David Hennessy chats to folk singer Luka Bloom about balancing head and heart, his tribute to the victims of a tragic bus crash and why he is so critical of U2’s iTunes giveaway
Talking from “the end of the world” in his home in “the people’s republic of north Clare”, Newbridge folk singer Luka Boom tells The Irish World he is sad to see the demise of the record industry to such an extent the idea of an album has almost faded away due to people now downloading tracks they like and having less time for the whole composition: “I’m a great believer in change as long as change is actually progress. I’ve heard of two record shops that I love in the last week that have closed down. Is this progress? That I go into amazon looking for something and listen to everything digitally?”
Is Luka critical of U2’s controversial recent decision to release their latest album Songs of Innocence free to people’s iTunes libraries? “I’m very critical of it. It really upsets me and I think they’ve completely missed the point in their response. Their response to it, as I’ve seen it, is that they don’t understand why everybody is so upset. It’s like rejecting Santa Claus because people were getting free downloads which is completely missing the point that they’re presenting this image of themselves as being incredibly generous to their audience.
“How can you convey the impression that you’re being generous when you’ve been paid millions and millions by an organisation who themselves decided to release the songs for free? I just don’t think they get it, how serious this is for independent artists. I just don’t they get it or else they get it and they don’t care.
“I happen to really like the guys. I really admire them. I think they’re amazing people. I don’t have any axe to grind with U2. I’m not one of the many legions of Irish U2 begrudgers. On the contrary, I’ve huge respect for them but I do kind of feel at this point that they live in a different universe from the rest of us. Bono talks a lot about leadership but actually the role model of leadership for people who are at the point they would have been at in the early 70’s.. it’s kind of tragic. You would almost come to the conclusion that they just don’t care. As long as U2 continue to earn the kind of money they need to earn for themselves and their share holders as a corporation, they’re quite content to just allow their stuff to be downloaded for free because they don’t feel the consequences of it. The rest of us do. Every record shop that closes down is a tragedy for me.
“I still want to walk into a record shop and physically browse. I might meet someone in the record shop. I might talk to the guy who has devoted his life to selling other people’s music. I find the demise of all this tragic.
“I think the whole digital thing of buying something online and having it posted to you by the amazon god, I find it distressing actually.
“I can survive because I happen to love to gig. I love touring, I love physically presenting myself and meeting people and singing for them.
“But for the poor devil who maybe for whatever reason can’t tour, maybe he or she is shy. They don’t want to perform, they don’t relate to that but maybe they write beautiful songs. Are these people supposed to disappear? Are they supposed to starve? What is the point of someone who doesn’t tour beginning a career and making an album now? I literally couldn’t survive if I wasn’t doing gigs. It’s at least three albums ago that I actually earned any money from the sale of records. That’s where we are now and I don’t see it as progress.”
This month sees Luka, Christy Moore’s younger brother, bringing his Head and Heart material to the UK for the first time. One track from Luka’s latest album, Give You Wings, deals with a tragic bus crash in 2012 when Belgian children died as they were returning from a school skiing trip in Switzerland.
Luka explains the great responsibility attached to taking on such subject matter: “I sought them out. When you choose to enter into the realm of someone else’s suffering, you have to be very careful about that and you have to be very careful about thinking that you understand what they feel because you don’t.
“When this bus crash happened in Switzerland two years ago, this generation of kids from a village in Belgium were pretty much wiped out in age group between 10 and 12. It was near the town of Leuven that they were from and I’ve sung many times in Leuven. It just seemed like such a horrific tragedy that I instantly tried to imagine what it must be like. I’m a father myself. I tried to imagine what it must be like for a parent to wake up one day and not only is their own kid gone but their kid’s mates are all gone too and that’s just unbearable so I wrote this song, Give You Wings.
“I wrote the song for myself because you always do. It only becomes an issue when you choose to release it so I made contact with some of the families and I had them sent the song before I recorded it because if I’m going to write a song for these people and about these people, they have to be consulted. They were very moved by it and touched that I cared enough to do it and were very happy for me to record it and release the song.
“You have to be really careful with this stuff because there’s nothing more disgusting than the idea of employing other people’s suffering as a way of promoting your own career. But my experience of songs is that songs can be very healing so it isn’t about me, it’s about the song and if the song has any kind of a healing quality in it at all, then you almost have a duty to release it. You just have to check in with yourself and what your motives are. Are you doing this because this is something that is big in the media in Belgium? Or are you genuinely writing a song because you have been so effected and moved in a personal way yourself that you felt compelled to write? And maybe in doing that, you have created something that might even if it is only to show that you did empathise and take the time to think of someone’s child far away, that might bring one second of comfort that somebody understands what I’m going through. That’s the only reason to do it.”
His latest album is named after the two most influential organs every person has: “In the end, you need to try and find a balance between the head and the heart.
“I’d be more of a heart man than a head man. The head kind of gets me into trouble. I know the heart can get you into trouble as well but I think the head gets you into much more serious trouble.
“I heard a fella saying one time: ‘I’m at my most dangerous when I know I’m right’. The head is what makes me fly off the handle and talk shite. If I listen to my heart, I feel on much safer ground.
“The head is a brilliant thing for solving problems but the tricky one is we use it to solve the wrong problems. If I’m lost in London and I’m trying to find the Purcell Rooms, I really rely on my head, my heart isn’t much use to me in that situation.
“However, if I find myself in a difficulty in a relationship with another human being, if I bring the head to bear on that, invariably I’m looking for trouble. If I listen to my heart in that situation, invariably I’ll seek the right course of action to take. There’s nothing wrong with the head, we just use it to solve the wrong problems.”
Looking ahead of his upcoming UK tour, Luka tells The Irish World that he wants to make amends in Britain: “To be completely honest with you, I almost feel a bit bad about the UK. I feel like I’ve neglected the UK because I spent so much of my earlier working life in America. In the last couple of years, I’ve decided to address that and I’ve come over each year to do these short tours of the UK.
“Whenever I go away, I really look forward of not just making new friends from other parts of the world but also connecting with some of my fellow Irish men and women who for whatever reason find themselves living in the UK or wherever it is I happen to be singing because that’s always very special and very important to me: To connect with the people who see themselves as 100% Irish but circumstances have brought them to live in another place so I look forward to all of that.”
Luka Bloom plays The Met in Bury on November 1, Folk in the Barn in Canterbury on November 2, The Greystones in Sheffield on November 5, Square and Compass in Taunton on November 6 and Purcell Room in London on November 7.
For more information, go to http://www.lukabloom.com/.