Andy Irvine is without doubt one of the most respected, prolific and talented folk musicians to come out of Ireland, and as he reached 70 to mark the milestone he decided to put on a two night show in Dublin surrounded by a gathering of impressive musicians from his past and present.
The roll of people he has played with is like a history of folk music in the UK and his interests and love of music covers the globe.
He was born in London during the war years and was almost predestined to be an entertainer with a mother, who was originally from Lisburn Country Antrim, who trod the boards doing musical comedy routines and a Glaswegian father who covertly played the saxophone.
As a child actor he was on course for a promising career appearing alongside Laurence Harvey in the film version of John Braine's Room at the Top. He was also in a film with the legendary Peter Sellers where, unknown to him, his scene was cut along with his enthusiasm for acting because the film company had not bothered to tell him and he only found while watching it at the première. Irvine studied classical guitar under Julian Bream but never felt it was really for him. Then as a teenager he encountered the sound of skiffle king Lonnie Donegan and tried his hand, pretty unsuccessfully, in a band.
However, it was through a Donegan LP that Irvine discovered his idol and his muse in Woody Guthrie. As a youngster he even wrote to the legend who was in hospital suffering from Huntingdon's disease. Irvine’s association with Guthrie was to border on obsession to where he actually told people he was Guthrie.
Irvine has travelled all over the world and been instrumental, pun intended, in some of the legendary groups of Irish folk music not least of which is Sweeney's Men, De Dannan and several incarnations of Planxty with another legend Christy Moore. He was also a familiar figure in the pubs of Dublin, most notably O'Donaghue's with iconic musicians such as Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly and Banjo Barney McKenna.
Irvine is now 72 and has earned his place among the biggest and best on the circuit so the release of his 70th birthday concert from Vicar Street, Dublin is long overdue.
|Irvine in the 1970s
In some ways the songs are a history of Irvine's career but more than that they are a travelogue of Irish/folk music.
From Kitty's Rambles/The Humours of Ennistymon to A Blacksmith Courted Me/Blacksmithereens this is an album that captures the rich seam of music which Irvine and his fellow musicians have created, rearranged and happily passed on for others to enjoy whether through playing or just listening.
The album is opened by Irvine's latest incarnation LAPD who are Liam O'Flynn, Paddy Glackin, Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny.
This rearrangement of traditional tunes Kitty's Rambles/Humours of Ennistymon heavily features the uilleann pipes from O'Flynn, for whom this brings back vivid memories of the 1970s, and is as good a foot stomper as any to get things going.
It's not Irvine's style to sit back and allow other people to pay tribute to him when there is far too much fun to be had and so he has a hand and often more in every track of the album.
Sail Away Ladies and Walking in the Parlour both come from the 1920s and are performed by Moziak which prominently features Bruce Molsky and Rens van der Zalm, who was very much in evidence on Irvine's last album Parachilna.
Irvine gets his mouth around the harmonica as part of Sweeney's Men and their version of Robert Burns' universally known tune Rattlin' Roarin' Willie. Irvine is joined by Johnny Moynihan on vocals and bouzouki and Terry Woods on guitar.
O'Donaghue's, written by and sung, on this occasion, by Irvine, is both a potted history of his career and the Dublin music scene of the 1960s. It runs like a Who's Who? of music and if you want to give someone a crash course of Irish folk music during that period then you just need to sit them down and play this for them.
|The young musician
Irvine has travelled extensively in Europe and as a younger musician had a hankering to travel the Balkans which he eventually did. This however, is just the tip of the iceberg as Irvine has a great respect for world music as much as he does for Irish and folk songs.
In Foreign Lands is a traditional song from Thrace in South-Eastern Europe and features Irvine on one of his favourite instruments, the bouzouki along with George Galiatsos on vocals and laouto, which is very similar to the lute, and Manolis Galiatsos on octave mandolin.
Terry Woods takes over the vocals for My Dearest Dear with Irvine staying in the background with his mandolin and harmonica.
Wood's gravelly voice gives the Appalachian-style ballad a real depth of emotion.
Grecian flavour comes to the fore for Suleman's Kopanitsa with Nikola Parov joining the usual suspects on gadulka which is a Bulgarian stringed instrument that's a cross between a mandolin and a lute and is played with a bow, like a fiddle.
Irvine is back on the mic and strumming his mandola for his arrangement of Plains of Kildare which is a stripped down narrative ballad carried along by the birthday boy's unmistakable and gentle voice.
Romanian Hora, as the name suggests, brings you back to Europe and with van der Zalm on the fiddle giving it an almost jazz feel reminiscent of Stephane Grappelli. This is taken over by Molsky also on fiddle for Black Jack Grove which he gives a barn dance feel to.
|The birthday tribute album
To finish the dozen Moziak and Brady join LAPD for A Blacksmith Courted Me/Blacksmithereens, the former being collected by that icon of folk music Ralph Vaughan Williams and originates from the beginning of the 20th century. It's also likely to be the more familiar of the two tracks. The latter, which according to Irvine had no name until Christy Moore gave it one, is a pretty complex instrumental which seems to amalgamate the European and Irish sounds.
Irvine, who has entered his eighth decade, deserves this accolade and while 12 tracks on a CD may not seem a lot for a lifetime of singing, playing, writing and being part of some of the most influential folk bands around, when you look at the quality of the musicians who have given their time and the incredible music they have played in homage to the man, you realise that while there could have been many more hours of music, this album captures the essence and character of a true folk legend.
The album is available now through Andy's own website www.andyirvine.com
|The Mike Harding Folk Show