Landscape in Bloom
Luka Bloom has long been familiar to many through melody and lyric, most recently through his latest album ‘Head & Heart’. Last year the singer/songwriter made the leap from the aural to the visual with the publication ‘Homeplace’, a book of photographs, lyrics, thoughts and poems going back to the early 1990s.
There is something deeply personal about the book – and not just because it contains pictures from Bloom’s childhood. The very absence of melody creates a feeling of quiet intimacy. The words presented without tune, juxtaposed with snapshot images mostly taken by Bloom himself, pull the reader into the mind, the internal landscape, of the singer, the author, the man.
Luka Bloom has inhabited the Irish folk scene for over four decades now. Born Kevin Barry Moore, he first took to the stage in 1969, when he played support for his older brother, Christy Moore. The Kildare man has since travelled the world with his music, living for a time in Holland and the US. He has now settled in Co Clare.
Bloom will perform and read from his book on the opening night of the upcoming Rolling Sun Book Festival in Westport. The singer and author is a hand-in-glove fit with the festival’s ethos as a celebration of the Irish writing and creativity inspired by ‘home’. Like him, the festival is inextricably tied to its landscape, its very name echoing the annual phenomenon where the sun appears to roll down one slope of Croagh Patrick at sunset. Westport House, where he will perform, is another location deeply intertwined with the history of Westport and its sense of place.
CM Can you tell us a little about your fascination with place and its importance to you?
LB One word I hate in the English language is ‘environmentalist’. It suggests that there is a unique group of people who are connected to the ‘environment’ more than the rest of people. The simple truth is we ARE the environment. The place we are standing in; that is our home. We are as much a part of nature as the trees, the birds, the animals, the rivers. In our urban lives we seem removed from nature. This is a great tragedy for humanity, and for the earth itself. Wherever I stand; I am the place, and the place is me.
CM When you’re on the road, is there any place above all others that you think of when you think of home, or is it a blend, a feeling?
LB Most of what draws me to to my Irish home in my heart when away, is my family; my friends, and the mad music in Clare. All very earthy and healthy.
CM Undoubtedly, when you’re travelling the world, you’ve met many Irish people living away from home. Do you recognise in them the same connectedness to Ireland that you feel? What common ground have you found?
LB When I meet Irish people abroad, it is very special. But because I never actually emigrated, the feelings are different. I am always aware of my impending return home, so I never experience the deep loss many Irish people feel abroad. It gives me a great responsibility to literally mind people who are away from home, through my songs. I take this very seriously, and want Irish people abroad to know they are still loved, and still very much belong in the bosom of Ireland.
CM In your introduction to the book, you say ‘…there is a real joy in the simplicity of a rainbow on the Burren, or the breeze in Pollardstown Fen’. In today’s busy and demanding world, many people find it hard to still their mind and observe, to slowdown and appreciate what is in front of them. Have you ever struggled with this?
LB I’ve lived alone for many years. In the beginning, the restlessness was unbearable, but over time, I have learned to calm the mind. I sing a song; I cycle my bicycle, go for a walk. Eventually, I believe life itself can be a meditation; and the only challenge is to simply be.
CM What authors, musicians and poets have you been most influenced by?
LB Gulp … Sebastian Barry, John O’Donoghue, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Micho Russell, Christy, Donal Lunny, The Edge, Miles Davis, Martin Hayes, Hermann Hess, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Yeats…
CM What kinds of books do you like to read yourself?
LB Sadly, since the eyes began to fade a little, I read less and less fiction. I enjoy books about places, and I enjoy books that help me to be still. Stillness is the key for this restless soul. I need constant guidance on the path to stillness, so I can calm my mind, and eventually find my way into the next song. Eventually…
CM Are you reading a book at the moment? If so, what is it, and are you enjoying it?
LB I am wrestling with Richard Kearney’s book ‘Anatheism: Returning to God After God’. It has more big words than anything I have ever read. It is immensely frustrating, and I absolutely love it.
CM Your latest album ‘Head & Heart’ was released on Valentine’s Day this year. You say on your Website that learning My Wild Irish Rose ‘sowed the seed for the record’.
Can you tell us a little more about that?
LB When I moved to live in Clare I decided to stop writing, and simply listen to songs. I found myself listening to, and loving songs I never imagined I would love.
Chief among these was ‘My Wild Irish Rose’. Always felt it belonged to a sentimental Irish American style that never interested me. Then I heard Keith Jarrett play it instrumentally, and heard its beauty.
Now it is one of my favourite songs. And it caused me to examine my ‘conviction’ about songs I thought I didn’t like. This record took me out of a familiar comfort, and broadened my horizons, because of songs like ‘My Wild IrishRose’.
CM You now live in Co Clare – what do you like most about life in the West?
LB Time. There simply is more of it. And though the musical life of Clare seems like a cliché, it is both real and true. There is the small matter of the sea.
CM You have produced a phenomenal 21 albums, travelled the world and now also published a beautiful book. Is there anything else on your bucket list that you’d like to do soon?
LB I’d love to go nowhere for about a year, and plan to do that, very shortly…
Luka Bloom will perform and read from his book in Westport House on Friday, November 14, at the Rolling Sun Book Festival gala opening event (tickets €25). For more information on the Rolling Sun Book Festival, which runs from November 14 to 16, visit www.rollingsunbookfestival.com or find the festival on Facebook. Season festival tickets (€50 each) are available, as are tickets to individual events. To book, call 098 28088.