WHEN singer/songwriter Luka Bloom was first approached with the idea of headlining a concert in Ennis supporting homeless people he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The Kildare native, who has been living in Clare for the past decade, will be performing in the Clare Easter Concert this April 21 in glór. The concert, organised by homelessness campaigner Josie O’Brien, was due to be held last Christmas but was postponed due to Covid and Luka is now looking forward to getting on stage.
Asked how he got involved with the show he laughs, “I don’t go looking to do benefit gigs,” before adding, “but you get the call and if my sister Anne Rynne or Josie or someone like that contacts me, you know you just have to do it. That it’s the right thing to do and you just say yes and you’re grateful to have been asked and very happy to participate.”
Luka has long been an admirer of Josie’s voluntary work.
“I’m just amazed by her. I’m very happy, number one, to do the gig, and number two, that it’s finally going ahead. I hope people will support it because as well as the huge numbers of people seeking our help, and understandably so, from Ukraine, we also have people who need help and who have been needing help for a long time. This is a challenging time for Josie and for the people who need help and I’m very happy to be able to participate in anything that will help in her work.”
The postponement of last December’s gig because of Covid was just one of many over the last two years for the musician. While other performers decided to fill the void with virtual concerts, Luka reveals he “just never warmed to that.”
He did an online concert when the lockdown started in the Aloe Tree in Ennistymon and another in a friends house, but performing in that way just didn’t feel right to him. After that, he says, “I didn’t stir for two years.”
As a touring musician well used to life on the road he admits that the forced hiatus from gigging was initially difficult, but then he began to embrace it.
“I lost an awful lot of gigs, I was touring America, Germany, Holland and Belgium that year and it all went. But an interesting thing about feeling sorry for yourself is that it gets really, really boring. I just said to myself, ‘will you just stop’.
“We have all struggled in one way or another and I looked at my own difficulties compared to others and thought, ‘So what, I can’t do my gigs, it’s not the end of the world’. I just accepted it. Comparing myself to people who were working in hospitals, nursing homes, you know people in really difficult jobs. I just thought, I’m only being asked to be quiet and still.”
“So I did a couple of things. I started really enjoying playing my guitar at home and doing it on a daily basis like I did when I was a teenager in Kildare.
“Also I decided to get into the sea and I swam every day for 18 months with a group of people in Lahinch. That got me through Covid. It was the one social outlet I could look forward to, the shock of the ice cold water and going home having a shower and a bowl of porridge. It just gave me hope for the day and a lovely positive feeling.
“I kept that going for 18 months until last October, then the gigs started coming back a little and I stopped swimming, but I’ve decided I’m going to get back into the sea again.
“During Covid I entered the magical age of 66 which entitled me to a government pension so that took a bit of pressure off. I just decided to lean into the solitude and be quiet and not have this need to always be running around and singing songs. Just to be still for a while. And I enjoyed some of it. And some of it was sad. I lost some friends during Covid and I wasn’t able to attend their funerals. That was heartbreaking. But everybody in Ireland experienced that, people all over the world did, so I have no complaints.”
Though he says he “didn’t stir” during the pandemic, he certainly wasn’t doing nothing. Away from the stage, he was given the gift of time to create and released three albums in what has been dubbed ‘The Lockdown trilogy’ comprising Live At De Roma, Bittersweet Crimson and Out Of The Blue.
Live at De Roma was recorded during a live performance in Antwerp in 2019 and launched in 2020 at the very beginning of the pandemic while Bittersweet Crimson, which had been in the works for a year, was released shortly afterwards.
Out Of The Blue was created, recorded and released during the pandemic and marks Luka’s first ever album of instrumental music.
“It’s very much inspired by the Covid experience, the solitude and I suppose a little bit of the blues of Covid. No words, no singing, just guitar music and people really liked it.”
But why an instrumental album? “It just happened that I found with Covid, I had no words and didn’t feel inspired to write songs. But I went back to what I was doing when I was a teenager in Kildare, just playing guitar. I started to play these lovely old harp tunes that Steve Cooney recorded. Then I started to write my own pieces of music and eventually I ended up doing something I’ve never done before, I recorded an album in my living room and it was a beautiful experience.”
The recordings are all available on www.lukabloom.com
With Covid restrictions eased Luka is going back on stage, though he says he has decided not to rush things and is enjoying his time at his Clare home.
“Even though the restrictions have eased, Covid has not gone away. People are still a little bit anxious about going into crowded places so I’ve taken my time and I’m not doing any foreign gigs until May. I’m going to Holland and Belgium for a few weeks then and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve a couple of small gigs in Ireland before I go. But it’s not back to where it was in 2019, and that’s OK, I’ve just decided to be patient.
“I’m living in a beautiful place between Quilty and Doonbeg and I absolutely love it here. I moved here in January and it’s just beautiful, I just feel really privileged so I’m not in a rush to go anywhere.”
He admits that Clare has long been an inspiration for him. “It always has since I first came to Clare in the August bank holiday weekend of 1974. I’ve always loved Clare. It took me a long time to get my act together to move and live here but I’ve always felt inspired by the Burren, North Clare, Doolin. The musical energy – it is almost like a cliche – but it is real, the musical energy in County Clare is phenomenal.
“You’re nothing special really if you are a musician in Clare because every household has an instrument and someone who plays it. I’m ten years living in Clare now. I’m a proud Kildare man and I will always be a Kildare man but Clare is a very welcoming place for people who aren’t from Clare and that is one of the things I love about it.”
As well as Luka Bloom as the headline act, the Clare Easter Concert this April 21 in glór will feature other acclaimed talents including Mike Hanrahan; The Fiddle Case; Eoin O’Neill and Clara Buetler; Sarah Ryan; Anne Rynne; Trevor Hansbury; John Fennell (Sean Nós); Sara Ryan (Sean Nós); Steo Wall: Fay Moloney and the Cork Penny Dinners High Hopes Choir. There will be pre-concert music in the foyer from 7pm with singer Susanne Murphy accompanied by Fiona Faulkes on piano.
Kevyn Murphy is Master of Ceremonies for the evening. For more check www.glor.ie