Niall Stokes Pays Tribute To Thom Moore

The Irish-American singer Thom Moore, formerly of Pumpkinhead and Midnight Well – has died. Here, Hot Press editor Niall Stokes pays tribute...

It is with great sadness that we hear today of the death of Thom Moore. Following so hard on the heels of the loss of Liam O’Flynn and Garech de Brún, there is a strong sense that people who shaped Irish music in really important ways from the 1960s onwards are saying over and out. It is a chastening moment, in all sorts of ways.

I first heard of Thom when the Donal Lunny-produced Pumpkinhead album – which featured a host of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians as guests – was released, and thought it a fine thing. But that was surpassed a year later with the arrival of a new vehicle for Thom’s writing skills. The resultant, eponymous Midnight Well LP was a remarkably beautiful record, bringing Thom Moore’s wonderful songs and Janie Cribb’s voice together with the extraordinary playing of Máirtín O’Connor and Gerry O’Beirne – both musicians of exceptional brilliance.

He may have been born in the US, but for that album alone, which mixes Americana with Irish influences in the most affecting way, Thom deserves a place in the pantheon of Irish greats. Songs like ‘Still Believing’, ‘Saw You Running’, ‘Rosy Painted Barge’ and 'Soldier On’ were very special. As indeed was the party to launch the album, which – if memory serves – took place in the flat occupied by Nicky and Roma Ryan at the time. It was one of those great Bacchanalian moments that live long in the memory and the imagination – all the more so because we actually survived.

A little bit later, there were songs like ‘Cavan Girl’ and 'Carolina Rua’ – lovingly crafted pieces made famous by Mary Black, which Thom went on to sing, later on in his career, with a distinct Irish brogue. In addition to becoming an Irish citizen, he had indeed become more Irish than the Irish themselves.

Along the way there were sojourns back in the US and in Russia for a man of many talents, who was a scholar, a linguist and a translator, as well as a poet, a player and a very fine singer.

Midnight Well was released in the same year that Hot Press was launched, meaning that it was all of 40 years ago. But those songs still sound remarkably fresh and beautiful – which of course is the mark of music that truly endures. As the master craftsman behind them, Thom Moore was an inspirational writer. He will be greatly missed.


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