By Ian Cusack on May 6, 2015
WITH a musical career spanning more than half a century, Andy Irvine has a substantial body of work to his name.
After abandoning plans for an acting career in August 1962, Irvine gravitated to the pub on Merrion Row that he celebrates in the song O’Donoghue’s,
And it is there where he became immersed in the burgeoning Irish folk and ballad movement – though what Ronnie Drew would make of Irvine opting for Australian lager as his tipple of choice is another matter!
Johnny Moynihan, with whom Irvine founded the seminal 60s band Sweeney’s Men, may have been the person who introduced the bouzouki to Irish music, but it was Irvine who popularised it and remains the country’s foremost virtuoso on that instrument.
Surrounded by a bevy of arcane stringed instruments, such as the mandola and bass bouzouki, Irvine displayed his ability on each one in turn as he skilfully delved into his extensive back catalogue during an accomplished two and a quarter hour performance at Newcastle Irish Centre in front of a rapt and respectful audience.
Each song was prefaced by a detailed explanation of the source of the number and while many – such as the Planxty classics Arthur McBride and As I Roved Out, which featured harmonica in the place of Liam O’Flynn’s pipes on the original – were from the canon of Irish traditional ballads, others displayed Irvine’s love of travel and embracing of other cultures.
He transported us from the banks of the Lee to the glens of Antrim, as well as to New Zealand, the States and, most poignantly, Australia on The Ballad of Ben Hall – the story of a noted nineteenth century outlaw.
Additionally, he gave an affectionate autobiographical take on his days as an hitchhiker stopping off in Slovenia at the end of the 1960s, with a love song to all the beautiful women he failed to woo in Ljubljana.
Irvine may not be as obviously political as his former Planxty bandmate Christy Moore, but there is a defined left wing sensibility in much of his work.
He apologised for not being able to remember the words to a song in tribute to Limerick International Brigade hero Frank Ryan, choosing instead to do a number parodying Captain O’Duffy and the Blueshirts’ role in the Spanish Civil War.
The final encore, Never Tire of the Road, saw Irvine paying tribute to his first musical hero Woody Guthrie, which included a rousing, heartfelt chorus that pointed out “you fascists are bound to lose”.
If they’re up against Andy Irvine’s power and dignity, that much is certain.