Bob Dylan

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.”



Hard Travelin’ Too – The Dylan Connection 

Tight connection to my ‘Art?

So Andy never won a Nobel prize & Dylan never slept in the back of the Sweeney van with Johnny Moynihan, there are so many differences…..But apart from a deep love of folk music are there any other connections these two great men share?

Dylan On Planxty

Bono: Have you heard of an Irish group that are working now in this middle ground between traditional and contemporary music called Clannad? Clannad is Gaelic for family, and they’ve made some very powerful pieces of music, including a song called Theme From Harry’s Game, it’s from a film, and it knocked over everyone in Europe. It didn’t get played in the US. It’s just vocal and they used some low bass frequencies in it as well – it’s just beautiful. They’re a family, they come from Donegal, and have worked from that same base of traditional music.

Dylan: There’s a group you have here, what’s it called, Plankston?

Bono: Planxty.

Dylan: They’re great!

Bono: Another rock’n’roll band!

Dylan: Yeah, but when I think of what’s happening – I think they’re great.

Bono: There’s another group called De Dannan. The name De Dannan has something to do with with the lost tribes of Dan. You heard of the disappearing tribe of Dan? They say they came from Ireland.

Dylan: Yeah, I’ve heard that, I’ve heard that.

Bono: I’m not a musicologist or expert in this area, but it would appear that this is true. Also, you know they say the Irish musical scale has no roots in Europe whatsoever, rather it comes from Africa and India. The Cartesian people, the Egyptian people, what gave them supremacy in the Middle East was the sail they developed. I forget what they call it, I forget the name of the sail, but this sail allowed them to become successful sea farers and traders and they dominated as a result of their reading, and that same sail which was used on those boats, is used on the West of Ireland.

Dylan: Is that right?

Bono: Bob Quinn made a film called Atlanteans in which this theory was elaborated. He suggests that the book of Kells, which is a manuscript, part of it has it’s roots in Coptic script, not in Europe. It’s not a European thing at all – it’s linked from Africa, Spain, Brittany and Ireland, because that was a sea route. I’m not an expert. I shouldn’t be talking about it really. But it’s of interest when you think of it.

Dylan: Sure it is.

Bono: I might be able to send you over some tapes of that actually.

Dylan: I’d like to have them. You know Planxty? I also like Paul Brady a lot.

THE BONO VOX INTERVIEW – Hotpress – JULY 8, 1984.

(What was it you wanted? #6)

Bono Interview Conducted at Slane Castle, Ireland, prior to Dylan’s show.


Andy Plays Dylan

Tribute to Woody (Song To Woody) – Prosperous (1972) – Christy Moore

Christy Moore recorded “Song To Woody” on a “solo” album called Prosperous. This album is widely regarded as the start of Planxty, as the ensemble of musicians assembled for this album eventually formed Planxty. Andy plays mandolin & harmonica on the album.

My Back Pages – Parallel Lines (1982) – Andy Irvine & Dick Gaughan

In 1982 Andy Irvine released an album with Scottish Folk singer Dick Gaughan, one of the songs Dick chose to record was Dylan’s “My Back Pages” from 1964’s Another Side Of Bob Dylan LP.

I Pity The Poor Immigrant – Words & Music (1983) – Planxty

In 1983 Planxty recorded the album “Words & Music” featuring “I Pity The Poor Immigrant” from Dylan’s 1967 John Wesley Harding LP. Featuring Christy Moore on vocals.

Let Me Die In My Footsteps – Summers Lonesome Tale (2007) – Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton

Andy’s Australian mates Kate & Ruth recorded Dylan classic “Let Me Die In My Footsteps” from Dylan’s “The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3”. Their arrangement featured guest appearance from Andy Irvine on mandolin.


Dylan Plays Andy

Arthur McBride – Good As I Been To You (1992)

Dylan recorded his version of this classic Solo Acoustic in 1992. Ok, so the source of Dylan’s recording is from Paul Brady solo version on the “Andy Irvine / Paul Brady” 1976 album rather than Andy’s Planxty version, which Andy doesn’t actually play on, but the connection is there nonetheless.

Mary & The Solider – The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs – Bob Dylan

Outtake from “Good As I Been To You” sessions 1992. Dylan’s source is the “Andy Irvine / Paul Brady” 1976 album.


Lest We Forget Woody!

Not to forget the obvious Woody Guthrie connection Dylan & Andy share! Both men are lifelong Woody Guthrie fans and have been compared to Woody numerous times & regarded as the rightful carrier(s) of Guthrie’s torch.

Guthrie is an enduring influence on Andy’s music, on his choice of instruments (mandolin and harmonica) and general outlook on life.

Both play harmonica like Woody with Andy going the extra mile of learning it upside down just like his hero. Both as young men impersonated Woody’s voice & at times insisted on being called Woody such was their level of devotion/obsession!

Dylan & Irvine both conversed with Woody Guthrie in his later years. Irvine wrote letters to Guthrie, while Dylan with a geographical advantage visited Woody in person.