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Bloom! Shake The Room
Kildare’s favourite son and godfather of the singer-songwriter scene, Luka Bloom, talks to Jackie Hayden about his most intimate album to date, Innocence, gigging with The Frames in Australia and hanging backstage with Gabriel Byrne.
Jackie Hayden, 09 May 2005
The new album Innocence from Luka Bloom is regarded by many as his most intimate to date, with a more cohesive and organic feel on offer throughout. Bloom himself, shortly off to launch the album in Europe as well as embarking on a lengthy tour of Ireland, explains: “I made a decision not to go into a studio, and I’d just built this house in Kildare. So the producer, Brian Masterson, came down with some old mikes. With the exception of ‘City Of Chicago’, which I wrote twenty years ago, all the songs were virtually written and recorded in the same living room, songs like ‘Venus’ or ‘First Light Of Spring’ or ‘Primavera’.”
Bloom was off the musical radar for part of last year due to an operation on his vocal chords. Might this also have had an impact on the end product?
“Quite possibly,” he admits, adding, “I was so excited to be given a clean bill of health. But to ensure I didn’t repeat the damage I’d done to my voice I took some voice coaching, which I’d always shied away from, as I was probably afraid it’d turn me into a John McCormack-style singer. But I needn’t have worried. That too might account for the intimacy you talked about.”
His approach to gigging has also changed.
“I went to the USA in 1987 with two guitars and a fairly confrontational style of performance, determined to become a one-man U2. That worked well for me until my voice went and I’d got a bit bored with what I was doing anyway. So with the voice problem it was probably a case of my body telling me to make the kind of changes that I probably knew deep down had to be made.”
Bloom is arguably more popular overseas than at home, attracting sizeable audiences and record sales in places as far apart as Belgium and Australia, and it was on one recent jaunt down-under that he ended up on stage with The Frames.
“Well, I’m a big fan of The Frames and I went to their gig at The Metro in Sydney, and Glen was announcing that the next song was the Elvis Presley hit ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’. Then he said ‘and we’ve got a guy here who can sing it’ and he invited me on stage with him. It was great to do it spontaneously like that,” he enthuses.
Bloom’s level of popularity, especially in Australia, inevitably results in tales of one celeb or other blagging their way into his gigs. The latest was none other than Miller’s Crossing and Usual Suspects star (and one-time Bracken lead!) Gabriel Byrne.
“Gabriel would never have to blag his way into one of my gigs,” laughs Luka. “He and I are really good friends. He was born in Dublin but I’m gradually helping him rediscover his Newbridge connections, so he’s on his way to becoming a born-again Kildareman! In fact, real celebrities rarely have to blag their way into gigs anyway. I usually find that it’s people who claim to be third cousins of Christy Moore who want to get on the guest list. You wouldn’t believe the number of cousins Christy has in Australia!”
Bloom is very much aware of the new talent on the Irish singer-songwriter scene, so I wonder how does he balance his admiration for them musically with the fact that ultimately he’s competing with them for gigs and record sales?
“There’s more than enough room for us all out there,” he argues. “I was at a movie recently and the Declan O’Rourke album was played in the cinema before the film started. That itself was an amazing leap forward even from my early days. There was no way back then that an album of mine or Christy’s or Mick Hanly’s would have been played like that in a cinema. So I take my hat off to these guys.”
As a man who spends a considerable part of his life as a nomad traversing the globe, does Luka have a favourite place in the whole world?
“Ballyvaughan,” he tells me. “I only discovered Ballyvaughan a few years ago and for me it’s the most magical place I’ve ever been to. When so much of your life is spent planning how to get to the airport, it’s great to have somewhere so beautiful you can get to without having to get on a plane.”
Luka Bloom's Innocence album gets a live airing at the Playhouse, Derry (May 28); An Grianain, Letterkenny (29); and Stage Two, Waterford (31).