Month: November 2013

Sweeney’s Men: Before we grow too old (Hotpress)

Sweeney’s Men are set to re-unite for a pre-Xmas gig. For those of you too young to recall them, here’s why you should care…
The past, they reckon, is a different country. In the case of Ireland, the past is several different countries. Run your mind’s eye back to 1967, if you were even born then. Val Doonican’s Aran jumpers are painting John Hinde pictures of Ireland on the BBC. North of the border the emergent civil rights movement, still one Paris Spring away from catching fire, was smouldering on cold wet streets making things uncomfortable for Captain Terence O’Neill. Further south, Eamon de Valera was doing a tolerable impression of the King of Ireland, stately and seemingly unshiftable, a thorn beneath the eyelid of Irish youth culture in its myriad outpourings.
Some of the country’s most influential musicians would emerge over the course of that year. Dr. Strangely Strange coalesced around a house nicknamed ‘the Orphanage’ that would also spawn Thin Lizzy’s first album. On a completely different trip, The Dubliners were on Top Of The Pops with ‘Seven Drunken Nights’.
Somewhere in the mix, a band called Sweeney’s Men was condensing into something approaching a stable line-up. The band had first come together around the nucleus of ‘Galway’ Joe Dolan (NOT to be confused with the other Joe D), Andy Irvine and Johnny Moynihan in Galway during the Summer of Love. Dolan had been reading At Swim Two Birds, Flann O’Brien’s anarchic retake on Buile Shuibhne, and the name Sweeney’s Men was applied, and stuck. Unlike Dolan, who in the spring of 1967 went off to Israel to fight in the Six-Day War. By this stage they had had a top ten hit with ‘The Old Maid In A Garret’ so a replacement was essential.
Stepping into the breach came future Pogues man Terry Woods, self-avowedly the baby of the band. With a passion for old-timey music he was a good fit and moved the band to a shade of relative cool uninhabited by the multitudinous ballad groups of the time. Short-lived as it was, this was the classic line-up of the band; they recorded another hit single ‘Waxie’s Dargle’ and a self-titled album in 1968 before the lure of overseas adventure called out to Andy Irvine and he too left, in his case to open up the Balkans as fertile new land and sow the seeds of a revitalised traditional music which would be forever inflected with the ghosts of odd time signatures.
Planxty was only a horizon away, but in the meantime the legendary status of Sweeney’s Men was being secured. Henry McCullough replaced Andy (as did Al O’Donnell and occasionally Paul Brady) and his electric guitar playing pulled the band again to the outside of the prevailing mainstream and painted the band in another shade of cool. The lure of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band drew Henry to England and The Tracks Of Sweeney was recorded by Terry and Johnny. Always seen as ahead of their time, the duo decided to follow other paths; Johnny’s back to Galway, Terry’s increasingly in England where he has worked, if not lived, for most of the intervening years.
Then Andy hit 70 and they got together to do a set for his celebratory gig, and Henry got ill and they played at his benefit and they acknowledged that the pleasure of playing together was still there and that unlike a lot of bands, they had never fallen out, and that maybe that time they were always so far ahead of is now. So they’ve decided to give it at least one more try.
You can catch Sweeney’s Men at Dublin’s Vicar St. on Friday November 22 before you, or they, get too old.

Paul Brady on Sweeney’s Men @ Vicar Street

Sweeney’s Men in Vicar Street last night was a great gig. What a catalogue and what an influence! Sounded just like the records. me..of the night was Johnny. I’d forgotten how funny and what a great singer he is. Terry’s ‘House Carpenter’ was a tour de force. Andy, of course, was his usual brilliant self. So glad to have been there.


Sweeneys Men @TriskelCork Tonight

Andy Irvine – Mandola, Bouzouki, Harmonica & vocals.
Terry Woods – 6 & 12 string guitars, concertina & vocals.
Johnny Moynihan – Bouzouki, Accordion, Tin whistle & Vocals

A rare opportunity to hear the legendary Sweeney’s Men who are embarking on a short Tour, following their acclaimed return to the stage as a band last year to celebrate Andy’s 70th Birthday.

Sweeney’s Men was formed in the Summer of 1966, and have seen several reinventions over the years. Originally the band formed when Andy Irvine and ‘Galway’ Joe Dolan were playing a residency in Galway and Johnny Moynihan joined them.

Under the management of Des Kelly, (remember the famous Capitol Showband leader?), they made a single in 1967 – The old maid in the garrett – which went to no.6 in the Irish music charts.

Joe left in June 1967 and was replaced by Terry Woods on 6 and 12 string guitar. A second single was released that Autumn – The Waxies Dargle – this went to no.2.

In May 1968 they recorded an LP for Transatlantic Records called – Sweeney’s Men.

Andy left in 1968 to be replaced by Henry McCullough and the band changed its repertoire and became more ‘contemporary’.

However, Henry left to join Joe Cocker’s Grease Band and after a brief spell with Al O’Donnell, Sweeney’s Men became a duo, finally splitting up in 1969.

The idea to reform the band with Johnny, Andy and Terry came about after very enjoyable gigs at Andy Irvine’s 70th Birthday Concerts in 2012 and a benefit concert for Henry McCullough earlier this year, all at Vicar Street.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity for a special night out in the great company of Sweeney’s Men at Triskel Christchurch.


Harmonic presents Sweeney’s Men, Friday 22nd November @ Vicar Street

Harmonic presents Sweeney’s Men, Friday 22nd November


Harmonic presents Sweeney’s Men, Friday 22nd November
Fri, November 22, 2013
19:30 h
Vicar Street – Dublin
Sweeney’s Men
Find Tickets



Harmonic Presents

Sweeney’s Men

Andy Irvine

Terry Woods

Johnny Moynihan

Vicar Street

Friday November 22nd.

Tickets priced €30 (including booking fee) on sale now from and outlets nationwide

Sweeney’s Men came from kindred spirits who took to the road as a moveable feast (but without much nourishment). In the Summers of ’64 &’65, Galway Joe Dolan (R.I.P) had Kerouac in his soul; Andy Irvine had Guthrie; Johnny Moynihan had been hitching around the musically rich parts of the country for years inspired by the traditional music and songs heard on the radio and in the few spots in Dublin where Trad players gathered. With them was the late Eamonn O’Doherty and various fellow-travellers. Busking and occasional sessions in bars kept them going until, in ’66, they were fixed up with a summer engagement in Galway. Due to an amorous indiscretion by the lusty Dolan, the gig only lasted a couple of weeks. From the ashes of that gig came the decision to take “The show” on the road as an organised trio. Eamonn was in Galway for the occasion, so was asked to join them as their manager.

A few months into that bit of gallivanting they bumped into The Capital Show Band at Puck Fair. Des Kelly became interested in their commercial potential. Eamonn was due to go back to a job in Dublin so Des became the manager. Joe was reading “At Swim-Two-Birds” at the time so they picked the name Sweeney’s Men and were launched as a proper professional group. A single, The Old Maid in the Garret, got into the Irish top ten but by then Joe had decided that the limelight was less attractive than his old allegiance to Israel where he had worked and travelled, and where the Six-Day War had just started. Terry Woods was available to take his place and as Sweeney’s Men was a string band with strong ties to Southern Appalachian music and he was steeped in that music, he fitted in very well and they went on to record, in ’68, another successful single – ‘The Waxies’ Dargle’ and an album ‘Sweeney’s Men’ They were now being managed by Roddy Hickson and Gerry McDonagh. Andy was off to the Balkan region on an adventure which would change the face of his musical development and, through his later collaboration with Bill Whelan, change the face of Irish dance shows.

Blues and Rock guitarist Henry McCullough (late of The People AKA Eire Apparent) was beginning to show an interest in Irish Trad, especially the more soulful slow airs, and there was quite a lot of association going on between the blues-heads and the “Ethniks”. So it came about that Henry agreed to replace Andy in the group, complete with electric guitar. Among some narrow confines this was considered a desertion of patriotic cultural duty by the band. Strangely no one seemed to comment on Henry’s bravery in taking up with a “Ballad Group”. Anyway it was an enjoyable association that included a TV program “20 Minutes with Sweeney’s Men” and culminated in a gig at Cambridge Folk Festival ’68. While in England, Henry got an offer he couldn’t refuse – to join Joe Cocker’s Grease Band.

Al O’Donnell joined Sweeney’s Men for a while, but they ended up as just Johnny and Terry who in ’69 made another album “The Tracks Of Sweeney”. Which was largely of contemporary material. Shortly afterwards, the band decided it had run its course, and broke up. The albums were on the Transatlantic label.

Neither of these albums could be described as commercial successes though, over ten years the first album, particularly, became a collector’s item. People consoled the band with the words ” Ah ye were ten years ahead of your time”. The first album was reissued in ’78 – “Sweeney’s Men 1968” which also bombed. Some people suggested “Lads ye were 20 years ahead of your time”. Then there was a compilation album on CD on the Demon label with most of the tracks from the first two albums. There now exists a compilation CD containing all of the tracks recorded by Sweeney’s Men plus some that have a connection of some sort or other. No doubt, somewhere, someone is mumbling “What was the name of that band in the ’60’s who were forty-five years ahead of their time”?

That was Sweeney’s Men and what happened them was that they got together again for Andy Irvine’s birthday gig in June 2012 in Vicar Street, and had such a good time and such a warm reception that they decided to do a few concerts together.

After the band had broken up (the original, not the reunion) they went on to play in various combinations (red flannel was in favour with the John Wayne fans) and outfits such as Steeleye Span, The Woods Band, Planxty, De Dannan, The Pogues, Mosaic, Terry and Gay Woods, Last Night’s Fun, The Fleadh Cowboys, Moonshine, LAPD etc. Also Johnny did some touring solo and “worked” with Annie Briggs for a while and toured with Rick Epping, with Andrew McNamara and with Mark Gregory. Andy’s solo career has logged more circumnavigations of the world than anybody known to science with the possible exception of the moon.

Sweeney’s Men have often been described as a seminal influence on the revival of folk music in Ireland and abroad in the ’60s, ’70s and beyond. One reason given is the interplay between mandolin and bouzouki (Johnny had introduced the latter to the Irish folk scene when he’d bought it from a friend, Tony Ffrench, who’d picked it up in Greece). This had a lot to do with the Sweeney love of American Old-Time fiddle & five-string banjo music and the arrangements worked out for the Radio Ballads such as Singing the Fishing done for the BBC Third Program.

These were created by Ewan McColl, Charles Parker & Peggy Seeger in the late 50s & early 60s, and many of their songs, based on the trad music of these islands, found their way into the Irish repertoire. Another feature of Sweeney’s Men that may have appealed to people was and is their bias towards songs in modes like mixolydian and dorian. Most of the melodies on their first album have a flattened or absent seventh or other notes missing. All part of their antique charm; come and see them while they’re still alive!

Andy Irvine to play in Ballina

Andy Irvine’s long career has spanned more than five decades.
 Andy Irvine’s long career has spanned more than five decades.

Andy Irvine to play in Ballina

Irish music legend Andy Irvine is returning to Ballina Arts Centre this Thursday, November 21 at 8pm, for a special intimate concert.
Irvine’s music career has spanned an incredible 50 years, and he has been at the heart of Irish folk music throughout that time. In the 1960s, he and Johnny Moynihan formed the seminal group Sweeney’s Men, before leaving Ireland to travel through the Balkan countries, having become enamoured with the music of Eastern Europe. On his return, he joined Christy Moore, Donal Lunny and Liam Óg Ó Flynn to form Planxty, forever changing the sound and spirit of Irish traditional and folk music.
With the demise of Planxty, Irvine recorded a classic album with Paul Brady, and since the 1980s he has been a part of exciting supergroups, such as Patrick Street and most recently Mozaik, thrilling audiences around the world with intricate and exultant music.
Throughout his various collaborations and pairings, Irvine has also maintained a career as a solo singer-songwriter – in the spirit of his hero, Woody Guthrie. His repertoire consists of Irish traditional songs, dexterous Balkan dances and a compelling cannon of his own self-penned songs.
To book tickets (€16/€12) call Ballina Arts Centre on 096 73593 or email info@ballinaartscentre.


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