Singer, songwriter and musician Andy Irvine was born on June 14, 1942, in Southgate, London. His father was from Scotland and mother from Ireland. He showed an early interest in acting and the skiffle groups of the late 1950s. He started to learn classical guitar and after coming across the music of Woodie Guthrie and the Carter family switched to accompaniment.
He was on the road in England for 18 months before going to Denmark, where he spent three months moving around collecting folk songs, and while there he appeared on local TV. Back in England he travelled with Derroll Adams and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and in 1962 he came to Dublin as the ballad boom was taking off. He met Johnny Moynihan and Joe Dolan in the Coffee Kitchen in Molesworth Street, run then by Pearse McCalland and believed to be the first folk club in Dublin.
In the summer of 1966 he went to Galway and with Johnny Moynihan and Joe Dolan formed Sweeney’s Men. By this stage he was playing mandolin and harmonica as well as guitar. After a lean winter Sweeney’s Men had Irish chart successes with Waxie’s Dargle and Old Maid in a Garrett and Andy Irvine had established his name on the folk circuit. He contributed English and Scottish folk songs to the group’s repertoire and picked up a lasting bouzouki habit from Moynihan. First Joe Dolan left the group and in 1968 Andy left to resume his travels.
He went to Eastern Europe and busked around Bulgaria, Romania and Jugoslavia. He immersed himself the local folk music and picked up Balkan rhythms which were to be echoed throughout his career and, which it is said, found their way onto the Riverdance soundtrack.
Returning to Ireland he teamed up with Donal Lunny who also got the bouzouki habit. Then in 1972 they teamed up with Christy Moore on vocals and Liam Og O Floinn to record the Prosperous album. Such was the success of this album that they formed Planxty.
For a decade, The Dubliners and Clancy Brothers had dominated the ballad boom, but the arrival of Planxty in 1973 marked a new phase. Their song repertoire, while essentially Irish, embraced the American tradition of Woodie Guthrie in particular (Irvine’s influence), English, Scottish as well as Irish folk songs and the dance music of O Floinn’s uilleann pipes.
Andy Irvine also emerged as a songwriter and the first album Planxty included his plaintive West Coast of Clare. This song, the story goes, was started just after his last gig with Sweeney’s Men, in Quilty, Co. Clare, the day before leaving Ireland, and was finished in Ljubljana. By this stage he sometimes accompanied himself on the hurdy-gurdy. Planxty lasted until late 1975, with some changes: Donal Lunny left after The Well Below the Valley album in July, 1973, and his place was taken by Johnny Moynihan. Paul Brady came in after Christy Moore left in 1974.
Planxty eventually broke up and in 1976 he teamed up with Paul Brady for a year or so. During this time they recorded the acclaimed album Andy Irvine/Paul Brady which included the latter’s unique interpretation of Arthur McBride. They also had their own TV series on BBC. He also toured Europe with Mick Hanly and continued his solo career.
Planxty reformed with its original line up in late 1978, and recorded another three albums; by 1983 Donal Lunny and Christy Moore had left to concentrate on Moving Hearts, and after one final tour, Planxty broke up for the second and final time.
In 1980 Andy Irvine released his first solo album Rainy Sundays … Windy Dreams, containing a mix of traditional Irish and eastern tunes, along with his own compositions. He also recorded an album with Dick Gaughan, Parallel Lines (1982) and was involved in many other recordings.
Andy Irvine sings ‘Never Tire ofthe Road’ at at Temple Bar Trad 2010
After Planxty’s final demise, Andy briefly joined and recorded with De Dannan before heading off to Eastern Europe again, founding a new multinational band, Mosaic, with members from Ireland, (Donal Lunny and Declan Masterson), Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Holland and Scotland. Despite a successful tour, Mosaic folded, and Andy was back on his own again.
As well as his solo work, he toured with guitarist Gerry O’Beirne, the duo adding Kevin Burke and later Jackie Daly from De Dannan; with the replacement of Gerry O’Beirne by Arty McGlynn, this quartet became Patrick Street, which toured and recorded three albums between 1986 and 1989. That group went off the road for a period but comes together still for tour projects.
In the meantime Andy Irvine brought out another solo album, Rude Awakening, containing of his own songs celebrating various heroes and anti-heroes. He also went back to his Eastern European explorations in East Wind with Davy Spillane and both Eastern European and Irish musicians, playing Balkan folk rhythms. Patrick Street recorded All in Good Time in 1993 and in 1997 he privately recorded his Rain on the Roof CD which he sold at gigs and via the internet.
More recently he has been part of the group Mozaik alongside Donal Lunny, Bruice Molsky, Rens Van der Zam and Nicola Parova. They play a mixture of Andy’s favourite music – Irish, Balkan and American old timey.
In February 2008 he joined up again with Paul Brady for a one-off concert at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. Such was the challenge of revisiting a 30-year-old repertoire, the pair played two warm-up concerts in the Cherry Tree in Dublin’s Walkinstown.
While other folk musicians have swayed with the marketing currents, Irvine’s approach to his music has always been that of the artist. He once said in an interview with Paul Byrne: “With Planxty we retained an idealism all the way through, for better or worse. And it’s something that I believe in, something that I still feel strongly about. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing anything I wasn’t proud of.”
He also prefers to avoid the major record labels, remembering his bad experience with Planxty. His more recent albums and those of Mozaik have been released independently.
Christy Moore likens him to English folk icon Martin Carthy. “I see Andy and Martin as being two of a kind, no compromise at all. Not in any martyr kind of a way, it’s the way they see their work. I admire that greatly.”
A 70th birthday concert was held in Andy’s honour in Vicar Street in Dublin on June 16, 2012. Taking part alongside Andy were Sweeney’s Men (Paul Brady, Ist sub), Donal Lunny, Liam O’Flynn, Mozaik and Paddy Glackin among others. Videos of the concert are on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wfyn_zxbn-I&feature=youtu.be Also: Sweeneys Men – Terry Woods and Johnny Moynihan join Andy on stage for Sally Brown
Abocurragh, Andy Irvine, Own Label, 2010
Way out Yonder, Andy Irvine, Own Label, 2000
Rain on the Roof, Andy Irvine, Own Label 1966
East Wind, Andy Irvine, Tara, 1992
Rude Awakening, Green Linnet, 1991
Rainy Sundays … Windy Dreams, Andy Irvine, Tara 1980
Changing Trains, (2007) Own Label
Live from the Powerhouse, Mozaik, (2004) Hummingbird
With Patrick Street
On the Fly, Patrick Street, 2007
Compendium, Patrick Street, 2001
With Paul Brady
Andy Irvine/Paul Brady, Mulligan, 1976
With Sweeney’s Men
Sweeney’s Men, Transatlantic, 1968