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Interview: Folk legend plays Ballina gig this Thursday night

LIVING LEGEND Andy Irvine plays in the Ballina Arts Centre on Thursday night. Pic: Kása Béla

Fiona Kerrigan

IRISH folk music legend Andy Irvine is all set to play the Ballina Arts Centre this coming Thursday night, October 4, at 8pm. The gig comes hot on the heels of the news that Irvine is to receive a lifetime achievement award at the inaugural RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards, which takes place at the end of this month, Throughout his 50-year career; from Sweeney’s Men in the mid sixties to the enormous success of Planxty in the 70s, to the Irish super group, Patrick Street in the 80s, Andy Irvine has been a world music pioneer and icon for traditional music and musicians.
In reflecting on the recent news of this impending honour, Andy had this to say: “I am pretty thrilled by it! When it was put up on Facebook and Twitter, nearly a thousand people congratulated me over the weekend. Blown away!”

Like his hero Woody Guthrie, Andy is the archetypal troubadour and has toured extensively and remains to do so like his song ‘Never Tire of the Road’.
“I seem to have to live up to it!” he laughs. “ I got so many things from Woody and ‘the road’ seems to have been one of them. Too late to stop now. Paul Brady and I hit it off immediately when he came into Planxty in 1974. I think we learned a lot from each other musically. The Andy Irvine/Paul Brady album might well have formed the basis for Planxty’s fourth album if the band not broken up in 1975.”

Andy recently released the album ‘Precious Heroes’ with Australian mandolin maestro Luke Plumb earlier this year. How that came about.
“I had heard Luke many years ago in Tasmania where he comes from. Later I met him at ‘Zouk Fest’ in New Mexico where he was teaching bouzouki and mandolin players how to play the parts that Donal Lunny and I had played on Planxty albums. He produced an album for Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton which I greatly admired and I asked him if he’d produce an album for me and play on it.”

That album has many great guest musicians; a hallmark of Andy Irvine’s approach to making records over the years. “Apart from Luke, I’m more in the habit of asking players of my own vintage or a generation earlier. It is very exciting to work with the likes of Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle and I’m currently working on an album with Lindsey Horner – an American Jazz Bass player – we have recorded nine or ten tracks with a guitarist and a drummer of songs my mother used to sing. I’ve no idea what my fans will think of that in this country.”

Andy has a number of bands on the go all the time, such as Mozaik and Patrick Street. These projects are very much still alive and we can expect to see plenty from them in the future.
“Mozaik has a third album coming out soon called ‘The Long and the Short of it’. We recorded it in Budapest about three years ago and it’s taken all this time to get to the stage of launching it. I‘m not sure if Mozaik will tour again though. Similarly with Patrick Street. Usher’s Island is my number one band now … Donal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle.  All wonderful musicians!”

A lifetime achievement award only goes half way towards saluting what Andy Irvine has done – and continues to – for music in Ireland and around the world. Don’t miss the chance to see him in concert at Ballina Arts Centre this Thursday night.

Tickets available on



Archive: DRAÍOCHT BLOG – 2008 Interview


MUSICIAN INTERVIEW: Andy Irvine  / 3 April 2008
Q&A with Andy Irvine and Nicola Murphy, Draíocht’s Marketing Manager 

Andy appears in Draíocht on Saturday 12th April 2008 at 8pm with his group Mozaik, truly a World Music band, which fellow musicians Donal Lunny (Ireland & Japan), Bruce Molsky (USA), Nikola Parov (Hungary) and Rens van der Zalm (Holland, soon to be Australia). He chatted with Nicola Murphy by email from Japan ahead of the gig next week.

Brief Introduction:
Andy Irvine: Forty Years on the Road
Andy Irvine has been hailed as ‘a tradition in himself’. Musician, singer and songwriter, Andy has maintained both personal integrity and highly individual performing skills throughout his 40-year career. From Sweeney’s Men in the mid sixties to the enormous success of Planxty in the 70s, to THE Irish super group, Patrick Street, in the 80s, Andy has been a world music pioneer and icon for traditional music and musicians. Irvine occupies a unique place in the musical world, plying his trade as archetypal troubadour, with a solo show and traveling lifestyle that reflects his lifelong influence, Woody Guthrie. Few others can equal his repertoire, Irish traditional songs, dexterous Balkan dance tunes, and a compelling canon of his own material that defies description.
Taken from:


Q: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from and where you live?

I have been playing music for my livelihood for over 40 years. I was a very good child actor who became not such a good juvenile actor. I play the Irish Bouzouki – an instrument that bears little relationship to its Greek origins. I also play Mandolin, Harmonica and Hurdy Gurdy. And I sing. I live in Dublin, though I spend most of my time traveling elsewhere. I am in Japan at the moment.

Q: What or who inspired you to become a musician?

My first inspiration was Woody Guthrie, the Oklahoma balladeer and song writer. Subsequently I became interested in all folk music.

Q: How old where you when you started playing?

I was 13 when I received my first instrument – a very poorly made guitar. I studied classical music for four years but decided it was not for me.

Q: Why did you choose your particular instrument to learn?

I wanted to play all the instruments that Woody played. The mandolin became my foremost instrument but after my good friend, Johnny Moynihan introduced the Bouzouki into Irish music, I gradually became more drawn to that.

Q: If you weren’t a musician, what would you like to be?

A novelist.

Q: What is the hardest thing about being a musician?

Practising when you haven’t played for a while. It’s like running through a field of porridge.

Q: What type of music do you enjoy playing the most?

My music.

Q: Are there any famous musicians that you would really like to work with?

Yes, Woody Guthrie but unfortunately he’s dead.

Q: What’s the most unusual place you’ve ever played a concert or made a recording? 

Kilmainham Jail with all the ghosts looking down from the cells above.

Q: Have you ever tried other art forms like drawing, painting, sculpting or dancing for instance?

No, no good at any of these.

Q: What other musicians or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?

I have been inspired by many people who rose up and fought against injustice. People who spoke for those with no voice. From James Connolly to Joe Hill.

Q: How do you keep motivated if you’re having a bad day?

Imagine myself to be in a worse position.

Q: How have you handled the business side of being a musician, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your gigs to promoters etc?

Like most musicians I am not a big self promoter. My first band, Sweeney’s Men was a minor success but my second band, Planxty was a major success. I have never felt the need to sell myself since then.

Q: Do you have any advice you could give to a musician just starting out?

Don’t expect to be a success. But believe in yourself and keep doing what you believe in.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Still battering around the globe with any luck.

Q: What are your interests and hobbies in your spare time? 

Football, Cricket, Rugby. Anything with a ball except Basketball.

Q: Could you tell us a little more about your forthcoming performance in Draíocht?

It’s with Mozaik, a fiery blend of Irish, Balkan and Old Time American music that should keep the audience in excitement. Between us all the band plays over 20 instruments with Nikola covering a bewildering range of East European instruments that many people will never have seen before.
I started the group 5 years ago, and we rehearsed for the first time in Australia and finished the tour that followed with a live recording at the Powerhouse, in Brisbane. That album conveys the exciting sounds that the band creates on stage. Since then we’ve played at many of the world’s major festivals and concert halls in Australia, Japan, USA, Ireland, Italy and the UK. (Vicar Street, National Concert Hall, Cork Opera House notably). Each member of the band has recorded extensively during their musical careers – Nikola solo and with numerous Balkan bands in Hungary; Bruce with solo albums and collaborations with Pete Seeger, Martin Hayes, Bill Frisell and many others; Dónal with bands ranging from Planxty and The Bothy Band to Moving Hearts, and more than 100 albums that he has produced and played on for other artists; I’ve played with Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and Patrick Street, solo and with Paul Brady; Rens has also recorded with me, and many Dutch bands like Wolverlei and Fungus.

Q: Do you have any performances coming up after this one in Draíocht?

Yes, Draiocht is the second gig of a nine day tour in Ireland with Mozaik.

What the Press have said:

“This was glorious music that raised spirits, roofs and not a few pulses along the wayYet another magnificent musical detour that unleashed our imaginations and our energies, free to roam where passports and language barriers hold no sway.”
Siobhan Long, The Irish Times

Further info about Andy Irvine & Mozaik can be found on his website: 


Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Bruce Molsky, Nikola Parov, Rens van der Zalm
First envisaged by venerable vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Andy Irvine (Planxty, Patrick Street), Mozaik is the ultimate global string band- a truly international ensemble who can not only perform music from a wide array of cultures, but interweave their myriad influences into an entirely new sound. Mozaik moves effortlessly from Celtic to old-time to Eastern European music, with intricate string arrangements complementing Andy and Bruce’s vocals. The line-up boasts musicians as versatile and eclectic as the music created between them, whose traditions and styles are distinct, yet blend beautifully to form a cohesive work of art. Long time fans from Irvine’s Planxty days, will be aware that he has been experimenting with Eastern European melodies and rhythms for a long time now, which is a style he incorporates magnificently into this band.

Main Auditorium
Sat 12 April 2008, 8pm
Tickets: €22 / €20 conc

For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht
Tel: 01-8098021

Andy to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award At 1st RTE Folk Awards

‘Being loved may be an important part of my psyche’

RTÉ Radio 1 is launching its inaugural Folk Music Awards, and the recipient of its first Lifetime Achievement Award is a hugely loved veteran who’s earned his stripes


Andy Irvine: ‘I don’t think that the music’s ever been stronger. Some of the kids could play the socks off you.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

If folk music can be described as music “by, of and for folks” (to hijack a phrase), Ireland can lay claim to a remarkably sturdy inheritance. Our folk canon depends on the inventiveness of its artists to renew its lifeblood across the generations, and this is a role that a remarkably diverse range of singers and musicians embrace vigorously these days. Unlike many other countries, we have a thriving folk scene, but still we’ve been tardy in our willingness to give it the recognition it deserves. The UK has the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and the US the International Folk Music Awards. Now, RTÉ Radio 1 is inaugurating its very own Folk Awards to address that void.

The nominees (listed below) bear testimony to the robust state of renewal at the heart of our folk scene. Lankum, Ye Vagabonds, Irish-Iranian band Nava and Radie Peat are all in the running for laurels at the October awards ceremony, although there’s a disappointingly small number of women among the finalists, apart from the category of Folk Singer of the Year.

The recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement Award is someone who’s earned his stripes over a career spanning five decades and five continents. A founding member of some of the most influential bands in the world of folk and traditional music, “his contribution and influence will be long lauded when the rest of us are long gone”, according to Anne-Marie Power, head of arts and culture at RTÉ.

Andy Irvine has always been a man who’s let his music do the talking. From Sweeney’s Men to Planxty, Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and, most recently, Usher’s Island, he’s stayed true to his own songs and never tires of the road. News of this Lifetime Achievement Award elicited a response that’s quintessentially Andy: modest and low-key.

“Gratitude,” he offers without hesitation by way of explanation. “Pleasure at finally being recognised. I was delighted. It’s often occurred to me that my main motivation in being on stage, apart from the fact that I love the music is that – if I were to go to a psychiatrist – I might find that being loved is an important part of my psyche.”

Woody Guthrie

Irvine’s mother was a musical comedy actress and, while he gloried in her collection of what he calls “a bunch of fairly awful and cracked 78s”, his ears only pricked up in earnest when he discovered the music of Woody Guthrie at the age of 15.

Andy began writing letters to Guthrie from the age of 17.

“I just wanted to be connected with this man,” he offers blithely, referring to a time when there was no internet or ready means by which artists could be located. “I immediately connected with his music when I heard it. How to find anyone in the world at that time was not easy but I found out that he was in a hospital in New Jersey with that dreadful, incurable disease [Huntington’s Chorea] that he’d inherited from his mother. Later, they discovered all my letters to him, which were sent to the Woody Guthrie Archive. Years later, I visited there (in Tulsa, Oklahoma) and I photographed them all, and I shook with embarrassment at some of the things I’d said!”

It’s Irvine we have to thank for so many intricate and rhythmically challenging tunes which are now so much part of our repertoire. Many are from, or inspired by, Balkan tunes he picked up on a two-year sojourn in Eastern Europe before he became a founding member of Planxty in 1972. Mominsko Horo cosied up alongside The Wind that Shakes the Barley on the band’s 1974 album, Cold Blow And The Rainy Nightas if they had been lifelong bedfellows.

“I didn’t really understand those rhythms until after I had come back home,” he says, “and I just bought some EPs. I listened intently: 1, 2, 3 and 1, 2, 3 and once I discovered and understood that, it was ‘Eureka, I’ve found it!’ It was a great breakthrough.”

Since then, many musicians have written tunes in those calculus-like rhythms.

“One of these days we might have to find a name for them,” Irivne smiles mischievously. “I know: we’ll call them jeels.”

Law unto themselves

Those Irvine tunes are a law unto themselves.

Irvine nods in agreement. “Most of my musical peers would say – apart from Dónal Lunny – ‘hmmm, very odd sense of rhythm, that man.’”

Irvine continues to take to the road with impressive regularity, and his journeys are generally epic in scale. His latest collaborations include a return to his seminal 1977 album with Paul Brady (which they’ll reprise along with Kevin Burke and Dónal Lunny in October in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre) and Usher’s Island (with Paddy Glackin, John Doyle and Michael McGoldrick). Do these collaborations continue to feed his solo work, and vice versa?

“I think so,” he offers, in that characteristic mild manner that is his, “because your ability with a band is so much more than your own personal ability. But there’s a great freedom to playing on your own too: making a mistake and not throwing the rest of the band.”

I’d say that the future of traditional music in Ireland is well set for a couple of generations

And therein lies Andy Irvine’s gift: what the audience witnesses is effortlessness, yet he works exceedingly hard and with great diligence. The essence of great art: effort concealed.
Having played folk and traditional music when it was literally neither popular nor profitable, what does Irvine make of its current state?

“It’s truly remarkable,” he says. “It’s quite staggering. I don’t think that the music’s ever been stronger. Some of the kids could play the socks off you. I mean, I don’t know how they’re so well able to do that. I’d say that the future of traditional music in Ireland is well set for a couple of generations.”

 Irvine is adamant that luck was on his side, being in the right band at the right time, when he joined Planxty. He was nothing short of flabbergasted by the trajectory their career paths followed, and that surprise was further amplified in 2004 when Planxty reunited.

“Oh that was magic,” he offers, grinning broadly at the memory of those electrifying concerts. “I personally think that we were better then than we had ever been before, which is odd because we were in our 60s.”

And if he had to choose just three songs from his knapsack, what would they be?

“You Rambling Boys of Pleasure, he says, mulling over the challenge quietly. “The Blacksmith and Never Tire of the Road – to keep myself honest.”