For nearly 30 years, Irish singer-songwriter Luka Bloom has been one of Australia’s most popular and loved international touring visitors, charming audiences of every age with his deft melodies, gentle humour and heart-warming songs of love, life, place and memory. It was in 1991 that Luka first visited, riding, if you’ll excuse the pun, on the back of his superlative second album The Acoustic Motorbike and its breakout hit single, a quite simply unique reinterpretation of LL J Cool’s I Need Love. And from its opening strains, Australians fell in love with this unlikeliest of “pop” artists, a simple folk troubadour with a heart of gold.
Whether on a concert stage or in an intimate venue, Bloom is understated Irish charm incarnate as he delivers songs topical and personal, always entrancing, whether spinning some simple yarn of hearth and home, or gently tilting at some contemporary iniquity reminding audiences that we are all one, for all the imagined differences. “Isn’t it great to travel 15,000 miles and be able to look forward to sitting under a tree?” Bloom asked his audience in March last year, after opening his set at the popular venue Lizotte’s in Newcastle, that former steel town north of Sydney, when he last visited in March last year, – it seems centuries ago – after opening with his version of the John Martyn classic, Head and Heart, the title song of his 2014 album. It’s no wonder Australians have taken this humble musical philosopher, armed only with an acoustic guitar and a seemingly bottomless well of superb songs, into their hearts. After all, he’s invited us all into his heart… And we always sing along, smiling. And those smiles linger long after the shows.
Thirteen tours of Australia, 14 studio, three live and two anthology albums on, now comes a new collection, Bittersweet Crimson – eleven limpid songs of gentle beauty and perceptive insight, more than welcome additions to an already rich catalogue of much-loved songs.
So, won’t you take a walk with the man himself as he tells how Bittersweet Crimson came to be, just for you, just for me:
“In mid-February 2020, I walked into Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin with Steve Cooney, Robbie Harris and Jon O’Connell. Brian Masterson was driving the desk, assisted by Sarah Branigan. We had about 14 songs I had written over the previous two years.
“In February 2020, terms like ‘COVID’, ‘Social distancing’, ‘lockdown’ were not in my vocabulary. We sat and played together for two days in this wonderful theatre of recorded music that is Windmill. And to be honest some magic happened.
These three top men. Little or no rehearsal. Trust… and good vibrations.
“When writing these songs, I wanted the canvas to be open, the story unfinished. So, with no ‘arrangements’ in mind, we just played. And we knew after two days, that there was perhaps some magic here.
“Then the lockdown happened within a few weeks.
“I decided to proceed with the music, even though the world was suddenly closing down. I asked Jon to add some electric guitars and vocals, and some keyboards. I asked Adam Shapiro to play some fiddle. And then I spent a few weeks seeking out the voice of a woman, to complete the story of Bittersweet Crimson.
“The moment I heard the voice of Niamh Farrell, I knew she must write the final chapter.
And thank God she agreed to do it.
“At the time of the recording, she was (and is) working in a Dublin hospital. In the time of Corona, we know what this means. I felt so honoured that Niamh agreed to record the songs for me, with so much pressure in her non-music work.
“Niamh and I have yet to meet in person, and yet she went to Brian’s home studio one day and just graced these songs with her pure voice and spirit.
From the moment I wrote the first song, Can We Stay, I knew this record would be special. And so it is. A record for 2020.
“Lorcan Walshe painted the cover of the package and the booklet, and Myriam Riand designed the artwork.”