Luka Bloom is part of a time-honored Irish tradition: When the pickings at home become unbearably lean, look to America.
After trying for 10 years to establish himself on the Irish music scene, Bloom found himself in 1986 with an abundance of unfulfilled ambitions and a severe dearth of prospects.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 27, 1992 Orange County Edition Calendar Part F Page 25 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
SONG TITLE--In a Calendar story Thursday, a song by Luka Bloom, "Bridge of Sorrow," was misidentified as "Bridge of Sighs."
"I had been struggling for a long time in Ireland. When I arrived at the point where I had something really good, people couldn't see it," Bloom, who plays tonight at the Coach House, said from a tour stop in Boulder, Colo. "They were used to seeing me only as a person who was struggling."
Bloom, now 36, says he made things harder for himself back in those days, when he was trying to establish himself in Ireland under his given name, Barry Moore.
"I'd never taken it seriously. I was a big drinker and I wasted a lot of time and I hung around a lot." And, he was working in the shadow of his eldest brother, Christy Moore, one of the heroes of traditional Irish folk music. The family connection didn't give him a special leg up with Irish fans, Bloom said. On the contrary, "they assume the kid brother can't be of the same quality."
Bloom found himself starving in both a material and an artistic sense. "I was hungry," he recalled with a laugh, noting that he wasn't using "hunger" metaphorically. "I just couldn't survive as a singer-songwriter in Ireland. I was 31 years old, and I wanted to have a crack at making a really good record. When I was 16, I was singing songs from 'After the Goldrush' (Neil Young's 1970 album) at a boarding school in rural Ireland. I wanted to try to affect some 16- or 17-year-old the way those records affected me."
So, late in 1986, Bloom brought his passionate and aggressively played style of solo folk-rock to America.
"I came here with nothing. I had a couple hundred dollars in my pocket, my guitar and my songs, and that's it."
Actually, he had one more thing: a new name. The erstwhile Mr. Moore cribbed "Luka" from the title of Suzanne Vega's hit; "Bloom" was borrowed from the lead character of James Joyce's Dublin epic, "Ulysses" (Bloom doesn't claim to be a Joyce scholar, though: "Actually, I've had great difficulty reading the great man," he said wryly).
"I wanted to give myself a psychological boost and the sense of being new, of finding myself a new professional identity," Bloom said. "I sought a name which was completely pretentious, which was not Irish, and which was memorable and would trip lightly off the tongue."
Bloom injected himself into the East Coast club scene during stays in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. He found a following, and landed opening-act slots on tours by such visiting Irish acts as the Pogues, Hothouse Flowers and Sinead O'Connor, as well as by the Violent Femmes and the Proclaimers.
That led to a record deal (with Young's label, Reprise) and a 1990 debut album, "Riverside," which showcased Bloom's heart-on-sleeve romanticism as it told the tale of an Irishman making his way in a new land. Such song titles as "Dreams In America," "An Irishman in Chinatown" (a humorous ditty in which Bloom tries to use Irish charms to sway an Asian beauty) and "Hudson Lady" reflect the album's sense of fresh discovery.
But Bloom didn't want to be an expatriate artist. Having made his mark in America, he returned to Ireland.
"I love working in America and I get a special sort of energy from being around American people. I find them to be incredibly warm and optimistic," even given the pervasive dampening of spirits brought on by the current recession, Bloom said. "But Ireland is where my family is and where my heart is. It's where I want to be.
"Coming to America and changing my name has completely reversed" the Irish scene's indifference toward him, and the unfavorable comparisons to his brother, Bloom said. "I now have my own audience, my own slot in the Irish music psyche, and everything is fine."
Christy Moore "is as happy about it as I," Bloom continued. "It was a weight on his shoulders, because he knew I could do this stuff." The elder Moore turns up on Bloom's new album, "The Acoustic Motorbike," lending backing vocals to one track and playing the bodhran, the traditional Irish hand drum, on several others.
The album, recorded in Dublin, brings Bloom firmly back onto Irish turf--although not without musical glances back toward American styles and subjects. The title track is a pulsing account of a bike ride through the rural Irish countryside, as the singer's rap-like, chanted cadences capture the exhilaration of rapid motion.
Bloom achieves a striking fusion between folk and rap with a cover of LL Cool J's rap hit, "I Need Love."