Luka Bloom will mark an antipodean milestone when he arrives in Australia in March. This next tour will be his 10th Down Under. The singer-songwriter spoke to Luke O’Neill about his long-distance love-affair with Australia and recalls the first song he recorded, as a 15-year-old.
Luka Bloom’s popularity in America and Ireland came with the breakthrough of his 1990 album Riverside.
Riverside’s success was the culmination of years of touring and songwriting. So it came as a surprise to the Kildare singer to see that he had an audience-in-waiting for his first gig Down Under.
“By the time I came to Australia to do a gig there was already an audience there. I still remember my first ever gig there, it was in the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. It was my first gig in the southern hemisphere and the place was absolutely packed.
“There was this real, incredible feeling of making friends and I have managed to sustain that every time I come back to Australia. And I don’t really understand how that is,” says Bloom.
“The one thing that I can sense is I think that people know how much I love Australia and how much I love singing in Australia.”
You could be forgiven for believing Bloom’s success Down Under has been aided by the healthy number of Irish who call Australia home. But the 55-year-old singer-songwriter says few Irish-Australians knew who he was.
“It’s not really ‘an Irish thing’ with me in Australia. I did about two or three tours there before the Irish in Australia started to come.
“I even think that when I first came some of the Irish in Australia didn’t even know that I was Irish. It was really the songs and the airplay that made it happen for me. Obviously, when I go down now there are more and more Irish people coming to the gigs,” says Bloom.
Bloom’s latest album is Dreams In America, a collection of reinterpreted songs recorded throughout his 20-year career. The idea to record it came after the realisation that it was two decades since the release of Riverside. The 1990 album turned the key to America and Australia.
Last year’s Dreams In America was recorded at Bloom’s home, a decision made after a falling out with a studio. The resulting change of location provided a serendipitous outcome.
Bloom and producer Brian Masterson are delighted with the intimate sound they achieved. It’s clear Bloom enjoyed making the record.
“It was a natural time to revisit songs. Over the previous five years, up until last year, I had released a new album of material every year. So I just decided to stop doing that and reflect on the songs that I had written. You get so focused on the next project that some songs get lost.
“It was a really enjoyable process actually and quite surprising. When you stop singing a song for maybe 10 or 15 years you don’t ever really forget the song but you do forget how much you loved the song.
“That was the really surprising part of the project. Not learning the songs again but remembering how I felt when I wrote them, reconnecting with the songs,” says Bloom happily.
He can recall the first song he recorded. Wave Up The Shore was performed a cappella without his now trademark guitar style. Bloom also remembers the first song he wrote, some 40 years ago.
“I wrote [my first song] when I was 15. It’s a serious, sort of heavy song. It’s not the kind of song you would expect from a 15-year-old. But there it was and every now and then I still pull it out, and I still like it, and one or two members of my family sing it. There are not too many songs from that age that I would take out,” he says.
Aside from that particular guitar style, born after a bout of tendonitis demanded he use a plectrum, Bloom is known for his interpretations of others’ music. He has covered artists as varied as LL Cool J and U2.
“I know that one or two of the guys in U2 liked my version of Bad. I haven’t spoken to Bono about it but Adam [Clayton] really liked it,” says Bloom.
“The funniest thing I ever heard about one of my cover versions was when LL Cool J was interviewed by a New York radio station. And he was asked was he aware of this Irish guy’s version of I Need Love. Not only had he heard of it but he began to do a piss-take of it. I would have really liked to have heard that!”
Suzanne Vega recently told the Wall Street Journal that Bloom was “terrific” and that she often frequented his shows when he lived and performed in New York. Of course, the forename of his moniker Luka Bloom comes from a Vega song, so it’s little wonder the musicians are friends.
“The thing about the name is it’s not something I take very seriously. What I say to people is that Barry Moore is who I am and Luka Bloom is what I do,” he explains, hinting that public and private lives are kept apart. That can be a hard thing to achieve when your brother is Christy Moore.
“There is a lot of music in my family. It tends to run through families. Ireland is full of families where music is running through them.
Bloom’s son appeared on his Eleven Songs album and is recording his own debut album. “I’m his father and I’m 55-years-old so I’m the most uncool thing he could imagine but, in fairness, he does talk about his songs and play them to me,” says Bloom. A budding musician could have worse mentors.
For Bloom, the foundations for a new album have been laid. He has begun writing new songs. For now, he is happy to “enjoy singing the songs that have resurfaced”, the songs of Dreams In America. In March, Australia beckons.
“It’s the only country I tour in, that once I am flying home, I have very mixed feelings about. I don’t get enough time to do big trips [around Australia] because after six weeks I want to get home to my family.
“I’ll always spend a week in Byron or Noosa. There are lot of fantastic places in Australia and I always try to spend a little time in them.”
Luka Bloom is at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney on March 26.