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.”



Interview: The Music and Travels of Andy Irvine

Andy Irvine is a world music pioneer and an icon for traditional music and musicians. Although an integral part of the finest Irish bands of our time, including Sweeney’s Men in the mid 60s, Planxty in the 70s, his duo with Paul Brady in the later 70s, as well as Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and Usher’s Island, Andy Irvine continues along the path he set for himself so long ago – a vibrant career as a solo artist in the old style, a teller of tales and maker of music. In this episode, Andy talks about his upcoming Woody Guthrie album, his travels, and his music. Andy performed at the 2018 St. John’s Folk Festival.

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The Living Heritage Podcast is about people who are engaged in the heritage and culture sector, from museum professionals and archivists, to tradition bearers and craftspeople – all those who keep history alive at the community level. The show is a partnership between HFNL and CHMR Radio. Past episodes are hosted on Libsyn, and you can subscribe via iTunes, or Stitcher. Theme music is Rythme Gitan by Latché Swing.

Irish News Interview with Andy Irvine

Andy Irvine: If only Bruce Springsteen wrote a great song challenging Israel

Although he has been inspiring musicians for over half a century, Andy Irvine finds it difficult to place himself where others do, in the upper reaches of the pantheon of Irish musical culture. Ironic, then, that he should have just recorded an album called Precious Heroes

Andy Irvine: The people I sing about are all heroes in their own way, from Ballymoney singer Joe Holmes to Kilkenny miners’ leader Nixie Boran
Robert McMillen – 

THE last time I interviewed Andy Irvine was face to face in the Radisson Blu nine years ago when he had just moved with this Japanese wife, Kumiko to Fermanagh.

Before we started, he ordered a sandwich and went to the loo but it took him half an hour to get back as people were stopping him and thanking him for giving them a lifetime of musical pleasure.

When he finally sat down, he looked at his now-curled up sandwich with sadness at first, then with the stoicism of a man who has spent most of his adult life on the road.

And Andy finds it very hard to place himself where others do, in the upper reaches of the pantheon of Irish musical culture, someone who has been inspiring others for over half a century.

“A lot of people say that. I never quite got to the bottom of it myself,” he says, almost embarrassed by the praise.

“It’s so often told that one has been an inspiration and it’s really nice to know that, but it’s really hard to understand – I don’t know how to say it really.”

One person who has definitely been inspired by Andy is Luke Plumb, a mandolin player from Tasmania who spent 11 years playing with Shooglenifty and he and Andy have just recorded an album called Precious Heroes.

“There used to be this festival in New Mexico and he used to attend and I’d been there once, and he’d teach musicians how to be Planxty. I thought that was quite charming and slightly mad! He didn’t come in on the ground floor, as it were,” says Andy.

Precious Heroes is all about the unsung ordinary men and women who have done great things in life but who have never gained the recognition of the masses.

Luke Plumb and Andy IrvineWhat is Andy’s definition of a hero and how did the album come together, I ask.

“The people I sing about are all heroes in their own way, from Ballymoney singer Joe Holmes to truck drivers, to Nixie Boran, communist and leader of the Castlecomer miners. Most people have the hero within them somewhere,” he says.

On the album, Andy sings about Frank Ryan and his fight against fascism; political commentator Fintan O’Toole and others believe Trump has begun a trial run on fascism in the USA. Would Andy agree that are we living in dangerous times?

“Yes, I would agree,” he affirms. “I read [O’Toole’s] article myself and it was a real eye-opener in a lot of ways. One certainly had the impression that the world is moving so far right that is it moving into a dangerously fascistic state.

“They way O’Toole underlines the trial runs, as he called it, the fact that you can do something terrible, like the separation of children at the Mexican border – that you can make people feel that this is OK. That is Hitler-like.

“Six or nine months ago I thought this is not going to last. I thought people were surely going to move towards people like Sanders and Corbyn – people would move towards ‘sane’ politicians, but it’s not happening at the moment.

“The situation in Australia is unbelievable. They’re trying to build AUS$5billion worth of coal-powered power stations. The world has gone mad.”

Andy also admits to having got himself into trouble with other musicians for ‘harassing’ them about not going to Israel.

“All of that is quite sad because there are a lot of good people in Israel that one would like to play music for but you have to take a standpoint,” he says.

Planxty, reunited for a concert in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall in 2005, with Andy Irvine second left Picture: Niall Carson“It’s frustrating that the world-famous musicians and singers don’t do a bit more. If Bob Dylan or somebody of his ilk – not that Bob would do it – but Bruce Springsteen, I’ve always felt, could write a great song that would just say ‘F*** it!’ but he’s never quite done that. If he stood for president, which he surely wouldn’t want to be, he’d surely get in. Because that’s the way American people are, they’ve already voted in B-film actor Ronald Reagan.

“However, I always had high hopes for Roger Waters from Pink Floyd and Frances Black – now there’s a hero for you.”

Next up for Andy – no, he never stops working – is an album of Woody Guthrie songs, a project he has been thinking about for as long as he can remember. Recording starts this month. But then Andy comes up with a real surprise.

“In September I’ll also be working with jazz double-bassist Lindsey Horner from New York who played on my album Way Out Yonder. He’s a great musician and a nice guy. He has this idea that we get together and record a ‘jazz-ish’ album of songs that I would have heard my mother sing.

“I’m always going on that my mother didn’t know a whole song from a hole in the ground but she did know a lot of great 30s and 40s standards. I’ve had this idea for quite a long time and was appalled when Dylan jumped the gun and preceded me!

“I haven’t listened to his and I’m not going to, but I really look forward to singing the likes of These Foolish Things. My mother met Jack Strachey, the composer, and I met him once. I don’t know how that will go with my fans but hopefully it will be great music.”

Andy and Kumiko have left Fermanagh for Wexford since we last chatted.

“I decided that at my advanced age it would be better to live in a place that I owned so we bought a house outside Gorey. I miss Fermanagh, I have to say, but where we are now is nice and it’s ours,” he says in a sentence that says a lot about the uneven rewards of being a folk singer, no matter how revered.

Mr Irvine will also be going quite a few live gigs later this year with possibly a gig in Colum Sands’ Rostrevor Folk Club on October 29.

“Then we have four gigs with Dónal Lunny, Paul Brady, Kevin Burke and myself in October,” he says. “There’s also a Liam Ó Floinn tribute concert on 28 October and I’m hoping Ushers Island will be one of the bands playing there.”