Andy having the craic half a century on
Andy Irvine has been a trad music mainstay for almost 50 years and with a packed tour schedule of solo shows and gigs with Sweeney's Men and new 'supergroup' Usher's Island he's showing no sign of slowing down.
Ahead of a gig in Lisburn next weekend, he talks to Brian Campbell
ANDY Irvine was the 'A' in Irish trad 'supergroup' LAPD, which also featured Liam O'Flynn, Paddy Glackin and Donal Lunny.
So when O'Flynn decided to move on, Irvine approached two other acclaimed musicians, Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle, to join the line-up.
And as 'MJAPD' doesn't really have quite the same ring as LAPD, the new ensemble came up with a new name altogether: Usher's Island.
The band did a couple of gigs in Letterkenny and Carrick on Shannon last weekend, but he says they won't be doing too much touring this year. "Those two gigs we did were more or less try-outs before the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow at the end of the month," he says. "That'll be our first [official] gig and then Mike is on tour until the end of July with Mark Knopfler, so our next gigs should be in August. Hopefully we'll jam that month with gigs, because then Mike is back with Knopfler in America. And John is constantly on the road with various outfits too. "One of the possibilities would be to play the Feile in west Belfast, so I hope that comes off. "It's been wonderful. I feel like giving up all the other bands," he laughs. Irvine made his name in Planxty in the 70s, in a line-up that included Christy Moore, O'Flynn and Lunny.
He has been in the bands Sweeney's Men and Patrick Street and still mixes band gigs with solo shows. Tonight he'll perform at Spanish Point in Co Clare with Sweeney's Men and next Saturday he comes to the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn for a solo gig. He explains why Lisburn is always a special place to play. "My mother was from Lisburn, so it's nice to go back and I hope it'll go as well as it has done in the past. "The last time I played the Island Arts Centre was a few years ago and I had a really nice audience and it was a lovely gig."
Irvine was born in London to his mother and Glasgow-born father and says he never got to visit Lisburn in his youth. "Well my mother was long out of the place when I was born. She was a musical comedy actress and she turned her back on Co Antrim quite early. "There were no relatives that I ever heard of there. My mother's two sisters also moved to England quite early on. "I'll get to hang out in Lisburn the day after my gig, so I might even go to the library and try to find my roots," he laughs.
Irvine now lives with his wife in Co Fermanagh.
Yet despite being renowned as a trad singer and skilled mandolin and bouzouki player, he started out in 'showbusiness' as a child actor. "My sister actually sent photographs of me to an acting agency and it started from there, when I was eight or nine, and it was wonderful.
I was fearless. But I think any child can act."
Does he have any regrets about withdrawing from the acting work as a teenager? "I have and I haven't. I was actually doing a radio programme with Jim Sheridan, the film director, and he said, 'I might have a part fro you in my next film' so I just said, 'OK'. So you never know."
Yet it seems he was always destined to become a musician and he credits two big influences for setting him on his way. "Lonnie Donegan was definitely my starter and then I learned from reading the back of Lonnie's EPs about Woody Guthrie and I moved on from there. It's amazing how you arrive at the place you are."
Irvine shows no signs of stopping and is busier than ever. Last year he released a live album and DVD, filmed at Vicar Street in Dublin - recorded to mark his 70th birthday. He played the National Concert Hall in Dublin on Wednesday at a benefit gig to launch the Burren Backroom Series album, playing alongside the likes of Dervish, Sharon Shannon, Lunasa and Tommy McCarthy. "I do keep myself busy. I enjoy the band stuff and then the solo stuff is great too because there's a lot of freedom. "I'm doing a few gigs in the north of Spain next month too."
Is there anywhere in the world he would like to tour? "Oh, there are lots of places. I've always wanted to be popular in Sweden but I've never succeeded," he laughs. "I do quite well in Norway, but I don't get anything in Sweden; they don't need me."
He explains how the Usher's Island collective came together, filling the gap left by LAPD. "Liam just decided he didn't want to play any more with LAPD. So the three of us - the 'APD' part - had a get-together and decided we'd like to continue. "So we thought, 'Who could we add to it?' and I decided on Mike and John, two of my favourite musicians. They said yes, so we were away. "It would be good to start work on an album, so maybe Donal and Paddy and myself could start it off."
Irvine says he's still in touch with Christy Moore and he only has fond memories from the Planxty days in the early 70s. "In 1972 people heard Planxty and thought, 'This is what we've been waiting for' but then by about 1974 they had kind of moved on and were more into progressive rock and we were left behind a little bit," he says. "We did continue to be successful but we never matched the exhilarating success of those first 18 months. "Ah, it was magnificent. The first year and a half of that band, I could have died of laughter; the craic was fantastic."
* Andy Irvine plays the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn on Saturday January 24 and Ballymoney Town Hall on February 5. For all dates, see AndyIrvine.com.