Ten years ago I was a (struggling) musician and record producer in my
hometown, New York City. (BTW Today I have a great life, family and working
in computers in Paris!) Evenings I was constantly rehearsing, gigging,
recording... and checking out bands. In the spring of 1988 a good friend of
mine, Suzzy M. started telling me I HAD to go see Luka Bloom, a phenomenon waiting
to happen. Although I wrote lots of folky stuff myself I couldn't stand
folkies, so I resisted. Until I saw The Man play and sing!
Amazingly, I remember this period like yesterday, because it was at the end
of my ten-year NYC musician period - I went broke in 1989 financing the
production of the debut album of my band Sirens Call (unreleased), got sick
of the music biz after some bad contracts, and working briefly in sales at
a record pressing plant, and a few weeks at PolyGram - and in the summer of
1990 dumped music and New York for love and computers in Paris, later
Moscow, and now Paris again. And as it happened, with my complicated life
at that time I had just started monthly datebooks which I have scrupulously
saved and which have allowed me to match (and refresh!) my memories with
dates. Anyway enough about me, here goes:
Thursday, June 23, 1988
Roseland, NYC (opening for the Pogues)
The first time I saw The Man. Roseland, a vast 1940s-era dance ballroom
situated in midtown, remade into a laserlight disco, was for this gig a
standing-room only hall with a gigantic closed curtain. Waiting for the
Pogues, all the drunken crowd wanted to do was mosh, not listen to
sensitive songs. And Luka's great bass-boost guitar sound which I was to
discover later was mud in that terrible PA.
But a curious thing happened:
where any ordinary folkie would have been chased off the stage in front of
that huge red velvet curtain with beer bottles flying, Luka got people to
listen (mostly) until his time was up. He ruefully excited saying "I know
you are all impatient to see the Pogues, so I won't trouble you any
longer!" The Pogues were outstanding, of course. After the show I said to
my friend Suzzy, "well he's good but is he really great?" and she said
"no-no-no this is not a suitable venue for him. The sound was horrible.
Come see him again!" Which I did, and have never regretted...
Wednesday, March 8, 1989
Under Acme, Greenwich Village, NYC
A basement club on Fourth Street in Greenwich Village. A not-bad folkie
opened but when Luka took the stage, his self-assurance and his big sound
blew everybody away. New York buzzed about that gig for weeks, Luka was
hot. I really heard what would become the Riverside tunes for the first
time. I was knocked flat by the fullness of his guitar sound. At this time
he still had only one guitar. Midway through the set he busted a string
with his energetic strumming and while someone replaced it, he sang a
capella "She Moved Through the Fair" so beautifully that it has always
stayed with me and nowadays I even sing it that way to my daughter Maeve as
Tuesday, March 14, 1989
Red Lion, Bleecker Street, NYC
A Bleecker Street bar in the Village. The tiny stage was "in" the bar which
ran along the center of the space, so everyone was around him, and many
people there could not even see him - which was not bad anyway, because
folks listened to those gorgeous tunes even while nursing drinks at the
bar. I was fascinated by the crowd, which was a mix of people "from
different walks of life". The Man is a Phenomenon!
Thursday, March 16, 1989
Phebe's, Bowery, NYC (missed)
This is one of several shows I marked in my calendar but didn't make it to
(usually because of a recording or gigging conflict!).
Friday, March 17, 1989
Knitting Factory, NYC (missed)
It may have been just before this show (which I missed), on Houston Street
in front of the club, that Sue introduced me to Luka since she knew him
slightly, but told me just before I shook hands that his real name was
Barry so I was rather confused! But I mentioned how I had enjoyed the
Sunday, March 19, 1989
Continental Divide, NYC (missed)
A little bar on Third Avenue near Ninth Street where around that time I
would see the Spin Doctors before their record deal.
Thursday, March 23, 1989
some place in Queens (missed)
Since I grew up in Queens like lots of Irish-Americans, and at that time
Woodside was chock full of newly arrived folks from Ireland, I had
seriously considered going out there, but... I didn't.
Thursday, May 18, 1989
Knitting Factory, NYC
I brought my friend Andrea to this show, the first time she saw him, and as
luck would have it she drank too much and started hooting "Erin go bragh!"
This club, which had a very selective booking policy - only the best - and
a tiny second-floor venue, meant that poor Luka had to put up with Andrea's
ravings. I slouched low in my uncomfortable wooden chair, to no avail. The
third time or so she yelled he looked balefully at the crowd and said,
"There's always one, isn't there?" To top it off his microphone
malfunctioned, and he did an impressive ju-jitsu style dropkick (holding
his guitar!) just short of touching it to vent his frustration. When the
soundman got it working again he took a moment to says "Tanks!"
and at one point he asked the crowd what tune to play and a bunch of folks
called "Pablo!" and, friends, it was a very fine rendition that night.
Tuesday, May 29, 1990
Continental Divide, NYC (missed)
Wednesday, May 30, 1990
Red Lion, Bleecker Street, NYC
The crowd was so thick that night I did not very much enjoy the show!
Riverside must have been out by then. As a producer I myself felt that the
Luka sound had not been captured on record as well as it could have been.
But when one has heard the real thing at three paces, what record is
satisfying? Perhaps the most mystifying aspect is that it never occurred to
me to record any of these gigs. There were so many, so often!
Thursday, May 31, 1990
Tramps, NYC (missed)
A little place on Fifteenth Street with generally very good sound.
Saturday, June 2, 1990
Maxwell's, Hoboken, New Jersey
The only club across the river in Hoboken, NJ worth playing. Not far from
his management's (at that time) offices I think. Oddly for me, this last
NYC gig I saw before I moved to Paris had been the last venue my band
Mistaken Identity had played in early 84 (after opening for Madonna at
Danceteria the previous summer - my claim to fame??). Suzzy and I bumped
into Luka at the side door of the club/restaurant in the late afternoon
around soundcheck time. As before he was friendly but he looked tired and I
said so, knowing that he was working very hard. The "Irishman in Chinatown"
tour, recording the record in NYC, Dublin, and LA... that night I saw his
two guitars for the first time. "Smart!" I thought - handy for the dreaded
broken-string situation, and especially useful for anyone who uses more
than one tuning in concert. (With Sirens Call I swapped bass for guitar
every couple of tunes with my musical partner, Patrice Moran, and we had a
devil of a time deciding set lists according to standard or DADGAD tuning, etc.)
Blissfully, there was no opening act that Saturday night - every
single person there knew the songs and wanted to hear Luka play. The crowd
was raucous and welcoming - it was a fine show. I remember he sang
"I Need Love" that night.
I hope these memories have been interesting to you.
Since then I have picked up "The Acoustic Motorbike" in Cherbourg,
France where my mama's family is from, and "Turf" in Moscow at Purple
Legion, the best music store over there this side of the Kremlin. I am looking
forward to hearing the new album and I won't miss the next Paris show!
I am not exaggerating when I say that one of my regrets at leaving NYC in
1990 was missing Luka play. He inspired me - not only because the songs
were great - not only because he gave everything he had at each
performance - but because he brought a level of guitar mastery
and amplification knowledge to what he did. Since the Fifties a guy or gal
with a guitar have been a dime a dozen on Bleecker and Macdougal Streets -
some little dives would even have open mike where the hopefuls could take a
number and wait three hours for their five minutes. Suzanne Vega came up
and out of that school, by being 'more' than a cookie-cutter folkie. Luka
was real - in his songs he got mad, sad, funny - I often felt that his
playing must needs be necessary and good for 'him' - but what was different
was he brought power and self-assurance no garden-variety folkie had. I
will never forget that 1990 gig at Maxwell's - he played a long and violent
instrumental interlude, pacing the stage like a panther with his black
guitar, utterly on rhythm... before segueing into a spellbinding "Hill of
Allen", finally segueing into "Dreams in America". He understood
that a merely amped-up guitar fights one's voice, because they are in the same
frequency range, so he amped up the 'bass' registers of his guitar. He used
superthick strings which, aside from being more break-resistant, give more
to electric pickups on an acoustic guitar. He changed strings often - I
never saw nor heard him play a dead string. (I myself have always preferred
very dead strings which drove Pat wild because we swapped my bass and her
guitar all the time!) He knew how to use the "proximity effect" to get more
vocal bass response from the mic when he wanted to. All of which made the
already-great songs into musical 'events' - it was impossible to ignore
Luka when he played. He was not to be listened to recorded, but...
Something which fascinated me greatly was his new name. It must have been
quite difficult to be in the shadow of his older brother - I can't speak
from experience since I am the oldest, but my own brothers say so! I have
often disliked noms de plume in performers - are they hiding something or
what? In Luka's case at first I felt the name was too far out. But as I
learned more about him, I realized it was the opposite - Luka was not
trapping himself like Declan McManus/Elvis Costello, but 'freeing' himself.
He was freshness to this jaded New Yorker because he 'chose' to go there to
make his fortune, like so many Irishmen before him - in his songs I felt
that he loved and was excited by NYC, that he wanted to 'give' to his
adopted town. I understood in my own way "Luka" - the child, but in the
city, and in far from idyllic home situation - plus "Bloom" even though I
never got through all of "Ulysses" - and "bloom" is what he was doing
anyway. He flowered in New York. When Riverside came out I said, well sure
that's my town - those photos were taken on the old, crumbling piers in the
Hudson River, surrounded by chainlink fences so that kids won't fall
through the gaping holes into the river below!
- Sean Daly