Andy Irvine – Stray Leaf Folk Club, Mullaghbane, Co. Armagh, Ireland – 4/Jul/2000
Commissioned by the Irish Times July 4 2000 but unpublished
Most roles and occupations in life are applied for, coveted, stolen or won; with others, the job is so novel it happens by stealth. After forty years in and around the business of ‘folk music’, Andy Irvine – promoting a splendid new album, Way Out Yonder – can no longer be seen as simply another jobbing traddie on the (increasingly busy) road. He is, of course, an institution in Irish music, but more meaningfully – and certainly more inspiringly to those who seek out his live performances – his musical reference points are wide and he is still driven by the passion and creativity of a man on a mission. Derisory of the often vacuous ‘legendary’ tag attached to players of a certain age, Irvine’s impetus plainly derives from each and every night’s task of engaging, informing, moving, interacting with and, most of all, entertaining his audience. The intoxicating blend of Irish music and Balkan tunes alongside humour, poignancy and original story-songs in the tradition of Woody Guthrie – rescuing heroes of the working classes from the footnotes of history – makes his artistry quite simply unique. Woody is often cited as the template for Irvine’s current path but a closer comparison might be the now all-but forgotten ‘Scottish cowboy’ Alex Campbell, who threw music together from every source of the day, infuriated purists, entertained mercurially and virtually invented, back in the fifties, the concept of the Celtic troubadour. Tonight’s show, at a slightly cavernous arts centre in a lonely corner of South Armagh, was hardly an easy one to get going. By the end of the night, however, Andy had created the kind of intimacy and warmth that will continue to ensure that his reputation never sets its backside anywhere near those bothersome laurels.
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