8 FEBRUARY 2019
FT: You’re known for your travels, and there can’t be too many spots in the world you haven’t been to. Many artists complain about life on the road, but you seem to thrive on it. Why so?
AI: I’ve always been excited by travel. When I was about 13 I started collecting maps and planning journeys on my bicycle. I started hitchhiking when I was about 17 and often travelled to places just to see what they looked like! I bought a motor bike when I was 19 and travelled all over Ireland on it. I don’t know where all this love of travel came from but it still drives me on.
FT: The new album, ‘Precious Heroes’ is a collaboration with Australian musician Luke Plumb. Can you tell us a bit about it and how it came to be?
AI: I heard Luke Plumb playing at a session in Tasmania, where he comes from and made a mental note to remember him. He joined the Scottish band – Shooglenifty – and a few years later he produced an album for a couple of Australian friends of mine, and did a really good job. I wanted to do something a little bit different and asked him if he’d produce it. That’s how it came about.
FT: The new album celebrates working class heroes, people who have fought the system and that theme has run through your music throughout your career. People like Damien Dempsey and Mick Blake are keeping that tradition of protest alive. Folk music rather than any other type of music, has always been seen, and continues to be seen as the perfect medium for such protests. Why do think that’s so, and is it still the case?
AI: Yes, I think it is the perfect medium for songs of protest and more, for me, a medium of reminding the listener of people who had fought the bad things of the system they lived under. I was always horrified that history in school was about kings and rulers and never even made a mention of those who had fought for the shorter working day and better wages.
FT: Over the years you’ve played with some of the finest musicians in the world. Difficult I’m sure to narrow down, but which stand out? Either in terms of sheer musicality or just who they are?
AI: I’ve spent a lot of my life playing with Donal Lunny, certainly one of the finest musicians in the world. All the bands I’ve been in were made up of great musicians. Mozaik for instance, playing with Bruce Molsky and Nikola Parov, Usher’s Island, playing with Mike McGoldrick, John Doyle and Paddy Glackin, playing as a duo with Paul Brady, Planxty, Liam O’Flynn, Christy Moore, I can’t think of any world famous household names that I’ve played with though! Just the usual suspects!
FT: Are there any musicians that you haven’t played with, that you would like to?
AI – Can’t really think of any! I’m pretty happy with my own set!
FT: Do you listen to other styles of music. Who are listening to at the moment?
AI: I listen to jazz a lot. Miles Davis, Coltrane. I started listening to Charlie Parker many years ago and then got stuck in the 1960s with Miles etc.!
FT: Have you heard any new acts or artists of late, and thought, they are worth keeping an eye on?
AI: I’m very impressed with many of the new young musicians that I’ve heard. I met the Friel Sisters in Newfoundland last summer and our plane home was delayed so they played there while we waited and were wonderful. I also love the girl singer in Lankum, Radie. She’s the best female singer I’ve heard since Dolores Keane.
FT: What the plans for this year?
AI: Solo Tours of Norway and Sweden in April, Canada in July, UK in October and Japan in November. Never tire of the road!
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
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.”
Here's some info on the great line-up of musicians who helps make "Precious Heroes" such a great album.
|Instrument||Bouzouki, mandola, octave mandola, harmonica & vocal|
|About||Andy Irvine is one of the great Irish singers, his voice one of a handful of truly great ones that gets to the very soul of Ireland. He has been hailed as “a tradition in himself”.|
|Instrument||Mandolin, guitar, programming, bouzouki, guitar & vocal|
|About||Through his work with Shooglenifty, Peter Daffy and as a Solo performer, Luke Plumb has established a reputation as a driving force in acoustic music on the global stage.|
|Instrument||Flute & Whistle|
|About||Andy’s Ushers Island bandmate, Michael McGoldrick (born 26 November 1971, Manchester, England) is an English Low whistle, Irish flute, Uillean pipes, tin whistle and bodhran player. He also plays other instruments such as guitar and mandolin in some of his tracks.|
|About||John McCusker (born 15 May 1973) is a Scottish folk musician, record producer and composer. An accomplished fiddle player, he had a long association as a member of the Battlefield Band beginning in the 1990s and was later a band member and producer for folk singer Kate Rusby. He has served as producer and arranger for artists in a range of genres and also has several solo albums to his credit.|
|Name||Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton|
|About||Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton are two of Australia’s most respected and renowned folk musicians. Their vocal harmonies, exceptional musicianship and unique interpretations of traditional song have won them national and international acclaim over the years.|
|Name||Rens Van Der Zalm|
|Instrument||Guitar & Fiddle|
|About||Andy’s Mozaik bandmate, right-hand man. The Netherlands has few celebrities in the field of folk. But the Rotterdammer Rens van der Zalm definitely belongs in this select company. For three decades he has been giving colour – and more than that – to all sorts of different music groups with his violin, mandolin, guitar, accordion, bagpipe, whistles, harmonica and so on.|
|About||Hailing from the Scottish Highlands, James’s first forays into percussion were distinctly hand knitted. Fearing for the integrity of her pots and pans, his mother eventually bought him a drumkit for his 15th birthday. Some 30 years later James is widely recognised as one of Scotland’s most innovative drummers, and he is responsible for the deliriously danceable grooves underpinning Shooglenifty’s sound. The Shoogle drummer is much in demand elsewhere: with Capercaillie, Grit Orchestra, String Sisters and Michael McGoldrick to name a few.|
|About||Andy’s dear wife Kumiko!|
While the album cover is littered with the faces of trade unionists, rabble-rousers and singers, Irvine’s greatest musical influence — Woody Guthrie — is an absentee.
Irvine said for the first 15 years of his life he was looking for an unknown type of music which he could call his own. At this time, he said, rhythm and blues was enjoying a period of dominance before rock and roll took over, coinciding with the development of the 45 RPM record.
‘‘My friends all thought it was great . . . but it wasn’t me,’’ Irvine said.
‘‘Then I discovered Lonnie Donegan . . . and on the back of one of his EPs, it said the song was written by Woody Guthrie. So one day I was walking down in the West End of London, and there in a small shop was More Songs by Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston.
‘‘I bought it, took it home and put it on, and pretty much halfway through the first bar of the first song, I thought . . . I’d finally discovered the music I’d been looking for.’’
Fast forward to 2016 and Irvine, already a fan of Luke Plumb’s work as a musician, decided to enlist the Australian’s help as producer after appreciating his work in fine-tuning Declaration — the latest album made by Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton.
Irvine said Plumb leaped at the opportunity to collaborate and the pair went on to transform the house of a friend travelling abroad into something of a DIY recording studio.
‘‘We put mattresses up against all the walls and windows to deaden the sound and Luke and his computer and his microphones were set up and I played and sang into it, which is the way it is these days,’’ Irvine said.
‘‘Recording studios are slightly out of date, because you can record it yourself . . . if you’ve got good microphones, all you need to do is deaden the sound and it’s as good as a studio, except you’re not paying for it.’’
‘‘We recorded the songs there . . . and later he put on his own instrument, and then a couple of other people in different countries were added onto it. So you couldn’t say it was recorded in one place — it was recorded all over the bloody world.’’
Irvine said while his greatest musical influence has always been Woody Guthrie, he has never been able to write contemporary political songs like the American singer-songwriter.
‘‘It’s a shame . . . but I can’t do it . . . because you don’t know all the facts,’’ Irvine said.
‘‘So the songs that I write are about things that happened in the past, where nearly all the evidence you’re ever going to have is there. And that’s what a lot of these are — the strike in the coal mines in County Kilkenny and the Spanish Civil War.
‘‘It’s the same mix as the last few albums in that there are traditional songs and songs that I have written. But I do feel it’s a little bit further to the left than other albums, as a concept. I have never changed . . . but I’ve evolved at my own speed. I still have the same attitude to music I had all those years ago.’’
Andy Irvine and Luke Plumb are performing at Under the Sun Café in Strathbogie on March 17. For bookings phone 0427 317 694. Precious Heroes is out now.