest with myself and, as
another human being who makes observations, I sometimes communicate my
observations and people can choose to get off on the guitar or get off on the
sound or get off on the voice or get off on the lyrics or not get off on any of it if
they choose not to."
It's not surprising then, that Bloom is a bit reticent to talk about his work and
his music and isn't always eager to do "press tours". He admits Turf
is different because he's so enthusiastic about the result. He feels somewhat
the same about video interpretations of music as he does about having to
explain his work. "I think it's wrong to talk too much about songs. For me
songs are never completely finished until the audience listens to them.
When you talk too much about songs or you present songs with video,
very often you deny the individual the right to interpret the song. I think that
that's a great mistake. In the case of a song like 'Freedom Song', there are
specific individuals involved so it's worth shedding a little light on the individuals.
In most other songs I think you're better off in just literally allowing the songs
to speak for themselves and allowing people to interpret them."
In fact one of his songs speaks to people who can't easily accept things the way they are.
'Right Here, Right Now' is his "carpe diem" song of sorts.
"I think that everybody arrives at a point in relationships with people where
they get engrossed in analysis. I have this great phrase that says that 'analysis
is paralysis.' There are certain things that just can't be analyzed. It's so easy
sometimes to forget just what we have; to lose touch with the simplicity of good
health, a roof over our head, a bed to sleep in, food in stomach. These kind of
basic things that we just lose touch with sometimes. Sometimes I get really
frustrated when I'm in the company of people who are just constantly analyzing
and studying and analyzing and intellectualizing and I just want to shake them
and go 'Live now. Today. Now. This is it.' It was one of those moments when the
song just sort of exploded."
He shows a similar attitude in a stance he and many others have taken concerning
an area in the Burren, County Clare, but this time it's an interpretation of the
environment and not a song. The Irish government wants to build an interpretive
center on a piece of land that Bloom and many others feel needs no explanation.
The movement to stop the center spawned an album, including a song, ('The Fertile Rock')
which Bloom recorded for Turf. Bloom was given a tour of the area at the foot of
Mullaghmore Mountain several years ago by P.J. Curtis, an Irish musician/producer
and one of the leaders of the movement. "He didn't even actually have to
explain it. He talks so passionately about it really affected me. When you're in this
place you realize two things. One, how precious it is in itself, and two, how precious
the silence is there. It's a very unique place and very magical place. There's
just no need to build something in the heart of it that interprets what's going on
around it. I just believe that there are certain places in the world that should be
hard to get to. People should really want to go there badly enough that they
have to make an effort. It's this conflict between the people who want the tourist
dollar and the people who want to preserve something that's precious that's
been there for thousands of years. Like other songs, when I sing it in America
or Australia, it tugs at something in every heart because its a universal problem."
While Bloom sings of many issues particular to Ireland, he is not one to use
his Irishness as a promotional tool. That would be limiting. "Being Irish is
so important to me that I don't have to think about it. I don't analyze it,
I don't study it, I don't intellectualize it, I don't preach it, I'm not
proud of it, I'm just happy with it, I'm comfortable with it. It's who I am.
I feel as proud of being Irish as I am proud of being white. In other words
I'm not proud of it. It's an accident of birth that I am both white and
Irish. It's a geographical accident. Of course it affects the way I sing and
the way I write songs. Not in a conscious way. Most of my influences are
American or from other places. My musical territory is in a sense bigger
Realizing the power that music has for many people, Bloom also recognizes it
in his own life. Were it not for performers like Neil Young and Joni
Mitchell, Bloom may never have found the inspiration to play himself. He
continues to look to other musicians today for renewed inspiration, claiming
Chet Baker as a current one along with some of the rap and hip hop groups.
Mitchell was an obvious influence and her Blue album affected his musical
journey. His song 'To Begin To', is a tribute to Mitchell, whom Bloom
has never met.
"That song is dedicated to her. That song is about her and dedicated to her.
It's a song that's primarily about inspiration and about being inspired. I
feel that there's a line 'and now a young man sits alone in a world of
information / Still he ploughs the song fields for inspiration'. I think in
these days when people are bludgeoned with information it's very hard for
people to be connected with anyone long enough for them to be inspired by them.
I definitely am a music fan. My life is and has been and hopefully will
continue to be affected by the work. Even in the last couple of months, I've
tapped into the developments between hip hop and jazz and it's a whole other
new world for me and I'm totally fascinated by it."
Perhaps a new avenue for Bloom to explore? "It's already beginning to affect
the way I'm thinking about songs. I went to see US3 in Dublin about a month
ago and they had the most incredible band. There was no sampling, no
scratching. Just three rappers and a jazz band. It was an amazing show."
- Denise Sofranko
Westword.com - News - November 2, 1994
Room full of Bloom: When Irish singer-songwriter Luka Bloom strides onto the stage, it's just him and
his guitars (jovially named Rudy and Judy), along with a surprising repertoire that zigzags through a
Joni Mitchell tribute, an LL Cool J rap, a traditional folk tune and you never know what else. That's
really all Bloom needs: He paces the stage, exuding a hyperactive energy and singing songs that
reflect eclectic influences and a hint of his Irish soul. Before you know it, the night is gone - but well spent.
Bloom appears tonight at 8 at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder; tickets are $12.60 in
advance ($13.65 day of show). Catie Curtis opens. For details call 447-0095 or 290-TIXS.
- Susan Froyd
Hot Press Magazine - 8 February 1995
Féile Bhríde - St. Brigid's Cathedral, Kildare
The headlining musical event of the Féile Bhríde celebration boasted a
strong line-up on paper, including Luka Bloom and Máire Ní Bhraonain.
On the night, it turned out to be a star-studded event with special guests like
Sinéad O'Connor and Christy Moore joining in.
Held in the reverential surroundings of a
Church of Ireland Cathedral,
the occasion transcended any form of organised religion, and more appropriately
resembled a Celtic feast. A commemoration of the life of an extraordinary
woman and a celebration of the arrival of Spring: the chill in the air
suggested that winter still had a part to play.
The Cathedral is sited just off the main square in Kildare town. The
accompanying cemetery resembled nothing more than a scene from a James
Herbert novel, with the mist creeping around the headstones. The bright neon
light illuminating the granite of Kildare Round Tower, also in the church
grounds, seemed out of place, and out of time. The queue forming outside the
church seemed to tingle with expectation, before even a note was played.
When the doors opened and we were admitted to the Cathedral itself, the mood
heightened. A pipe-organ (which we later learnt was played by none other
than Liam O'Maonlaí) ground out its notes as the lights dimmed. The distant
altar and stained-glass window were bathed in a greenish light, lending the
place an eerie glow.
Our host turned out to be Luka Bloom, who bade us all "welcome to the first
day of Spring". There were no amplifiers or microphones, simply the power of
the human voice and a palpable silence in the audience, so quiet that the
proverbial pin would have seemed to collapse rather than merely drop. What
followed was over two hours of celebration through the media of song, dance
and spoken word.
The Crooked House Theatre Group performed a strange dance and prayer to
Brigid, linking the Catholic saint back to the pagan Earth Goddess and
reclaiming the arena of sexuality for women. Juno Moore sang a cappella,
before poet Katie Donovan recited a famine tale of how 600 starving peasants
were drowned in a Mayo lake, having been refused food by their town
governors. Luka then treated us to a new song, also about famine-times,
accompanied by Liam O'Maonlaí on bodhran and his nephew
Conor Byrne on flute.
Nóirín Ní Riain then had the audience joining in a prayer, as we sung "Amen,
Truly I say to you/This day you will be with me in Paradise" and rarely has
prayer sounded so good. She then recited a Brendan Kennelly poem before
leaving us with a song from the American Shaker religion. She was followed
by the Young Christian Students' Choir from Newbridge, who performed "Sing
To The Mountains" and "Dominican Magnificat", lending both songs a strong
sense of life and swagger.
Conor Byrne then returned centre-stage, accompanied by Jimmy Higgins on
bodhran, to play a slow air, followed by Bride Smith on tin whistle playing
two jigs, penned by herself while on volunteer work in Africa.
The Screaming Orphans, an all-female quartet from Donegal, then took to the
boards, first wooing us all with an Indigo Girls' cover version. The guitar,
violin, accordion and bodhran intermingled seamlessly as their voices lilted
and harmonised to perfection. "Black, Black, Black", a song from the native
American tribes followed and the divine harmonies were once more in
evidence. I have to admit, The Screaming Orphans are the first band to make
me want to be a groupie.
Sinéad O'Connor made a surprise appearance, performing a plaintive
"Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace". Shivers careered the length
and breadth of my spine, and not all were from the cool of the church. She finished
to tumultuous applause, everyone present realising they had just heard
something very special. An impish grin, a quick bow and she was gone, to be
quickly replaced by the return of Liam O'Maonlaí, singing two songs as
Gaeilge in the sean nós tradition. Liam's deeply resonant voice drifted
skyward, finding a home in the high rafters. Liam was followed with equal
aplomb by the beautiful voice of Maire Ní Bhraonain, singing a beautiful
'Siúl A Rúin' unaccompanied, followed by a song from her native Donegal.
Luka returned to the stage, guitar in hand, accompanied by Liam on concert
whistle, Conor on flute, Bride on tin whistle and Jimmy on Bodhran, for a blistering
"You Couldn't Have Come At A Better Time". "The Man Is Alive",
also taken from his debut album Riverside, seemed to suit the mood
perfectly. Luka then introduced the next singer, who he described as his
favourite Kildare man.
Christy strolled on, bodhran in hand, and proceeded to remove his sweater,
revealing the customary black poloneck. The applause was deafening as he
launched into song. "The Well Below The Valley" saw Christy flanked on
either side by Liam and Jimmy, three bodhrans beating simultaneously,
finished in a thunderous crescendo.
All that was left was to get everyone back on stage for a rousing rendition
of "The Curragh Of Kildare", performers and audience alike singing the
anthem of the Lillywhites. When it was over the applause seemed to last for
ever. Then everyone was shaking hands and slapping backs and the realisation
dawned: the magical night was over.
- John Walshe