Even at the age of 72 Andy Irvine seems to be constantly on the move, the day after this interview from his Fermanagh home he was heading out to Japan to spend time and pay respects to his wife’s family over the festive period.
And with a wry laugh, the quietly spoken musician admits to having itchy feet.
“It would be true to say I have itchy feet. The trouble is every new place I go to I have to go back to, so every place I visit is added to the list of places I have to go back to, so if I don’t go back to them every three or four years I feel a bit sorry about that.
“I think I should never have written that song Never Tire of the Road, I sometimes feel I have to live up to it,” he jokes.
In total contradiction to this Irvine admits he would relish the idea of living on a desert island which would of course have robbed the world of one of the most respected folk musicians who has and continues to take his rightful place alongside the best of the best.
But the folk world may never have heard of Irvine had fate taken another path for him because as a youngster Irvine was a child actor. “When I became a teenager I became a different person as one does and became a lot more self conscious.
“I wasn’t treated by directors and casts with the same kid gloves as I was as a child. When I look back now I wasn’t very good so it was a great relief for me to discover folk music when I was about 15 and I’d been playing guitar, mandolin and harmonica and it was great.
“I do wonder now in my old age what kind of an actor I would be, I am sometimes tempted to seek a part in something, but I probably won’t.”
Irvine was born in London in the middle of World War Two to an Irish mother and Glaswegian father both of who had musical talent and he followed his mother onto the stage for a while but it was his discovery of music through performers such as Lonnie Donegan, through whom indirectly he came across his idol Woody Guthrie, which led Irvine to Dublin and the burgeoning folk scene that was happening there.
“I usually pinpoint 1965 as the beginning of my professional career when I stopped acting and started playing music, although my first gig was actually in ’63.
“When I started in Dublin it was before any kind of a boom, so a lot of us were waiting in the wings for this to happen.
“My first success was with Sweeney’s Men not as Andy Irvine, it was only after that I gradually built up a bit of a following.
“Dublin was a big learning curve and a big getting-better-known curve. Sweeney’s Men were 1966 but it wasn’t until 1972 with Planxty which was the biggest hit I was ever in and it certainly established me afterwards as a person in my own right.
“We were aware in 1972 that we were a big success and we laughed and giggled and had hysterics about it but it didn’t put money in our pockets particularly.
“The fact is money, enjoyment and playing good music have always been equal throughout my career. I have never looked for success or to do anything other than play the music that I play and luckily enough people have like it, that I have been able to earn a living.”
In famous Dublin pubs such as O’Donaghue’s Irvine would play alongside musicians some of which are now household names and even legends. Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna spring to mind.
So over the decades he has been able to see and be involved in many changes on the music scene.
“It’s hard to take the scene out of the world. If you go back to the sixties the world was a much bigger place and the scene was much bigger and over the years it’s contracted in some instances and has expanded in others.
“Over my fifty-year career I have played in countries that I would never have thought of in the early sixties. Things go up and down and it’s not at its best right now but then it wasn’t at its best in 1978 either.
“Things move in and out of popularity, for instance if you play a tour of folk clubs in the UK you are not going to see too many young people.
“It’s just not in their vision to come to see someone like me, you do see the odd renegade and they really like it.
“In Ireland it’s slightly different because it doesn’t quite have the same grey beard tag. That’s the way it is and I imagine that’s the reason why the UK folk scene is not what it was, because the people who were supporting it are not what they once were.
“I think maybe there was an upsurge when The Pogues became in vogue. If somebody playing something close to folk music becomes very popular then people will look behind that and find folk music, but I am not sure if there’s anything about at the moment that is going to do that?
“People have been saying for years in the British folk scene that folk clubs are not what they were and the scene is dying.
“As far as I can see in the last 15 years since people started saying this I have had a tour every 18 months and I am sure people such as Martin Carthy would say the same.”
Two years after the event of celebrating his 70th Birthday the album and DVD of the two nights of live music at Vicar Street, Dublin so why did it take so long to get it released?
“If you are doing things yourself and you’re a cottage industry it does take time because you have other things to do.
“Donal Lunny mixed it and remixed it but we always found something slightly wrong and just took all that time because no one was attending to it full time, that’s a bit frustrating. It’s always the same with an album you see it up to the point where you say OK that’s finished and then you don’t see it again for a long time, so I haven’t actually heard it for a few months.
“The last time I did I thought it captured the moment very well and generally the response from the people who have bought it has been exactly that.
“It (the concert) was a really great experience, someone ran to Paul Brady in Vicar street and said to him ‘Aww that was great’ and Paul replied, yes Andy should have more 70th birthdays.”
It’s well documented that throughout his whole career he has been a big admirer of Woody Guthrie since discovering his name on a Lonnie Donegan album, he progressed to writing to the legend and even admitted to claiming to be the American hero and that admiration has never left him.
“Absolutely yes.Woody was a big influence on me way way back and has continued to be and I will never know if all the travelling I have done is because of his influence or whether I had it in me and that’s why I admired him to that extent, a chicken and egg scenario. A lot of what he said and stands for is what I still say and stand for.”
So does Irvine see himself as overtly political or an activist?
“To a point yes, I do see myself that way. I don’t see myself in the boots of Dick Gaughan. I have written songs on these (political) matters and I will introduce them in a way which I hope will influence the audience, but you have to realise often you are playing to the converted.
“I left ‘The Troubles’ alone, it was just too complicated so I left that to others.
“Besides I am not very good at writing political songs pertaining to the day. I prefer a song whose story is finished and the facts are there in black and white.”
Now at the grand age of 72 are there no thoughts of retiring?
“I can’t see any reason to retire unless my music or my ability to play became untenable. So I will die with my boots on.
With a new year looming what’s coming up for 2015?
“The calendar is a little bit bare at the moment which is both good and bad.
“I have a new band called Ushers’ Island which will make its debut at Celtic Connections and then it’s going to be mothballed until August because of other people’s commitments. The band is Donal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Mike McGoldrick, John Doyle and me.
“We rehearsed back in September and it was absolutely great and we are rehearsing again in January and will be playing a couple of small gigs and then in Glasgow.
“The plan is to record at the first two gigs but that might be pushing it. We will record the first couple and see how they sound.”
“I am going to Madrid in February largely to visit the International Brigades’ battlefields, I have a couple of gigs then in Madrid.
By his own admission, he has realised, and quite late he confesses, that he is not going to live forever are there any burning ambitions left?
“I still have to make the bloody Woody Guthrie album I have been threatening to make for the last 20 years, I really have to do that, I can’t pass away before I finished that one.”