Hailed as being "a tradition in himself", Andy Irvine, one of the great Irish singers, is coming to the Róisín Dubh on Sunday April 9.
Musician, singer and songwriter, Andy has created and been a part of legendary bands like Sweeney’s Men in the mid 60s, Planxty in the 70s, Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and more recently, Usher’s Island. A music pioneer and icon for traditional musicians, as a soloist, Andy now reflects the travelling lifestyle lived by his biggest and most prominent influence, Woody Guthrie as he brings his repertoire of the most soulful Irish trad, Balkan dance tunes and a compelling canon of his own self-penned songs around the world.
Andy's interest in music was evident very early on. He says: "I knew I was interested in music, but I couldn't find the kind of music that I liked until I was about 15 when I discovered Lonnie Donegan, who was the King of skiffle (a genre of folk music with influences from American folk, blues, country, bluegrass, and jazz, generally performed with a mixture of manufactured and homemade instruments ).
Skiffle had its moment in the mid 50s up to around 1960 and for a brief time, I was really intrigued in what Donegan was doing." Once Donegan became popular and more commercial, Andy lost interest in him. After that, he discovered an artist who would influence him for years to come. "I discovered Woody Guthrie who led me through the next few years as I played his songs and more American traditional music in general. From there I began listening to, and playing, a lot more traditional Irish music and I haven't stopped since."
Links between Irish and American music go as far back as the 18th century, with the roots of country music said to have come from "Americanised interpretations of English, Scottish and Scots-Irish traditional music."
Andy's mother was from Antrim, and he learnt a lot of traditional music and songs growing up. He says: "My set these days would be a mixture of traditional songs and songs that I have written myself. What led me into writing my own songs was identifying a gap in songs that had already been written - I wanted to write songs about heroes of mine. An example is Forgotten Hero, which is about Michael Davitt."
Andy plays five instruments. What did he start with? "I played the guitar when I was young, classical music initially, which I didn't end up sticking with. It required so much practice that for me, it just wasn't worth it. Then when I discovered Lonnie Donegan I started playing the guitar with a plectrum or flatpick. I started to play the mandolin, the bouzouki, the mandola and the hurdy-gurdy, which are my main instruments now."
Emerging in the mid-1960s during the Irish roots revival, Andy's first band was Sweeney's Men. "We had been playing music together for some years before we actually formed the band, and the next thing that happened was the 'ballad boom' in the mid 60s. We were kind of in that scene, but we didn't care for it very much because we were more interested in the music. Then came Planxty in 1972 and we did a lot of touring all over Europe, because suddenly, in the 70s, traditional music sparked an interest in a lot of European countries." Why was that? "We really couldn't answer the question of why this type of music was suddenly so popular, but I remember one of our early gigs at the time, we were supporting another band - and we went down fantastically. I've never seen anything like it - it was just as if the audience had discovered something at that moment that they had been waiting for."
A musician who truly lives for the music and the music alone, Andy is not too interested in awards - but he still appreciated the much deserved Lifetime Achievement Award he received at the 2018 RTE Folk Awards. "I certainly don't play music to get awards, but it's nice when you're recognised in that way. I was very pleased with it. It gives me a warm feeling."
Andy Irvine is playing in the Róisín Dubh on Sunday April 9. Tickets are €25. Get yours at roisindubh.net