Interview

Interview: Cork Folk Festival headliner Andy Irvine on the road again

Monday, September 25, 2017

At 75, Cork Folk Festival headliner Andy Irvine still gets a buzz out of touring and playing his music, writes Joe Dermody.

Andy Irvine plays Triskel in Cork on Thursday night.

FOREVER the musician’s musician, Andy Irvine also has the somewhat unusual good fortune to be almost universally loved by audiences.

Expect a warm reception this Thursday when he headlines a night in Triskel Christchurch as part of this year’s Cork Folk Festival. His show follows the impressive opening act of Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, the famed sisters of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae.

“Hardly an opening act, more like a double bill,” Andy jokingly corrects me. Fair point.

Given his unique vocal style, you might expect the mention of Andy Irvine’s name to polarise opinion. Not at all.

In fact, if he were on Facebook, he’d break the ‘Like’ counter. When I tell people I’ve interviewed the London-born singer, literally everyone I speak to says they love Andy. Quickly followed by ‘What’s he like?’

As it turns out, he’s very chilled. I was running late for the interview, stuck in traffic, so I texted to seek a 15-minute delay. He texts back: “No problem, Joe!”

When I land, I begin with an apology. He stops me: “You weren’t interrupting anything. I was only out doing a bit of gardening.”

At 75, the gardening helps keep him fit, he says. And he is very fit. Mind you, he has been on his feet a long time. He began touring with Sweeney’s Men in 1965.

He still does shows all over the world, and he regularly gigs with Mozaik, Patrick Street and Paul Brady. Does he still love it as much as ever?

“I have always enjoyed it,” he says. “When I started out, I had no idea that I’d make a living out of music. I can’t think of a single time when I said to myself ‘I hate this’.

“I have said yes to so many gigs over the years. At this time of the year, I’d usually be going to Germany, usually in November, but I’m not this year. I am doing a show in Argentina in December; there’s a great folk club there that I really like. I’m also a big hit in Patagonia.”

It’s not just for his name that Irvine is big in the Andes. He brings a lot of travel and cultural depth to the way he plays mandolin; mandola; bouzouki; hurdy-gurdy; guitar-bodied bouzouki. His sound connects with people in so many cultures.

Irvine formed the legendary Planxty with Christy Moore, Donal Lunny and Liam O’Flynn in 1982. The band’s epic all-too-brief reunion was captured on a great DVD of their 2004 Vicar Street performances. Any chance of further reunions?

“No one has mentioned it. It’s too bad that it hasn’t happened again. I really enjoyed that. We were better than we had ever been, as energetic as we were as young men, and

musically we were more mature.

“Vicar Street is a lovely place to play, like a big folk club. I also really like the Triskel. I played there a good few times, including a Sweeney’s Men reunion. It feels like a concert venue.”

Last year’s 40th reunion shows with Paul Brady were also a big

success, featuring appearances by Donal Lunny and Kevin Burke. Any more of those on the horizon?

“We are thinking of doing something again next year, but we’re not sure. You can hardly celebrate your 41st or 42nd anniversary. Paul is such a great writer, and it’s good to mix styles. Paul’s main line is a different line to mine. He’s a bit rockier than I am.”

While on the subject of revivals, any chance of Andy reviving his acting career? He appeared in several Abbey productions, had a small role in the film Room At The Top (1959). Then, from about the ages of 8-14, he was a child star in RTÉ’s soap opera Tolka Row.

“I was a great child actor, but then I lost the desire. I did a lot of TV. I was in Tolka Row until 1963, and it was around this time that I started my music career. We were all playing in clubs before we played together. Sweeney’s Men was our first band.

“Then I had a desire to travel. In 1968, I headed to Eastern Europe. I learned a lot of new instruments and new rhythms.

“When I came back to Ireland, other people also started playing those rhythms. I suppose that’s what I brought to folk music.”

That’s a fairly modest account of Andy’s role in the way that Irish folk music broadened and evolved in the 1970s and into the 1980s.

The reality is that he is among the henchmen of choice for all the big names of the folk circuit, not just in Ireland but all over the globe.

I try to confirm one old tale of how the ballad of ‘Little Musgrave’ came into being. One version of the tale goes that Christy Moore found some old lyrics in a library, but no tune; Andy put a tune to it, and it became an all-time favourite for many.

“Whatever Christy said is fine by me. Let the legend stand; I wouldn’t want to be the one to knock it down,” says Andy politely, but firmly.

No guff, no showbiz blarney, nothing but the music. There’s a good reason Andy Irvine remains one of the most celebrated and loved of Ireland’s folk stars, both with the musicians and the fans.

Andy Irvine plays Triskel Christchurch in Cork on Thursday as part of Cork Folk Festival. Also on the bill for the gig are Also Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill.

 

From <http://www.corkfolkfestival.com/cork-folk-festival-headliner-andy-irvine-on-the-road-again/>

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Archive: 2005 – Interview with Thistle Radio

As a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter, Andy Irvine has been a part of some of the most influential Irish music recordings and a member of Sweeney’s Men, Planxty, Moving Hearts and Patrick Street.

(This interview was recorded in Perthshire in 2005)

Fiona:
I’ve met with Andy Irvine and we’re sitting, on a lovely, sunny morning, overlooking the banks of the River Tay. And it’s just a great opportunity to stop for a moment with you on your travels and talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing all these years. So thanks for taking the time to meet up with me.

Andy:
A great pleasure, great pleasure Fiona.

Fiona:
When I think back on your journey and I think of Sweeney’s Men and up through the years with Planxty, and on with Patrick Street and all through that your solo work, it’s been a long road, and a long journey. What leads you on?

Andy:
Oh, well that’s a difficult one really. I’m trying not to be lead on quite as much in future. I haven’t started my new regime yet, but, I don’t know, I kind of complain all the time and say ‘Oh, I’m not going to do this. I’m going to cut down on my touring etc.’ and I never do. Maybe I can’t say no. ‘I’m just a boy who can’t say no,’ or maybe it’s just that I love it, you know. Also it’s my life, it’s the way it is, so what else would you be doing?

Fiona:
Yes, I suppose it does become a lifestyle, doesn’t it, being on the road. And maybe the more you do it, the longer you’ve been doing it, in some ways the easier it gets. You know what it takes to get up and go, you know what’s needed, you know how long it takes to get you from A to B to C to Y to Z. And you become an old hand and that’s an asset for someone who travels as much as you do.

Andy:
I think that’s true. I learned the ropes many, many years ago but there are still new things happen to you but it’s a bit like asking a bank manager why he continues to be a bank manager. It’s my life and my job and I can’t imagine any other. You know, sometimes at the end of a long tour, I think ‘Thank God I’m going home’ and if I have any length of time at home I get really kind of itchy and bad tempered and kind of look forward to the next moment when I’m hitting the road again.

Fiona:
Even people who are not deeply familiar with Irish music or Celtic music in general, will have heard of Planxty and anyone will be able to tell you of the tremendous influence the band has had on the course of this music. And when you think of the original members of Planxty — yourself Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Christy Moore, Liam O’Flynn — as well as the legacy of the band, the individuals have gone on to make quite an impression upon the music. When you listen to Irish music today, or as you’ve been listening to it evolving through this time, are you able to measure the impression that all these individuals have had on the shape and form and direction of the music?

Andy:
I’m not really able to. When I listen to modern young bands I’m always quite interested if they say in an interview ‘We were much influenced by Planxty,’ because I do sometimes hear it. But not really, maybe I just don’t listen to it. There are things, like for instance the style of bouzouki playing that Donal introduced, I think is very much copied today. And you can usually hear one of the big instrumentalists in the fiddle playing or the uilleann pipe playing, but you’d expect that. It’s the more subtle influences, if they are there, they elude me. But it was a great time and you never know, we might do something again. Certainly that era, which Planxty was a part of, re-awakened an interest in Irish music and it could be said I suppose… before that there was the ballad boom in Ireland and there were various kind of little jostlings with the tradition, and the tradition being popular. But it wasn’t quite the tradition, like Sweeney’s Men for instance, didn’t play that many traditional dance tunes. So I think Planxty and its era could be said to be the kind of part of the beginning of the re-awakening of Ireland and by extension Scotland to traditional music.

Fiona:
Now you took an early detour, on your long journey, to Eastern Europe and in particular into the musical traditions of the Balkans. And that’s something that has had a lasting impact upon your music through the years and also upon Irish music in a broader sense. What draws you to those musical traditions? It’s been a lifelong love of yours.

Andy:
Hmm… I think the rhythms were the main things. Playing music in odd time signatures is something which I still don’t get tired of, you know. My latest piece is a song put in to 5:8 and I just love those rhythms. Somebody once said of me that my natural time signature was 7:8 or 7 beats to the bar, and in order to play in 4:4, I just had to add one more, so there’s a deal of truth in that. I’m not all that happy with 4:4 or 3:4. I mean all the songs that I wrote that were essentially in 3:4, none of them maintains the 3:4 rhythm throughout. They have extra beats and drop a beat somewhere. I don’t know why, I just, maybe I have an odd sense of rhythm.

Fiona:
Yes, you could sprain your ankle dancing to some of those dance tunes. But when you brought some of these tunes into Planxty and other of the bands that you’ve worked in, it gave the music a kind of an exotic flavour and moved peoples’ expectations beyond the usual reels and jigs. And that’s been good for the music too.

Andy:
Well I think there’s an excitement to playing in these rhythms and I think people realise that. I mean, back towards the end of Planxty in, whenever it was 1981, ’82, we played this tune called Smeceno Horo which is in 9:16 basically but it has bars in 15, 16 and it was the biggest number we played. And it became logical to finish with it which we never did actually because it seemed to be kind of selling ourselves a little bit to finish with a Bulgarian tune when we were playing Irish music. But if you listen carefully to the piece of music Bill Whelan wrote which is called Riverdance, (I think it’s called Riverdance, it was the initial piece he wrote), it has bars of 11:16 in it. And people didn’t realise this, but it still excited their blood. So, I mean, I think that was very clever of him to write a piece in a normal time signature but go in to these bars of Bulgarian rhythm which were just not too much to take peoples’ eye off the ball, but enough to make them go ‘Oh yeah, wow, what’s going on here!’ When we made that album “East Wind,” Bill Whelan, Davy Spillane and myself, with other people, and it did not find its niche. It was music that people would look at. They’d pick it up and say ‘Oh, here’s one, I haven’t seen this’ and then it would say ‘Balkan Music’ and they’d go ‘Oh, Balkan Music, no, I don’t think so.’ So it didn’t sell, it was really a musicians’ album, musicians loved it and everybody else didn’t buy it. And I’m sure they didn’t buy it either! Anyway, and of course the next thing was ‘Riverdance’ which sold out everything. I mean, God that sounds awful, which sold all its stock. And it’s certain to me that ‘East Wind’ had an influence on Bill when he wrote that, which is great. I was sitting at home watching TV when Riverdance first came on the Eurovision Song Contest and I was as gob smacked as everybody else was. It was tremendous. But just the lack of sales of ‘East Wind’ and the multi-mega sales of Riverdance has always been a slightly sore point. But now I have a new band called Mozaik. Not the m-o-s-a-i-c version of 1985 but the M-o-z-a-i-k version, and it’s kind of exciting. I put the band together for a tour of Australia about a year ago and it was a huge success. We recorded a couple of gigs and we have a live album which is musically ready to go. It’s mixed and mastered and we look now for a record company which is something we all dread because we don’t have a clue, any of us, about record companies. I mean this is me, Donal Lunny, Bruce Molsky, Nikola Parov and Rens van der Zalm and between us we have a fair amount of experience of the world in general and the music world too, but record companies: not an idea. All I know about record companies is they rip you off. So I hope that we’ll be able to find a decent outfit and the album should be out in a couple of months I hope. (Mozaik’s Live from the Powerhouse since released on Compass Records.)

Fiona:
Although you’ve enjoyed and been a very important part of these collaborative efforts you are essentially a solo artist. Am I right?

Andy:
You are right in a way. Even as a solo musician in a band I learned quite early on never to go in to a band rehearsal without knowing how to play, how to accompany the song yourself so that once the band wasn’t there you could still do it. And I love playing with bands; I love the interaction with other musicians. I even play as a duo with my old mate Rens van der Zalm, which I’m going to do in America next week. But essentially you’re right. Being solo, driving through the world, that’s how I see my heavenly state.

source: www.thistleradio.com

Archive: 2004 – Then and Now – Andy Irvine on Planxty

IT’S FITTING Planxty should return to Galway as part of its reunion tour. After all it was in Galway the legendary quartet of Dónal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn, and Christy Moore played their first major concert. ANDY IRVINE talks about Planxty’s reunion, blowing Donovan off the stage, and how history proved him wrong on ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy/Tabhair Dom Do Lámh’.

Galway Beginnings

Planxty will play three nights in the Radisson SAS Hotel on Monday December 6, Tuesday 7, and Wednesday 8. Planxty’s return to Galway shows things have come full circle for the band. Andy Irvine says Galway was the “starting off place for Planxty” in 1972, when they supported Donovan at the old Hangar Dancehall in Salthill.

“Planxty’s first major gig and big success was at the old Hangar supporting Donovan. We blew him off the stage!” Andy tells me, recalling the show. “It was the first gig of a short tour we did with Donovan. As I recall I was quite nervous as I had never seen such a lot of lights and microphones before. The soundman, who was Donovan’s brother-in-law, appeared to pay us scant attention – as you might expect, being the support.

“I concentrated hard behind my microphones, intent on playing the right notes and singing the right words! It was about 20 minutes into our 40 minute set that I realised something unusual was happening in the audience. My first thought was a fight had broken out. I had experienced such things in dancehalls before. I looked across the stage at the others who were all wreathed in smiles. Slowly, it dawned on me that the audience was reacting to us and the music. That was about the biggest buzz of my life! At the end of each number the audience went wild, and we collapsed into hysterical laughter at the unexpectedness of our success. If there is one occasion that stands out above the others during my time in Planxty, it would have to be that Hangar gig!”

The individual members of Planxty were all prominent on the Irish music scene. Lunny had been in Emmet Spiceland, Andy in Sweeney’s Men, Christy was a solo artist, and Liam O’Flynn was active in Irish trad. However it was when the four came together to work on Christy’s classic 1971 solo album Prosperous, that the idea of starting a band arose.

By 1972 Planxty was in action and had recorded its eponymously titled debut (known to fans as ‘the black album’). However there was surprise among ‘purists’ that Liam O’Flynn had joined and at the time the band was described as “three hippies and a civil servant”. Did Ó Flynn find it difficult to fit in?

“Liam was, perhaps, quieter and more reserved generally, than we other three,” Andy says. “As the ‘traditional’ musician amongst us, I think he had a certain amount of criticism from some other traditional musicians to contend with. ‘What was he doing playing with a bunch of guitar and mandolin toting hippies?’ I’d say the fact that Seamus Ennis was a supporter of the band helped him through that. We all got on very well from the outset. Christy and Donal knew Liam from early days I think, and I knew him a bit from the Dublin trad music scene.”

Their detractors were soon silenced when Planxty showed what extraordinary musicians they were on albums like The Well Below The Valley and songs like ‘The Blacksmith’ which pushed the boundaries of what Irish music could achieve. However their most famous recording is ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy/Tabhair Dom Do Lámh’. How did the celebrated segue from one track to the other come about – was it deliberate or did it just happen in rehearsals?

“The segué for ‘Tabhair Dom Do Lámh’ came at the instigation of Christy,” Andy remembers. “It was at a rehearsal in my flat in Donnybrook for his album Prosperous in June 1971. I still have that rehearsal on tape. Christy wondered if it would be possible to marry the tune to the song. Donal came up with the key. At the time, I thought it was a bit facile and didn’t work that well. History has proved me wrong!”

The Reformation

Planxty’s 2004 reunion concerts have been an unqualified triumph (as testified on the excellent Live 2004 album) but it was not the first time the band got back together. “We re-formed once before in early 1979. That was only a little over three years since we had broken up,” Andy says. “This reformation is 21 years after the subsequent break up…We are all a lot older and wiser now! I think the success of our current incarnation has a lot to do with our musical and life experiences during those 20 odd years. Though it’s true that much of the material we played in January/ February this year was from the old days, nevertheless it felt very fresh and that freshness lasted for the entire run of the concerts.”

Andy says the audience reactions have exceeded all his expectations. “It was genuinely uplifting to go on stage each night that we played,” he says. “Sometimes it was as if the audience was nearly bursting with joy. A very moving experience.”

However Andy says the band has no immediate plans for anything post January 31 2005. “Planxty is a ‘one at a time’ band these days,” he says. “We will see how this next raft of gigs goes and then decide if there is to be anything further.”

Tickets for Planxty’s Galway shows are still available but are selling fast. They can be purchased only from Redlight Records on Shop Street and Eglinton Street.

by Kernan Andrews.

Galway advertiser. Date: 07-10-2004

photo by Mick King

source: www.china2galway.com [deadlink]