Last month, O’Donoghue’s, an Irish themed pub in Aberdeen, had an “evening of spoken word and music to celebrate the ship workers strike and the Spanish civil war”, which took place in the mid to late Thirties.
First up was Ray Moore, who regularly sings Irish and contemporary folk and country music in many bars throughout Aberdeen. He was sat down with semi-acoustic and vocals, his opening number being “The California Sun”. This was an Irish folk tale, seemingly about seafaring journeys recalled in almost diary form. It was rousing and sad at the same time. It was very bleak, but the journey ended in sunny California.
His second effort was more contemplative than the last, concerning seamen, and a barricade of strikers. After that was very earnest, a lovelorn kind of vibe going on. Key lyrics like, “warm summer sun, walking so long, my feet are done”, stuck out. This grim feeling was furthered with talk of barbed wire, and, generally, a life constricted by oppressive forces.
The subsequent one seemed more upbeat, but still a tad dark. There were some wickedly sharp observations, like, “with their lopsided grins, they waggle their chins”. The guitar playing was certainly a lot more melodic, and less rough and tumble tales. The hook was satisfying and with grace.
The lines, “the skipper has been drinking”, heralded the next in the set. It was very wistful, as if to convey what could’ve been. There were some expert shows of both lead and rhythm playing, all from Ray and his guitar, and no more. Also, his loudest reception so far that night.
Next was contemplative, his slowest song so far. It had a certain yearning to it, earnest and from the heart. Was more of a singer songwriter vibe than previous, folky, efforts. A final flourish worked the crowd.
What’s more, what came next was similar to before. This came via “Forty-Five Years”, by Stan Rogers. It was seemingly romantically tinged and with engaging dynamics via change of tempo.
After that was melancholy, in the sense that the instrumentation sounded happy, yet beset with opposing elements. The theme of the night was invoked with the words, “fought and died beneath the blaring sun”. This was in reference to those fighting fascism and the tyrannical rule of General Franco, considered akin to Hitler and Mussolini. A change in tempo came, and a marked one at that, which was very satisfying. This came with sizeable applause.
Tommy Campbell, organiser for the night, stressed the eightieth anniversary of the striking Spanish seamen who found refuge in Aberdeen. Also, he was keen to mention the many Aberdonians who died helping the Spanish during that civil war, and that this, arguably, propelled the defeat of Nazi Germany. Spoken word followed.
Ray was followed by socialist folk singer, Elijah Fynmore. He, also, was a lone man and his semi-acoustic guitar. His first song was about the many men that went to fight in Spain that never made it home. It was powerfully spoken in dialect, yet some words delivered in a mere whisper. That range, of course, gave a depth and weight to the performance.
The following was a curious one, that of Billy Bragg and “Between The Wars”. This song choice suited a despairing Scots dialect, and is revealing of the struggle and strife of the working class. Sometimes it had triumph; sometimes, though, not.
Another cover, “My Old Man” by Jim McEwan, followed. This was akin to “Factory”, by Bruce Springsteen, for the more contemporary of ear. This had a nice crescendo as its teller explained how his workingman father enjoys a pint, amongst other things. Lines like, “ruin your job, so don’t come back”, and, “abandon hope and the will to live” filled in those gaps. This had sizeable applause.
“An American tune, now”. And so begun Phil Ochs’ “Love Me, I’m A Liberal”. This, or chance, rather, necessitated a change of instrument, borrowing Ray Moore’s semi-acoustic guitar. “Back on track. Sorry about that, guys”. This conveyed despairing of irritating, sitting on the fence liberals. Lines like “I like poetry by negroes, as long as they don’t move next door” particularly pertinent. The climax detailed a young socialist growing to turn his back on the Left.
“Here’s old Jacobite song, one of my favourites”. It was fast and intense, and told many a tale from that particular time, hundreds of years ago. Choppy guitar strumming heralded bold, stop, start proclamations. The following celebrated the Spanish civil war and the song had flourishes of stabbing guitar and good dynamics.
Dave Campbell had a similar setup, though banjo and vocals, not guitar. The singer and musician grew up as part of a celebrated musical family originating from Aberdeen, his father and aunt with the hugely successful Ian Campbell Folk Group. Furthermore, his brothers are known for their association with British band, UB40. His opening gambit wailed, “Johnny coming home with me”, and strummed accordingly. He was very absorbed in his performance, with his eyes closed. He had a big voice, its clarity unrivalled so far that night.
He then took his ukele out for some intricate fingerpicking and whistling. Al this with, again, his eyes closed made for a feat and a half. It seemed to have a shanty-esque delivery. For the subsequent number, he was back on the banjo. His vocal performance was almost as if he was conveying his pain. This was folk music, but also music of the soul. To an extent it was as if to show himself wallowing in one’s sorrows, and being generally being morose.
What followed was “Frog Went A-Courting”, which this reviewer is familiar with via Bruce Springsteen’s interpretation. There was some real venom in the words, Campbell obviously a passionate performer.
After that, the ukele came back out. Whistling opened this one. His eyes, usually closed, briefly opened for the first time, forgetting his lyrics. A sample of the lyrics, in “we’ll done f*ck all, sat on our arse”.
A jarring strum opened a seemingly despondent song, lyrics asking, “brother, can you spare a dime?” A moment of forgetfulness preceded a big, caterwauling finale.
The end of his set proper came via an acapella performance, raising the roof of the Irish themed pub. The trade union anthem, “The Red Flag”, evoking Michael Heseltine versus the Labour Party.
Who followed was the distinctively booming Danny Cooper. He started with “My Union”, about trade union pride, which really got the crowd, especially Unite union members, going. This segued into talk about the downturn in the oil industry in the area. This was a roaring anthem, deploring the state, also, of the fishing industry, and how trawlermen, also some crofters, went on to working on the oil rigs, as one industry slowly died, and another began.
After this was “Colliery Column”, again, mentioning Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. Lines like, “they died for Spanish workers, in the civil war in Spain”.
Annie Reid sang acapella for intermission number two.
Concluding the night, though, was a reappearance of Ray Moore, and his opening words to his second set had a certain finality to them: “You come, and you come home early; and sometimes you don’t come home at all”. However, there was a certain triumph to it all, albeit coupled with melancholy.
What followed was a searching acoustic number, with the lines, “you’ve got no way to hide your lyin’ eyes”, consisting “Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles.
Ray’s next offering was sedate and melancholy; introverted, yet like an intimate entry from a diary. This was followed by, “Ring a ring a rosy, as the lights climb…as Dublin as Dublin can be”, the opening lines for the subsequent number. This was about unrequited love, and soul baring.
What followed was also searching, but melodic, and tinged with sadness in its title, “She Never Should Have Sailed”. After that was a rover’s anthem, a rebel’s tale. This driving, acoustic rocker veered on poetic, with “walk me through the wind and rain”. Determination to see objectives in life through to the end, perhaps?
Ray’s softly spoken Irish lilt then got a tad more fierce. Another cover kicked in after this, Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”, with lines like, “come a little closer, feel what I have to say”. This, of course, is a wandering, meandering song which was almost celebratory, compared to previous.
Clanking of bottles greeted Ray’s set as he strummed, searching. Then came sparse guitar, punctuated by the conversational lyrics of “American Pie” by Don McLean. This built to a crescendo, just to bring it down, again. Excellent dynamics. Excellent crowd participation, too.
The closing moments came forth with the choppy chords of the Tom Robinson Band’s “2-4-6-8 Motorway”. The tempo built in pace, as the crowd’s feet got stomping. The finale proper was intense, but a total expression of happiness, kind of way. Clearly loving the interaction from the crowd, Ray watched them lap it all up.
Keep tabs on Ray Moore on Soundcloud here.
Words by Andrew Watson