I do like a big band. Nothing quite like one for rousing the blood, when the brass section kicks in and the fiddles all march in time. Home Service, Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band, Salsa Celtica, Bellowhead. And the Irish one, Moving Hearts.
The Hearts came together in 1981. Donal Lunny and Christy Moore wanted to fuse traditional music with newer sounds. They recruited Declan Sinnott on lead guitar, Davey Spillane on pipes and whistle; saxophones and a full-on rock-band rhythm section, and cut their performing teeth at a three-night-a-week residency in Dublin.
Oooh, that’s a gig I wish I’d seen.
They were short-lived: three years, three albums — and the last of them, The Storm, while a fine thing in its way, is mellow and instrumental. This album, the band’s first, is by a mile the best. It’s snarling and angry, full of The Troubles and rage at Irish under-doggery. And it’s glorious.
Landlord seethes at the injustice of paying rack rent for slum conditions (“How could you treat me so cold? You got the mortgage on my body, the keys of my soul”). Faithful Departed says a quiet prayer for the past generations who have left the struggle.
The up-tempo numbers work best, the ones where Christy’s really going for it (not half-whispering as he often does more recently). No Time for Love, when the soldiers and police kick your door down in the morning before dawn. Jackson Browne’s Before the Deluge (“Let the music keep your spirits high”).
Most of all, the astonishing opener Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette, about the threat of cold-war nuclear conflict. Sinnott’s lead guitar, Spillane’s uillean pipes and Keith Donald’s rasping soprano sax trade solos riff for riff in a way that, forty years — dammit — after I first stuck the cassette in the Walkman, still raises goosebumps on my forearms.
Folk-rock’s a hit-and-miss genre: too folky, and it sounds insipid; too rocky, and it becomes crass and clumsy. This one dances on the tightrope.