"Ordinary man" : Christy Moore and the Irish contemporary ballad
The ballad’s longevity and endurance as a vital form of cultural resistance to prevailing orthodoxies, hegemonies, and power abuses are highlighted by the performances and recordings of contemporary Irish singer Christy Moore. As he recalls in his show-closing song “If I Get an Encore,” he was “bitten by the ballad bug” in his formative years, and has continued throughout his long career to boost the popularity of a currently rather neglected and unfashionable form of Anglophone popular culture. In this essay I will analyze and discuss five examples of Moore’s characteristic fusion of traditional ballads, classic modern ballads—such as those of Woody Guthrie and Ewan MacColl—contemporary ballads, and self-penned songs of protest and social critique. The selected ballads include “Ninety Miles to Dublin Town,” written in support of hunger-striking prisoners in Northern Ireland, “Viva La Quinta Brigada,” a tribute to Irishmen who joined the resistance against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and “Minds Locked Shut,” Moore’s ballad about the Bloody Sunday events of 1972. The singer’s distinctive vocal interpretation reconciles the idealist, documentary, and social facets of the ballad tradition in the persona of the “ordinary man,” to reference one of the most popular protest songs in Moore’s repertoire. Moore’s work will be discussed in the light of the above three components of cultural evaluation proposed by the eminent cultural critic, Raymond Williams.