Dermot Stokes

Archive: 1980 Hotpress Interview

Music/Interview: 26 Jun 1980 Dermot Stokes


Dermot Stokes records a personal history of Irish Folk through the eyes of Andy Irvine

I. Early Days

“I started off playing American stuff on the guitar. Woody Guthrie was my idol, and I wanted to play every instrument that he played. So I started playing the mandolin too. Then I met Johnny Moynihan, and he was singing ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ and playing the mandolin as well and I thought, ‘Amazing! You can accompany your singing on the mandolin and take it from there!’ Which I did. But if I hadn’t been into American music in the first place, I don’t think I would have arrived at the same starting point for the accompanied singing of Irish songs.”

Andy Irvine is a highly acclaimed folk singer, both on his own and in partnership with other singers and musicians, such as Paul Brady, and especially Planxty. Yet he’s a lot more also. As the opening quote shows, his musical roots are on another continent, and he also has utilised eastern European music and rhythms, as well as jazz in his personal, and so far open-ended musical odyssey. And while he is best known, and most usually seen as a folk singer, the term does not do him full justice.

“Folk singer” and “traditional musician” are phrases that are heavy with suggestion – old men in smoky corners passing on an age-old inheritance of music and song, a gradual, local and almost anonymous process. It is part of his music, of course, and he has served his times in the smoky sessions too. But his vision, his experience and the music he has written, sung and records transcend the local, the gradual, and the anonymous, because he’s . . . Andy Irvine, who while undoubtedly modest, shy and retiring, is also a well-known public figure, one of a number of people basing their music non traditional sources, who have revolutionised both folk and popular music in Ireland. As such, while he sticks to many of the conventions of folk singers, his is a far more individual stance.

The odyssey took its first major stint in the public eye with the near-legendary Sweeneys Men in the later 1960s.

“Sweeneys were a kind of scratch band before the name was stuck on them – we’d known each other for some years when Joe Dolan, who was living in Galway at the time, got this gig in what used to be called the Enda Hotel and later became the Coachman’s. (more…)