With the summer drawing to a close, it is fitting that one of Ireland’s most renowned singer-songwriters is on the road while chatting to Limerick Life. Luka Bloom is en-route to visit friends in An Daingean before playing a fundraiser in Ballydehob.
The affable Kildare native has toured the highways and byways of Ireland, and much further afield. Indeed, Luka made his name initially through a stint in the US for six years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He is now firmly a resident of what he refers to as “the People’s Republic of North Clare”, after moving to Liscannor, but has felt an affinity to the area for years.
“My first time in Doolin was in 1974. From the first time I arrived, I was inspired. I wrote songs inspired by the Burren and the ocean. I realised about five years ago that I could no longer justify not living in Clare.”
He has also just finished work on a new album, Refuge, due for release in the coming weeks. It will be the 20th album he has released under the Luka Bloom moniker, with three others appearing under his Christian name Barry Moore.
For a songwriter who recently turned 62, Luka is as prolific as ever, with Refuge coming hot on the heels of Frugalisto, which was released in February 2016.
“I had no designs whatsoever of recording for a long time after Frugalisto,” he explains. “Through the autumn and winter of 2016, there were big changes in the world between Brexit, the rise of the Far Right in France and Germany, and Trump getting elected. I found myself in North Clare writing songs. As a songwriter, I have a responsibility to myself to try and reflect what’s going on.”
The album title is representative of what Bloom envisages the songs being: “a place of refuge where you go when you’re feeling lost in the world. Songs have been a refuge all my life.” Finding himself writing what he describes as “very raw songs”, he gradually realised that he needed to apply the same approach to the production of the album.
“I had to present the songs almost completely naked; it’s just my voice and the guitar. Despite that, it’s really big-sounding,” he explains.
He attributes that to the work of the team at Lettercollum Recording Studio in Timoleague, adding that “it’s the best studio I’ve ever worked in and is run by great lovers of music.”
The songs on Refuge are primarily new compositions, with a couple of exceptions. The album saw him re-record ‘City Of Chicago’, a song he initially wrote in the early 1980s that explores the Irish diaspora post-Famine. At a time when there is more scaremongering about forced migration, it seems apt that he’s returned to it.
“That song was made enormously famous by my brother (Christy Moore) who recorded it before I did. I’ve recorded it once or twice before, but it never felt quite right. I’ve finally succeeded in nailing that song 34 years later,” he says.
Alongside his own songs, Luka is well known for his interpretations of others works releasing Keeper Of The Flame in 2000, which tackled artists as disparate as Radiohead, ABBA and Bob Marley, while he has also famously recorded a unique version of LL Cool J’s ‘I Need Love’.
This time around, he has gone back further in time for his version of the 19th century American folk song ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, which he has “added a verse of my own to bring it into 2017”.
The cover of Refuge is adorned with a wonderful cover painting from Tim Goulding, who Luka describes as “probably my favourite Irish artist and a great pal who live on the Beara Peninsula.” On his first visit to Goulding seven years ago, he spotted the painting (entitled ‘At One’) and knew he wanted to feature it on an album cover. “Refuge is a lot more reflective and thoughtful than Frugalisto so it was 100% the album for it, and he was thrilled that I wanted to use it,” he says.
Next week, he will bring songs from Refuge and his extensive back catalogue to Limerick, a city he knows very well, having briefly attended college here. “1976 was my last vain attempt to please my mother with an academic pursuit. I was trying to pretend I was studying something European but instead I was spending my time in the city playing songs and drinking pints,” he recalls.
In fact, his connection with the city was evident on the title of his first album – Treaty Stone – released in 1978, when he still performed as Barry Moore.
Luka is evidently excited about the upcoming gig in Limerick, and talks extensively about reconnecting with the city and its people since moving to Liscannor. And the good news is that the still youthful-looking singer envisages many more trips back to Limerick.
“Singers don’t really retire. Nobody presents me with a gold watch and I won’t be signing up for a golf club any time soon. I feel like I’m still a young man trying to pursue my dreams.”