Analysis: throughout his remarkable career, Andy Irvine has remained a consummate singer, storyteller and interpreter of songsSince arriving in Dublin in 1962, Andy Irvine has been an ever-present figure on the Irish music scene, and is a worthy recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards next week. Highly respected across the traditional and folk spectrum, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is celebrated both for his solo work and for his contribution to a succession of ground-breaking ensembles, most notably Sweeney’s Men and Planxty.
From RTÉ Radio One’s Second Captains, an interview with Andy Irvine (starts 4:03)
To understand his contribution to music in Ireland, and his influence on later musicians, it is helpful to look at how Irvine encountered this music for the first time. Born in London in 1942, his Irish mother and Scottish father had both been involved in music, and he found early success in film and TV as a child actor. Like many of his generation, his first involvement with folk or vernacular music came through the skiffle boom of the mid-1950s. He had already been studying classical guitar, but after hearing some of Lonnie Donegan’s recordings Irvine abandoned this to set up a skiffle group; a common step for many budding musicians in this period.
Skiffle’s eclectic repertoire introduced these young British and Irish musicians to a heady brew of American folk and blues sources, and it was through this that Irvine first encountered Woody Guthrie, who has served as a touchstone throughout his career. The attractions of the road, the identification with workers and the oppressed, and the potential power of protest song all stem from his relationship with Guthrie. Right from the outset, then, Irvine helped shape perceptions of Irish folk music in the 1960s and 1970s as having a political dimension, even if this wasn’t always the primary focus of his groups.
From RTÉ Radio One’s Arena, Andy Irvine remembers the life and career of Woody Guthrie
After some time in rep as an actor, Irvine moved to Dublin, where he became involved in the city’s burgeoning folk scene, and was caught up in the intensity and fervour of the folk revival. For Irvine and many others, this was a period of restless exploration and learning, whether from older singers, peers, recordings or books. The energy, camaraderie and the characters of the period are wonderfully captured in Irvine’s song “O’Donoghue’s”, named for the Merrion Row pub which was the hub of the 1960s revival.
While the folk clubs and pubs provided many opportunities for singing, there was little money in the scene, and a life of bohemian precariousness was punctuated with sometimes chaotic domestic and European tours. In 1966, Irvine joined with two of his regular partners, Joe Dolan (later replaced by Terry Woods) and the Dublin singer Johnny Moynihan, in the group Sweeney’s Men.
Coinciding with the high point of the ballad boom, they had success with the singles “The Waxie’s Dargle” and “The Old Maid in the Garrett”, although the bulk of their material was more diverse and more exploratory in its blend of English, Scottish and American folk songs. The possibilities afforded by the combination of guitar, mandolin, and bouzouki laid the foundations for many other subsequent groups, and the occasional dance tunes pointed towards the more integrated approach of later bands, most notably Planxty.
Prior to the group coming together in the early 1970s, Irvine left Sweeney’s Men to travel and play in Eastern Europe, learning and bringing back tunes in distinctive Bulgarian asymmetrical rhythms. This encounter has left a significant imprint on Irish music, from Irvine’s own “Blacksmith/Blacksmithereens”, Bill Whelan’s “Timedance” (1981), the “East Wind” collaboration with Davy Spillane (1992), and of course “Riverdance”(1994).
From RTÉ Archives, Planxty playing “Kitty Gone A Milking” and “Music of the Forge” at the National Stadium in Dublin as featured on a June 1973 episode of The Music Makers
In one sense, the coming together of Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Christy Moore and Liam O’Flynn as Planxty marked a détente between the sometimes-opposing forces of the folk music and traditional music revivals. It also coincided with (or helped spur) the emergence of a more youth-based traditional music culture, as is evident from Planxty’s concert footage in this period.
As well as electrifying audiences with their live concerts, the band released six studio albums that still impress today in their creativity and artistry. Among these were some of Irvine’s most memorable interpretations such as “The Jolly Beggarman”, “The Rambling Siúler” and his own “Băneasă’s Green Glade”.
From RTÉ Archives, Planxty perform ‘You Rambling Boys of Pleasure” at the National Stadium in Dublin as featured on a May 1983 episode of Festival Folk
It was also during this period that Irvine forged a partnership with Paul Brady, who had joined Planxty as a replacement for Christy Moore in 1974. After the initial breakup of the group in 1975, Irvine and Brady developed the band’s unrecorded later material for one of the best-loved albums from this period.
The album’s reputation was further enhanced last year when it was commemorated through a concert tour that involved the performance of the whole album (albeit in a different order). This seems to have been the first time that a folk or traditional album has been celebrated using methods more usually associated with the production of “heritage rock”.
After Planxty’s second stint, Irvine began to focus more on solo recording and touring, interspersing this with a vast array of collaborations and membership of other groups. Included among these is a long series of albums with Patrick Street extending from 1986 until 2007 and further explorations of the connections between different folk traditions with Mozaik. Most recently, Usher’s Island brings Irvine, Dónal Lunny and fiddler Paddy Glackin together with younger musicians who emerged in the 1990s such as Mick McGoldrick(flute) and John Doyle (guitar).
The motif of travel continues to be prominent in his musical career, with new pathways being forged to Australia, where he made his most recent recording, “Precious Heroes”, with the Australian mandolin player Luke Plumb. Included on the album are songs about miners’ rights, Irish anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War and the Australian bushranger Ben Hall. Clearly, the inspiration of Woodie Guthrie on Irvine remains undimmed more than 50 years on from discovering him.
From RTÉ Archives, a Nighthawks’ piece on Andy Irvine from 1990
Throughout his remarkable career, Irvine has remained a consummate singer, storyteller and interpreter of songs. Not only never tiring of the road, his career has also shown a tirelessness in seeking out new connections, new musical experiences, and new repertoire. Perhaps it is this – and his ability to bridge the folk, traditional and wider musical worlds – which has been most influential on later generations of musicians.
Irish folk legends Paul Brady and Andy Irvine on collaboration, friendship and their return to London after four decades
BY: Ryan Price October 03, 2018
VETERANS of Irish music, Paul Brady and Andy Irvine joined the London Calling podcast ahead of their upcoming return to London.
On the 12th episode of the podcast, Brady and Irvine spoke to host Ryan Price from Paul’s studio in Dublin, as they prepare to play London together for the first time in over 40 years.
On the 15 October, two of Ireland’s finest musicians will take to stage at Barbican Hall to play songs from their 1977 album, Paul Brady and Andy Irvine, which remains to be regarded as a seminal piece of work in Irish music.
The pair first entered the studio together at the beginning of 1976, following the breakup of folk band Planxty. Brady was to take over from Christy Moore who had vacated the popular group, but it soon became clear that the two would fare better by collaborating between themselves.
That they did, and in the summer of ’76 they hunkered down in Rockfield Studios in Wales to compile a combination of songs which included ‘Plains of Kildare’, ‘Arthur McBride’ and ‘The Streets of Derry’.
In this conversation, both Brady and Irvine opened up about the Dublin folk scene of the 1960’s and 70’s, the creation of their much-loved album and their friendship which has remained strong over the years.
Paul Brady and Andy Irvine will be joined by Donal Lunny and Kevin Burke at their show at London’s Barbican on Monday 15 October.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased here.
The pair also play Dublin’s National Concert Hall, Cork Opera House and Prague’s Archa Theatre.
LIVING LEGEND Andy Irvine plays in the Ballina Arts Centre on Thursday night. Pic: Kása Béla
IRISH folk music legend Andy Irvine is all set to play the Ballina Arts Centre this coming Thursday night, October 4, at 8pm. The gig comes hot on the heels of the news that Irvine is to receive a lifetime achievement award at the inaugural RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards, which takes place at the end of this month, Throughout his 50-year career; from Sweeney’s Men in the mid sixties to the enormous success of Planxty in the 70s, to the Irish super group, Patrick Street in the 80s, Andy Irvine has been a world music pioneer and icon for traditional music and musicians.
In reflecting on the recent news of this impending honour, Andy had this to say: “I am pretty thrilled by it! When it was put up on Facebook and Twitter, nearly a thousand people congratulated me over the weekend. Blown away!”
Like his hero Woody Guthrie, Andy is the archetypal troubadour and has toured extensively and remains to do so like his song ‘Never Tire of the Road’.
“I seem to have to live up to it!” he laughs. “ I got so many things from Woody and ‘the road’ seems to have been one of them. Too late to stop now. Paul Brady and I hit it off immediately when he came into Planxty in 1974. I think we learned a lot from each other musically. The Andy Irvine/Paul Brady album might well have formed the basis for Planxty’s fourth album if the band not broken up in 1975.”
Andy recently released the album ‘Precious Heroes’ with Australian mandolin maestro Luke Plumb earlier this year. How that came about.
“I had heard Luke many years ago in Tasmania where he comes from. Later I met him at ‘Zouk Fest’ in New Mexico where he was teaching bouzouki and mandolin players how to play the parts that Donal Lunny and I had played on Planxty albums. He produced an album for Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton which I greatly admired and I asked him if he’d produce an album for me and play on it.”
That album has many great guest musicians; a hallmark of Andy Irvine’s approach to making records over the years. “Apart from Luke, I’m more in the habit of asking players of my own vintage or a generation earlier. It is very exciting to work with the likes of Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle and I’m currently working on an album with Lindsey Horner – an American Jazz Bass player – we have recorded nine or ten tracks with a guitarist and a drummer of songs my mother used to sing. I’ve no idea what my fans will think of that in this country.”
Andy has a number of bands on the go all the time, such as Mozaik and Patrick Street. These projects are very much still alive and we can expect to see plenty from them in the future.
“Mozaik has a third album coming out soon called ‘The Long and the Short of it’. We recorded it in Budapest about three years ago and it’s taken all this time to get to the stage of launching it. I‘m not sure if Mozaik will tour again though. Similarly with Patrick Street. Usher’s Island is my number one band now … Donal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle. All wonderful musicians!”
A lifetime achievement award only goes half way towards saluting what Andy Irvine has done – and continues to – for music in Ireland and around the world. Don’t miss the chance to see him in concert at Ballina Arts Centre this Thursday night.
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.
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.