Music/Interview: 27 Jul 2004
The return of the fab four
Planxty’s rebirth was a dream come true for band and fans alike – and the good news is that there’s more to come.
Earlier this year trad/folk legends Planxty reconvened for a series of sell-out concerts at Dublin’s Vicar Street. It was first time that the original line-up of Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Liam O’Flynn had appeared on a stage together in over 20 years (apart from a low-key appearance in Ennis the previous October.) The success of the shows exceeded all expectations and then some, with over 10,000 people attending. For those lucky enough to be there it was an unforgettable musical experience and a long overdue reminder of the debt owed to Planxty for the current healthy state of Irish music For those who missed out on the shows, all is not lost as they were recorded and filmed and are now available on CD and DVD while more gigs are planned in December.
Three-quarters of the band are on-hand here to discuss the whole experience. So how does it really feel to be a going concern again after all these years?
Donal Lunny: “Unbelievable. It’s far better than any one of us had expected. Our main misgiving before we got back together was, ‘Will the spark be there like it used to be?’ It turned out it was. We met up for rehearsals last October and did that tiny gig in Clare but that was just a toe in water to see how things would work out. We didn’t realise just how good Vicar Street would be.”
“ We proved that we could still capture that energy which is so much a part of being in a young band,” says Liam O’Flynn. “Not once during the twelve gigs did it feel like we were going through the motions or on automatic pilot
“What worried me initially was the thought that we might be playing to an audience of people of our own age because when you think about it, you’d need to be over 50 to have seen the band in their early days”, says Andy Irvine. “But it wasn’t like that at all. Leagues O’Toole’s documentary had put us in context for a younger generation so there was a good cross section of all ages at the shows.”
The band appeared to be extremely well rehearsed and stuck to a fairly rigid set-list for most of the shows. Clearly they had done a lot of preparation leading up to the gigs?
Donal Lunny: “Probably even more so than when we started. Christy complimented me on my punctuality, which wasn’t my best quality in the early days. Actually, if anybody drove the notion of us getting back together and doing it properly it was Christy.”
Andy Irvine: “We’d rehearsed quite a bit but you can rehearse until you’re blue in the face – when you get up on a stage it’s a different matter. The venue helped hugely – Vicar Street is the best gig of that size in town. I remember the first night before we went on and Christy was looking through the curtains at the audience and he said ‘Jaysus it’s like a big folk club out there.”
Liam O’Flynn: “It’s a lovely cross between a concert hall and a club. The welcome we got when we got out onstage just blew me away. It was unbelievable I think it’s great that a band can play music and get an audience like that.”
The audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive, as was the press coverage. Were they surprised at how much they seemed to be missed by everyone?
Donal Lunny: “The thing is the early audiences spanned every generation – there were kids, old aged pensioners, hippies, rockers but they were all lovely to us. The new audience was the same with people of all ages out there.”
Liam O’Flynn: “I think I heard one woman saying she’d die happy. People had come from Australia, America, and all over Europe specifically for the shows. We certainly didn’t expect that.”
Andy Irvine: “I thought a lot of the reviews didn’t reflect the audience reaction – one journalist called us four grumpy old men. But there was a man who was encountered in the toilet who wiped his eyes and said ‘Jesus Christ I’ll have to emigrate again!”
Donal Lunny: “Davy Hammond, that great man from Belfast, said to me ‘You’re putting people back in touch with their lives’. Part of it is nostalgia. The times that we were in existence before are like islands to people and music is one of the things that evokes memories.
Was it always the intention to record and film the reunion shows for subsequent release?
Donal Lunny: “I don’t remember there being any great urgency about recording them in the early stages. It probably would’ve made us too nervous knowing that we were taping the shows. But it made sense in the end. And we knew we were in good hands with Philip King. When it comes to filming something like this he is the best there is. He just knows how to record music without disturbing what’s happening onstage. In fact we didn’t even notice the cameras in the venue. It was all set up and we just got out there and did the gig.”
Andy Irvine: “There were cameras there? I don’t remember seeing any cameras at all.”
Others have been involved in Planxty over the years, including people like Bill Whelan or Paul Brady. Was there any suggestion that they would join them onstage for some of the shows?
Donal Lunny: “No, that never came up. It was the simplest thing to do it with just the four of us. There were practicalities of us getting back together and we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. What made it easier was the fact that the four of us got together on a social basis once a year for the last six or seven years, just to meet up and have the craic. It was out of that, that the notion of doing something came together.”
Liam O’Flynn: “I feel that most people regard the original Planxty line-up as the best. I know I do myself.”
What about the future? Are there any more gigs planned and is there a chance Planxty might record some new material?
Donal Lunny: “We have time set aside at the end of the year and the door is open but we’re not going to put ourselves under pressure.”
Liam O’Flynn: “It’s so easy to find yourself under pressure. If you open the door it comes flying through and a lot of people want a piece of you. Then suddenly other things take over and that’s the end of it.”
Andy Irvine: “We’ve no plans for an album but we’re not totally dismissing it. The whole attitude of the band is to take one step at a time. December is the next step. And we’ve put in motion the rehearsal of new material by then. A couple of the pieces are from the Planxty repertoire – things we haven’t recorded and there might be something new – who knows?”
PLANXTY LIVE 2004 CD, Video and DVD is out now on the Columbia label in Ireland and the UK.