Monday, September 3, 2012

Thomas "Melody" Moore : loathed by IRA, loved by Halifax FRINGE audience

Richard Hanna as Thomas Moore
Thomas "Melody" Moore - the man, not the melodies (they hated themselves but they still loved his melodies) - was much loathed by the IRA and their political and cultural kinfolk in Ireland and America.

But they're dead, gone and buried while he's back - for a two week stint only - at Halifax's Atlantic FRINGE festival.

Thomas Moore (1779-1852) last played in Halifax early in the 19th century, his  very last gig on his long tour of (the hated) America and (the loved) Canada.

But his spirit ( all 4 foot 8 of it) has been transponded into the 6 foot personage of Richard Hanna.

Richard has a harp just like Moore and a break-downable (for easy transport) oversized chair, to let today's audiences better visualize how small Moore really was, even in his day.

Like many small men, Moore adjusted successfully by always being  neatly turned out (a dandy in fact) and by being extremely charming.

Moore's small size and pixie charm might well, Hanna believes, have kept him alive in troubled times, because Moore was a fierce and at times , vocal Irish Rebel when those words could mean "head on a stake" .

His good friend , the famous Irish leader and martyr Robert Emmett , successfully kept Moore from being too physically involved in Emmett's unsuccessful rebellions.

After Emmett's execution , Moore did much to make Emmett into a legend by writing poetry and songs about Emmett and his lady love, (Emmett was captured because he'd rather die than be far from her - a devotion Victorian romantics couldn't get enough of.)

Emmett was a wealthy Protestant Irishman who rebelled on behalf of poor Irish Catholics.

Moore was equally broadminded and as a Catholic married a Protestant woman - for which the narrow minded bigots in Irish nationalist circles forever despised him for.

Moore was very political and much of his writing was political - and unread today.

But he also guised his political feelings for Irish nationhood in the form of his famous songs and their bitter sweet melodies and lyrics that made him world famous among ordinary folk , then and now.

But among those of us more literary minded, his reputation has waned from its heights when he , Lord Byron and Walter Scott were the most famous triad in the Romantic playbook.

Yes, he was not wealthy - son of a grocer (rather like Margaret Thatcher) so he wrote for money. And wrote very well - dined at the homes of heirs to the thrones, and was an all around literary lion.

But then so did Scott and even Byron write for money, not to mention Beethoven.

(Beethoven even hacked his way through a couple of vanity lyrics from canadian amateurs...)

Hanna has spent ten years reviving interest in Moore the man, not just the melodies, and he feels Moore was a proponent of tolerance and multi-culturalism for Ireland, about 175 years before its time.

With due respect, after attending Hanna's "Melody Moore Show", I feel that Hanna is selling Moore short.

Moore is regarded as Ireland's national poet which means in practise he is a footnote in general literature studies and only studied in Irish Studies, where as Hanna points out, he remains a controversial figure rather than a truly uniting force as Robbie Burns is in Scotland.

Hanna wants to make Moore a Post-Troubles unifying figure, the national poet for Irish of all - or no - faiths.

Moore is the poet of Emigration

But I think of Moore as the poet laureate of Emigration - in the 19th century for sure, but even for today.

Emigration is ageless but not until the 19th century did millions of people world wide emigrate to other continents thousands of miles away rather than to a new home a hundred miles along.

Some emigrated involuntarily as slaves or as indentured servants, many went on their own free will.

Think about that for a minute.

For all but the extremely well-to-do had to leave home and kin with little reasonable prospects of seeing or hearing from family and friends ever again.

No cheap fast reliable international mail, no cheap photographs, no telephones or fast cheap air flights or Skype internet.

The heartbreak at dockside may seem exaggerated today but the anguish was real.

That pain never really went away but Moore's bitter sweet melodies and lyrics (intended to convey only the lost of a freed Ireland) was like sad balm for millions torn from home and longing to again "see the old folks at home".

Yes : no Moore, no Stephen Foster. And throw out 90 % of all those sentimental parlor ballads that still define the Victorian age so well.

Truth be known,  most of us don't ever read Byron or Scott ( while we still hum Moore), but we know all their names while we don't know Moore's, because Scott and Byron have become symbols of larger forces than just literature.

We study them in many other areas at university - to explain this huge think called "Romanticism , the Worldview".

Scott gets blamed - fairly accurately - for inspiring the Civil War on the Southern side ; Mick Jagger's fame is explained away as warmed-over Byron.

But Victorian sentimentality is as least as important as Greek Independence, now that we are all have had our consciousness raised - right ladies ? - and you can't begin to explain it, without bringing in Thomas Moore.

Thomas "Melody" Moore the legend does need to be revived - Hanna is doing a damn find job of doing so - definitely go and see him whenever he comes to your town !

(At Halifax's North Street Church theatre all this week - see Atlantic Fringe website for showtimes.)

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