Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny revisited their 1973 album Planxty on Tuesday night, as part of the Up Close and Personal series at the Grand Social. The Up Close and Personal series is run in partnership by Hot `Press and Aidan Shortall of Up Close and Personal promotions, and is supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
In 1973, Irish folk group Planxty released their eponymous debut album. Musicians Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Christy Moore and Liam O’Flynn transformed the landscape of Irish music, representing a pivotal moment in the evolution of Irish traditional music.
As part of the Up Close and Personal series, Irvine and Lunny revisited their legendary album, speaking with Hot Press’ Pat Carty about their lives and careers leading up to – and beyond – the creation of Planxty. Donal Lunny, Pat Carty and Andy Irvine. Hot Press presents Up Close & Personal with… Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine from PLANXTY at The Grand Social, Dublin.
Produced by Phil Coulter, who had a bit of a laissez-faire approach since the Planxty musicians had a clear-cut vision for their eponymous album, Planxty was a revolutionary album, sparking a wave of excitement in the Irish folk and trad community. As described by Carty, the work of Irvine and Lunny – and their Planxty cohorts – represented a “seismic shift” in the Irish folk idiom, due to their innovative mixing of ballads and tunes. For the musicians, however, the process was an organic one, driven by a love and passion for the music itself.
“I’m not sure that any of us really understood the success we acquired,” said Irvine. “It’s what we did.”
“It’s not that we had no control of it,” added Lunny, “but it’s what we loved.”
Throughout the night, Carty guided the musicians through their careers, talking about how they got to where they are now. For Lunny, he discovered music alongside fellow Irish folk icon (and Planxty man) Christy Moore. During sessions at Pat Downing’s, he found a like-minded community – and a new obsession.
“That’s really where I developed a passion for traditional music,” said Lunny about his times at Pat Downing’s.
Elsewhere, Irvine was an actor in London, where he was born and had spent much of his childhood.
“I was a child actor, and I was very good,” he admitted with a laugh. “I say that without conceit because all child actors are good.”
When he finally moved to Dublin, he said that he “found the niche in life [he] was looking for.”
After listening to the album’s opening track, ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’, Irvine and Lunny began their first live performance, ‘Arthur McBride’. From their seats on stage, the two men exuded a commanding presence and showcased their powerful musicianship. The song – by now an Irish folk standard – which expresses an anti-war sentiment, was greeted by huge applause from the crowd. Hot Press presents Up Close & Personal with… Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine from PLANXTY at The Grand Social, Dublin.
In between listens to ‘Planxty Irwin’, ‘Sweet Thames Flow Softly’ and ‘Junior Crehan’s Favourite – Corney Is Coming’, the musicians discussed their times on the road, the introduction of the bouzouki into Irish music, and where the name ‘Planxty’ came from – though it seems that both Irvine and Lunny were unsure of the origin of the latter word.
“It could have derived from the word ‘sláinte’,” Lunny started to explain. “You grow into the name, and the name becomes novel.”
‘The West Coast of Clare’ was the second track performed live, featuring delicate and precise backing on the musicians’ instruments. With the audience hanging on every note, the song’s deep emotions could be felt throughout the venue.
This was followed by the recorded versions of ‘The Jolly Beggar – Reel’, ‘Only Our Rivers’ and ‘Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór.’
Though Planxty’s ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ and ‘Merrily Kissed The Quaker’ went unplayed for time reasons – there was so much great conversation, the night flew! – the duo finished the evening with a performance of ‘The Blacksmith’. The Eastern European-influenced track is unique in its time signature and quirks, highlighting Irvine and Lunny’s incredible musicianship. Fingers were flying on both bouzouki and mandolin, the music filled with a passion that clearly hasn’t diminished since the original release of the album in 1973.
The final song was greeted by a standing ovation from a raucous crowd, who were whooping, hollering and cheering for the legendary musicians, capping off another excellent night of the Up Close and Personal series at The Grand Social. Hot Press presents Up Close & Personal with… Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine from PLANXTY at The Grand Social, Dublin.
See more pictures from Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny: Up Close and Personal here.
Between the achievements of his solo, group work and collaborations; it’s no wonder festivals like Hibernacle are itching to see Andy Irvine return to the stage.
With his impressive repertoire of Irish traditional songs and dexterous Balkan dance tunes, Andy Irvine has a well-earned reputation for curating an exciting new fusion of Irish and World Music.
Having travelled the world with bands like Sweeney’s Men, Patrick Street, the globally successful Planxty, and more recently Mozaik; the London-born musician continues to pursue new combinations and styles of music. Broadening his musical horizons over the course of his forty-year career to encompass the musical styles of countries he visits, the highly revered troubadour of Irish music has since been announced to play Claregalway’s Hibernacle festival – ‘Meet Me At The Castle’.
The 79-year-old will be performing alongside acclaimed singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan and renowned Dublin electronic-rock act Jape. Hot Press spoke to Andy over the phone from his Wexford home about the forthcoming festival appearance, his lockdown experience and favourite memories from touring the world.
“We barely know what the outside world is looking like these days, but everything is beginning to come back into some kind of normality,” Andy laughs, always in good spirits. Himself and his wife have had a wealth of privacy over the last 18 months, spending lockdowns battling weeds in their garden and working on music – it seems he’ll never let himself stop. Preparing to hit the stage once again after more than 40 years of work as a performer seems like an easy task, but Irvine’s nerves are surprisingly potent.
“I get more and more frightened as I get older. I don’t know why that is. It’s just that I get nervous, but I’m not quite as bad as Ronnie Drew, who used to get sick before going on stage every evening!”
“The first solo gig I had was in Galway, and for a couple weeks beforehand, I’d have a shiver down my spine in fear. But as soon as we got on stage, after about the first number, it was as if I’d never been away. I was overjoyed by that, of course. I’m really looking forward to everything that’s coming up.”
Numerous creatives were forced to reckon with an uncertain future as the virus shut down venues, halted gigs for 18 months and removed nightlife and crowds from the equation.
“I had a very bad time during lockdown in terms of practicing – which I did copiously – but I began to feel like I was losing the ability to play as well as I used to be able to do,” Irvine adds, candidly.
“I’m an old man; there is going to come a time where I seriously can’t play as well as I could, but as soon as I got out in front of an audience, I was able to play so much better than I had been able to play just sitting at home. I think that was psychological. I’ve heard other people having the same problem. You feel like you can’t do it anymore until you get back and do it. Delight at being able to play as well as you had before the pandemic. But it’s not easy.”
During the various Covid-19 lockdowns in Ireland, the folk legend finally managed to compile the material together for his Woody Guthrie album and recorded the results.
“I’d been planning to do a Woody Guthrie album for four years now, care to remember. I got it together and I recorded everything, and now it awaits other people’s inputs. He’s my first and main influence,” Andy acknowledges, smiling. “I’ve kept it a bit quiet but I’m actually playing the album in the National Concert Hall in October, so that’ll be a bit scary. I’ll have to relearn all this material I’ve recorded, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Added to the ‘Meet Me At The Castle’ line-up alongside Saint Sister this week, Andy joins the likes of Tolü Makay, Wallis Bird and Nealo for the festival. Taking place September 25 and 26 at Claregalway Castle, Hibernacle is the brainchild of three experienced and diverse event organisers: Úna Molloy, Pearse Doherty and Peter Kelly. The first festival happened at the height of the pandemic in 2020, bringing together some of Ireland’s best and brightest talent in Doolin, Clare, for a restorative retreat and weekend of music. If the first edition is anything to go by, it’s not-to-be-missed.
“I played in Offaly a couple of weeks ago, and the main organiser was there from Hibernacle – which is the company that runs the gig in Birr and Claregalway – and the opportunity to play naturally presented itself from that meeting. ‘Hiberno’ is Latin for ‘winter court’. I think the name probably refers not just to Hibernia, Ireland but also to winter productions. Now I’m just showing off that I remember a bit of Latin!” Andy laughs.
“They’re all more or less fresh faces to play with. I believe I’m going to be playing with Lisa Hannigan and with Jape. I’ve done that kind of thing before; with festivals in Canada, often you’re playing on a small stage with two other acts and you’re encouraged to play along with them without any rehearsal at all. I remember Donal and I were playing in Edmonton at one of these Canadian festivals, and there was a band there from the West Indies or somewhere like that. They played lovely music. No sooner had we started counting in ‘My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland’ when they all played with us. They had no clue as to where the tune or the chord sequence was going, it was really funny. We pay a little bit more attention to detail when we rehearse in the next couple of weeks,” the trad veteran admits.
“It’s a little bit early to say what changes will come about in terms of Irish music. The one thing that does seem to have happened post-lockdown is the audiences are very keen to go to live concerts again, which is definitely encouraging. The fact that some of the gigs are restricted in numbers meant that all of the shows have sold out. That’s a really good sign, but we’ll see whether that urge for music is permanent.”
“I’ve booked Vicar Street in June to celebrate my 80th birthday, because 10 years ago I played two gigs there for my 70th birthday with a couple of bands,” Irvine adds. “Sweeney’s Man, Mosaik, and LAPD with Paddy Glackin and Liam O’Flynn. That gig was a great success. We put it together on a CD and on a DVD, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it again for my 80th. Then I’d be looking forward to my 90th!”
How vital is Irish music for the current socio-economic landscape, in Andy’s view?
“Hugely important. It’s also very hard to understand how you can fill Croke Park for a match and you have to be so much more careful at a musical event. That doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. But no, I think it’s a kind of reawakening. People are suddenly keen to take up their lives as they were before, to some extent.”
“I had a strange experience recently. Last weekend I went to London, to visit my daughter – who lives in London – and my grandchildren, who I hadn’t seen for 19 months. Within about five minutes of going into the house, it was as if the last two years had completely disappeared. It was like being Rip Van Winkle, waking up after 20 years of being asleep. Time seemed to have been contracted so that within five minutes, it was as if we hadn’t been apart. It’s extraordinary.”
Given his wealth of experience when it comes to both Irish and world music, it comes as no surprise that Irvine is often asked for advice by up-and-coming performers.
“I have a friendly feeling for young musicians because I know how hard it is, how much harder it is now to make your own music profession than it was when I was a young man. I’ve got sympathy for them, and I like to help them as much as I can. I think it’s more difficult to stand out as a folk or trad musician these days. So many artists have now gone before these younger people that perform in a new way, which is still kind of acceptable traditionally.”
“I don’t actually play with anybody except Donal Lunny and Paul Brady – when it’s not cancelled once again – but I have a special fan called Macdara Ó Faoláin from Rinn in Co. Waterford,” Andy grins. “He’s been a follower of mine ever since he was a small boy, and he’s now probably 18 or 19. He makes bouzoukis and he plays the instrument as well. I saw him on television a couple weeks ago, and I was really impressed. He’s a lovely young man. And there’s of course the Ye Vagabonds who I like a lot. There’s serious originality in their music. They’re making good strides in the profession.”
Having carved out a name for himself as a traveller, the beloved musician is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches his 80th birthday. Are there any countries that remain on his bucket list?
“All of them. I mean, the whole trouble with being a traveller is that you always want to get back to places you’ve been before, but you want to go to new places as well. It’s quite hard sometimes to do both. I’m still not planning any big trips yet, but I think that’ll have to wait until probably next spring and beyond. But I do look forward to getting back and the world again.”
“The first country that comes to mind in terms of how brilliant the reception was would be Italy,” Irvine notes, after a pause. “I’ve played there for over 40 years, and English is not a language that a lot of them speak – as it would be in Germany, for instance. I remember all those years ago playing in Italy with Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey, and in the middle of a song, they would shout ‘hooray!’ and ‘bravo!” It didn’t come at a moment where we just played fantastic solos, it came in the middle of a continuous piece of music. That’s called high spirits.”
Presumably, given his breadth of time in the industry and passion for new projects, Andy has been questioned before about the limits of his musical motivation.
“One of these days I’m not going to be able to keep performing. I do wonder what will be the first sign, you know?” he says, pensively.
“Will it be fingers not being able to get up and down the fingerboard, or will it be voice deteriorating? I can’t say. I mean, when you get to 90, you really wouldn’t expect to be as good as you were when you were 79. We’ll see…all these factors are quite natural. If one day I can’t really do this anymore or I’m not good enough, I’ll just quietly retire and do other things.”
Rather fatuously billed on the CD sleeve as “the ultimate global stringband”, Mozaik are Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Bruce Molsky (USA), Rens Van Der Zalm (Holland) and Nikola Parov (Hungary), and this album was recorded live in Brisbane two years ago with the lads playing 18 instruments between them. The recording quality thankfully captures all the rapture of a terrific gig.
As with anything Irvine and Lunny get up to, there are exhilarating tracks here (‘Sandansko Oro’, ‘Mechkin Kamen’) in the kind of Eastern European time-signatures that would move your pocket calculator to meltdown. ‘Pony Boy’ boasts some terrific fiddle duetting from Molsky and Van Der Zalm, and serves as a handsome build-up to Irvine’s gritty vocals on his own zestful ‘Never Tire Of The Road’. The versions of both ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me’ and the complex ‘Smeseno Horo’ stand comparison with the Planxty covers of yore.
The latter is a veritable stringfest, with Parov’s kaval going head to furious head with the instruments of Lunny and Irvine. But perhaps the most touching of the material is Irvine’s heartfelt tribute to the legendary Willie Clancy in ‘My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland’.
The quintet on this performance may not be as pioneering as Lunny’s short-lived Coolfin project, but their unquestionable virtuosity and sheer joy in playing together makes this a memorable memento of what must have been a live gig to remember.
According to legend, the term “World Music” was apparently coined by a group of record label marketing executives at a dinner held somewhere in London sometime in the mid-1980s. However, if such an event ever took place, none of those present could possibly have envisaged the existence of a band like Mozaik, even in their wildest brandy-fuelled, post-prandial deliberations.
For Mozaik, dear reader, is that rarity, a truly international band which consists of the London-born of mixed Scots/Irish parentage Andy Irvine, Kildare alumnus Dónal Lunny, American old-timey fiddler and banjo player Bruce Molsky, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Rens van der Zalm and the similarly skilled Hungarian Nikola Parov. Add to that brew Irvine’s well-documented affection for the music of the Balkans and all manner of quirky time signatures and the fact that the Powerhouse in question is in Brisbane, Australia and those marketing executives would be chortling into their glasses and calling for trebles all round.
It was Andy Irvine, of course, who was behind the original Mosaic (presumably, someone else now has the licence for the name) which first appeared after the final break-up of Planxty in 1983 and featured, alongside Dónal Lunny and uilleann piper Declan Masterson, and various European musicians.
That band never recorded, but thankfully this one has, though the concerts from which this album are drawn took place in March 2002. Nevertheless, a recent conversation with Andy revealed his desire for the album to achieve some recognition and, on the evidence provided, you’d be well advised to take heed.
One of the attractions of Planxty was the band’s never to be replicated line-up of instruments – uilleann pipes plus the various stringed instruments of Irvine and Lunny and the bodhrán of Christy Moore – and this is equally where Mozaik’s innate attractions lie. Apart from Andy’s occasional harmonica and Nikola’s whistle and clarinet, this is very much a string driven band (though any connection with the lamentable 1970s UK progressive band String Driven Thing should be firmly avoided). Like Planxty, Mozaik seem to be masters of all they survey, although it’s a substantially different landscape – one in which they can move from Aegean Macedonia (Suleman’s Kopanitsa, in the extraordinary time signature of 11/16) to Bruce Molsky’s Tennessee-inspired version of The Rocky Road to Dublin which itself segues into a wild Kentucky breakout, with Nikola’s whistle blowing hell for leather, on Indian Ate the Woodchuck. And from there it’s off to a Dutchman, Rens, playing a Rumanian tune on the fiddle which Andy once heard on a tour of Italy with the Breton band Gwerz!
If this all sounds as though musical passports are an essential requirement, fear ye not! Every listening unearths gems which possess an inherent commonality, but it’s Andy’s songs which, ultimately, provide the coat peg on which this truly international and thoroughly enjoyable musical exploration can hang its hat (and, as Marvin Gaye wrote, “Wherever I hang my hat is my home”).
So amidst all the musical exploration there’s a wonderful reading of A Blacksmith Courted Me and perhaps everybody’s favourite Irvine composition, My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland “in the time of Sweeney in the sweet County Clare”, to which Dónal adds Robinson County, learnt from Pumpkinhead, and Bruce finales with a splendidly exuberant Trip to Durrow. Then there’s the Macedonian song Mechkin Kamen and a stirring tribute to Woody Guthrie – Never Tire of the Road.
Naturally, the album has to include the tune with which Planxty opened ears to Eastern Europe, Smeseno Horo (in a bizarre mix of 15/16 and 9/16 signatures) and the CD aptly closes with an evocative clarinet-led rendition of the Hungarian tune The Last Dance.
All told, this is a stunning confection and an extraordinary collaboration which should be valued and cherished. More treble brandies all round!