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 celebrates Woody Guthrie at the NCH

Updated / Friday, 1 Oct 2021 18:21

On 2nd October, Andy Irvine presents his Woody Guthrie Project at the National Concert Hall with Rens van der Zalm. Below, Andy talks about the influence of Woody, his correspondence with the folk icon and what people can expect from his NCH show.

I spent my early youth searching for the music I knew existed somewhere, the music that would lift my soul. I didn’t find it in my mother’s cracked and scratched collection of musical comedy 78s and I didn’t find it when Bill Haley & the Comets came to Europe in 1956. I nearly found it in the early 45 rpm singles of Rhythm & Blues recorded by the likes of Fats Domino. But…not quite. I found it for a short time with Lonnie Donegan and the Skiffle bands that proliferated a little later and on the sleeve of one of Lonnie’s early EPs I first saw the name that was to motivate me through my life—Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie, pictured in 1940

I found an album, oddly titled More Songs by Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston as it was the only one available. At home I placed the stylus on the first track and as the needle picked up the very first sound of Columbus Stockade a tingle went down my spine. The instrumental intro was followed by an Oklahoman voice, singing, “Way down in Columbus Stockade, want to be back in Tennessee”. And I knew I had found my treasure!

The notes on the back of the album gave nothing away as to who these two men were; I knew they were American, but the world was a much larger place in those days, and I could find no further information. Were they alive or dead?

The notes on the back of the album gave nothing away as to who these two men were; I knew they were American, but the world was a much larger place in those days, and I could find no further information. Were they alive or dead?

Not long after that, somebody introduced me to Pete Seeger and he told me about Woody being incarcerated in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey. Finally, I was able to make contact. Unfortunately, Woody was unable to hold a pen by this time as he had inherited, full blown, from his mother, the genetic disease which was at that time called Huntingdon’s Chorea and had little or no control over his limbs.

Letters were written on his behalf by a lady who would take him out of the hospital at weekends to be entertained by his friends and admirers.

https://embed.spotify.com/album/4S2lUeHgZEvtsiR8OfCkTV

I’ve always been so proud of the fact that Woody and I were friends in this fashion. I began to record songs on tape for Woody and one letter from Sid Gleason, told me how he would sing along with me.

As the years rolled by and Woody died in 1967, I discovered traditional Irish Music and also started writing my own songs, a lot of them very much in Woody’s style.

It has been one of the plus moments of this pandemic that I have had a lot of time to come back to Woody’s songs and in the last year, I have begun to record an album of his songs with the help of a grant from the Arts Council.

Watch: Never Tire of the Road – Andy Irvine salutes Woody Guthrie

I’m delighted to showcase some of these songs at the NCH with my old friend and brilliant musician, Rens van der Zalm. The repertoire that we will be presenting is largely less well-known songs of Woody’s and will represent some historic moments in American history that may well be new to the audience.

Songs about Tom Mooney, whose parents were Irish, and who was wickedly and wrongly convicted of setting off a bomb at a parade in San Francisco, Henry Wallace, who was nearly President of the USA after FDR died in 1945 and who stood for President in 1948, a song about Charles Lindbergh and “The America First” committee who wanted to keep US out of the second World War – until Pearl Harbour intervened.

Andy Irvine presents his Woody Guthrie Project at the National Concert Hall, Dublin with Rens van der Zalm On 2nd October, as part of the Tradition Now festival – find out more here.

Andy Irvine presents his Woody Guthrie Project at the National Concert Hall, Dublin with Rens van der Zalm On 2nd October, as part of the Tradition Now festival – find out more here.

MOZAIK: THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT – Folk Radio UK Review [2019-11-21]

MOZAIK: THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT

by David Kidman 21 November, 2019

MOZAIK “THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT” – New 3rd album is out now – October 2019

MOZAIK is the band that Andy Irvine had dreamed of and his long time musical friends gathered together in Australia in early 2002 to form this multicultural super band. Andy Irvine has been travelling around the world since his youth and one of his great ideas was to collaborate with so much of the different music that had influenced him. American fiddler and 5-string banjo player Bruce Molsky brought the Old Time tunes and songs from his native country, Dónal Lunny was the unquestionable percussive powerhouse of the gathering on bouzouki, guitar and bodhrán. Bulgarian/Hungarian musical genius, Nikola Parov brought all manner of exotic instrumentation to the mix (including gadulka, gaida, kaval, gardon, flutes, clarinet, guitar and nyckelharpa) and Rens van der Zalm, undoubtably one of the best all round musicians on fiddle, mandolin, low whistles, uillean pipes and guitar, brought with him his quintessential Dutch attention to detail in his lovely melody lines.

MOZAIK recorded this 3rd album outside Budapest during the month of September 2015. This time they had a beautiful traditional singer Chrysoula Kechagioglou as a guest and she brought the warm wind and colour of her native Greece into the band for this album. Andy and Bruce also take lead vocals and the instrumental tracks composed by Dónal and Nikola (with the magnificent voice of Ágnes Herczku) are in this album. It has taken more than four years for this album to come to fruition but here it is at last and that’s about the long and the short of it!

THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
ANDY IRVINE & DÓNAL LUNNY’s
MOZAIK
Recorded in the Livingroom Studio in Budapest, September 2015
Engineered and Edited by Nikola Parov in Budapest 2017
Further Recording by Ton Snijders in Netherlands 2017
Mixed and Mastered by Leon O’Neill in Ireland 2018
Produced by Nikola Parov & Mozaik

The Long And The Short Of It

2019 [MOZCD03]

The Long And The Short Of It

Price €18.00 
(including shipping costs)

Buy Now from AndyIrvine.com

MOZAIK recorded this 3rd album outside Budapest during the month of September 2015. This time we had a beautiful traditional singer Chrysoula Kechagioglou as a guest and she brought the warm wind and colour of her native Greece into the band for this album. Andy and Bruce also take lead vocals and the instrumental tracks composed by Dónal and Nikola (with the magnificent voice of Ágnes Herczku) are all on this album.

It has taken more than four years for this album to come to fruition but here it is at last and that’s about the long and the short of it!

Produced by Nikola Parov & Mozaik
Andy Irvine: vocals, mandola, bouzouki, harmonica
Dónal Lunny: bouzouki, zouk (baritone bouzouki), guitar, bodhrán bass
Bruce Molsky: vocals, fiddle, 5-string banjo
Rens van der Zalm: fiddle, mandolin, guitar, low whistles, uilleann pipes
Nikola Parov: gadulka, kaval, gaida, whistle, violin, gardon, percussion
Ágnes Herczku: vocal on track 7
Chrysoula Kechagioglou: vocals on track 3, 4, 9 & 12


Track list:
1. Houdini
2. The Black Hills Waltz / The Red Steer
3. My Little Carpenter
4. Like A Soft Breeze
5. The Coast Of Peru
6. As Good As It Gets / The Blue Trouser Suit
7. Gyimes
8. Rainbow ‘Mid The Willow
9. The Song Of The Nightingale
10. Old Virginia
11. The Long And The Short Of It / De Doi
12. Neratzoula

Andy Irvine “Old Dog Long Road – Vol.1 (1961-2012)” [AK-8] – New 2CD Retrospective album is out now – October 2019

Andy Irvine was born in 1942 and he started recording for his own enjoyment back in 1960 when
his mother bought him a heavy reel-to-reel tape recorder. ere are some very rare tracks from his
early days even before he became a professional musician and there are recordings of his busking
days in Germany by himself or with Johnny Moynihan. In the early 70s he made some demos for
Planxty in Dublin , one of them from this album, was never recorded. ere are a lot of recordings
from gigs that Andy has played over the last 50 years, mainly solo but some with his musical friends,
Dónal Lunny, Kevin Burke, Jackie Daly, Frankie Gavin, Rens van der Zalm and Gerry O’Berne, to
name but a few. Above all, this double album shows Andy’s remarkable ability to play highly complex
accompaniments at the same time as performing vocals of quality.

Old Dog Long Road

Price €20.00 

(including shipping costs)

Buy Now from AndyIrvine.com!

This is the first volume of recordings I made since 1961. They are not in any way intended as my latest albums and indeed, are issued as a limited edition, meant mainly for the ardent fan! The recordings are not always of studio quality in spite of the masterful sound manipulation of my dear friend the late Tim Martin who did a marvellous job of making even the most dubious old recording listenable. Many thanks to Leon O’Neill who also improved some difficult tracks.

I started recording for my own enjoyment back in 1960 when my mother bought me a heavy reel-to-reel tape recorder. Later I recorded songs so that I wouldn’t forget them and could go back and re-learn them. There are also many recordings made at gigs I have played around the world in the last 40 years. I would like to make special mention and give special thanks to Ray Barron of Cork who recorded so many of my shows in The Lobby Bar in Cork in the 90’s.

The bulk of these recordings are solo but there are some with great musicians I have played with over the years. Many thanks to Dónal Lunny, Rens van der Zalm, Johnny Moynihan, Frankie Gavin, Rick Epping, Kevin Burke, Jackie Daly and Gerry O’Beirne, all of whom appear on this first volume.
Thanks also to Jeremy Kearney for letting me use the Foxrock Folk Club recordings. More from that club in that period, with singers like Ronnie Drew and Luke Kelly, are available on “Live at Foxrock Folk Club – The Parish Hall Tapes 1970-72” (Cornelscourt Records CR 001).
If this album is well received, there will be a clatter more!!

Produced by Andy Irvine


Track list:

[Disc 1]
1. Goodbye Monday Blues (1999)
2. Farewell To Ballymoney (1978)
3. Green Grows The Laurel (2002)
4. King Bore And The Sandman (1978)
5. Down By Greer’s Grove (1995)
6. Dublin Lady (1971)
7. Little Stack Of Wheat / Humours Of Tullycrine (1993)
8. Jack Tar (1971)
9. Viva Zapata (1993)
10. Edward Connors (1986)
11. Lady Leroy (1972)
12. Bonny Light Horseman (1978)

[Disc 2]
1. Lost Train Blues (1971)
2. Captain Colston (1995)
3. Kilgrain Hare (1985)
4. Chetvorno Horo (1993)
5. Reuben’s Train (1968)
6. Longford Weaver / Christmas Eve (1978)
7. Come All Ye Fisher Lassies (1969)
8. Captain Thunderbolt (1995)
9. Seamen Three (1981)
10. Truckin’ Little Baby (1961)
11. The Titanic (2012)
12. Sweet Lisbweemore (1995)