Woody Guthrie

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.

Interview: The Music and Travels of Andy Irvine

Ep125 The Music and Travels of Andy Irvine Living Heritage Podcast


Andy Irvine is a world music pioneer and an icon for traditional music and musicians. Although an integral part of the finest Irish bands of our time, including Sweeney’s Men in the mid 60s, Planxty in the 70s, his duo with Paul Brady in the later 70s, as well as Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and Usher’s Island, Andy Irvine continues along the path he set for himself so long ago – a vibrant career as a solo artist in the old style, a teller of tales and maker of music. In this episode, Andy talks about his upcoming Woody Guthrie album, his travels, and his music. Andy performed at the 2018 St. John’s Folk Festival.

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The Living Heritage Podcast is about people who are engaged in the heritage and culture sector, from museum professionals and archivists, to tradition bearers and craftspeople – all those who keep history alive at the community level. The show is a partnership between HFNL and CHMR Radio. Past episodes are hosted on Libsyn, and you can subscribe via iTunes, or Stitcher. Theme music is Rythme Gitan by Latché Swing.


 

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.”

source: www.irishnews.com

Andy Irvine Remembering Woody Radio Show

Remembering Woody Guthrie – Arena With Seán Rocks – Thursday 21 December 2017

Andy Irvine remembers the life and career of Woody Guthrie, one of the most significant figures in American folk music and a tireless campaigner for social justice, who died 50 years ago this year

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Music Played on the Show
This Land Is Your Land - Woody Guthrie
The Rangers Command - Andy Irvine
The Great Dust Storm - Andy Irvine
Do Re Mi - Woody Guthrie
The Ballad Of Tom Joad - Andy Irvine
Seamen Three - Andy Irvine
So Long It's Been Good To Know You - Woody Guthrie