Review: Luka Bloom – Black Box, Belfast
Luka Bloom strolls onto the stage of the Black Box with a cup of coffee in his hand. It could be tea, we will never know. He is unassuming which really doesn’t fit a man of his stature in Irish music over the last forty-something years, but that is the man he is.
A quick “hello”, the lights dim and he tells us that this is the culmination of a short tour covering wonderfully exotic places including Limavady, Bellaghy and this final show in the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast.
He opens the show with Diamond Mountain, one man, his guitar and a bucketful of passion. There is no working off a set list and he says he will play whatever comes to mind. Just what a packed house wanted to hear.
At the conclusion of his opening song the first request of the evening comes from the back of the room. Rescue Mission it is, and he promises to play it at some stage during the evening.
He sings I Am Not At War With Anyone as a tribute to Lyra McKee and is perfect. It is a song that extols the virtues of life and love, something she was passionate about.
Luka talked about writing songs at the age of 16 on his guitar at home but taking a lifetime to realise he could make a living from the misery in them. Wave Up To The Shore was that song he wrote at the age of 16 and he recorded it in 2016 some 45 years after he wrote it.
The Black Box in Belfast is a small and intimate venue and Luka Bloom makes no bones about how much he loves the place. So much so that he says it is the only venue in Belfast he will ever play.
He plays Here and Now tying it in perfectly with the analogy that if you worry you die and if you don’t worry you die. You make the choice..
He is the ultimate storyteller through his songs, both beautiful and heart-rending, that we all can relate to. But he also just enjoys telling stories like his meeting with Lord Rosse who resides at Birr Castle in Co Offaly and how he thought that it was ok to call him Brendan instead of Lord. He could not bring himself to call him Lord. That is Luka Bloom in a nutshell. We are all equal.
Sanas tells of a love for a tree at Birr Castle and he confesses to being a bit of a tree hugger.
His guitar playing is wonderful, each strum and each immaculate chord change, it has an ethereal silence in the background that hangs and is the mark of a great guitarist.
Bogman shows us the simplicity of life in the rural parts of Ireland, including his home in County Clare whilst Water is Life is dedicated to those that seek to protect the earth from the march of those seeking to make gain from the planet they are ultimately destroying. He pays tribute to the inspirational Greta Thunberg and the Sioux Indians in Dakota, USA.
He wrote Cello As Everest in tribute to Jacqueline Du Pre, widely regarded as one of the worlds greatest cellist, who passed away at the young age of 42. The song tells how music stays in your memory forever.
The Belfast audience is his tribe tonight, he makes sure this audience knows this, the tribe encompassing all the people who follow him around the world, listening to his music.
Bloom steps out of his comfort zone to give us his interpretation of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise and whilst it is as far removed from his own brand of songwriting it has a heartbeat that is unmistakably Luka Bloom.
He speaks fondly of the annual Leonard Cohen tribute night now held in his hometown in Co Clare and how it is the town of a million stories.
He sings City of Chicago, made famous by his brother Christy Moore but written originally by Bloom, with a jibe that he has been doing a cover version of his own song for 34 years. A new arrangement makes the original sound even better.
He plays songs from his extensive back catalogue. Gone To Pablo, Exploring The Blue and some hour and twenty minutes after it was first requested Rescue Mission. He has gone back to a number of earlier releases but embraces those older songs with a renewed love. It is what this audience has come to hear.
Warrior is a song about just that. Becoming a warrior but he begs that it is not channelled in a toxic way, but for good. Put away your guns and learn to cry. There is no doubting his passion.
You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time would have closed any show perfectly but that was just the beginning of the end. There was an encore without the normal walk off and back on again. That would be too tiring he says.
This show doesn’t look like it is ever going to end. He plays the Van Morrison classic Madame George. He dismisses the cry from the floor that it is better than the original but there is no doubting it has this audience gripped.
After some two hours it is indeed time for the final song. He plays what he calls the greatest ever Irish folk song Raglan Road made famous by Luke Kelly of the Dubliners and with its fantastic acoustic guitar solo it is indeed a fitting end to an emotional and heartwarming show.
His brother, Christy Moore, plays in Belfast this week and he will have his work cut out to match this performance from his younger brother. Belfast waits with breath on the return of Luka Bloom.