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)

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.

A great pleasure, great pleasure 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?

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?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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

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: 2005 – Planxty Live at The Barbican, London

The Barbican, London Sunday January 30th 2005 by Nick Morgan

I have to thank Frank McCamley and Mike Hayward for introducing me to Planxty in October 1973. In a moment the cliché of Irish folk music (“when I came home drunk last night, as drunk as drunk could be” etc.) was demolished.

And at the same time I began an as yet unrequited love affair with the painful, mournful, bending notes of the Uilleann Pipes (Watkin Lees notwithstanding), and with the angelic voices of Andy Irvine and Christy Moore. The album, The Well Below the Valley, barely survived the pounding of indifferent styli, spilt beer and forgotten cigarettes, along with other favourites such as 10CC and Little Feat. And the eponymous song, a morbid celebration of rustic incest, infanticide and consequent damnation, was, it was whispered, never to be recorded, and certainly never to be sung on stage. Welcome to a magical world of mystery and musical complexity.Two years later Planxty disbanded, and though briefly reformed in the 1980s this supergroup of Irish folk (their only equivalent I suppose is the Scottish/Irish The Boys of the Lough) were confined to vinyl memories and increasingly difficult to find CD reissues. Of course all pursued individual careers, none more so than Christy Moore, whose songs, soulful voice and outstanding albums and performances have blazed a trail for the poor, the oppressed, and the victims on injustice for many years.

Planxty, circa 1978

But last year these four older, greyer and fatter men (Editor’s note – enough of this!) came together for a handful of performances in Ireland. And on Sunday we sat transfixed amongst the Willie Johns, the black haired darlings, the raggle taggle gypsies and the forlorn anglicised gentry of the Barbican as Planxty played their first gigs in London for 25 years.When you see a band like this, who you never thought you would, whose timeless respect for (and reinterpretation of) tradition provides constant twists and surprises, whose musical complexity (guitar, mandolin, voice, pipe, bodhran, bazouki, flute) is both beguiling and almost bewildering; well its almost enough to bring tears to your eyes. And great news – no need to write a set list – you can just buy the Live 2004 CD and you’ll get the bulk of it in the comfort of your own living room.

Highpoints? Liam O’Flynn’s pipes on ‘The dark slender boy’. Christy Moore’s pronunciation of “taarrtarsch” in ‘The good ship Kangaroo’; St Brendan’s circumnavigation of the world, which sounded a lot more fun than Ellen Macarthur’s, and Christy Moore again singing on ‘Little Musgrave’ (or ‘Matty Groves’ to Fairporters). Donal Lunny’s astonishing and rhythmical guitar, mandolin and bazouki (he counted in every song with his plectrum on the strings as if he was about to play ‘Voodoo chile’), and Andy Irvine’s voice. “Jeez, I’d cry for the sound of himself singing the menu at Kavanagh’s”, whispered my raven-haired companion.

Christy Moore

Euro moment: Irvine singing Angus McBride – “The Queen wouldn’t scruple to send us to France where we would be shot in the morning”. And song of the night, forget tradition, was Irvine’s ‘The west coast of Clare’. It’s not quite as magical as Skye or Islay, but the tears, like the smoke and the strong whisky, are just as salty.

– Nick Morgan, photos Kate Akers, X.

source: whiskyfun.com

Robin Denselow January 31, 2005

Barbican, London.

This, surely, was both the comeback and the Irish event of the year. Planxty return to London after 25 years, and the old chemistry and magic were still there. When they first formed, in the early 1970s, these four musicians transformed the Irish traditional music scene. Here was an acoustic band that could mix stirring, soulful vocals with wildly experimental settings and virtuoso instru mental work, and do so with the energy of a rock band.

Only the lifestyle has changed. The once-wild members of Planxty didn’t allow alcohol in the hall, but their playing and singing were as thrilling and varied as ever. Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn and Christy Moore have broken up and re-formed twice since the early days. They have seen later Planxty members come and go, have all enjoyed success outside the band, and yet they ambled on like a bunch of elderly friends.

With enormous enthusiasm, they set out to “revive music from the players who came before us”, mixing tunes that were dominated by O’Flynn’s stirring uillean pipes with ballads that were matched against the delicate inter-play of Lunny’s bouzouki and Irvine’s mandolin, with Moore adding guitar, sparse keyboards and the bodhran hand-drum. Moore is the Planxty superstar, thanks to his international solo career, but he never dominated here. A burly figure in a black T-shirt, he was in fine soulful voice on old favourites like the murder ballad Little Musgrave, and the glorious, stirring Cliffs of Dooneen, but only allowed himself one of his own songs, the witty St Brendan’s Voyage. He constantly swapped vocals with Andy Irvine, who in turn switched from traditional songs to his own poignant West Coast of Clare or a demonstration of eastern European influences.

Planxty could still delight and surprise. They well deserve their three nights of standing ovations at a packed-out Barbican.

· At the Barbican tonight. Box office: 020-7638 8891.

source: freakyparty.net

Carol McDaid February 6, 2005

The old ones are the best

Folk: Carol McDaid on Planxty

Barbican, London EC2

Taking up the same stage positions they have occupied, on and off, since archive footage shot around the time they supported Donovan, Planxty, the fab four of Irish music, have re-formed for a few nights only, because they can. From left: Donal Lunny bobbing around on bouzouki, the dynamic time-keeper; Andy Irvine bent over decorous mandolin and mandola; Liam O’Flynn, modern master of the uilleann pipes, the only one in an ironed shirt; and the Buddha-like Christy Moore, one of Ireland’s best-loved singers, adding rhythm guitar and occasional keyboard.

This is an evening of highlights, not least the evident pleasure these fastidiously dedicated fiftysomethings take in working with each other again on Planxty’s quasi-baroque arrangements of traditional material gleaned over years. The way Moore leans forward listening to O’Flynn, his favourite piper, on the searing ‘Dark and Slender Boy’ (there is something at once prim and profane about the uilleann pipes; whenever they start up, the audience whoops); the quiet relish with which O’Flynn introduces Moore’s definitive rendition of ‘Little Musgrave’, an epic song of ‘love, lust, infidelity, jealousy… and murder’.

Then there’s the eternal melancholy of Irvine singing, slightly crumpled, his own heartbreaker, ‘As I Roved Out’; the 16-string perfection of his courtly mandolin trickling through the astonishing drive of Lunny’s left-handed bouzouki. The way it works every time – on a rollicking rake of Balkan-inflected polkas; a set of jigs honed to the basics (O’Flynn on whistle, Irvine’s delicate tracery and a double heartbeat of bodhrán from the bookending figures of old schoolfriends Moore and Lunny); unfolding organically on the elegant ‘Si Bheag, Si Mhor’ – the first tune ever written by the great 17th-century piper O’Carolan, and as O’Flynn says, ‘a hell of an effort’.

source: freakyparty.net

Archive: 2005 – Planxty Live at The Point Depot, Dublin

Planxty – The Point Depot, Dublin, 4th January 2005

Review Snapshot:
A reunion concert sceptic is blown away by Ireland’s trad supergroup.
The CLUAS Verdict?
9 out of 10
Full review:

Short of The Smiths burying the hatchet anywhere other than firmly in between their respective shoulder blades, I generally don’t approve of bands reforming and screwing their fans one last time to top up their pensions. More often than not, what ensues is a sub-standard offering – take the recent shambolic Pogues Christmas karaoke. To put it mildly, I am underwhelmed at the prospect of catching Planxty, the privilege of which is costing me 65 euro (including the outrageous Ticketmaster charges?deep breaths, deep breaths). Still I have promised an exiled friend home for the holidays, so it is off to the Point with me.

As a general rule, I have a fondness for all genres of music, but as with jazz and blues, I usually enjoy trad for about fifteen minutes before I grow weary. As Planxty take to the stage, the crowd of a couple of thousand is attentive to the Point of being able to hear a pin drop – a complete atmosphere bypass, so all of the omens for an enjoyable night are bad. And then the music starts. The first thing of note is that the sound is absolute perfection, probably the best I’ve heard at a gig; precisely balanced, particularly in ensuring that Liam O’Flynn’s pipes do not drown out the delicate string playing. Christy Moore takes us through instant crowd pleasers of ‘The Good Ship Kangaroo’ and ‘Little Musgrave’ with Donal Lunney and Andy Irvine’s intricate mandolin and bouzouki complimenting each other beautifully. O’Flynn chips in with some excellent pipe and tin whistle and Christy is at his understated best, clearly relishing not being the centre of attention.

The first real show stopper of the night is O’Flynn’s rendition of the ‘Dark and Slender Boy’, an air that showcases the power and depth of harmonies a master player can extract from the pipes. As the songs roll on, you can only sit there and appreciate that you are listening to four musicians who if anything have only got better as time has passed. The fragility the years have brought to Irvine’s voice only adds to the charm. The tunes are timeless and their execution exemplary.

At the close, the Planxty standards of ‘The West Coast of Clare’ and ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy Rose’ bring the house down – two hours have passed in the blink of an eye. It has been thoroughly captivating. The encore includes Andy Irvine’s recently penned ‘O’Donoghues’ a reminiscence on their heyday when you couldn’t get arrested for playing this sort of music. I can only take it all back. Planxty have been worth every penny. They are masters of their craft and who could begrudge them their day in the sun having each spent thirty years championing this music.

Brian Farrelly

source: cluas.com

Planxty – Live in The Point Depot, Dublin

You know, it would be easy to consider Planxty a little naff. They play a mix of folk and trad, sing songs about the ‘West Coast Of Clare’ with lyrics that mention shillelaighs and were entertaining your parents before many of you were even born. But Planxty are much more than just a sentimental relic of the past…

You know, it would be easy to consider Planxty a little naff. They play a mix of folk and trad, sing songs about the ‘West Coast Of Clare’ with lyrics that mention shillelaighs and were entertaining your parents before many of you were even born.

But Planxty are much more than just a sentimental relic of the past, and it was perhaps the fact that it was No Disco’s premier indie boffin Leagues O’Toole who made the docu which lead to their reunion that made many in the younger generation sit up and take notice. Last year’s triumphant run of sold-out Planxty reunion shows in Vicar St. earned such a reception that the trad supergroup were bound to do an encore, which materialised recently in the shape of yet another run of packed concerts.

This time The Point was the venue for the veteran folk collective to weave their spell, and when Christy Moore prompts the assembled throng by describing how the crowd on the group’s first reunion night sang along to every word of ‘Cliffs Of Doneen’, the audience responds accordingly, providing perhaps the most spine-tingling moment of the evening.

This is about as far away from souvenir shop Irish muzak as it is possible to get. You go to a Planxty gig and not only do you get a whole world of balladry and songs opened to you, it comes with a compelling history lesson as well. Some groups pillage the ’60s for inspiration. These guys at times go back to the 1760s, but breath life into the songs by the vigour with which they play them.

The musicianship is simply incredible. Indeed, when Liam O Flionn starts blowing on the uileann pipes the other three look almost as mesmerized as the rest of us, providing the core around which Moore, Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine weave their guitars, mandolins, bouzoukis and bodhráns in different rhythms. He’s also the main wisecracker, going on about the “erotic experience of the double bodhran intro”, although all of them pipe up with a joke or story at one stage or another, the audience hanging on every word.

And when Christy relates the background to one song, when the four of them were in a pub and heard “songs we’d never heard before, and time stood still for a few hours”, you know exactly what he’s talking about.

Music Review/Live: 12 Jan 2005
Maurice O’Brien

source: hotpress.com

Archive: 2005 – The Legend of Sweeney’s Men Anthology Reviews

 Castle Music CMDDD932; 2 CDs; 139 minutes; 2004

Was Sweeney’s Men a groundbreaking group, as some claim, or, in hindsight, just a band whose curiosity value lies in its introduction of the bouzouki to Irish music? Well, this double album collection offers plenty of opportunity to explore the possibilities.

There were actually several versions of Sweeney’s Men. The first consisted of Joe Dolan, a guitarist from Galway (and not the MoR balladeer), together with Andy Irvine (mandolin, harmonica and guitar) and Johnny Moynihan on bouzouki and tin whistle with all three members singing. This original line-up recorded a single, Old Maid in the Garret/The Derby Ram which reached number six in the Irish charts in 1966, though signally failed to make any headway when released in the UK. Dolan left shortly afterwards and Paul Brady took his place for a couple of shows, though declined to leave The Johnstons to join Sweeney’s Men on a full-time basis. Instead, Irvine and Moynihan recruited Terry Woods, a 12-string guitar, banjo and (occasional) concertina player.

This new version of the band recorded a second single for the Pye label in 1967 – Waxie’s Dargle/Old Woman in Cotton ­– as well as their eponymous album for Transatlantic in the following year. At which point, Andy departed for an indefinite busking tour of Eastern Europe. In turn, he was replaced by guitarist Henry McCullough until the new arrival received an offer to join Joe Cocker’s Grease Band (and, in doing so, apparently became the only Irishman to play the Woodstock festival).

 Moynihan and Woods soldiered on for a while with the singer Al O’Donnell, but ultimately opted to continue as a duo. Thus it was in that form that they recorded The Tracks of Sweeney in 1969. By then both men were living in England and were invited, alongside a newly-returned Andy Irvine, by Fairport Convention’s bass player, Ashley Hutchings, to join a new electric folk band. They did rehearse, but Johnny and Andy decided not to participate, leaving Terry and his partner Gay to join the new Steeleye Span and that was the end of Sweeney’s Men. Gay and Terry Woods later went on to work as a duo and with their own The Woods Band before Terry was recruited to The Pogues and Gay rejoined Steeleye Span. Andy, of course, was in every line-up of Planxty, had a spell with De Dannan, worked as a duo with Paul Brady, spent many years in Patrick Street, recorded with Davy Spillane and nowadays is part of Mozaik. Johnny Moynihan replaced Dónal Lunny in Planxty and also joined De Dannan for a brief time before going on to form The Fleadh Cowboys in the 1980s. He’s still working, though most often as a soloist. Irvine, Moynihan and Woods did reform as Sweeney’s Men for a couple of Irish festivals in 1982.

So, that’s a snapshot of their history. What about the music? Well, it all seems curiously dated almost forty years later in ways that, for instance, the first albums by Planxty and The Bothy Band simply do not. In part the reason lies in the fact that Sweeney’s Men was very much a vocal group. Andy Irvine’s young voice had a definite rural burr. On the debut album Terry Woods opted for a distinct mid-Atlantic style, though, by the time of The Tracks of Sweeney, he was singing more like a member of a psychedelic band. Johnny Moynihan’s distinctive nasal tone has remained more of a constant.

The second reason relates to the choice of material. The first album mixed traditional ballads such as Willy O’ Winsbury and Reynard the Fox with more recently composed material, such as Dominic Behan’s Dicey Riley and Pecker Dunne’s Sullivan’s John with the frankly hackneyed Tom Dooley and a few instrumental tracks. The Tracks of Sweeney is dominated very much by Woods (who composed four of the eleven tracks and co-wrote another). These include the frankly bizarre Brain Jam (which would not have sounded out-of-place on an early Pink Floyd album), while another track, Pretty Polly, continued his fascination with American roots music. Moynihan’s leads include the very wistful Standing on the Shore and A Mistake No Doubt (which might have come straight from an Incredible String Band album).

Finally, there’s the matter of the arrangements. Sweeney’s Men evolved from the fringes of the ballad group movement and it shows in the tune settings where the lack of a dominant lead instrument waters down the overall effect. Even the acclaimed bouzouki is not that prominent in the mix and virtually non-existent by the time of the second album where the shortcomings of operating as a duo are exhibited on the somewhat insipid instrumental, The Pipe on the Hob. Indeed, the arrangement of the closing song Hall of Mirrors is excruciating.

However, that is not to say that there is no merit in these recordings, but, clearly, The Tracks of Sweeney was a failed experiment. Unsurprisingly, it took some months to record and the increasingly fractious relationship between Moynihan and Woods was never likely to produce a coherent album. As Colin Harper recounts in this anthology’s liner notes, Gay Woods characterised them as “two eccentrics who happened to be, unfortunately, eccentric in different ways”. In contrast, the eponymous album definitely does have its moments, but most of these are linked to the presence of Andy Irvine (especially Willy O’ Winsbury) and the fact that the band distinctly gelled as a trio.

Both albums have been reissued on several occasions. The last time was in 1996 when Castle Communications managed to squeeze both onto one CD and include Old Woman in Cotton as well. Castle had acquired the rights to Transatlantic’s back catalogue and was subsequently taken over by the Sanctuary Records Group. Its Castle Music label has been busily reissuing other Transatlantic releases, such as three of The Dubliners’ albums, each of which included rare material.

Similar rarities have been included on The Legend of Sweeney’s Men although whether there’s any value in hearing old singles by The Capitol Showband on which Sweeney’s Men provided some of the backing is highly debatable (especially as these include the Country and Western song The Streets of Baltimore and an awful version of the Tom Paxton song Bottle of Wine). There are five such tracks on the first CD which, however, does open with all four songs from the two early Sweeney’s Men singles.

The package’s compiler has even more problems with the second disc since The Tracks of Sweeney was a relatively short LP, lasting a mere thirty-three minutes. So CD two opens with Autumn Gold which hails from the album Andy Irvine recorded with Paul Brady and released in 1976. The reason for its presence here is that it was written during Andy’s Balkan travels and was also aired during the abortive Hutchings rehearsals. Then follows the tracks of The Tracks ensued by seven additional recordings. Two of these (versions of Willy O’ Winsbury and Sullivan’s John) come from albums recorded by Johnny Moynihan’s erstwhile partner, the Notts-born folk singer, Anne Briggs (who, coincidentally, was raised just around the corner from the home of this reviewer’s aunt and uncle). Two more derive from the Woods’ sojourn with Steeleye Span though here the credibility’s elastic begins to stretch towards breaking point. The first of these, The Dark-Eyed Sailor, is included because Terry Woods learnt it from Al O’Donnell (who spent such a short time as a member of Sweeney’s Men) and the second, Lowlands of Holland, because the tune came from Andy Irvine. Then follows a Woods Band rendition of Dreams for Me (which has already appeared as the second track on this disc) while the second CD ends with two tracks from Andy Irvine’s 1996 solo album Rain on the Roof. The first, Baneasa’s Green Glade recalls Andy’s Balkan trip while the other, My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland, name checks Sweeney. Whoops, but the elastic’s just snapped!

Might other material have been included? Well, Colin Harper reminds us that there are ‘no surviving radio or live recordings of Sweeney’s Men’, though strangely his notes refer to ‘an atmospheric amateur recording of a gloriously shambolic warm-up show in a pub in Crusheen, County Clare’ prior to one of the band’s 1982 reunion gig and also a ‘somewhat shambolic’ (Colin obviously likes the word) live RTÉ radio session by the McCullough/Moynihan/Woods line-up in 1986. Does either exist? If so, that material would have been far more interesting. If not, is Colin relying on someone else’s memory of their ‘shambolic’ nature? Instead he points the interested listener towards impossibly rare albums by Dr Strangely Strange on which there’s a Sweeney’s homage and both Moynihan and Irvine appear and an even rarer single by the band Skid Row on which Johnny “apparently” plays tin whistle!

His liner notes, however, do make for an enthralling and generally informative read and offer a taster for his forthcoming book Irish Folk, Trad and Blues, to be published in October, 2004. Nevertheless, they clearly rely heavily upon an interview with Andy Irvine and, to a lesser extent, one with Henry McCullough. The influence of either Terry Woods or Johnny Moynihan on Harper’s material is difficult to detect. Of course, Johnny is notoriously difficult to track down and I cannot recall ever seeing a published interview with Terry Woods, but their absence from Colin’s material is very obvious. A further problem is that there are errors in the text which, hopefully, will be not be duplicated in the forthcoming book. For instance, Sweeney’s Men could not possibly have taken their name from a book by Flann O’Brien since the book in which the character of Sweeny [sic] appears is actually called At Swim-Two-Birds. There was no UK record label called ‘Rockborough’ (it was Rockburgh) and Fairport Convention certainly did not record an album called ‘Leige and Leif’. Still, the archive photos more than compensate for those errors and, ultimately, this is a better-presented package than the one previously issued by Castle Communications.

Geoff Wallis
29th July, 2004

Click here for more information about Sanctuary Records.

source: irishmusicreview.com

Sweeney’s Men – The Legend Of Sweeney’s Men (Castle, 2005)

A long-plotted project this one – a 2CD set featuring everything released by the hugely influential Irish folk/embryonic folk-rock group, namely two albums, four non-album single tracks and various covert appearances on showband singles spanning 1966 – 69. It also follows various threads from the group during the early ’70s – Johnny Moynihan recording ‘Willy O’Winsbury’ with Anne Briggs for example, and Gay & Terry Woods shortly after the group’s demise recording Sweeney-related material with Steeleye Span and The Woods Band. Also featured is the classic 1976 recording of Andy Irvine’s mesmerising 1968 song (written shortly after leaving the group to bum around the Balkans) ‘Autumn Gold’ and his 1990s musical memoir of the Sweeney’s era ‘My Heart Tonight’s In Ireland’. just about the only period oddity we couldn’t find to licence in was Skid Row’s ludicrously rare 1969 single ‘New Places, Old Faces’, featuring Johnny Moynihan on tin whistle. But, as the Skid Row set above demonstrates, it didn’t escape the net for long…

source: colin-harper.com

SWEENEY’S MEN ‘The Legend Of (2CD)’ Castle Music CMDDD932

There seems to be a lot of re-releases about at the moment, with Castle/Sanctuary being at the forefront with some excellent-if sometimes obscure-examples. This one is a re-release of a re-release, expanded to a double from a two on one CD from a few years ago.

Sweeney’s Men, named after a book title, seem to be a bit like Fairport in the members they have included but it is Andy Irvine, Terry Woods, Johnny Moynihan and Henry McCullough who will be the most familiar to readers.

The first CD is most notable for “Willy O’Winsbury” for which Andy accidentally put the wrong tune to the set of words; incidentally the tune was borrowed by Fairport in 1969. Disc 2 has more input from Terry Woods resulting in a different, more contemporary feel to it.

Both CDs include extra material, interesting no doubt to Sweeney completists, but not really adding anything to the original albums, especially the inclusion of two by Steeleye Span!

A mention of the sleeve notes.Written by Colin Harper they provide an excellent history of Sweeney’s Men and of what the members have done since then. However, who is this Liam Offline who was a member of the original Planxty mentioned in the notes? Another example of the computer spell checker? Surely names should be checked for errors like this.

So the crucial question – is “The Legend of Sweeney’s Men” worth buying? If you haven’t got the original two on one, and want to hear what was innovative in the late 60s, then yes definitely. Otherwise have a look at some of the other material available on the Castle /Sanctuary Label.

Dave Beeby

source: www.livingtradition.co.uk