Gigs

Andy Irvine: ‘Woody Guthrie sang along with my recordings of his songs’

The musician pays tribute to his boyhood idol in a special show in Dublin tonight. Here, he talks about getting back to live gigs, collaborating with rising Irish stars and why the crowd went wild for Planxty.

Andy Irvine pays tribute to his hero in The Woody Guthrie Project
Andy Irvine pays tribute to his hero in The Woody Guthrie Project

John Meagher  

October 02 2021 02:30 AM


It was love at first listen when Andy Irvine encountered the music of Woody Guthrie. It was 1957 and he was 15. The American troubadour’s stark folk songs took a fierce hold and wouldn’t let go. It’s a passion that still burns brightly

“It’s been a lifelong devotion,” Irvine says, speaking via Zoom from his home in Wexford. “When I first bought one of his records and played it I was hooked from the first bar of the first song — it was like, ‘Yes! I’ve found it — this is it.’ And I can’t quite explain why. There was an honesty about him and his music that I appreciated.

“He wasn’t all that good as a musician and sometimes when I play his music to people who don’t know him and I hear him through them, I think, ‘Hmm, it’s not all that great’. But I loved the way he played guitar and I loved his singing voice and I’d play the guitar in the same style that he did and I’d even try to copy his Oklahoma accent.” 

These were the songs that encouraged Irvine to pick up a guitar, and so began one of the great innings in Irish music history. He also picked up a pen and wrote to Guthrie himself. “The world was a much bigger place then and it could be hard just to get information — I didn’t know if he was alive or dead or how famous he was. I wrote a letter to ‘Woody Guthrie, USA’ and after about three weeks it came back.

“Then I found out he was in hospital so I wrote to him there. I found out later that the people who would take him out at weekends, Bob and Sidsel Gleason, would read the letters to him. And they wrote back to me. I made some recordings for Woody of his songs and in a letter that [the Gleasons] sent me, they said that he had sung along with me.”

He is still tickled by the memory more than 60 years later and he says he was greatly touched when on a visit to the Woody Guthrie Centre in Oklahoma, he discovered that the letters he had written as a teen were on display there. “They had found the letters at the hospital when it was being knocked down and they ended up in his archive. I photographed them all and it’s like a diary from when I was 16 and 17.”

Tonight, at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, Irvine plays tribute to Guthrie in a special show as part of the venue’s acclaimed Tradition Now series. He will be accompanied by his friend, the Dutch multi-instrumentalist Rens van der Zalm.

“Despite my devotion to Woody, this is out of my comfort zone.”

Still agile

Irvine turns 80 next year, but this genial man could pass for someone in his early 60s. Although he says his fingers can’t race around the fretboard like they once could, his body has not betrayed him and he is still able to play live — something he clearly loves to do.

“Sometimes, when I hear myself playing 20 years ago I think, ‘Wow, I don’t think I could play that piece now.’ It doesn’t bother me because I’m still agile enough to accompany myself in the way I want to. And over the course of this pandemic, I’ve changed the way I hold the plectrum and I think it’s an improvement.”

He greatly missed the business of playing live. “I didn’t enjoy those streaming performances,” he says, “especially the ones that weren’t live. There’s nothing like playing in front of actual people.”

Last weekend, he played at the inaugural Hibernacle festival at Claregalway Castle, Co Galway. “It was wonderful. Everything had been put together so well. Normally, you wouldn’t notice the organisation, but we were treated fantastically well. The collaborations were great and the music was fantastic.” Irvine was the elder statesman among a home-grown line-up that included Lisa Hannigan, Jape, Tolü Makay and Saint Sister. “In one of the collaborations, they sang all the harmonies in all my songs — I don’t know how they learned them so quickly!”

Irvine was born in London in 1942 to an Irish mother and Scottish father. He was drawn to acting at an early age and became something of a child star. He appeared in ITV and BBC productions and featured in the acclaimed 1958 film Room at the Top.

But music, which had been a central part of his life for as long as he can remember, started to take over after the Woody Guthrie discovery. He moved to Ireland aged 20 and never looked back. His first band, Sweeney’s Men, made waves in a country that could sometimes be hostile to anything that was considered ‘trad’. By the end of the 1960s, Irvine had earned a reputation as one who was keen to leave a distinct mark on culture. His mastery of the bouzouki, the traditional Greek stringed instrument, demonstrated a yen to try different things.

Irvine is revered for his gifts with several instruments, but two of them loom large in his affections. “The bouzouki looks like a guitar and I’m sure half the audience think it’s a guitar, but it’s got eight strings and it delivers a really
special sound,” he says. “And I love the mandola — it’s tuned a fifth below the mandolin. It’s still a bit on the high side, but it’s got a lovely plaintive quality about it and it’s great for slow songs.”

He brought both those instruments and more to his next band, Planxty — by any measure, one of the most significant groups to have emerged from this country in any genre. Right from the off, audiences sensed that this quartet — Irvine, Christy Moore, Dónal Lunny and Liam Óg O’Flynn — was special.

Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam Og O'Flynn and Christy Moore re-united as Planxty at Vicar Street in 2004
Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam Og O’Flynn and Christy Moore re-united as Planxty at Vicar Street in 2004

“We did a tour supporting Donovan in 1972,” Irvine recalls, “and the first gig was down in Galway in a ballroom called the Hanger. We’d never seen so many microphones or so many lights. We went on and we hadn’t done much of a soundcheck — about halfway though it, the audience made noises. Initially, I thought there was a fight going on but I looked at the others and they were smiling from ear to ear. At the end of it, as the crowd went berserk for more, I came to realise that we had pulled the house down.

“We brought into the band what we’d been doing solo. Dónal Lunny was very important in that he was really good at knitting the whole thing together. Basically, Christy, myself and Liam were soloists and, somehow, that gelled to the success we got. I’m not sure any of us were ever sure about how or why we were so popular.”

Although Irvine found great acclaim after Planxty finished — not least when he and Paul Brady joined forces for a classic album in 1976 — he often longed for the band to reform. After Leagues O’Toole’s book and documentary on the band restored interest in the early 2000s, Planxty reunited. “They were some of the best shows I’ve ever done,” he says. “I really believe we were better, musically, in our 60s, than we had been all those years before.”

He has no intention of calling time on life on the road. He’s itching to get back out there and the New Year will see him tour with Liam Brady. The gigs had to be postponed due to Covid.

“I craved audiences. And I missed it so much. I’d practice daily, but I came to find that I couldn’t play certain things, like the riff at the end of my song, O’Donoghue’s, and I thought, ‘This is the end, Andy. This is the slippery slope.’ But as soon as I was able to play in front of an audience — actual people — I found I could play it as well as ever.”

source: independent.ie

Andy Irvine celebrates Woody Guthrie at the NCH

Updated / Friday, 1 Oct 2021 18:21

On 2nd October, Andy Irvine presents his Woody Guthrie Project at the National Concert Hall with Rens van der Zalm. Below, Andy talks about the influence of Woody, his correspondence with the folk icon and what people can expect from his NCH show.

I spent my early youth searching for the music I knew existed somewhere, the music that would lift my soul. I didn’t find it in my mother’s cracked and scratched collection of musical comedy 78s and I didn’t find it when Bill Haley & the Comets came to Europe in 1956. I nearly found it in the early 45 rpm singles of Rhythm & Blues recorded by the likes of Fats Domino. But…not quite. I found it for a short time with Lonnie Donegan and the Skiffle bands that proliferated a little later and on the sleeve of one of Lonnie’s early EPs I first saw the name that was to motivate me through my life—Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie, pictured in 1940

I found an album, oddly titled More Songs by Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston as it was the only one available. At home I placed the stylus on the first track and as the needle picked up the very first sound of Columbus Stockade a tingle went down my spine. The instrumental intro was followed by an Oklahoman voice, singing, “Way down in Columbus Stockade, want to be back in Tennessee”. And I knew I had found my treasure!

The notes on the back of the album gave nothing away as to who these two men were; I knew they were American, but the world was a much larger place in those days, and I could find no further information. Were they alive or dead?

The notes on the back of the album gave nothing away as to who these two men were; I knew they were American, but the world was a much larger place in those days, and I could find no further information. Were they alive or dead?

Not long after that, somebody introduced me to Pete Seeger and he told me about Woody being incarcerated in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey. Finally, I was able to make contact. Unfortunately, Woody was unable to hold a pen by this time as he had inherited, full blown, from his mother, the genetic disease which was at that time called Huntingdon’s Chorea and had little or no control over his limbs.

Letters were written on his behalf by a lady who would take him out of the hospital at weekends to be entertained by his friends and admirers.

https://embed.spotify.com/album/4S2lUeHgZEvtsiR8OfCkTV

I’ve always been so proud of the fact that Woody and I were friends in this fashion. I began to record songs on tape for Woody and one letter from Sid Gleason, told me how he would sing along with me.

As the years rolled by and Woody died in 1967, I discovered traditional Irish Music and also started writing my own songs, a lot of them very much in Woody’s style.

It has been one of the plus moments of this pandemic that I have had a lot of time to come back to Woody’s songs and in the last year, I have begun to record an album of his songs with the help of a grant from the Arts Council.

Watch: Never Tire of the Road – Andy Irvine salutes Woody Guthrie

I’m delighted to showcase some of these songs at the NCH with my old friend and brilliant musician, Rens van der Zalm. The repertoire that we will be presenting is largely less well-known songs of Woody’s and will represent some historic moments in American history that may well be new to the audience.

Songs about Tom Mooney, whose parents were Irish, and who was wickedly and wrongly convicted of setting off a bomb at a parade in San Francisco, Henry Wallace, who was nearly President of the USA after FDR died in 1945 and who stood for President in 1948, a song about Charles Lindbergh and “The America First” committee who wanted to keep US out of the second World War – until Pearl Harbour intervened.

Andy Irvine presents his Woody Guthrie Project at the National Concert Hall, Dublin with Rens van der Zalm On 2nd October, as part of the Tradition Now festival – find out more here.

Andy Irvine presents his Woody Guthrie Project at the National Concert Hall, Dublin with Rens van der Zalm On 2nd October, as part of the Tradition Now festival – find out more here.

STREAM: Solidarity for Palestine – 31st May 2021

Musicians’ Union Of Ireland & SIPTU announce livestream gig in aid of Gaza

The concert will be broadcast on Facebook and Youtube on May 31st from 8pm, with proceeds being donated to MECA (Middle East Children’s Alliance).

Musicians’ Union Of Ireland and SIPTU have organised a livestream ‘Gig for Gaza’ concert, set to raise vital funds for children’s medical aid in the region.

Supported by the Palestinian Embassy, ‘Gig for Gaza’ will feature special performances and appearances from Palestinian rap sensation MC Abdul, Frances Black, Harry Bradley, Paul Anderson, Francy Devine, Andy Irvine, Róisín Elsafty, John Kelly, Aoife Kelly, Charlie le Brun, Sean McGinley, Sean McKeon, Niamh Parsons, Graham Dunne, Ann Russell, Ciara Taaffe, and Éoghan Ó Ceannabháin.

All proceeds will be donated to MECA (Middle East Children’s Alliance) to aid the youth of Gaza.

Details of how to donate will be carried on the broadcast and contained in a Facebook Event page.

“Thanks are due to the musicians and actors who are taken part and freely giving their talents – a tremendous commitment to the Palestinian cause. Lockdown has meant that in most cases, musicians and other workers in the arts have been denied any opportunity to perform, engage with an audience or earn any income,” a press statement says.

Trad/roots: Andy Irvine and Paul Brady Waterfront concert is one to look forward to

Things seem to be starting to get up and running again music-wise, and what better way to return to gig-going than in the company of Andy Irvine and Paul Brady performing their most celebrated collaborative recording live?

Andy Irvine and Paul Brady will perform at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on October 25

Robert McMillen14 May, 2021 01:00

THE boys are back in town. Yes, Andy Irvine and Paul Brady are heading to Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on October 25, to again celebrate their eponymous classic of Irish folk song and music.

In the same way that nearly every household in the free world had The Eagles Greatest Hits, Bridge Over Troubled Waters and, er, Tubular Bells in their LP collection during the 1970s, folk fans had the ginger mop of Brady and the toussle-haired and bearded Irvine look out at them from the famous blue cover with a “wait till yez hear this” look about them.

Indeed, the pair had created new clothing for the Irish repertoire, taking classics like The Streets of Derry, Mary and the Soldier and, of course, Arthur McBride, turning them into something that chimed with the mood of the nation as it was back then.

In May 2017 the duo decided, due to the album’s still immense popularity, to do an Irish tour of live shows marking the 40th anniversary of its release. So successful was it that it was repeated in 2018, taking it to sold-out events in Ireland, London and Prague with other performances planned for 2020.

However, a certain pandemic got in the way but 44 years since it first came out audiences are still hooked on the fabulous songs, beautifully adapted and passionately performed; so much so that, by popular demand, Aiken Promotions have just announced that the duo’s performances which had been planned for March 2021 in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast and in Vicar Street in Dublin are now being rescheduled to October. They’ve even added an extra date at the Cork Opera House.

The show features songs and tunes from the album and many other musical masterpieces that Andy and Paul have performed throughout both of their illustrious careers and, as on the previous tours, they will be accompanied by Dónal Lunny and Kevin Burke, both of whom were players on the original album recording, with Dónal also producing the record.

Tickets for the Waterfront gig cost £38 and are now on sale from waterfront.co.uk or you can call the Box office at (028) 90 334455.

The revised dates are Cork Opera House – Sunday, October 17 2021; Vicar Street, October 21 and 22 and the Waterfront Hall, Tuesday October 25 2021.

Original Tickets remain valid for the new shows.

source: irishnews.com

TradFest: Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny & Friends

TradFest: Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny & Friends – 28th Jan 2021

Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny

Thu, Jan 28, 2021 8:00pm (IST) •
Online •

Temple Bar TradFest has re-imagined the festival for these challenging COVID-19 times – with a series of specially produced events. From Dublin Castle Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny will be joined by guests Maighread and Tríona Dhomhnaill, Eleanor Shanley, Mike Hanrahan, Mark Redmond, Emma Langford, Aoife Scott and Andy Meaney.

Tickets, costing €4.99, are available from https://tradfest.ticketco.events/ie/ie/e/andy_irvine_and_donal_lunny.