I remember the last few months of 1994. I was living temporarily in a flat across the road from the Limelight in Belfast. The great advantage was that five minutes after the encore I could be tucked up in bed.
I remember Del Amitri and maybe even the very next night Luka Bloom. Bloom was a phenomenon. I can still remember the sound he got from just him and his guitar. He hit that thing with such authority and boom. It sounded intricate and intimate but at the same time as loud as Del Amitri.
Twenty seven years later and I am still in love with Luka Bloom and that guitar sound. Last year’s concert album Live At The Roma reminded me of this big music, check particularly You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time.
Now, a year after that live record, and a second release in 2020 Bittersweet Crimson, Luka has released his first ever instrumental record, Out Of The Blue. It is almost exclusively Bloom and that guitar but the sound takes me into a very different space.
It seems that Luka used his guitar and the playing thereof to see him through the dishevelled unscheduled life of Coronavirus lockdown. Inspired by his long time colleague Steve Cooney’s new album of old harp tunes and the work of Iarla O Lionaird, he spent a time each day exploring old traditional airs through the conduit of his Lowden Classic built in Co. Down.
These were the songs of his youth and the academic John Paul Ledarach has written about Van Morrison’s work being about going back to an idyllic moment from the past to see you through the darker present. Maybe subconsciously that is what Luka was doing as he played those traditional tunes he grew up with in Kildare.
And so, we get Ashling Gael, The Mountains of Pomeroy and Elanor Plunkett and others alongside some brand new ones. Unlike that incredible live noise of the heat of a concert setting these tunes come across as a swathe of calm, music to find some peace of mind and soul to in the middle of these crazy times.
It goes without saying that the playing is brilliant. It also needs said that it is spiritually beautiful. We have waited long for a Luka Bloom instrumental record. It seems so obvious I wonder why it has taken until now. Then as you listen, still in disheveled unscheduled lockdown, you realise that it couldn’t have come at a better time… not if it tried!