Hot Press - Vol 25 No 01 - 31 January 2001
John Walshe talks to Luka Bloom about his new album of
cover versions Keeper of the Flame.
The cover version is a much maligned artform, and justifiably so. After all, how many times have we heard
pub bands performing all manner of unmerciful tortures on truly great songs that did nothing to deserve
such a fate? Sometimes though, an artist reinterpreting someone else's song can be a discovery, revealing
hidden depths inside both the song and the artist. It is in this light that we must examine Luka Bloom's
Keeper of the Flame, an album of other people's songs. But then again, covering other people's
songs is nothing new for Luka Bloom.
"Obviously, we would all love that all our own songs to be hits," he smiles, "but the reality
for me is that, while a lot of people around the world genuinely like my songs, the two songs of mine that
have gotten the most airplay were an LL Cool J song ("I Need Love") and a Mike Scott song
("Sunny Sailor Boy") and I'm perfectly happy about that. Since I recorded "I Need
Love" way back in 1992, people have been asking me to try a whole album of covers. I woke up
in January 2000 and it just seemed like the time to do it."
The choice of songs itself is quite unusual. While there are songs by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bob
Marley and Tim Hardin, as you might expect, there are also songs penned by U2
('Bad'), Radiohead ('No Surprises'), The Cure ('In Between Days') and ABBA
"I've always hated the idea of labels and categorisation," Luka stresses. "it always
frustrated me in the eighties that a guy like me would never be heard by anybody under 30 because
you're a solo singer-songwriter and kids don't go to folk clubs. That closes off a whole world to people
like me and it also closes off a load of songs to kids."
"I have always believed that it is possible for a solo artist to sing songs from any area and the
only limitations are in people's minds," he observes. "So, I was literally prepared to try
anything. Once I can find some area of magic, whether it be in the lyrics, the chord structure or the flow
and the rhythm of the song, then the doors open and I can go in. I found that somewhere in each of
these eleven songs."
The unusual song choice was also fueled by a desire to experiment and to enjoy himself: "I
had a bit of a bad experience around Salty Heaven, so I needed to have some fun: something
that was kind of cleansing; something that involved not taking myself so seriously."
I wondered, considering the fact that our Luka headed to the west of Ireland with hundreds of CDs
in tow to learn the songs for this album, surely there must have been a few gems that didn't make
it onto the final cut?
"It ended up being a surprise and a disappointment to me that there are no Van Morrison
songs on the record," he confesses, "because I just love the man's work so much.
I listened to Astral Weeks with a view to finding a song I could do. I have listened to Astral Weeks
about once a month since it came out, but I couldn't bring myself into the songs, which was a bit
of a surprise to me. No matter what I learned, I ended up feeling like some gobshite trying to
sound like Van Morrison."
Further probing reveals that a Robbie Robertson song called 'Golden Feather' was almost
included and that somewhere there exists a recording of Luka Bloom performing the Temptations'
"Just my Imagination".
"I don't go looking for cover versions," he muses. "They don't come easy to me.
I needed to have songs that I could bring together and still sound like a Luka Bloom record, and
with each of these songs I was able either to bring something of myself to them or find something
of myself in them."
Keeper of the Flame is Luka's first completely independent release, and is licensed
to eight independent labels throughout the world. Mr. Bloom is enjoying the sense of freedom
and adventure his solo status brings.
"I think I realised at the ripe old age of 45 that I am pretty much unmanageable," he
admits with a chuckle. "I have a very chaotic working life that somehow manages to come
together in a strange kind of order, and I like the chaos, the unpredictability and the unstructured
nature of it."
"There are now two totally separate music worlds," he continues. "One is the
enormous corporate global world of Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys and to some extent,
people like U2 and Radiohead belong to that world. Then there is another world of individual
cottage industries, which was pioneered by people like Ani DiFranco, where people like me
function in this crazy way, and that suits me fine."
Keeper of the Flame is out now. Luka Bloom tours countrywide in February, with
dates in Galway, Limerick, Cork, Belfast, Letterkenny and Dublin. See listings for details.
© 2001 HOTPRESS - www.hotpress.com
The Irish Times - Dublin Live Music - 31 January 2001
Brian Boyd gets under the covers with Luka Bloom and finds out about revisiting old favourites -
and keeping the flame alive.
It's a freezing cold January night in New York back in 1988, and Luka Bloom has just finished his acoustic
set at Greenwich Village's Red Lion venue. Dashing to make the last train back to Washington D.C. (where
he then lived) he arrives at Penn Station. It's an appalling vista: "This is at the time when George Bush
elder was President and he had just brought in this thing of releasing lots of people from prisons and asylums
who used to hang around the train station," he remembers. "There were a lot of cold, huddled,
mumbling casualties walking around. By the time the train pulls in, I'm in a dark place inside. I sit on the
train and take out my walkman. As the train pulls out of Penn, I come across a radio station and the opening,
plaintive notes of The Edge's intro to "Bad" ease into my ears and I instantly feel connected to
something serene and beautiful. I leave the New York skyline to the sound of 'Let it go, and so to fade
away' Somehow, all was well again. I was meant to hear that song, in that way, at that moment. It's one
of my favourite songs of all time - I could never have imagined that 12 years later I'd be singing it,
celebrating it, passing it on."
And a damn good stab he makes of it too, stripping it down to its melancholic core on his new
album of cover versions, Keeper Of The Flame. Putting the
album on and pressing the button that says "random play", you can nod appreciatively to other
covers such as Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" and Joni Mitchell's "Urge For Going".
Then the next song begins and you're thinking "that sounds just like a Cure song" and whaddya
know, it is - it's Luka Bloom doing "In Between Days", and just as you're getting your head around
that, up comes a Radiohead song, "No Surprises" (take away the No and you would have had
a good title for this album), and then what in the name of the Bothy Band is this? - an ABBA cover? And
"Dancing Queen" at that, and with Christy Moore on the bodhran in the background.
Explain yourself sir, and while you're at it, show us your papers from The Folk Police that give you
dispensation to do an Anderson, Andersson and Ulvaeus ditty. "I get such a blast out of doing
"Dancing Queen" he says. " It's just not what's expected of me. Like a lot of young
and earnest folkies, I grew up hating ABBA. I'd be sitting in my bedroom listening to people like Nick
Drake and being totally dismissive of bands like ABBA and trends like disco. You know, back then,
those of us in the bedsit brigade actually thought that disco would kill off live music, the same way
nowadays people think that techno is going to kill off live music."
"Playing "Dancing Queen" live is a bit wonderful. What I do is, I introduce it as an
old Swedish folk song and as soon as I play the opening few chords, you can see people's face
light up with the sheer joy of it. But then, I like that surprise factor. Back in 1992, I covered LL Cool
J's "I Need Love", at a time when no one was listening to hip hop."
Any eyebrows raised by your core following at covering a Cure song? "That whole
classification thing, I've never cared about. How's somebody like me going to be classified -
up on the third floor of the record shop, somewhere in the back corner? Selecting the songs for
this album, I just thought of the songwriters behind them, and it's a tribute to those people I really
I've always been a big fan of Robert Smith, and if people take the time to go below the
gothic imagery, they'll find some really fragile and vulnerable lyrics. When I was recording
"In Between Days" - I originally intended doing Boys Don't Cry but settled for this one -
I just thought of Robert Smith writing it on his acoustic guitar, and that's the mood I want to get over.
It's the same as my version of Radiohead's "No Surprises". I remember, back in 1994
they were on before me at a festival in Belgium and I've always been a fan. I think you can see
that connection between Thom Yorke's songwriting and Joni Mitchell's - both of them express
their feelings. They just do it in different ways."
There's been a lot of experimenting and mixing-and-matching in Luka Bloom's career.
Starting off in a band called Inchiquin, he then recorded
three solo albums under his real name of Barry Moore. Later, he played in a post-punk band
called Red Square. Barry Moore left Dublin in 1987 and five hours later, touching down at New
York's JFK, he had become Luka Bloom. Signed to the Reprise label, he released three
more albums - most notably "Acoustic Motorbike" (1992) - but now he says he's
tired of the major label scene and would never sign for one again.
"I've been through a few record companies and I would never do it again. What
really inspires me is people like Ani diFranco who can bring out her work on her own label,
get it distributed and keep total control over its output. I know I'm not going to be a charts/award
show type of performer, so I'd rather release my own work as I see fit. The way I look at it now,
the music industry is having its ultimate wet dream - the charts are full of young boy/girl bands
who are entirely malleable, do what they're told and don't have any awkward artistic temperaments.
There is another way to go about making music now though, and that's what I'm interested in,
whether it be through the Internet or whatever."
In the process of recording a new album of original material, which he hopes to get out later
this year, he's just about to start a countrywide tour, where's he going to mix his own songs with
selections from Keeper Of The Flame. And as for further cover versions, he says he
still hasn't completely ruled out The Backstreet Boys...
He plays The Town Hall, Galway on Feb 9th; UCH Limerick on Feb 10th; Cork Opera
House on Feb 11th; and Dublin's Olympia on Feb 18th.
Heaven - Popmagazine voor volwassenen - January / February 2001
Luka Bloom: Keeper of the Holy Flame
Luka Bloom is doing well, in spite of the failure of his previous album SALTY HEAVEN,
which left him on his own two Irish feet after his American adventure with Warner and Sony. "I am still very happy
with the record, even though in the end it was more produced than I had in mind. But that is my own fault. When you
sign with a company like Sony you play by their rules. I felt more like a product there, even more than with Warner,
even though at first sight they seem very much alike. I have learnt a lot."
Luka Bloom won't make his Sony mistake again. From now on he will keep control himself and he will give his
records to companies which are interested. So it happens that KEEPER
OF THE FLAME, his new album is released by Munich records in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg;
it is an album of covers, even though he doesn't want it referred to as a covers-album, because that has a connotation
of burnt out, uninspired artists postponing their artistic end with the aid of other people's songs.
And Luka Bloom is not finished yet. His next album, containing original material is nearly finished, while he is
also busy with the album after that one, which is the last in the trilogy.
At the moment we are still with the very successful number one, which proves what we've already known since
his remarkable version of L.L. Cool J's "I Need Love". You can ask Luka Bloom for a surprising
cover. "Making this album was a bit like a doctor taking a refresher course to gain the latest knowledge.
I didn't just want to study the classic song writers like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but I also wanted to find out
how contemporary song writers like Robert Smith, Bono and Thom Yorke work. I wanted to see if I could make
an album with their material sounding like mine. The most difficult part was finding the right songs. I intended to
include a Van Morrison song, but I couldn't find one I really wanted to sing or thought I could do justice to."
Fortunately we can conclude that Luka Bloom did do justice to the tracks he choose, and that he makes them his own, with the
exception of ABBA's "Dancing Queen", which lacks the joy of the original and has nothing to make up for this. It is
only a small blemish on an otherwise perfect selection of songs which we gladly allow Luka to talk about himself.
Make You Feel My Love - Bob Dylan
"I was lucky. I'd been listening to a pile of Dylan albums but couldn't find anything suitable. I am a wounded
romantic and I don't like bitterness. Dylan is the master of bitterness and that is why I found it hard to find a good song.
"Time Out Of Mind" contains some very tender songs though. I also feel it is his best album. Just before
he made it he was very fragile, near death, and that has given his writing something very pure and beautiful. I'm not
really a great Dylan fan because of the man's voice. He is a wonderful writer, but I'd rather hear others perform his
songs. On the other hand I saw him play in Dublin a month ago to a small crowd of 800 and I had this idea: Oh, my
God, this is the man who wrote the Bible. I'd seen him before at festivals and things, but never in such an intimate
setting. There was such strength emanating from him. I always say, there is Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and the rest.
Dylan was the first singer song writer to become an international superstar."
In Between Days - The Cure
"I'm not really very interested in the music of the Cure, even though I like their guitar sound. The atmosphere
and their Gothic image are too dark and pessimistic for me, but Robert Smith is some kind of innocent genius.
There is something very pure and innocent about him. He sings like a little boy, and his lyrics are fragile and
delicate. I think he is an amazing genius. Because of my, um, conservatism, if that is what you want to call it, it took
me some time to see beyond that hairstyle and the clothes. If you don't think of that image you have to admit that
he is a genius."
Throw Your Arms Around Me - Hunters and Collectors
"I was in Australia, which I love and where I play every year, and suggested to someone that I wanted to
do an Australian song. He then sent me CD of songs by people like Crowded House. This song was on there
too, and it really bowled me over. It was completely unknown to me, but when I played it at a concert that evening,
much to my surprise the entire audience joined in. It turned out to have been a huge hit over there."
Bad - U2
"My favourite U2 song. I am a great fan of theirs. To me Bono is the greatest white singer around. A lot of
people don't realise just how great he is. I am also a great fan of The Edge. He probably influenced me more
than any other guitarist. It is not so much the sound as the attitude. He plays very economically. The Edge
understands the importance of space. Most guitarists set out to fill the space, while The Edge creates space.
The first 20 seconds of the original version of "Bad" is a panorama, cinema, the desert, the Grand
Canyon on guitar. He paints incredible pictures on his guitar. Not that I try to copy that, but there are certain bits,
like the repeated high melodies, which I got from him."
Keeper Of The Flame - Nina Simone
"I took "Keeper of the Flame" as the title for the album because the flame represents the
song and I am its keeper. It is my tribute to the great songwriters of yesterday and today. There are millions
of Nina Simone cds. I lost my copy with this song and I can't find another one which contains it. The writer's
name, Charles Derringer, doesn't mean anything to me. I should really try and find out more, because you
always think that if someone is capable of writing such a beautiful song, he must have written more. But
maybe it is the only one."
Urge For Going - Joni Mitchell
"This was a lucky find too. I didn't even know this was a Joni Mitchell song, I had heard the song
done by Tom Rush. I think Joni wrote it in the late sixties, but only recently recorded it for a compilation album.
That isn't a great version. Nevertheless, it seems incredible to write such a song and then not to record it. My
favourite of her albums is "Hejira". I think "Amelia" is one of the best songs ever written."
Wishing On A Star - Rose Royce
"I found this on an old funk and soul compilation album from the seventies, but I think that someone like
Gabrielle or M-People had a hit with it recently. I knew that most of the song on this CD would be pretty serious
and I wanted a song in the middle of the album that would feel like a fresh breeze. With lps or cassettes there
would always be a point where you would have to change to the other side, and this is that moment. It is very
hard to concentrate for the duration of an entire CD. Even with cds I really like I often don't hear the last five or
six songs because I can't really pay attention any more. On lps there would always be two sides, you could
choose to start with side two. You don't do that with cds."
No Surprises - Radiohead
"People ask me if I have heard their new CD. I heard a few pieces on the radio and I'm not really
interested. I respect the decisions and choices made by every artist, and whether or not I like the result
is irrelevant. I just like songs. I think Thom Yorke is a magnificent writer. He has written some brilliant songs
and Radiohead is a great band. "No Surprises" is a very beautiful, very sad song. It was not
easy to catch the power acoustically. Thom Yorke sings it in a very intense way and I felt it was a real
challenge to achieve that same feeling using just the acoustic guitar. But I like such a challenge. Records
these days are so full of production gadgets that you have to listen many times to hear the good songs.
I wanted to see if I could turn a Radiohead song into a Luka Bloom song."
Natural Mystic - Bob Marley
"I wanted to leave this one out, I thought it was too obvious. And then I spoke to someone on the
phone, the man who signed me at Warner and who is now a good friend, and he said this was the only
song on the album he did not like. This strengthened my resolve to cut the number. Next thing my
fifteen-year-old son who had been listening to the conversation said: "Did I hear you right saying
you were going to cut "Natural Mystic"? You'd be a fool, it is my favourite song". I love it
myself now too. I've been playing it live for over a year now. Bob Marley has been one of my great
influences, more than Bob Dylan. I've always loved the combination of the high notes of The Edge's
guitar and that deep, soulful reggae base of Bob Marley and The Wailers. My live sound is a combination
of the two. I also like to move when I play the guitar. With some songwriters you need a university degree
in both psychology and English to understand what they are talking about; with Bob Marley you can feel
it in your heart, your gut, your spirit. It is very direct."
If I Were A Carpenter - Tim Hardin
"I never heard the original by Tim Hardin. I learned this from Doc Watson, who only recently
recorded it. Of course, I've heard a lot of people sing it years ago, but I hadn't heard it in years until
I rediscovered it through Watson. It is such a fantastic song, just to play it too. It is amazing how many
people come to me after a concert and ask me: "What is that song about a carpenter?"
Together with Richard Thompson and Billy Bragg I am one of the few male solo singer songwriters
that young people come to listen to. They don't know that song. My son went crazy: "What song
is that?" "Tim Hardin", I said. "Never heard of him."
Dancing Queen - ABBA
"I always hated ABBA. They were the enemy. While I was listening to Nick Drake in the seventies,
the rest of the world was listening to ABBA. Only about four or five years' ago I discovered they had some
great songs. This song has a great impact live. I always introduce it as a Swedish folk song. Live it is done
very differently than on the album, much more direct and cheerful, but on the album I wanted to give it the
same kind of seriousness as the rest of the songs. If I had done it in a Bjorn Again kind of way it would
have been totally out of place. It has now become a kind of Irish folkballad with a violin, bodhran and
Eric van Domburg Scipio
Translated by Jolande Hibels
Luka Bloom: Hoeder Van Het Heilig Vuur
Irish Music Magazine - Vol 6 No 6 - February 2001
Luka Bloom - Fuel For Life Fuels The Flames
The cover of Luka Bloom's new album features a photograph
of the neck of his guitar, in addition to the artist's hand. And therin, lies a problem. For he clearly believes
more in his ability to play than to sing, writes Paul O'Brien.
Luka Bloom is on the Gerry Ryan show. Guitar in hand he plays chords of In Between Days, a classic song
penned by The Cure's Robert Smith. The track is a gorgeous one, Luka's strumming doing it justice. However,
it is clearly his singing which makes this song his own. And yet, Luka himself has struggled to accept up to now the
merits of his own voice.
"It was only when I began to look at my guitar sound, and I started to question myself about it,
that I started to realise that over the last couple of years, I've hidden behind it. I think even the really
great singers probably have some area of insecurity, but I was even a bit surprised myself at how little
confidence I've had in my voice, and I've just been trying to work on that, and not to be afraid of it. I think
maybe part of the problem was that, from years and years of listening to music, maybe you compare
yourself, and you hear a really great singer, and think, 'Jaysus, I'd never been able to sing like that.'
But of course you can't sing like that, 'cos everybody has their own unique voice."
The new album, Keeper Of The Flame, is a concerted
effort to address the problem. A cover album, featuring 11 tracks by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan,
U2, Bob Marley and ABBA, it is Luka's attempt to take tracks synonymous with vocalists famed for
their presence, and make them his own. "I wanted, I suppose, to liberate my voice in a way:
to challenge myself to sing songs which were already known, and which were sung by great singers,
and to see if I could do a half decent version of them. I didn't want to just go and make a CD of songs
I had loved since I was 15. I didn't want to go and just make a CD of other singer-songwriters, which
I could probably do to some extent in my sleep, because that would be very familiar territory for me."
He had long been praised for his treatment of American rap artist LL Cool J's track,
I Need Love, and many people, he says, had urged him to
do more covers. That he finally did, however, had more to do with the dawning of a new millennium
rather than peer pressure. And while the breaking of the year 2000 wasn't the spiritual high that many
had anticipated, it clearly had an affect on Luka.
"This is a very particular project. When I woke up in the year 2000, I had been writing
songs since I was 15 years of age. I did my first gigs performing my own songs in 1973. I was the
opening act to Planxty, and since then, all the records I've released have been all about my own
work. So this year, I decided to do something completely different, and record a CD of other
The CD itself is an impressive affair. At first glance, the covers chosen seem to have no
particular theme. But with closer inspection, that proves not to be the case. There are, for instance,
several songs that are fragile odes to love, not least the title track of the album, Charles Derringer's
hauntingly evocative Keeper Of The Flame. And to
listen to Luka sing the lyrics, "Just to have my love, return to me ... True love can't die, it
smoulders in the flame ... I'm the keeper of the flame", is alone worth picking up the CD for.
He may not believe as he should in his own voice, but he is clearly in fine fettle here. That point
is emphasised by another sheer magical vocal moment on Tim Hardin's track,
If I Were A Carpenter. The guitar intentionally
breaks off just for a couple of lines, and Luka's voice carries the song through the silence.
"Save my love from loneliness, save my love from sorrow, I give you my onlyness,
give me your tomorrow."
Love isn't the only recurring theme. One of the CD's highlights is his version of Joni
Mitchell's Urge For Going, and listening to some of
the rest of the tracks, one can't help but wonder if it does not refer to Luka's own voyage.
Maybe there's something unresolved, some journey he still has not managed to embark
upon, but hopes to. Hence, perhaps, Wishing On A Star, and the line within:
"Wishing on a dream, to follow what it means."
Yet he says this album, the vocal challenge aside, it's not about him. "I really
wanted to challenge myself. To see, if I could go into areas that I wouldn't be associated
with, such as The Cure, U2, and Radiohead, and to see if I could really get inside some
of their songs, and celebrate, for me, the diverse song writing talents that there are in the
world, (which is really what the CD is about). It's much more about the people who wrote
those songs that it is about me. I suppose the other challenge was to find a range of songs
that was really wide and diverse, and to see if I could still make a Luka Bloom record, which
was, in other words, to take these songs and bring something of myself to them."
There are just a couple of spots where, one feels, he hasn't quite pulled that off, despite
admirable efforts in each case. It would be near impossible, for instance, for anyone to
replicate the angst-ridden, tortured vocals of Radiohead's Thom Yorke on their track
No Surprises. Too, Dancing Queen, the ABBA classic, always
hammy at best, is a questionable addition to the CD. Luka clearly likes it, Meabh O'Hare's
viola on the track is quite beautiful, and brother Christy Moore's bodhran playing is also
welcome, but Dancing Queen? It doesn't quite fit in with the tenderness of what's gone
before. Maybe the way it fades out, seemingly in high spirits, is a message from Luka.
"I've done it, I'm happy, I feel great." And, judging by his general form, that
could certainly be the case. Keeper Of The Flame is the first record he has
released independent of a major record label, and boy, is he pleased about it.
"Well, I just had such a nightmare experience with major labels. I mean, I've
come to the conclusion that there's two kinds of music business. We talk about the music
business, but for me now, there's two distinct and seperate worlds within the music world.
One is the world of the global stars, whether it's Britney Spears, or the global pop acts,
like Michael Jackson, and, I don't mean creatively to include bands like U2 or REM in that
necessarily, but I think that there is a music business that serves global, multi-national artists,
corporate artists, if you like. And then there's this other world, which I think is more underground,
cottage industry-type. This is an evolving world, where people are choosing to work in a much
lower-key way, without major advances, without big PR machines, without big deals. And
obviously, it's a bit scary, because there's more responsibility involved in it. But the exciting
bit is that, for me, for example, this is the first CD I've ever made that I own, I own it! And so, I
don't have to have any meetings with anybody if I want to do anything. If somebody in
Germany, for example, wants to release a single or something, they don't make a phone
call to a manager or an Irish record company, they come to me. It's a little bit more work
for me personally, but at a certain level, up to a point, I quite enjoy it."
Following Kieran Goss' lead, Luka has
set up a licensing deal for the record to be released in several different countries.
Australia, Holland, Switzerland and, obviously, Ireland, have always been strong
markets for him. But he is particularly enthusiastic about the release in the UK.
Because of the various problems with the record labels he was signed to, it's the
first time since 1992 that an album of his will be released there. "I'm really
chuffed about that, I feel like I've never really had the chance to get my foot in the
door, and it would be really nice to get started, because the flights home would
Come spring of next year, he will begin touring, and then, in the summer, will
play the European festival circuit. And then, perhaps, a deserved break? Not quite.
He already has the songs for his next CD written, and some of them are even recorded.
And, even further down the line, there's the distinct possibility that he may work with a
band. "I'm finally attempting to try and regard myself a bit more as a singer,
which is new territory for me. So... let's put in this way: I wouldn't be surprised if I
ended up doing an album with a band in a couple of years' time, and I'd love to
do it, I really would. I'd love to go and write some songs with some people, and
maybe even make a record where I didn't play guitar, just sing. I'd love to do that
some day... Now that I'm free, I feel very full of the possibilities of life, and the
possibilities of music and song, and exploring other kinds of music and working
with other kinds of musicians and making different kinds of records."
Luka with backing band? Bloomin' great.
Irish Music Magazine
Sunday Business Post - Saturday, February 03, 2001
Bloom's day for eclectic acoustics
Singer-songwriter Luka Bloom is back with a new album of songs made famous by artists as disparate as U2, Abba and Joni
Mitchell. He talks about the strange journey that brought him here.
Ask people what they associate with ABBA and the chances are they will mention dodgy hairstyles, glittery dresses, flares,
discos or kitsch revivals. If they are males of a certain age, a wistful murmur about "the blonde one" can be expected.
Few are the voices that would utter "Luka Bloom" in reply. Yet the Kildare man has just released a new album,
Keeper of the Flame, which closes with his version of the Swedish band's monster hit, Dancing Queen.
Bloom's songwriting ability has always been regarded as one of his main strengths, but this album features none of his
compositions. All 11 songs were made famous by other people.
While some of them, like Tim Hardin's If I were a Carpenter or Joni Mitchell's Urge for Going, sit comfortably with the
"earnest folkie" image that bedevils all acoustic strumming solo artists, others (Radiohead's No Surprises,
The Cure's In Between Days, U2's Bad) manifestly do not.
Perhaps the eclectic choice shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. After all, Bloom underlined his willingness
to indulge in musical genre-bending early on in his career.
His early nineties album, The Acoustic Motorbike, included a now-famous guitar and bodhran transformation
of rapper LL Cool J's I Need Love.
The man himself, sipping a mineral water in the bar of Dublin's Westbury Hotel, is keen to take up the point.
"It's to do with stripping away people's preconceptions about me," he says. "I think people have a preconceived idea of a guy on
his own with a guitar. They think, 'Leonard Cohen, the 60s, Neil Young, bedsits'. Ever since I did 'I Need Love', I've been trying to say that the only
limitations are within your mind. I'm prepared to try anything and, maybe, sound a bit ridiculous, if it helps break down those barriers."
Bloom says that many people over the years had suggested that he do an album of other artists' songs. He felt the time was right
only recently, when he retreated to the west of Ireland with hundreds of CDs as his primary source of company. There, the record
began to take shape.
"I decided that I would be completely open, and that the only criteria would be, one, that the songs were great and, two, that they
were songs I felt I could transform and bring a very individual performance to."
There were still some unexpected twists and turns to be negotiated. "I had about 12 Van Morrison albums with me," Bloom says,
smiling. "I would have adored to have had a song from Astral Weeks, but no matter which song I tried to learn, I just ended up
sounding like some gobshite trying to sound like Van Morrison. It can't be forced."
There was, he insists, no forcing required for tracks that seem further from his natural style than Morrison's work is.
"It was remarkably easy to find a U2 song, and I really wanted to have a Radiohead song. I think a lot of
the time when people celebrate bands like U2 and Radiohead they don't necessarily understand that these
guys are tremendous songwriters. I think Bono is one of the great songwriters."
Bloom's current enthusiasm embraces more than just the music on the new album. Keeper of the Flame is his first independent
release - he financed it and he owns the finished product, lock, stock and barrel.
The increased liberty borne of these arrangements comes as an antidote to the disillusioning experience with his last record,
1998's Salty Heaven.
"That was the complete corporate nightmare," he recalls. "What happened was that Sony in London bought the record and then
didn't release it in any of the major territories. They just let it die in Britain and it never got released in America, which effectively
killed it completely. Within a matter of six weeks, the record was dead, despite me having spent three years of my life on it."
Taking care of the business side of Keeper of the Flame has informed Bloom's trenchant views about the state of the music
industry. "Major labels have succeeded in creating the wet dream scenario for themselves," he says.
"If you look at the top end of the charts, it is mostly occupied by people who have absolutely no talent and whose only desire in life
is to be famous and wealthy. That's perfect for the record companies, because there is no artistic temperament to deal with.
I sound very cynical there, but I don't actually feel cynical about it," he goes on, more mildly. "It's good, because it's creating a very
clear line: there's a music business that serves those people, and then there's a sort of cottage industry of independent promoters,
labels and agents to serve people like myself. The paths rarely cross, except when we're battling to get on The Late Late
He doesn't hesitate when asked about the benefits of moving deeper into the 'cottage industry'.
"Being able to say 'no' without having to explain. Being able to choose when and where to tour, without having unbelievable
pressure exerted upon you. The reward I get for taking these decisions is the space and time to have a life."
That's a reward that Luka Bloom could feel entitled to by now. It's been a sometimes strange journey since he was born as Barry
Moore in Newbridge, Co Kildare almost 46 years ago.
In this country, the label of "Christy Moore's younger brother" still sticks to him like glue. The Moores are a musical family - a sister,
Eilis, is also a highly-rated singer, while one of Luka/Barry's nephews, flautist Conor Byrne, released his debut album in 1999.
For all that, one of Luka's most vivid early memories of music is drawn from outside the family home.
"I won a Christmas pudding in the Palace Cinema in Newbridge when I was about eight," he laughs. "I sang 'My Singing Bird'. It was
the middle of December and it was so cold in the cinema that I sang with my duffel coat on. The cinema was just around the corner
from where I lived, so I went around, got asked up, stood on the stage, sang, and walked away with a Christmas pudding. And I
thought, 'Wow, this is OK - you get rewarded for this!'."
He was soon playing more conventional gigs. In his mid-teens he would sometimes go to England during the summer holidays.
Christy was, by this point, trying to establish himself on the British folk club circuit and would invite his brother on stage to do guest
Support gigs for Planxty followed, and through the 70s, still known as Barry Moore, he continued playing and recording. To this day,
he has never worked other than in music.
Come the 80s, he formed a band, Red Square, which met with limited success. After it dissolved, he went back to his solo career
but, frustrated at the slow pace at which things were moving for him, decided to go to America.
He changed his name on the flight from Dublin to Washington DC - 'Luka' came from Suzanne Vega's song of the same name,
'Bloom' from Joyce's Leopold in Ulysses - and started anew.
"I think of it now as a mad thing to do. I just got this idea and, in the space of three months, I left home, went to America
and changed my name.
I wanted a name that was as ridiculous as Iggy Pop or Sting or Bono or The Edge. And it was! But the great thing it did,
and does, is that it gives me anonymity and focuses things on the songs."
Those songs found a ready audience in the United States. His live following grew quickly and Riverside, his first major
label album as Luka Bloom, was released in 1990. The follow-up, The Acoustic Motorbike, came two years later.
His star was still in the ascendant when he decided to return to Ireland for family reasons - he was conscious of wanting to spend
time with both his ageing mother and his son. He was also wary of getting ensnared in the music business to the exclusion of all
"I really wanted to come back," he says. "I knew that I'd crossed a line into that crazy world that I just don't want to belong to. I
believe that it's possible to have a good working life in music without sacrificing your whole life. The first part in that was coming
home to my family."
It turned out to be the right decision, though for sombre reasons. His mother died not long afterwards. After the unexpected, early
death of her husband she had raised the children single-handedly and with fierce pride. Her loss was a hammer blow.
"They say that despite all the books about childbirth, nothing can prepare a woman for the reality of having a child," Bloom begins
quietly. "Well, it's the same thing when someone dies. I really thought I'd fall apart completely because she was the centre of my
world. But, at the beginning, I was surprisingly strong. Of course, what I didn't realise was that was all the stuff around the funeral."
"A month or two months later I felt completely at sea or as if somebody had cut the parachute. That went on for about two years and
then, little-by-little, you sort of drift back into feeling okay about the world again."
Still on family matters, Luka parries when asked whether Christy has permanently retired from playing live.
"I'd really rather you asked Christy that question. We have a personal relationship as brothers and that's all that matters to us."
He's a long time around but Bloom seems to be enjoying a new lease of life. He claims to feel more energetic and more
professionally fulfilled than ever before.
He thinks back to his mother again: "I remember her saying, 'You'll find your voice when you're about 40'. It used to really piss me
off, but she was absolutely right. I'm much more excited about my work now than I was before."
"The fire in my belly I have now, I think I desperately wanted when I was 22, but it just all came out arseways," he shrugs. "Then, I
couldn't celebrate. I went around with a guitar thinking I should be doing something else. Now, I consider myself one of the few truly
privileged individuals. I've given myself the right to enjoy things."
the event guide - 7th - 20th February 2001
File Under "B"
Unusually for a long-established singer-songwriter, Luka Bloom hasn't penned a single track on his new
record, 'Keeper of the Flame'. Instead, it's an eclectic mix of songs
written by artists as diverse as Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, The Cure, U2, ABBA, Radiohead and other rock
luminaries. Cedric Brogan inquired as to what's behind it all.
Can I provoke a reaction by suggesting you've simply gone out and made a record of "cover versions"?
LB: I hate that term!
But there is something strange about singing and recording other people's songs.
LB: It wasn't strange for Frank Sinatra, though, was it?
Okay, I mean for you, Luka Bloom. I'm thinking of the holy concept of the
singer-songwriter, doing only his or her own material - as a sign of originality and creativity.
LB: Well, I can only speak for myself in this. In the past three or four years, it's suddenly begun to cross my mind that I'm a singer.
As opposed to what?
LB: As opposed to... "a guy who writes songs, plays guitar, and sort of sings his own songs". But recently I've begun to really explore the joy of being a
singer, and the world of possibilities that opens up when you awaken to the power of your voice. I never set out to make a "covers" record, but more and
more in the past five or six years I've been listening every day to Ella Fitzgerald or Nina Simone or Frank Sinatra, or, you know, Iarlann O Lionard,
Sinéad O Connor, people who are incredible singers, and little by little people are saying to me "hey you've a nice voice". I don't know what it is
about the nature of my work, but where some people come into music and explode, I'm more like an onion: every couple of years I peel back a little
bit more. For years I really was into playing guitar and writing songs. Then I got into just writing songs. Then I got into gigs - and then I got into
going to America and really doing gigs. Lately I got into the idea of making records and now I'm kind of going (whispers) "I really want to be a singer.
I really want to be a singer" ...
Is there a deeper satisfaction in that?
LB: I think every time you discover something new about yourself... it may seem strange to people that a guy who's been earning his living singing songs,
could after twenty five years still discover something completely new ...
Especially about his music ...
LB: Yeah, well I have! It doesn't surprise me but.... look at Madonna! Listen to her records ten years ago - she wasn't a good singer - a great success, of
course - but in the last two albums she's shown what a great singer she is. Maybe she went and took singing lessons, I don't know, but I only know that
in my own, much more humble, quiet sort of way, I've always wanted to explore the possibilities within my own realm of creativity. An artist who
works with a brush and a canvas could be painting for fifteen years and constantly revealing new sides to himself - why shouldn't that be the case
for a guy with a guitar? Why should it be assumed that we're going to make the same type of record, why should it be assumed that I'm only going to
make certain type of song, and ...
Why is it assumed?
LB: Because the record industry has very successfully created categories in peoples' minds, for marketing purposes, so guys like me are slotted into the
back corner of the third floor of Tower Records, filed under "Irish Folk" - because that represents 5% of the market, so we should put it in the place
that represents 5% of the store.
Can you ever get out of that?
LB: Well, I've just refused to stay there. And I've been very overjoyed, almost, to walk in from time to time to a record store in Amsterdam or Hamburg, or
in Sydney, and find myself filed in "Rock A - Z" under "B"! I'm perfectly happy with that.
You're in good company there.
LB: Well it's where I want to be, where somebody coming in from suburbia, flicking through, at least has a chance to see the cover of the album -
they're certainly not going to hear it on the radio.
Is there a sense that making this record has freed something up inside you?
LB: I think every time you uncover some aspect of your creativity there is a sense of discovery, and this is probably the greatest discovery for me. When
I set about approaching this record in January 2000, rather than go to a bunch of songwriters saying
"I'm thinking of doing a covers album, would you consider doing a song for me", - because there are loads of fantastic
songwriters in this country: Glen Hansard, Jimmy McCarthy... - I sort of said, "well why not find the right songs, why not make a record that's
really challenging, where you could land on your face and break your nose", and people might say, what's your man up to, doing a Cure song or an ABBA
song or a U2 song, and I might say " why not?"
Was it just a matter of throwing darts at your album collection to make the song selection, because it's ...
LB: Yes, it's bizarre! But I was very methodical about it. I went away to the west of Ireland with about 500 CDs,
everything from old disco compilations from the early 70s to soul compilations - Wishing on A Star came from a fabulous
compilation from the early 70s called "Afrodisiac"! From that to a couple of Radiohead records, about 10 Bob
Dylan records, trying to find a Dylan record that I could sing I hit on this song (Make You Feel My Love).
The most difficult process was the selection because I had to find that piece of magic that I could connect with, learn the chords, learn the
lyrics, and then throw away the original version and transform it. To try and wade through these lavish versions such as Radiohead, U2 and Madonna,
they're the really scary ones, because you've got to strip away the lavish production and try and find what you think is the core of the songs. Then I
had to transform that into something that I can sing and make interesting enough, so that people will want to hear it. And yet somehow I have to bring
enough of myself to it, so it will sit with all these other songs, because I have to bring 11 diverse tracks into a body of work that still sounds like
myself. That's also why it's a short record, because I only wanted to have songs that would fit reasonably well together, even if they were incredibly
different from each other in their original format.
You managed the whole project yourself, with no record company involvement. Was that a good experience?
LB: The experience of deciding never, ever again to sign a record deal with a major record company was. I keep thinking of Nelson Mandela leaving prison -
that scene of him walking tall and dancing after having been locked away for 25 years - because I spent too much time over the past 25 years (adopting a
reverential tone) in pursuit of the record deal, craving the record deal, signing with the right label. In fairness to Warners they were very good to
me, but I've come to the conclusion that nowadays I just don't belong in that world. It involves an extra bit of responsibility now to finance my own
records, but that's okay.
Has the experience of making this record sparked a sense of new direction?
LB: It's too early to say. I think even my next record won't reflect it, because the songs for that record are already written. But I'm sure that once I get
set up to begin a whole new phase of writing then I'll start to see the effect of it. Already I feel more confident as a singer.
And no going back to the old big-record-company business arrangements?
LB: 'Keeper of the Flame' is already licensed to eight independent distribution
companies around the world. I've done the licensing myself. For the foreseeable future that's the way I'll be working.
What has the feedback been like?
LB: I'm blown away by the reaction, to be honest with you. It's the first time in my life I've been getting daytime airplay. I mean, Ronan Collins played
it! It's the first time I've made a record that has a song for "everyone in the audience", because there are people intrigued by a guy doing the Cure
and there are others who are intrigued by 'If I Were A Carpenter'. And people who are intrigued by the Cure are getting to hear Tim Hardin and they are
getting to hear Nina Simone, and I would love to think that people who would imagine that Robert Smith has nothing in common with Tim Hardin will think
again, because ultimately it's just about songs. That's the reason we're all doing this.
Luka Bloom plays at the Town Hall, Galway on Friday 9th February, UCH Limerick on Saturday 10th, Cork Opera House on Sunday 11th and at Dublin's
Olympia Theatre on Sunday 18 February.
His album Keeper of the Flame is in record shops now.
Interview by Cedric Brogan
Sunday Mirror - 11 February 2001
"In Ireland I'll always be Christy Moore's wee brother..."
by Maeve Quigley
It may have taken a long time but Irish singer Luka Bloom is finally happy being himself.
Barry Moore boarded a plane to America over 15 years ago, changed his name and
reinvented himself for a new start. Now he's more likely to be recognised on the street
of New York than he is in his home town of Dublin. But that's the way he likes it.
"The level of success I have here in Ireland suits me - I have no desire to be front page news.
I love playing gigs and if I had a record that was phenomenally successful here, I'd probably be
delighted. But it's not something I aspire to - I like having a relatively low profile. I do 95 per cent
of my work abroad and I'd be more likely to be recognised walking down the street in Sydney
than I would in Cork."
As Barry Moore, the intense and attractive 45-year-old had relative success,
releasing a number of records here. But as well as finding it difficult to
make a living from his music, he also was constantly in the shadow of his
elder brother - the legendary Christy Moore.
"I tell you if I had 10 number one albums in Germany, 10 number one albums
in America and 10 number one albums in Australia, I'd still be Christy
Moore's wee brother in Ireland. And that's okay with me. Christy is 10 years older
than me. We get on very well, we're very close and I love him.
These days I basically think I'm a lucky b*****d whose got away with murder
since he was 16. I make my living from writing and singing - and so all this
other stuff is not really important."
Christy's illness last year was also a huge worry for Luka but he says he's
never seen his big brother happier than he is today.
"I was desperately concerned about his health but I think I hoped and
trusted and believed that he would be fine."
The name, Luka Bloom, is a combination of a character from a Suzanne Vega
song and James Joyce's mild-mannered put-upon hero Leopold Bloom.
But the combination of the two has become synonymous with a groundbreaking
Irish singer-songwriter talents for a tune coupled with a playful sense of
humour have made him a star in Australia, America and across Europe.
"Basically I went to America to make a living. I was struggling to survive,
I wasn't paying my rent so I had to do something drastic, dramatic and different.
And in America things started to change for me in a positive way quite quickly.
The name change was purely about focusing attention on the music."
Brought up in Co Kildare, Luka fell in love with the guitar at the age of eight and the
relationship has been going strong ever since. "I never decided to play the
guitar but I do remember the very first time I held one," he said.
"It was when Christy came back from one of his trips in England. I was in
the front living room of our house and I picked up this thing.
There was a strange sensation like deja vu - almost a phenomenal feeling of
belonging. I've loved guitars ever since."
For his tenth album, 'Keeper Of The Flame', Luka has finally been persuaded to
do a covers collection, something which fans have wanted since 'I Need Love' -
a fantastic reworking of rapper LL Cool J's hit - took audiences by storm.
"I didn't want to make a record of my favourite tunes - it would have been
easy. So I recorded an album of songs that were almost totally new for me after
listening to hundreds of CDs. It was much more interesting and exciting to see
if I could do a U2 song or an Abba song." Radiohead, The Cure, U2 and
Abba's Dancing Queen all get Luka's magical touch. Luka lives in Dublin with
his partner and has a 17-year-old son from a previous relationship.
Luka Bloom plays Cork Opera House tonight, Belfast's Waterfront Hall on
Wednesday, An Grianan, Letterkenny on Friday and Dublin's Olympia next Sunday.
© Sunday Mirror
Trouw - 5 March 2001
Music Junkie Luka Bloom believes in his own magic
Outside the front door of a small, old house on the edge of Amsterdam's
Jordaan (17th century part of Amsterdam near the canals, formerly one of the
slums now a popular area - translator's note) Luka Bloom looks for the key,
which belongs to the Renaissance Hotel. He empties his pockets, brings out a
Hema-design salt cellar and chips, but still has to go and get help.
The Irish singer has locked himself out of his temporary base, but is armed
with a ... hat and scarf and moves like a fish in the water. He laughs:
"Whenever I travel I usually forget the most important things, like my
passport and things, but no, salt, which I use for my voice, never..."
Luka Bloom (45) has made himself comfortable. A guitar is lying on the
floor, another one is under the window sill. Incense is burning and a cup of
"hippie'tea" is quickly made. A Dutch tour almost certainly means sold out
(uitverkocht!) venues for Bloom. Since his very successful appearance at
Pinkpop ten years ago, when he rode a bicycle up on the stage and won the
festival audience over with his beautiful voice and guitar playing, a steady
group of people always knows where to find him. "What my audience looks
like? I have never really thought about that, there are all kinds out there:
children, older people, hippies, punkers, people dressed in suits. But that
is all just on the surface. They are people who have gone to great trouble
to get a ticket, who have arranged for a sitter so they can get away for an
evening. I will never be a real popstar, but I rather like that. Record
companies can't make me do anything. I manage like this." Bloom wants to
make his audience happy. "Well, happy, I want them to experience something.
I believe in the magic, the power of music. It enriches me."
Bloom, stage name for Barry Moore, was always difficult to categorize in the
music business. He was placed beside his younger (??) brother Christy Moore
among the Irish folk singers, but left that label behind when he moved from
the Netherlands, he lived in Groningen in the 1980s, to the USA. In the
early nineties he rather referred to rap music, which according to him still
possessed the power of resistance, like folk music did once, or to
alternative pop music. And he called himself Luka Bloom.
As a singer/songwriter Bloom is inspired by many different musical styles:
"One of my goals in life is to make it impossible for journalists to
categorize my music. If only a record shop was arranged alphabetically, with
only a distinction between electronic and acoustic music. Eminem to me is
Nowadays Bloom distances himself from rap: "When I was living in New York, I
couldn't get away from alternative pop and rap. Nowadays I'd rather listen
to more melodious, quieter music like the English pop band Coldplay. And I
listen to North African music a lot, I love Cesaria Evora, for example, even
though I don't understand a word of the lyrics. All of that music, reggae
too, influences me. I am open to it and without thinking about it rationally
it becomes part of my music, like a kind of spiritual necessity."
The songs Bloom will play on the Dutch stages over the next three weeks will
mainly come from his latest CD, Keeper of the Flame, a surprising part of
his work. While his earlier CDs, like Riverside, Acoustic Motorbike, and
Salty Heaven featured almost only his own songs, this one has only covers,
even by bands he once hated like ABBA. "For thirty years now I have been
playing my own songs. Now I wanted to celebrate other peoples' talents. I am
a music junkie. For a whole year I listened to a lot of music, selected
songs I wanted to play. In the end I recorded twenty and picked twelve to
put on the album. I didn't necessarily pick my favourite songs. U2's "Bad"
for example was exciting to include because I knew it had to be very good
for people to like it." The music is compelling, romantic, vibrating and in
a sense minimalistic because most of the songs are performed solely by
Luka's voice and his guitars. "They are Irish because I perform them, my
personality, my accent make them Irish, even though I do not consciously put
that in. My guitars are my band. They are like a painter's canvasses,
together we create my performance." Keeper of the Flame is just one tour.
A new CD is on its way, with his own songs: "I love writing songs too much."
Translated by Jolande Hibels
Muziekjunkie Luka Bloom gelooft in zijn magie