Archive: 30th Jul 2004 – RTÉ Radio Interview

Here is a short interview with Andy Irvine from an RTÉ Radio show 30th July 2004. Andy also sang three songs, Prince Among Men, O’Donoghues and Reynardine. Andy’s words in bold.

The first half of the show is music, music, music from Andy Irvine, who’s public debut was in ‘A Tale Of Five Cities’ but eventually he left the ‘star child thing’ and went on to discover skiffle and moved into music. The history has not been a very linear beginning, middle or end, so he is guarded that trend throughout his career. Many of the great bands and albums of the last 30 years have benefited from his great musicianship. Including Sweeney’s Men, Planxty, Patrick Street and now, the cross border, cross ocean Mozaik. Not even to mention ‘that’ album with Paul Brady. Andy Irvine joins me in the studio this morning.

A very, very warm welcome Andy Irvine.

A- Thanks Myles.

We’re going to hear a few pieces of music from you and we may as well start with one straight away. Your going to play a thing called ‘Prince Among Men’

A – Yeah, A Prince Among Men. I wrote it a few years ago. I met a man in Glasgow, who’s Father had been a coal miner and who had worked very hard to avoid his son going down the pit as well, so it is just that.

( sings song ) 

Thank you very much, terrific song. Prince Among Men from Andy Irvine. You were actually in the studio a few weeks ago with Planxty.

A – Yeah! 

But aside from that, you are actually doing your own thing too, you’re traveling with your group Mozaik, Tell us a little about that project.

A – Well, it’s coming to an end now after about 3 weeks but it has been a great success. It’s a band that, well it came to me in a fit of creative energy while I was driving across the huge Australian landscape, a few years ago, that it would be good to get a band together, and I thought ‘ok, Andy what kind of band should I put together ‘ and I thought it would be great to get some Balkan music in it, ’cause I’m really into that, and some….oh, some American Old Timey or mountain music, and immediately I thought, ‘cause that’s another strand of music that I had been very fond of. 

Appalachian fiddle type thing?

A – Yeah, that type of thing. And I knew just the right man for that. And I knew the right man for the Balkan stuff. So, I e-mailed everybody, and they all said they were available and they’d love to do it. Donal Lunny was the last one to come on board, and we made an album in Australia in 2002 and it has just come out now to coincide with the tour that we have just done here. And it has been brilliant, and we still have a few more gigs to go. 

So, you don’t have any problem or there hasn’t been any problem in marrying all these traditions together.

A – Well, it’s a strange thing tradition. Strangely it kind of married it’s self together. We had six days rehearsal in Victoria, and we had to get it together in six days. And we did, and it kind of fused together in a remarkable fashion. It underlined a point that I’ve always made, which is, people may come from different countries and backgrounds but folk music, the music they sing, is usually of a very similar nature. They sing about the same things they have the same emotions. So there is no reason why the music should not gel , and it has done with Mozaik. 

Where did your fascination for Balkan music come from? When did you visit there?

A – I went there in ’68-69, and I lived there for about eighteen months. Just kind of traveling around, living in orchards and hitch-hiking around as the fancy took me. I discovered the music, the Balkan music, in a Bulgarian lorry one morning while this guy was trying to make conversation. I couldn’t hear him, let alone understand him and he turned on the radio and I heard this music, and I thought wow ! That’s Bulgarian folk music and it was just great. 

Give us another piece, you do one called O’Donoghue’s, is it?

A – Well, Yes, this is a piece and I am not sure if this is a work in progress or if it’s finished. So this will be its kind of debut. O’Donoghues was the change of my life really. Well, I’ll sing the song, it says everything! 

Is it true you used to rehearse in the toilets?

A – Well, no but there was a noise in the toilets, the cistern made a kind of noise like wwwoooohhhhhhh. And it went on 24 hours a day, well, I wasn’t in there all 24 hours but I presume it did. So, it was great to go in there and sing these great lengthy ballads that I was learning at the time. Singing against this great wwwwooooohhhh, well drones are great things to sing against. 

Is this in honor of those great moments??

A – Well, that was but one ! ( laughs ) 

One of many great moments.

( sings song )

That is absolutely wonderful, ( applause ) I was going to ask you a whole load of questions about it, but it kind of explains itself. More, or less. That is only a work in progress, because you could very well add verses to it.

A – Well yes, I could indeed, yes. 

You know as the years go on ! That’s kind of an Irish Folk music ‘American Pie’ isn’t it??

A – ( laughs ) It’s funny you should say that, that’s a good point! It could be ! 

It’s a good bit shorter than American Pie mind you ! And there are little things in there, like you were an Actor.

A – I was an Actor ! 

You did appear in a ‘Tale of Five Cities’

A – I did ! And my Mother did play at the Gaiety in 1928. 

But, what I didn’t know was, well according to the song, it may very well not be true, you could be an unreliable narrator. Johnny Moynihan introduced the Irish Bouzouki to Ireland, I thought You did…

A – Aaaaggghhh ! you see… 

And I thought Donal Lunny picked it up!

A – Well no, a lot of people do think that, and it is slightly embarrassing for me, because Johnny Moynihan was very much the first person to play the bouzouki in Ireland. He swapped a mandolin for a Greek bouzouki, and I remember him producing it at a session in Galway in 1966 and we all hated it. But he persisted and that’s what we are all playing today. So ! 

Well, I am glad you were able to rectify that. You are on tour at the moment, and 9th August you are at Whelans in Wexford Street and Barry’s at Grange in Co Sligo, and I do want to mention that on the 11th he has a day off !

A – What will I do ? 

Well worth mentioning as you don’t have many days off in the foreseeable future. What are you going to do. Add a few verses to O’ Donoghues perhaps! On the 12th you’ll be at the Empire Hall in Belfast, on the 13th at Liffey’s House, 14th The Forum in Waterford, 15th at Dolan’s in Limerick, and 16th and 17th at the good ol’ Roisin Dubh in Galway and on the 18th at the Lobby in Cork.

I was watching you play, and you are a wonderful person to watch playing the guitar….

A – Bouzouki, bouzouki, bouzouki…. 

Bouzouki, or what ever, but your first musical experience was with classical guitar. What took you away from that?

A – Well, it was too difficult ! I mean it was too difficult unless you were committed, unless you wanted to become a classical guitar player with ever sinew in your body. I was trying to play this Bach piece and I went to my teacher and I said ‘you know I just can quite get this piece’ and he said ‘you know the only way to get it is to practice another hour a day !’ So that would be four hours a day and I thought, well I’ve got other things to do and I had just reached puberty and I thought ( laughs ) 

You don’t quite think in those terms, Wow ! I have just reached puberty ( laughs )

Ok, Reynardine, introduce us to Reynardine.

A – Yes, OK. This is a very old song and Reynardine was a character who was half Fox and half man. And his great specialty was leading young woman across the mountain. And we do not know from the story if he was just a very personable courier or he had ulterior motifs, I suspect the later as in the last verse his teeth do brightly shine !

( sings song ) 

Yeah ! I am glad you didn’t do that extra hour a day on the classical guitar

A – ( laughs ) 

Andy Thank you very, very much

A – Thanks again Myles! 

Transcribed by Kieron Seamons and a very special Thanks to Al Atkinson for the wonderful photos. 

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