Andy Irvine Interview

Written by on February 12, 2019

1) What means Irish music tradition for you?

        It’s the background to my life! I was not born into it like many other Irish musicians whose father or mother played music but when I discovered it I was hooked!
2)  Lifetime achievement award at the Folk awards.Tell me more about this experience after so many years of recording and being on stage.
        I’ve been playing and singing for 55 years now and that’s a lifetime achievement in itself! But seriously, I was very proud to receive the inaugural Lifetime Achievement from RTE.
3) You have proved to join musical traditions from Ireland to Scotland to America to Bulgaria and the Balkans. How important is to play and join into different musical cultures?
        I have been travelling the roads of Europe and America for many years now and always enjoyed the music I heard from different traditions. It was important to me to learn from these other traditions as they were all coming from      the hearts of the common people
4) Were you raised in a musical family? How did you start to grow an interest into musical tradition?
        My mother was a musical comedy actress before the war but neither of my parents had any interest in traditional music. I started to play guitar in 1955 when I heard the late Lonnie Donegan and from there I became immersed in the music of Woody Guthrie and the Old Time music of America. I was about twenty years old when I first heard Seamus Ennis playing the Uillean Pipes.
5) I would like to know some more about your eternal musical relationship with Donal Lunny. I always considered him as your musical soulmate. When you play together you look like twins brothers:)
        HaHa! Yes, we’ve been playing together a long time now. Donal is the greatest musician I have ever played with. He is a kindred spirit and I’m always amazed at how brilliantly he knows exactly what to play on every song and  tune!
6) The plains of Kildare. One of my favorite tunes and maybe one of the first I heard back in 1993 in highschool.Loads of Balkan polyrhythm. Where did you take influences for this song?I think you have arranged the lyrics of the song, although it is traditional?
        As you probably know I travelled by autostop through the Balkans in 1968/69 and I was blown away by the rhythms I heard. It took me a while to figure them out but when I did I felt I just had to incorporate them into my own arrangements of traditional songs. ‘Plains’ was the first time I tried it and I can still remember how fearful I was of playing that arrangement for the first time! The words of the Plains of Kildare are a mixture of a version I heard Eddie Butcher sing (Eddie was a great singer from Co. Derry) and a version I heard from A.L. Lloyd.
7) Do you think there is an interest from the young generation in Ireland for the musical tradition?
        O yes, very much so. Traditional music has never been stronger in Ireland than it is now. It’s a wonder! There are hundreds of brilliant pipers, flute players and fiddlers all over the country now.
8) Should tradition be taught in universities and schools in a formal way or in an informal way like the old times?Do you think academia alters the character of the tradition or does it help to survive?
        I think colleges like The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at Limerick University is a wonderful thing. Many young people have studied there and continue to study. I don’t think there is anything ‘academic’ about it. Older and well respected traditional musicians are brought in to teach and I’m all for it!
9) Could you talk to me about the Irish bouzouki and the relation to the Greek bouzouki?
        Johnny Moynihan was the first person to introduce the Greek Bouzouki into Irish music. I was in the band Sweeney’s Men with him at the time. We had no idea how it was to be tuned so we tuned it an octave below the mandolin. Over the years most of us found that the bowl shaped back was an impediment and the flat back bouzouki was born! I guess we have more or less changed everything from the original Greek bouzouki – except the name!
10) Are you ever nervous on stage?
        Yes, I suffer from nerves on stage, especially if I haven’t been on stage for a while. I usually get over them pretty quick though!
11) Do you think the Irish language makes a “different” sound in the songs than the English or is it the same?
        Sean Nos singing in Irish is quite beautiful and a very old tradition much older than the Anglo-Irish tradition. Unfortunately for me, I was not educated in the Irish language so I’m not the right person to answer  this question
12) What is important in  a performer: ethics, feeling or talent?
        Both. A singer or player must be able to play or sing with some talent but the feeling is also crucial.
13) Do you prefer live or recording?
          Live. I like to sing and play at the same time. Usually with recording you have to play first and then sing in order to have ‘separation’ between the voice and the instruments.
14) What would you advise a young person who would like to start Irish bouzouki or just an instrument and singing at the same time ?How easy or difficult is to pursue a career in traditional music nowdays?
        It’s always been difficult to break into any music. You won’t get any work if nobody knows who you are and nobody will know who you are if you don’t get work! If you have the talent and the feel for it, probably the best way to get  noticed is to form a band with other musicians. It’s a hard one.
15) Are you inspired from the Irish landscape and the people of Ireland in your music?
        Yes. The beauty of the countryside makes for a creative impulse and the same with the people.
16) Who you admire as a singer or group?
        The girl who sings with ‘Lankum’, Radie Peat is a very fine singer one of the best I’ve heard in years. There are lots of groups I admire but I can never think of their names!!
17) Do you think music can help humanity in these difficult moments we have on earth(politics, global warming etc)

        I don’t think so. Politicians and business men run our society and they are on the opposite side to where music is at…



Andy Irvine is one of the great Irish singers, his voice one of a handful of truly great ones that gets to the very soul of Ireland. He has been hailed as “a tradition in himself.” Musician, singer and songwriter, Andy has maintained his highly individual performing skills throughout his over 50-year career. From Sweeney’s Men in the mid 60s, to the enormous success of Planxty in the 70s, his duo with Paul Brady in the later 70s and then from Patrick Street to Mozaik, LAPD and Usher’s Island, Andy has been a world music pioneer and an icon for traditional music and musicians.

As a soloist, Andy fills the role of the archetypal troubadour with a show and a travelling lifestyle that reflect his lifelong influence, Woody Guthrie. To quote The Irish Times, “Often copied, never equalled”, his repertoire consists of Irish traditional songs, dexterous Balkan dances and a compelling canon of his own self-penned songs.

Andy Irvine first made his mark with the seminal band – “Sweeney’s Men” in 1966 but after two years he left and travelled ‘way out yonder’ by ‘the sunburnt thumb’ to Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia, earning his living as a street musician and absorbing the musical traditions of the Balkans.
Returning to Ireland in 1970, Andy united with Christy MooreDónal Lunny and Liam O’Flynn to form Planxty, fanning the flames of Irish traditional music well into the next and future generations. Planxty broke up – for the first time – in late 1975 and Andy performed and recorded with Paul Brady, making the classic album “Andy Irvine & Paul Brady” in 1976. He also worked and recorded brieefly with De Dannan before re-uniting with Planxty in 1979 until it’s second break up in 1983.

Andy’s first solo album “Rainy Sundays…Windy Dreams” followed, as well as “Parallel Lines” a duo album with the great Scottish troubadour – Dick Gaughan.

In 1985 Andy formed “Mosaic“, a pan-European band that included Dónal Lunny and Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen. The band lasted for one blissful summer and Andy returned to solo work.

Andy was touring the US regularly with guitar player Gerry O’Beirne at this time and in 1986, at the instigation of fiddler Kevin Burke (Bothy Band), Patrick Street was born with the addition of Jackie Daly (De Dannan) and guitar maestro, Arty McGlynn.
Patrick Street has since recorded eight studio albums and one live with differing personnel. They released their last album in November 2007, “On the Fly“, being the first with fiddle, banjo player, John Cartyand the last with retiring member, Jackie Daly.

Andy recorded his second solo album “Rude Awakening” in 1991 and then created the hugely influential “East Wind” which featured Davy Spillane on uillean pipes and was produced by Bill Whelan who went on to write “Riverdance”.

Andy recorded his third solo album “Rain on the Roof” in 1995 – this one really is (nearly) solo. It includes his anthemic song “Never Tire of the Road” and then his fourth, “Way Out Yonder” in 2000 which closes with the haunting song “The Highwayman“.

In 2002, Andy drafted some long-time musical friends and formed his “dream band” – initially for a one off tour of Australia. Calling themselves Mozaik, reminiscent of the earlier cross-genre group, Andy was joined by Dónal Lunny, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Rens van der Zalm, American Old Time fiddler and 5 string banjo player, Bruce Molsky and Hungarian multi-instrumentalist Nikola Parov.
They have since released two albums, “Live from the Powerhouse“(2003) and “Changing Trains“(2007) and have toured Australia, Europe, USA and Japan with great musical success. This band, like Patrick Street is currently in mothballs but look out for it’s new album recorded in Budapest in 2014 and about to see the light of day as “The Long and the Short of it”

2004 saw, after a break of 21 years, the return of the great group Planxty, The band played a small gig in Lisdoonvarna, largely to family and close friends – it was not advertised as Planxty – and then opened at Glór in Ennis to a fantastic reception. Planxty went on to play 10 sold out nights in Vicar Street in Dublin and record a live CD and DVD.
The following year 2005, they played 6 sold out gigs at The Point Depot in Dublin, as well as shows in Galway, Belfast and The Barbican in London. It was generally reckoned that the band was better than ever and those who experienced it will never forget it.

In January 2008, Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow featured a special reunion of Andy Irvine & Paul Brady at the Royal Concert Hall for their “Classic Album Showcase” concert, honouring the duo’s album first released in 1976.

September 2009 saw Andy collaborating with the fine guitarist and singer, John Doyle for three highly successful concerts at the Irish Arts Center in New York City.

Though Planxty was no more, it’s memory lived on with the band LAPD which featured AndyDonal and Liam plus Paddy Glackin, the great Dublin fiddle player. LAPD had to throw in their hand when Liam decided to call it a day in 2012 but Donal, Andy and Paddy added John Doyle and his driving guitar and Mike McGoldrick’s brilliant flute, whistle and uilleann pipes to form a new band, “Usher’s Island”. Debut album – “Usher’s Island” – out in June 2017.

Andy reached the age of 70 in 2012 and two great concerts were held in Vicar Street, Dublin to mark the occasion. Sweeney’s Men were reformed(with Johnny Moynihan and Terry Woods, Mozaik got together, LAPD was there and Andy & Paul did a set. Andy’s great friends from Athens, the Galiatsos Brothers came over and the shows were recorded and later came out on DVD and CD as “Andy Irvine 70th Birthday Concert at Vicar St 2012”, music produced by Dónal Lunny and filmed by Philip King.

In August 2016 Andy went to Melbourne to record a new album with Luke Plumb – a brilliant mandolin player and record producer – they later toured Australia together in 2016/2017 with the album which is called “Precious Heroes”. It awaits its release here in the rest of the world and should be out after the Summer of 2017.

The year 2017 also coincided with the 40th Anniversary of “Andy Irvine & Paul Brady”. (It was recorded in August 1976 but not released till January 1977.) Andy & Paul, together with Dónal Lunny, who produced the album and played guitar and bouzouki on it and Kevin Burke who had played fiddle on the album, performed eight sold out concerts. Cork, three in Vicar Street, Dublin, Derry, Galway, Limerick and Belfast to rapturous audiences. The welcoming applause as they took the stage lasted for about five minutes on each occasion!

Ever the man for new pastures, in the last decade, Andy has played concerts in Moscow, Mexico City, Newfoundland, Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua as well as undertaking extensive tours of Japan, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Argentina and Chile.
Although an integral part of the finest Irish bands of our time, 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.


photo by Béla Kása


Current track




We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

Privacy Settings saved!
Privacy Settings

When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. Control your personal Cookie Services here.

These cookies allow us to count visits and traffic sources, so we can measure and improve the performance of our site.

We track anonymized user information to improve our website.
  • _ga
  • _gid
  • _gat

  • _ym_d
  • _ym_isad
  • _ym_uid
  • _ym_visorc_

Decline all Services
Accept all Services