Andy Irvine brings new Irish Supergroup Usher’s Island to FolkEast for Exclusive UK Festival Appearance
~ Feted Irish folk musician Irvine interviewed about band’s special headline performance coming up at the fifth FolkEast festival ~
The finale of the three-day East Anglian festival FolkEast promises to be memorable one with an exclusive main stage UK festival appearance by Irish supergroup Usher’s Island (Sunday, August 21).
The shiny new five-piece band unites two ground-breaking generations of Irish musicians. The revered figures of Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Paddy Glackin link the band’s heritage back to the glory days of the hugely popular Planxty and The Bothy Band while two of today’s leading heirs to these pioneers – signature guitarist John Doyle and virtuoso flautist Mike McGoldrick – bring their experience of Celtic and other international roots styles to the potent mix.
Now in his 70s Andy Irvine has been influential in traditional Irish music for over five decades. Here he reveals more about his own career and the new pedigree line-up heading to Suffolk.
– Your first career path was as an actor – why did you turn your back on acting for music?
I was a great child actor! But like many another child, I found it hard to become a good ‘juvenile’ actor. At the age of 14, I had lost confidence and assuredness. But as my parents had made the huge decision to terminate my academic studies in order that I should become a professional actor, I felt I had to continue acting, which I did until I was 21.
– What was the first piece of music that made you want to be a musician?
Julian Bream, who was my teacher of classical guitar, played some Bach for me at my first lesson. I was utterly destroyed emotionally!
– You had an Irish mother and Scottish father so were Celtic music influences there for you from an early age?
No, my parents were interested in very different music! My mother had been a musical comedy actress before the war and my father liked early jazz.
– When did you first play in public?
I was employed to play at a posh birthday party in the south of England in 1961. I think my fee was 15 guineas, train fare and hotel.
– Have you always toured your solo career alongside band work – do you enjoy the mix?
Yes, I’ve always regarded myself as a soloist even in bands. I like both sides of that coin.
– Which of the songs you have written is closest to your heart?
Possibly ‘Never Tire of the Road’ about Woody Guthrie and possibly “The Wind Blows over the Danube”.
– How influential has Woody Guthrie been in your career?
First and foremost! I am still heavily influenced by Woody.
– Are there still lots of questions you would like to ask Woody if he were here today?
Yes, many! I often dream about travelling with Woody!
– You’ve formed some fine bands over the years from Sweeney’s Men to Patrick Street and played with some brilliant Irish musicians in various collaborations but ground-breaking Planxty was the “star” – clearly seen as one of the most influential Irish traditional music bands ever. What led to the formation of Planxty and what does Planxty mean?
Christy Moore was making an album for Bill Leader in 1971 and insisted on making it in Ireland with Irish musicians. We all got on really well together, both socially and musically, while rehearsing and recording it and it was a great pleasure when he asked us later if we’d care to form a band. What Planxty means is still a mystery. Turlough O’Carolan, the blind 17 th century travelling Irish harper was the only man to use the word and many possible translations of it from the Irish have been suggested. Whatever the meaning of the word, he used it as a dedication to his patrons – like Planxty George Brabazon.
– Planxty have already reformed a few times over the years – the last being 2004 – might they ever play together again?
That’s a leading question! Suffice to say that there are no plans!
– When and how did Usher’s Island come to be?
When Planxty finished in 2005, Donal, Liam and myself were keen to continue the same format and we added Paddy Glackin and called ourselves LAPD. That came to an end when Liam dropped out. Still wanting to play such music, we three asked John Doyle and Mike McGoldrick if they would join and they said yes!
– You play mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, harmonica and sometimes hurdy-gurdy. At FolkEast there is something called Instrumental – a festival within a festival. it will bring together some of the country’s top luthiers and instrument makers from Wales, Kent, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire and beyond – anything from bagpipes, fiddles and even banjos made from biscuit tins! Is that something that might interest you?!
Certainly. I’ll wander round that area with great interest!
– How was Usher’s Island’s debut performance at Celtic Connections?
Brilliant! We may not have played all that often but we’ve had some rare successes!
– Are there plans to tour with Usher’s Island or record an album?
A CD is in the offing and we would hope to have it out by the end of the year. I’m not sure we would be looking at touring but further festivals and events like that would be of interest.
– You’ve had an impressive and enduring career in folk music for five decades, playing many instruments, writing songs that don’t pull punches and travelling the world, soaking up all kinds of influences – are there are parts of the world you are still keen to explore or anything you would like to do musically that you haven’t had a chance to try yet?
Yes. I want to make an album of songs my mother used to sing! With a jazz influence. The matter is in hand. I’d like to visit the North of Canada and that area of East Asia that contains countries like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
– As an Irishman with a keen eye for political song and a frequent traveller across Europe what did you make of the Brexit vote?
I think the British people will come to regret it!
See Usher’s Island performances earlier this year in Ireland
Adding to the Irish flavour at FolkEast will be an appearance by the engaging Dublin singer and bouzouki player Daoiri Farrell. Daoiri, who has performed alongside some of the greatest names in Irish folk, from Christy Moore to Dervish, became All Ireland Champion Singer at the Fleadh in County Derry in 2013 and won the Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections last year with the Irish trad band Four Winds. See Daoiri performing The Creggan White Hare www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrW8rC89DJA