Andy Irvine & Rens Van Der Zalm

Andy Irvine: ‘Woody Guthrie sang along with my recordings of his songs’

The musician pays tribute to his boyhood idol in a special show in Dublin tonight. Here, he talks about getting back to live gigs, collaborating with rising Irish stars and why the crowd went wild for Planxty.

Andy Irvine pays tribute to his hero in The Woody Guthrie Project
Andy Irvine pays tribute to his hero in The Woody Guthrie Project

John Meagher  

October 02 2021 02:30 AM


It was love at first listen when Andy Irvine encountered the music of Woody Guthrie. It was 1957 and he was 15. The American troubadour’s stark folk songs took a fierce hold and wouldn’t let go. It’s a passion that still burns brightly

“It’s been a lifelong devotion,” Irvine says, speaking via Zoom from his home in Wexford. “When I first bought one of his records and played it I was hooked from the first bar of the first song — it was like, ‘Yes! I’ve found it — this is it.’ And I can’t quite explain why. There was an honesty about him and his music that I appreciated.

“He wasn’t all that good as a musician and sometimes when I play his music to people who don’t know him and I hear him through them, I think, ‘Hmm, it’s not all that great’. But I loved the way he played guitar and I loved his singing voice and I’d play the guitar in the same style that he did and I’d even try to copy his Oklahoma accent.” 

These were the songs that encouraged Irvine to pick up a guitar, and so began one of the great innings in Irish music history. He also picked up a pen and wrote to Guthrie himself. “The world was a much bigger place then and it could be hard just to get information — I didn’t know if he was alive or dead or how famous he was. I wrote a letter to ‘Woody Guthrie, USA’ and after about three weeks it came back.

“Then I found out he was in hospital so I wrote to him there. I found out later that the people who would take him out at weekends, Bob and Sidsel Gleason, would read the letters to him. And they wrote back to me. I made some recordings for Woody of his songs and in a letter that [the Gleasons] sent me, they said that he had sung along with me.”

He is still tickled by the memory more than 60 years later and he says he was greatly touched when on a visit to the Woody Guthrie Centre in Oklahoma, he discovered that the letters he had written as a teen were on display there. “They had found the letters at the hospital when it was being knocked down and they ended up in his archive. I photographed them all and it’s like a diary from when I was 16 and 17.”

Tonight, at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, Irvine plays tribute to Guthrie in a special show as part of the venue’s acclaimed Tradition Now series. He will be accompanied by his friend, the Dutch multi-instrumentalist Rens van der Zalm.

“Despite my devotion to Woody, this is out of my comfort zone.”

Still agile

Irvine turns 80 next year, but this genial man could pass for someone in his early 60s. Although he says his fingers can’t race around the fretboard like they once could, his body has not betrayed him and he is still able to play live — something he clearly loves to do.

“Sometimes, when I hear myself playing 20 years ago I think, ‘Wow, I don’t think I could play that piece now.’ It doesn’t bother me because I’m still agile enough to accompany myself in the way I want to. And over the course of this pandemic, I’ve changed the way I hold the plectrum and I think it’s an improvement.”

He greatly missed the business of playing live. “I didn’t enjoy those streaming performances,” he says, “especially the ones that weren’t live. There’s nothing like playing in front of actual people.”

Last weekend, he played at the inaugural Hibernacle festival at Claregalway Castle, Co Galway. “It was wonderful. Everything had been put together so well. Normally, you wouldn’t notice the organisation, but we were treated fantastically well. The collaborations were great and the music was fantastic.” Irvine was the elder statesman among a home-grown line-up that included Lisa Hannigan, Jape, Tolü Makay and Saint Sister. “In one of the collaborations, they sang all the harmonies in all my songs — I don’t know how they learned them so quickly!”

Irvine was born in London in 1942 to an Irish mother and Scottish father. He was drawn to acting at an early age and became something of a child star. He appeared in ITV and BBC productions and featured in the acclaimed 1958 film Room at the Top.

But music, which had been a central part of his life for as long as he can remember, started to take over after the Woody Guthrie discovery. He moved to Ireland aged 20 and never looked back. His first band, Sweeney’s Men, made waves in a country that could sometimes be hostile to anything that was considered ‘trad’. By the end of the 1960s, Irvine had earned a reputation as one who was keen to leave a distinct mark on culture. His mastery of the bouzouki, the traditional Greek stringed instrument, demonstrated a yen to try different things.

Irvine is revered for his gifts with several instruments, but two of them loom large in his affections. “The bouzouki looks like a guitar and I’m sure half the audience think it’s a guitar, but it’s got eight strings and it delivers a really
special sound,” he says. “And I love the mandola — it’s tuned a fifth below the mandolin. It’s still a bit on the high side, but it’s got a lovely plaintive quality about it and it’s great for slow songs.”

He brought both those instruments and more to his next band, Planxty — by any measure, one of the most significant groups to have emerged from this country in any genre. Right from the off, audiences sensed that this quartet — Irvine, Christy Moore, Dónal Lunny and Liam Óg O’Flynn — was special.

Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam Og O'Flynn and Christy Moore re-united as Planxty at Vicar Street in 2004
Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam Og O’Flynn and Christy Moore re-united as Planxty at Vicar Street in 2004

“We did a tour supporting Donovan in 1972,” Irvine recalls, “and the first gig was down in Galway in a ballroom called the Hanger. We’d never seen so many microphones or so many lights. We went on and we hadn’t done much of a soundcheck — about halfway though it, the audience made noises. Initially, I thought there was a fight going on but I looked at the others and they were smiling from ear to ear. At the end of it, as the crowd went berserk for more, I came to realise that we had pulled the house down.

“We brought into the band what we’d been doing solo. Dónal Lunny was very important in that he was really good at knitting the whole thing together. Basically, Christy, myself and Liam were soloists and, somehow, that gelled to the success we got. I’m not sure any of us were ever sure about how or why we were so popular.”

Although Irvine found great acclaim after Planxty finished — not least when he and Paul Brady joined forces for a classic album in 1976 — he often longed for the band to reform. After Leagues O’Toole’s book and documentary on the band restored interest in the early 2000s, Planxty reunited. “They were some of the best shows I’ve ever done,” he says. “I really believe we were better, musically, in our 60s, than we had been all those years before.”

He has no intention of calling time on life on the road. He’s itching to get back out there and the New Year will see him tour with Liam Brady. The gigs had to be postponed due to Covid.

“I craved audiences. And I missed it so much. I’d practice daily, but I came to find that I couldn’t play certain things, like the riff at the end of my song, O’Donoghue’s, and I thought, ‘This is the end, Andy. This is the slippery slope.’ But as soon as I was able to play in front of an audience — actual people — I found I could play it as well as ever.”

source: independent.ie

Andy Irvine on Bandcamp!

https://andyirvine.bandcamp.com/

https://isitbandcampfriday.com/

Archive: DRAÍOCHT BLOG – 2008 Interview

DRAÍOCHT BLOG

MUSICIAN INTERVIEW: Andy Irvine  / 3 April 2008
Q&A with Andy Irvine and Nicola Murphy, Draíocht’s Marketing Manager 

Andy appears in Draíocht on Saturday 12th April 2008 at 8pm with his group Mozaik, truly a World Music band, which fellow musicians Donal Lunny (Ireland & Japan), Bruce Molsky (USA), Nikola Parov (Hungary) and Rens van der Zalm (Holland, soon to be Australia). He chatted with Nicola Murphy by email from Japan ahead of the gig next week.

Brief Introduction:
Andy Irvine: Forty Years on the Road
Andy Irvine has been hailed as ‘a tradition in himself’. Musician, singer and songwriter, Andy has maintained both personal integrity and highly individual performing skills throughout his 40-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 has been a world music pioneer and icon for traditional music and musicians. Irvine occupies a unique place in the musical world, plying his trade as archetypal troubadour, with a solo show and traveling lifestyle that reflects his lifelong influence, Woody Guthrie. Few others can equal his repertoire, Irish traditional songs, dexterous Balkan dance tunes, and a compelling canon of his own material that defies description.
Taken from: http://www.andyirvine.com


Q&A

Q: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from and where you live?

I have been playing music for my livelihood for over 40 years. I was a very good child actor who became not such a good juvenile actor. I play the Irish Bouzouki – an instrument that bears little relationship to its Greek origins. I also play Mandolin, Harmonica and Hurdy Gurdy. And I sing. I live in Dublin, though I spend most of my time traveling elsewhere. I am in Japan at the moment.

Q: What or who inspired you to become a musician?

My first inspiration was Woody Guthrie, the Oklahoma balladeer and song writer. Subsequently I became interested in all folk music.

Q: How old where you when you started playing?

I was 13 when I received my first instrument – a very poorly made guitar. I studied classical music for four years but decided it was not for me.

Q: Why did you choose your particular instrument to learn?

I wanted to play all the instruments that Woody played. The mandolin became my foremost instrument but after my good friend, Johnny Moynihan introduced the Bouzouki into Irish music, I gradually became more drawn to that.

Q: If you weren’t a musician, what would you like to be?

A novelist.

Q: What is the hardest thing about being a musician?

Practising when you haven’t played for a while. It’s like running through a field of porridge.

Q: What type of music do you enjoy playing the most?

My music.

Q: Are there any famous musicians that you would really like to work with?

Yes, Woody Guthrie but unfortunately he’s dead.

Q: What’s the most unusual place you’ve ever played a concert or made a recording? 

Kilmainham Jail with all the ghosts looking down from the cells above.

Q: Have you ever tried other art forms like drawing, painting, sculpting or dancing for instance?

No, no good at any of these.

Q: What other musicians or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?

I have been inspired by many people who rose up and fought against injustice. People who spoke for those with no voice. From James Connolly to Joe Hill.

Q: How do you keep motivated if you’re having a bad day?

Imagine myself to be in a worse position.

Q: How have you handled the business side of being a musician, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your gigs to promoters etc?

Like most musicians I am not a big self promoter. My first band, Sweeney’s Men was a minor success but my second band, Planxty was a major success. I have never felt the need to sell myself since then.

Q: Do you have any advice you could give to a musician just starting out?

Don’t expect to be a success. But believe in yourself and keep doing what you believe in.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Still battering around the globe with any luck.

Q: What are your interests and hobbies in your spare time? 

Football, Cricket, Rugby. Anything with a ball except Basketball.

Q: Could you tell us a little more about your forthcoming performance in Draíocht?

It’s with Mozaik, a fiery blend of Irish, Balkan and Old Time American music that should keep the audience in excitement. Between us all the band plays over 20 instruments with Nikola covering a bewildering range of East European instruments that many people will never have seen before.
I started the group 5 years ago, and we rehearsed for the first time in Australia and finished the tour that followed with a live recording at the Powerhouse, in Brisbane. That album conveys the exciting sounds that the band creates on stage. Since then we’ve played at many of the world’s major festivals and concert halls in Australia, Japan, USA, Ireland, Italy and the UK. (Vicar Street, National Concert Hall, Cork Opera House notably). Each member of the band has recorded extensively during their musical careers – Nikola solo and with numerous Balkan bands in Hungary; Bruce with solo albums and collaborations with Pete Seeger, Martin Hayes, Bill Frisell and many others; Dónal with bands ranging from Planxty and The Bothy Band to Moving Hearts, and more than 100 albums that he has produced and played on for other artists; I’ve played with Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and Patrick Street, solo and with Paul Brady; Rens has also recorded with me, and many Dutch bands like Wolverlei and Fungus.

Q: Do you have any performances coming up after this one in Draíocht?

Yes, Draiocht is the second gig of a nine day tour in Ireland with Mozaik.


What the Press have said:

“This was glorious music that raised spirits, roofs and not a few pulses along the wayYet another magnificent musical detour that unleashed our imaginations and our energies, free to roam where passports and language barriers hold no sway.”
Siobhan Long, The Irish Times

Further info about Andy Irvine & Mozaik can be found on his website:
www.andyirvine.com 

 

Mozaik
Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Bruce Molsky, Nikola Parov, Rens van der Zalm
First envisaged by venerable vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Andy Irvine (Planxty, Patrick Street), Mozaik is the ultimate global string band- a truly international ensemble who can not only perform music from a wide array of cultures, but interweave their myriad influences into an entirely new sound. Mozaik moves effortlessly from Celtic to old-time to Eastern European music, with intricate string arrangements complementing Andy and Bruce’s vocals. The line-up boasts musicians as versatile and eclectic as the music created between them, whose traditions and styles are distinct, yet blend beautifully to form a cohesive work of art. Long time fans from Irvine’s Planxty days, will be aware that he has been experimenting with Eastern European melodies and rhythms for a long time now, which is a style he incorporates magnificently into this band.

Main Auditorium
Sat 12 April 2008, 8pm
Tickets: €22 / €20 conc

For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht
Tel: 01-8098021

New site! “AndyIrvineNews.com”

Welcome to our new site!

Andy with mandola bg

If you have anything to contribute we’d love to hear from you!

mailto: andyirvinefan@gmail.com

Well go on, have a poke around… (more…)

RTE Radio 1 Album of the Week is Parachilna!