- 03 Sep 20
Rory Moore is the singer and driving force behind Strength NIA. His songs offer a unique and powerful insight into the beauty of the apparently mundane...
Speak to people about mobile shops, most will assume you are talking about smart-phone retail outlets. But what Rory Moore has in mind is a mobile shop parked at the end of the street or on the verge of a road running through an estate like the Creggan in Derry, where his father dispensed Mars bars and crunchies, liquorice sticks, midget gems, biros, matches, cornflakes, Fairy Liquid and all kinds of everything else.
You could trudge into town for specialist items if you chose to be pernickety, but, unless in extremis, there was no dire need.
If you were nine or ten, what mattered most from this peripatetic cornucopia was sweets. It was commonplace for dads – at least in the archetypal representations, which weren’t entirely off the mark – to arrive home with a pocketful of sugar-rush confections for allocation to expectant children. Rory’s dad went one better. He brought the sweet-shop home with him. The sort of accolade which sets you apart in pre-teen years, accords you status around the street. Also, you could go shop-robbing at midnight.
“On the driveway it was parked/ Until the morning it would stay/ Then my father drove his mobile shop away."
The places served by mobile shops will be seen by many as drearily mundane, which, truth be told, they mostly are, most of the time. Creggan Heights on a wet Wednesday is no place for frolicking. There can be little lush or passion-hot to say or sing about a landscape that evokes “grey skies above housing estates.” This is rough proletarian territory. Some songs seen as classics wouldn’t make it out alive.
But the fantasy life of local urchins might dance and twirl with as rich flamboyance as the dreams of any gaudy princeling, and with at least as much right to be put into poetry.
UNSETTLING SOCIAL COMMENTARY
Rory Moore has been prowling this patch for years. 'Dennis Doherty' told of a guy from the quarry steps at the bottom of Spencer Road who bunked off from the British Army in the early 19th century, became a terror to Australia, died in a Tasmanian jail; 'Brendan Bradley', the best song so far written about the Derry-born Finn Harps hero and all-time League of Ireland goal machine; 'Northern Ireland, Yes' transgresses in all directions, lays about it with dour gusto. “God is a Catholic man from the Creggan/ God is a Protestant band from the Fountain.”
These, with others, are a cycle of songs celebrating, in passionate or in pensive mood, the unspoken communal history of the arts and parts he comes from. Original, startling, sui generis. Impossible to locate in any musical genre or measure on an ideological scale.
'Mobile Shop' offers a slice of Northern Ireland life that you have never been served before.
The Creggan Rory describes is intimate and unique, but also exactly the same as a million other places. That’s what gives this distinctive portrayal its unlimited resonance. It offers what all true art bestows, shows the mundane as something magnificent.
If 'Dennis Doherty' was a work of imaginative history and 'Brendan Bradley' the best football song ever, 'Mobile Shop' is discordant, unsettling social commentary.
There’s acres of space in 'Mobile Shop',as ever with Strength N.I.A., nothing in between swirly organ high above and grounded bass guitar, driven by precise, persistent beats. No frills or riffs just to fill a gap, no rat-a-tat-tat when a tap will do.
“Music is the space between the notes,” as Mozart is said once to have said.
'Mobile Shop' directs your focus to things you see out of the side of your eye and pay no heed draped in romance, mystery and yearning.
It is also great fun. Rory comes on like a spangly presenter, sings with an arched eyebrow. His signature look is askance.
There’s no equivalent of Strength N.I.A. They are not an example of this or that.
You may have to work a little to get inside 'Mobile Shop'. But it’s light work and will be thrillingly well-rewarded.
• Strength NIA are Rory Moore, vocals, Benjamin Flemming, organs, and Brendan Sally, bass. 'Mobile Shop' is out today.