Author: muso-confuso

Ontago Daily Times: Never Tiring of the road

Folk musician Andy Irvine is touring New Zealand, including stops in Cardrona and Dunedin. Photo:...

Folk musician Andy Irvine is touring New Zealand, including stops in Cardrona and Dunedin. Photo: Supplied

In a long career on the road, musician Andy Irvine has made connections with all sorts of folk, including a special friendship in Dunedin, writes Bill Morris. At the Auckland Folk Festival two weeks ago, I watched Andy Irvine perform his well-loved tune, O’Donoghue’s to a packed marquee.

“When I first set foot in O’Donoghue’s,” the song begins, “A world of music, friends and booze opened up before me.”

The song goes on to capture the magic of Irvine’s early days, when he played and sang in that fabled Dublin pub, alongside musicians who would become icons of Irish folk music.

O’Donoghue’s in the 1960s was a hotbed of music, and a home away from home for the likes of Luke Kelly, Christy Moore and Joe Heaney.

From this scene would spring the Dubliners, and Irvine’s own group, Sweeney’s Men — bands that brought traditional Irish tunes and songs into the heart of Dublin, reviving an interest in the country’s musical culture among younger generations and spearheading the Irish folk revival of the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s hearing this song, and appreciating the legendary names that populate its lines, that really brings home just what a musical treasure Andy Irvine is.

“O’Donoghue’s was a fabulous place to be,” he tells me.

“I was in there more or less every day. I had a flat just across the road. It was very important to my evolution as a musician.”

London-born, Irvine went to Ireland as an actor, but his life changed irrevocably when he discovered the songs of the American folk singer Woody Guthrie.

Irvine corresponded with Guthrie as he lay dying on his sick bed in a hospital in New Jersey, and Guthrie would remain a guiding light along Irvine’s musical journey.

“I graduated from listening to Woody Guthrie and trying to sound like him, to discovering Irish folk music,” hesays.

Irvine blended the harmonica-accompanied guitar style of his hero with traditional Irish instruments, tunes and songs, as well as writing his own material. This melding of traditions has always informed his career.

“We didn’t really distinguish between English, American, Scottish and Irish music,” he says. “If we liked the song we sang it.”

Eastern European music, in particular, made itself at home in Irvine’s creative soul, and he was part of a group that introduced the bouzouki, originally a Greek instrument, into the Irish scene.

Irvine travelled extensively in Eastern Europe during 1968 and 1969, absorbing many musical influences.

Back in Ireland, he was invited to help record songwriter Christy Moore’s second album, and the group of musicians that gathered to do so would form a new band, Planxty.

Planxty performed their first show, as a support act for Donovan, in Galway in 1972. It was a moment that would go down in Irish music history.

“The audience went berserk,” Irvine tells me.

Blinded by the stage lights, he initially feared the crowd were rioting,

“We were gobsmacked,” he says. “We had no idea that what we were doing was going to be such a success.

“I think that was the biggest buzz of my whole life.

“To this day, if you asked (fellow Planxty members) Christy or Donal what did we think we had that the audience appreciated, we wouldn’t really have the answer.”

Planxty would go on to enjoy huge success throughout Europe, becoming perhaps the most influential Irish traditional band of all time.

“It was very much musicians’ music,” says Irvine.

“Even musicians who are too young to remember those days very often quote Planxty as being one of their big influences.”

As a solo songwriter and with bands including Planxty, Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and recently Usher’s Island, Irvine has now recorded dozens of albums.

His 1991 song “Never Tire of the Road,” is intended as a tribute to Woody Guthrie, but might as well describe his own life.

His incessant travels have led him to New Zealand numerous times, and Irvine is well known to many in the folk scene around the country. He maintained a particularly close association with Dunedin songwriter Marcus Turner, until Turner’s death in 2016.

Irvine’s recent Auckland Folk Festival set included Turner’s striking anti-war song When The Boys Are on Parade.

“It’s a remarkable song,” says Irvine.

“It’s perfection in rhyming and scanning. He was a very precise man, and his songwriting is very precise.

“I first met him at Wellington Folk Festival in 1984, and I met him every time I went to New Zealand after that. We really did relate to each other. When I heard about Marcus’ death, I was devastated.”

Throughout his career, Irvine has railed against social injustice and championed workers’ rights. I ask him if he thinks songwriting can still be a force for social change.

“It’s all one can do,” he says.

“I incorporated Woody Guthrie’s chorus into Never Tire of the Road: ‘All you fascists are bound to lose. You’re bound to lose, you fascists are bound to lose’.

“An audience singing that loud makes me feel like I’m doing some good. But I’m probably playing to the converted. People who are right wing fascists don’t come to my gigs.”

Now aged 77, Irvine still can’t entirely put his finger on what continues to get him out touring.

“It’s become a way of life,” he says. “It’s what I do.

“Since I wrote a song called Never Tire of the Road, I can’t really ever tire of the road, can I?”

The gigs

Andy Irvine performs: 

• Cardrona Hall, tonight (Saturday, February 8), 7pm. $20

• 50 Dundas St, tomorrow (Sunday, Feb 9), 7.30pm. $25


ARCHIVE: 2010 – Interview – Andy Irvine – Celtic Society of the Monterey Bay

Andy Irvine

I interviewed Andy Irvine at Don Quixote’s in Felton on June 20th, 2010. Andy plays bouzouki, mandolin, and harmonica and sings in Patrick Street, Mozaik, and also solos. Andy is wonderfully unassuming, so full of experience and knowledge, and a joy to talk with.

Paul Edwards, Celtic Society of the Monterey Bay

I’ve been reading your recollections on your web site. What’s up with your book?

Well, it’s very forward in my consciousness. I do intend to do it, but I keep finding that there are things that have to be cleared away before I have a clear field. You know, I kept a diary from 1961 through 1963. I’ve been transcribing that. It’s got to be in the computer before I start. If you live long enough you have a story to tell.

There’s a fair amount on your web site about your mandolin and bouzouki. What about your harmonica?

The thing about harmonica is you can’t see what you’re doing, so it’s hard to describe. Teaching people to play harmonica, I’d be lost. If you’ve a whole range of diatonic harmonicas, the actual note you’re playing you wouldn’t be aware of. There’s a lot of feel to it.

I learned to play harmonica listening to Woody Guthrie, and I was good friends with Jack Elliott back in the very late Fifties and early Sixties, and he told me that Woody Guthrie played the harmonica upside-down. So I’m really glad that I learned that before I started playing harmonica. So I played it upside-down, and quite often people come up and say, “Hey! You play the harmonica upside-down!” And I say, “Yeah! Woody Guthrie did!”

So what harmonicas do you use?

Well, I generally use Hohner diatonic harmonicas, but I would have a lot of them tuned in what they call the Country Tuning, which means that the reed in 2nd position is sharpened, so it’s played in major scale. I discovered this guy in England called Anthony Dannecker, who used to work for Hohner. He makes up harmonicas out of Hohner components, and he became the guy that I use to tune my harmonicas. I also play an old Hohner Meister Class harmonica.

What drew you to the type of music you play?

It was a progression. The friends that I had when I was in my early teens – when 45’s came out; great music; early rhythm and blues, like Fats Domino; in the mid-Fifties — and they went, “Wow! Hey! This is fantastic!” And I thought, “Yeah, it’s OK, but it’s not what I’m looking for.” And then this fellow, Lonnie Donegan, appeared, singing kind of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie songs. That was when I discovered the music I was interested in, and it was all American — “It Takes a Worried Man” and “Midnight Special” and all that kind of stuff. Then I discovered Woody Guthrie through Lonnie Donegan, because Woody Guthrie is mentioned on the back of one of his records. I was hooked on Woody. So then I got into an old Harry Smith anthology, old ’78s from the 1920s.

Then I belatedly discovered my own folk music. It was common in that day. We all started back in the late Fifties and early Sixties into American music, and then people like Ewan McColl said, “Yes, yes, yes, but there is a lot of good stuff here.” So eventually we all got into ours here.

Celtic Society of the Monterey Bay © 2016

ARCHIVE: 2010 – Live Review – Andy and the Fleadh

ARCHIVE POST AUGUST 20, 2010 · 11:59 AM by Brendan O’Brien

The road to God knows where ... Brendan O'Brien

Last night my wife and I went to see Andy Irvine in the Cavan County Museum, Ballyjamesduff … wonderful. Andy, now 68 years of age, is one of the true greats not only of Irish but of world folk music, and a witty raconteur to boot. He is also a gentleman … when I emailed him this morning to compliment him on the show, he emailed back promptly to thank me and say how much he enjoyed it.

Andy is an admirer of Woody Guthrie (‘Never Tire of the Road’ is a tribute to Woody), and his music, as well as drawing on Eastern European influences, touches on themes of Americana to which I alluded on Ana’s blog on MyT the other night. I’ll draw these out in another post when I have a chance.

I first heard Andy’s music when he was a member of Planxty, the seminal Irish…

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