Month: June 2017

Archive: 2005 – The Legend of Sweeney’s Men Anthology Reviews

 Castle Music CMDDD932; 2 CDs; 139 minutes; 2004

Was Sweeney’s Men a groundbreaking group, as some claim, or, in hindsight, just a band whose curiosity value lies in its introduction of the bouzouki to Irish music? Well, this double album collection offers plenty of opportunity to explore the possibilities.

There were actually several versions of Sweeney’s Men. The first consisted of Joe Dolan, a guitarist from Galway (and not the MoR balladeer), together with Andy Irvine (mandolin, harmonica and guitar) and Johnny Moynihan on bouzouki and tin whistle with all three members singing. This original line-up recorded a single, Old Maid in the Garret/The Derby Ram which reached number six in the Irish charts in 1966, though signally failed to make any headway when released in the UK. Dolan left shortly afterwards and Paul Brady took his place for a couple of shows, though declined to leave The Johnstons to join Sweeney’s Men on a full-time basis. Instead, Irvine and Moynihan recruited Terry Woods, a 12-string guitar, banjo and (occasional) concertina player.

This new version of the band recorded a second single for the Pye label in 1967 – Waxie’s Dargle/Old Woman in Cotton ­– as well as their eponymous album for Transatlantic in the following year. At which point, Andy departed for an indefinite busking tour of Eastern Europe. In turn, he was replaced by guitarist Henry McCullough until the new arrival received an offer to join Joe Cocker’s Grease Band (and, in doing so, apparently became the only Irishman to play the Woodstock festival).

 Moynihan and Woods soldiered on for a while with the singer Al O’Donnell, but ultimately opted to continue as a duo. Thus it was in that form that they recorded The Tracks of Sweeney in 1969. By then both men were living in England and were invited, alongside a newly-returned Andy Irvine, by Fairport Convention’s bass player, Ashley Hutchings, to join a new electric folk band. They did rehearse, but Johnny and Andy decided not to participate, leaving Terry and his partner Gay to join the new Steeleye Span and that was the end of Sweeney’s Men. Gay and Terry Woods later went on to work as a duo and with their own The Woods Band before Terry was recruited to The Pogues and Gay rejoined Steeleye Span. Andy, of course, was in every line-up of Planxty, had a spell with De Dannan, worked as a duo with Paul Brady, spent many years in Patrick Street, recorded with Davy Spillane and nowadays is part of Mozaik. Johnny Moynihan replaced Dónal Lunny in Planxty and also joined De Dannan for a brief time before going on to form The Fleadh Cowboys in the 1980s. He’s still working, though most often as a soloist. Irvine, Moynihan and Woods did reform as Sweeney’s Men for a couple of Irish festivals in 1982.

So, that’s a snapshot of their history. What about the music? Well, it all seems curiously dated almost forty years later in ways that, for instance, the first albums by Planxty and The Bothy Band simply do not. In part the reason lies in the fact that Sweeney’s Men was very much a vocal group. Andy Irvine’s young voice had a definite rural burr. On the debut album Terry Woods opted for a distinct mid-Atlantic style, though, by the time of The Tracks of Sweeney, he was singing more like a member of a psychedelic band. Johnny Moynihan’s distinctive nasal tone has remained more of a constant.

The second reason relates to the choice of material. The first album mixed traditional ballads such as Willy O’ Winsbury and Reynard the Fox with more recently composed material, such as Dominic Behan’s Dicey Riley and Pecker Dunne’s Sullivan’s John with the frankly hackneyed Tom Dooley and a few instrumental tracks. The Tracks of Sweeney is dominated very much by Woods (who composed four of the eleven tracks and co-wrote another). These include the frankly bizarre Brain Jam (which would not have sounded out-of-place on an early Pink Floyd album), while another track, Pretty Polly, continued his fascination with American roots music. Moynihan’s leads include the very wistful Standing on the Shore and A Mistake No Doubt (which might have come straight from an Incredible String Band album).

Finally, there’s the matter of the arrangements. Sweeney’s Men evolved from the fringes of the ballad group movement and it shows in the tune settings where the lack of a dominant lead instrument waters down the overall effect. Even the acclaimed bouzouki is not that prominent in the mix and virtually non-existent by the time of the second album where the shortcomings of operating as a duo are exhibited on the somewhat insipid instrumental, The Pipe on the Hob. Indeed, the arrangement of the closing song Hall of Mirrors is excruciating.

However, that is not to say that there is no merit in these recordings, but, clearly, The Tracks of Sweeney was a failed experiment. Unsurprisingly, it took some months to record and the increasingly fractious relationship between Moynihan and Woods was never likely to produce a coherent album. As Colin Harper recounts in this anthology’s liner notes, Gay Woods characterised them as “two eccentrics who happened to be, unfortunately, eccentric in different ways”. In contrast, the eponymous album definitely does have its moments, but most of these are linked to the presence of Andy Irvine (especially Willy O’ Winsbury) and the fact that the band distinctly gelled as a trio.

Both albums have been reissued on several occasions. The last time was in 1996 when Castle Communications managed to squeeze both onto one CD and include Old Woman in Cotton as well. Castle had acquired the rights to Transatlantic’s back catalogue and was subsequently taken over by the Sanctuary Records Group. Its Castle Music label has been busily reissuing other Transatlantic releases, such as three of The Dubliners’ albums, each of which included rare material.

Similar rarities have been included on The Legend of Sweeney’s Men although whether there’s any value in hearing old singles by The Capitol Showband on which Sweeney’s Men provided some of the backing is highly debatable (especially as these include the Country and Western song The Streets of Baltimore and an awful version of the Tom Paxton song Bottle of Wine). There are five such tracks on the first CD which, however, does open with all four songs from the two early Sweeney’s Men singles.

The package’s compiler has even more problems with the second disc since The Tracks of Sweeney was a relatively short LP, lasting a mere thirty-three minutes. So CD two opens with Autumn Gold which hails from the album Andy Irvine recorded with Paul Brady and released in 1976. The reason for its presence here is that it was written during Andy’s Balkan travels and was also aired during the abortive Hutchings rehearsals. Then follows the tracks of The Tracks ensued by seven additional recordings. Two of these (versions of Willy O’ Winsbury and Sullivan’s John) come from albums recorded by Johnny Moynihan’s erstwhile partner, the Notts-born folk singer, Anne Briggs (who, coincidentally, was raised just around the corner from the home of this reviewer’s aunt and uncle). Two more derive from the Woods’ sojourn with Steeleye Span though here the credibility’s elastic begins to stretch towards breaking point. The first of these, The Dark-Eyed Sailor, is included because Terry Woods learnt it from Al O’Donnell (who spent such a short time as a member of Sweeney’s Men) and the second, Lowlands of Holland, because the tune came from Andy Irvine. Then follows a Woods Band rendition of Dreams for Me (which has already appeared as the second track on this disc) while the second CD ends with two tracks from Andy Irvine’s 1996 solo album Rain on the Roof. The first, Baneasa’s Green Glade recalls Andy’s Balkan trip while the other, My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland, name checks Sweeney. Whoops, but the elastic’s just snapped!

Might other material have been included? Well, Colin Harper reminds us that there are ‘no surviving radio or live recordings of Sweeney’s Men’, though strangely his notes refer to ‘an atmospheric amateur recording of a gloriously shambolic warm-up show in a pub in Crusheen, County Clare’ prior to one of the band’s 1982 reunion gig and also a ‘somewhat shambolic’ (Colin obviously likes the word) live RTÉ radio session by the McCullough/Moynihan/Woods line-up in 1986. Does either exist? If so, that material would have been far more interesting. If not, is Colin relying on someone else’s memory of their ‘shambolic’ nature? Instead he points the interested listener towards impossibly rare albums by Dr Strangely Strange on which there’s a Sweeney’s homage and both Moynihan and Irvine appear and an even rarer single by the band Skid Row on which Johnny “apparently” plays tin whistle!

His liner notes, however, do make for an enthralling and generally informative read and offer a taster for his forthcoming book Irish Folk, Trad and Blues, to be published in October, 2004. Nevertheless, they clearly rely heavily upon an interview with Andy Irvine and, to a lesser extent, one with Henry McCullough. The influence of either Terry Woods or Johnny Moynihan on Harper’s material is difficult to detect. Of course, Johnny is notoriously difficult to track down and I cannot recall ever seeing a published interview with Terry Woods, but their absence from Colin’s material is very obvious. A further problem is that there are errors in the text which, hopefully, will be not be duplicated in the forthcoming book. For instance, Sweeney’s Men could not possibly have taken their name from a book by Flann O’Brien since the book in which the character of Sweeny [sic] appears is actually called At Swim-Two-Birds. There was no UK record label called ‘Rockborough’ (it was Rockburgh) and Fairport Convention certainly did not record an album called ‘Leige and Leif’. Still, the archive photos more than compensate for those errors and, ultimately, this is a better-presented package than the one previously issued by Castle Communications.

Geoff Wallis
29th July, 2004

Click here for more information about Sanctuary Records.


Sweeney’s Men – The Legend Of Sweeney’s Men (Castle, 2005)

A long-plotted project this one – a 2CD set featuring everything released by the hugely influential Irish folk/embryonic folk-rock group, namely two albums, four non-album single tracks and various covert appearances on showband singles spanning 1966 – 69. It also follows various threads from the group during the early ’70s – Johnny Moynihan recording ‘Willy O’Winsbury’ with Anne Briggs for example, and Gay & Terry Woods shortly after the group’s demise recording Sweeney-related material with Steeleye Span and The Woods Band. Also featured is the classic 1976 recording of Andy Irvine’s mesmerising 1968 song (written shortly after leaving the group to bum around the Balkans) ‘Autumn Gold’ and his 1990s musical memoir of the Sweeney’s era ‘My Heart Tonight’s In Ireland’. just about the only period oddity we couldn’t find to licence in was Skid Row’s ludicrously rare 1969 single ‘New Places, Old Faces’, featuring Johnny Moynihan on tin whistle. But, as the Skid Row set above demonstrates, it didn’t escape the net for long…


SWEENEY’S MEN ‘The Legend Of (2CD)’ Castle Music CMDDD932

There seems to be a lot of re-releases about at the moment, with Castle/Sanctuary being at the forefront with some excellent-if sometimes obscure-examples. This one is a re-release of a re-release, expanded to a double from a two on one CD from a few years ago.

Sweeney’s Men, named after a book title, seem to be a bit like Fairport in the members they have included but it is Andy Irvine, Terry Woods, Johnny Moynihan and Henry McCullough who will be the most familiar to readers.

The first CD is most notable for “Willy O’Winsbury” for which Andy accidentally put the wrong tune to the set of words; incidentally the tune was borrowed by Fairport in 1969. Disc 2 has more input from Terry Woods resulting in a different, more contemporary feel to it.

Both CDs include extra material, interesting no doubt to Sweeney completists, but not really adding anything to the original albums, especially the inclusion of two by Steeleye Span!

A mention of the sleeve notes.Written by Colin Harper they provide an excellent history of Sweeney’s Men and of what the members have done since then. However, who is this Liam Offline who was a member of the original Planxty mentioned in the notes? Another example of the computer spell checker? Surely names should be checked for errors like this.

So the crucial question – is “The Legend of Sweeney’s Men” worth buying? If you haven’t got the original two on one, and want to hear what was innovative in the late 60s, then yes definitely. Otherwise have a look at some of the other material available on the Castle /Sanctuary Label.

Dave Beeby



Backcover story on “The Planxty Collection”, written by Colin Irwin – 1975

Liner notes from “The Planxty Collection” written by Colin Irwin give an excellent pen picture of the band and its impact. 


In October, 1975 Planxty went on tour in Britain for the last time. At the end of their gig at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, the audience shuffled silently homeward, exhilarated by the music but simultaneously saddened by the significance of the occasion. A girl stood weeping in the foyer, unable to comprehend the news that had filtered from Ireland a couple of months previously that Planxty were splitting. “We’ll never see their like again”, she muttered. She said it all.

Extravagant praise always embarrassed the members of Planxty, but I suspect that even years ahead any attempt at critical analyses will collapse in a heap of gushing compliments. For in the three years of their existence, Planxty represented the best of Irish music and a lot more, at all times preserving its inherent beauty, yet treating it with a rare freshness and originality.

They drew on influences as wide as the rock’n’roll that Paul Brady had been weaned on to the Eastern European folk music that fascinated Andy Irvine. But more important: in doing so, they proved (1) it was possible to popularise Irish music outside of its immediate environment without diluting it in any way, and (2) an acoustic band could match an electric one every inch of the way for fire and excitement.

They started in 1972. Christy Moore, who had striven long and hard to establish himself as a popular British folk club attraction, assembled a group of Irish musicians to back him on his Trailer album “Prosperous”. Out of the sessions Moore, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine – formerly a member af the imaginative, highly influential band Sweeney’s Men – and piper Liam O’Flynn decided to gig together.

They called themselves Planxty (an expression of goodwill used in the context of “cheers” and in the title of many Irish tunes) and it was soon obvious they were much more than a backing band for Christy Moore. They immediately had an Irish hit single with ballad “Cliffs Of Dooneen”, and after being signed to Polydor in England, the first album “Planxty” confirmed their importance. It was full of subtleties with a sharp undercurrent of energy, evident here on “Raggle Taggle Gipsy” flowing into the beautiful 17th Century harp tune “Tabhair Dom Do Lámh.” That first album created a bridge between the informal gatherings common in Irish folk circles and the boozy mass appeal chorus style song that had previously been the public face of Irish folk music. There was an unparalleled joy vibrancy in their playing, and coupled with the enlightened treatments in their playing and the use of bouzouki as a rhythm instrument and integrating Uilleann Pipes with guitar, mandolin and occasionally fiddle, it gave them excitement and “commercial” appeal.

Yet the overwhelming characteristic of “Planxty” and the two subsequent albums, was the fact that it was genuine, with not one speck of artificially in sight. The presence of Liam O’Flynn raised a few eyebrow in traditional circles when he decided to link up with Moore, Irvine and Lunny, but his integrity never wavered, his piping was always the focal point of Planxty’s arrangements, and as a result the band never lost the respect of the purists.

Their reputation and their following grew quickly and even the departure of Donald Lunny after the making of their second album “The Well Below The Valley” in 1973 didn’t stunt their progress. Lunny (who left to join another band that subsequently never got off the ground although he has since become a member of Bothy Band), was replaced by Johnny Moynihan, another former Sweeney’s Man, and a much travelled widely versed revivalist who brought a further range of ideas to the group.

Tours in Ireland, Britain and Europe increased their following further, and though they were sometimes plagued be the inevitable raucous sector of an audience who would charge in with stamps and hand claps (out of time) at the slightest whiff of a reel, they maintained a remarkably consistent standard of performance on live gigs. It was marked by that farewell tour for which they worked on and introduced a substantial amount of new material which would never be recorded or played again.

The third and final album “Cold Blow And The Rainy Night” earned selection as Melody Maker’s folk album of 1974, although by the time of its release that autumn, Christy Moore had reluctantly quit, wanting to spend more time at home in Ireland with a quieter lifestyle. Paul Brady, who had been with the much underrated Johnston’s, was rescued from America to take his place.

Moore enjoyed much popularity amongst Planxty followers and there was a feeling that his departure and replacement by Brady, who had been heavily involved with contemporary music in recent times, meant the ruination of Planxty. In fact Brady brought in a new enthusiasm in that final year – One of the saddest aspects of the split was that the last line-up of Planxty was never recorded, the band flatly refusing a farewell album on the grounds that it would be cashing in Brady’s showstopper “Arthur McBride”, a different version to the one the band had played in the earlier line-up, would have made any record memorable. Alas they decided to break up before the pressures of touring and recording weakened their music.

As it is we will have to be content with the three brilliant albums they made, the memories of some great gigs, and of course this representation of their various works. Everybody would probably come up with a different compilation of their best work but at least this one was made up in consultation with the band themselves. If you missed out on Planxty first time round, then that’s your severe bad luck – they were one of the very finest bands of the Seventies. Take solace, the evidence of their greatness is here.



Review: Shire Folk – Ushers Island

Ushers Island on BBC Radio 2 – The Folk Show

Usher’s Island in Session

The best folk music from Britain and beyond.

This week, Irish supergroup Usher’s Island play tracks from their self-titled debut album.

Usher’s Island brings together two generations of the finest traditionalmusicians: Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny (Planxty), Paddy Glackin (The Bothy Band), Michael McGoldrick (Capercaillie, Flook, Lunasa) and John Doyle (Solas).

Their debut album was recorded in a cottage in County Galway over a few days in 2016.

Plus, the usual mix of exciting new music, classic tracks and news from the folk world.

Tracks Performed

  • Felix the Soldier
  • Five Drunken Landladies
  • Heart in Hand
Watch: Five Drunken Landladies

Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, John Doyle, Paddy Glackin and Michael McGoldrick play live.

Release date: 14 June 2017
Duration: 7 minutes


Role Contributor
Performer Andy Irvine
Performer Donal Lunny
Performer John Doyle
Performer Michael McGoldrick
Paddy Glackin

Bound For Glory – Andy Irvine & Woody Guthrie

"I thought since today is Andy's 75th Birthday now might be a good time to post this look back at the links between Andy & his all time hero Woody! Enjoy...If you have anything to add please do get in touch!" -


Andy Irvine loved music from the earliest time he could remember. His mother had a stack of old, cracked 78s that he used to play on a wind-up gramophone.

“They were mainly songs from long forgotten musical comedies but I wish I had them now.”

At thirteen, he studied classical guitar for two years, initially with Julian Bream and later under one of Bream’s pupils but switched to folk music after discovering Woody Guthrie during the Skiffle boom of the 1950s.

Julian Bream – Andy’s first music teacher.

A young Andy & his classical guitar.

Guthrie was to become an enduring influence on his music, on his choice of additional instruments (mandolin and harmonica) and general outlook on life. In a 1985 interview, Irvine expanded on how, in the mid-1950s, he discovered Woody Guthrie through Lonnie Donegan’s recordings on the EPs Backstairs Session and Skiffle Session:

He had two EPs and I thought: ‘That’s it!’ – “Midnight Special”, “It Takes A Worried Man”, “Railroad Bill” and “When The Sun Goes Down”. On the back of the jacket, I read that Donegan learned these wonderful songs from the recordings of Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston. This fired my youthful imagination and I wanted so badly to hear the originals. […] In 1957, [I got] this record called More Songs By Woody Guthrie And Cisco Houston and it blew my mind. Eventually, I bought Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads, the original 78s, in mint condition for $40 each. I used to sit all day, alone, and listen to Woody Guthrie and practice. I was playing with my thumb. I didn’t know anything about a flatpick, but I could do the best imitation of Woody. I wanted to play every instrument he played. That’s why I took up the harmonica and mandolin. When I discovered Irish and British music, I figured out how to adapt my basic Woody Guthrie ‘scratch’ style on guitar to playing traditional songs on the mandolin.

—Andy Irvine, Celtic Roots… Dustbowl Inspiration by Joe Vanderford.

Finding Woody

“On the back of one of Lonnie’s EPs, I found the name Woody Guthrie. Even as I type it now, I feel the same thrill at this name. I had never imagined that anyone could be called Woody. I determined to find out more about this mysterious man. I started by sending a letter to: —

Mr. Woody Guthrie, USA.

After six weeks, it came back …

Some weeks later, I was passing by a small record company when I saw a yellow album sleeve in the window. I did a series of double takes but sure enough, it was called More Songs by Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston. I bought it.

I can remember now the first bar of Columbus Stockade and the tingle that went down my spine as the instrumental intro was followed by this Oklahoma voice, singing,

“Way down in Columbus Stockade
Want to be back in Tennessee”.

I had finally found my inspiration and mentor.”

—Andy Irvine, About Andy

Ramblin’ Jack (1958)

Ballads and Blues Club

In May 1959, Irvine began frequenting the Ballads and Blues Club—started at the Princess Louise pub in High Holborn by Ewan MacColl in 1957—which, by September 1959, had moved to 2, Soho Square under the sole leadership of Malcolm Nixon. American folk musicians who had been closely associated with Guthrie would perform there: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Derroll Adams and Cisco Houston; Irvine befriended all three of them, particularly Elliott, who taught him how to play the harmonica in Guthrie’s style:

“I use a harmonica holder that I have had for over 50 years! God knows how I never lost it! It was given to me by Rambling Jack Elliot at the time I was learning how to play. He also gave me the crucial information that Woody Guthrie used to play the harp upside down!!
Apparently so did the southern blues players of that period. There is no dis/advantage in this but I’m glad I learned to play it upside down like Woody! Jack played it the normal way…”

—Andy Irvine, Andy’s Instruments (Dec 2013).

An Old Shirt

“Andy Irvine was one of Jack’s more notable disciples. Irvine, later the guitarist and singer of such seminal roots music groups as Patrick Street and Planxty, had been introduced to the music of Woody Gutrie through skiffle, and he breifly befreinded Elliot sometime around 1958. Elliot was a decade older than Irvine but had taken an immediate liking to the enthusiastic kid who once discreetly followed him home through the streets of london just so he could learn his address. Elliot demonstrated some of the nuances of Guthrie’s guitar methods to Irvine and even gave him the prized gift of an old shirt that had once belonged to Woody. Irvine admitted he wore that old shirt “until it fell of my back”.

—Excerpt from “Ramblin’ Jack Elliott: The Never-Ending Highway” by Hank Reineke

Andy in his “Woody” days.

Around this time, I went to see Jack Elliott play a hootenanny at The Ballads and Blues Club.

Jack had traveled with Woody in the early fifties and sang Woody’s songs and told stories about Woody that thrilled me. At the end of the evening, he was surrounded by hardier souls than I and I waited until he left the club and followed himself and his wife, June, home on the train. I stalked them from train station to lodgings, made a note of the number of the house and sent a letter. Good at sending letters I was in those days!

Jack rang me a day or two later and said : “Come on over!” Little did he know what he was letting himself in for … I used to ride my bicycle over there every morning after that. I’d arrive at about 10am, bang on the door and sit on the end of the bed till they got up! Davy Graham was another frequent visitor. Jack, June and I would go out, leaving Davy to play Jack’s guitar. When we got home, Davy would be gone and Jack would be lamenting that his “goddam strings” had been new that morning!

Derroll Adams and his Belgian wife, Isabelle came over from Brussels where they were living and Jack and Derroll, who were old friends and playing partners, did some great gigs together. Derroll was much taken with my mother and he and Jack listened with interest to her stories of “treading the boards” in the Thirties.

Derroll and Isabelle went back to Belgium and Jack went off to Israel where he parted with June. She wrote me a letter, telling me this and asking me to look after Jack when he came back that spring. Jack was pretty cut up about the split when he got back to London. I went down to Waterloo station to meet him with his agent, Malcolm Nixon.

Jack seemed a bit lost without June but he wasn’t alone for too long. He used to come round to my flat with various girlfriends and we’d sit and record tapes for Woody. One evening we recorded a Woody song and Jack turned to me in amazement and said, “Andy, you sound more like Woody than I do!” As Woody had once said to Jack, “Jack you sound more like me than I do!” I felt pretty proud.

Jack showed me how to play the harmonica in Woody’s style, holding the low notes on the right hand side and ‘’sucking when the instructions tell you to blow and blowing when they tell you to suck’’.

—Andy Irvine, About Andy

Derroll Adams & “Rambling” Jack Elliott: during the Topic recording session for the album “The Rambling Boys”, 1957. (Photo Herb Greer).

Letters To Woody (1959-1960)

After locating Guthrie at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morristown, New Jersey, Irvine began corresponding with Sid Gleason who, with her husband Bob, would take Guthrie out of hospital and entertain him at weekends. She was the first person to call him “Andy”, and thereafter remained a conduit between him and Guthrie.

I can’t quite remember how I finally located Woody. It must have been around 1958 and he was lodged in a hospital in New Jersey with a genetic wasting disease called Huntingdon’s Chorea, which he had inherited from his mother. I sent off another letter. This time I was very excited to get an answer from a woman called Sid Gleason. She and her husband Bob had taken it upon themselves to entertain Woody at weekends. I wrote sometimes twice a week, asking questions about various aspects of Woody’s life. Woody was mentally alert and meticulous in making sure that I was given the right answers. I made plans to go over and live with the Gleasons.

The Woody Guthrie Newsletter was a mimeographed couple of sheets sent out to those interested in knowing how Woody was and what was happening with his records and songs.

I received a copy that listed a whole page full of famous names that Woody wanted to thank. I waded through Pete Seeger, Alan Lomax, Ralph Rinzler, Oscar Brand, Lionel Kilberg, Ernie Marrs, Harold Leventhal, Bill Doerflinger, Jack and June Elliott……

I think I was hoping against hope that I might see my name in there and I read through all these famous names and came to the end of it and right at the bottom it said, ‘’…And to Andy Irvine from Woody personally’’.

I was always very proud of the fact that I knew Woody…personally… if only by letter.

—Andy Irvine, About Andy

Andy’s letters to Woody are catalogued in “S2 Box 2 – Folders 01/02/03 (1959-1960)” at The Woody Guthrie Centre

Letters to Woody

S2 Box 2 – Folder 01
Irvine, Andy
S2 Box 2 – Folder 02
Irvine, Andy
1960 (Jan.-Mar.)
S2 Box 2 – Folder 03
Irvine, Andy
1960 (Apr.-June)

Andy Dreams of Hard Travelin’ (1959-1961)

The Gleason’s got me a job at a petrol station in East Orange, New Jersey, but then I got invited on to the BBC Radio Rep and couldn’t get out of it. I did that for a couple of years and grew out of the desire to be a petrol pump attendant at East Orange, New Jersey.

—Andy Irvine, The Greeking of the Irish by Colin Irwin

I also met Cisco Houston that summer. I had written to him in California and he had sent me a couple of signed photos. He came over to play a few gigs after touring India with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. At the beginning of his tour I missed my great opportunity. He invited me over for tea and I was about to cycle over when I suddenly thought, “I’ll take a mandolin and I can be Woody and he can be Cisco”. Remembering that I had not practised the mandolin for a while, I sat down and played it for what I thought was about five minutes. It wasn’t, it was 40 and when I got over there, there was a message saying he’d had to go out! I’ve agonised over that missed moment ever since. I went to both his London concerts and was just a little disappointed. He never sounded like he had with Woody when he was singing alone. I met him a few times subsequently but never again had the chance to get him on his own. He seemed like a really nice person. I told him I was going to live in New Jersey near Woody and he said that I should come out to California.

One year later, Cisco died of cancer. Same day as my mother died of the same disease.

Well, I grew up pretty fast after that. I got a job on the BBC Repertory company that lasted for two years and gave up all thoughts of going to New Jersey…

—Andy Irvine, About Andy

Cisco & Woody

Woody Guthrie By Andy Irvine (1968)

In 1968 Andy wrote a piece “WOODY GUTHRIE BY ANDY IRVINE” in FOLK MAGAZINE VOL. 1, NO. 4.

Images courtesy of the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

Tønder Folk Festival 1984 – Woody Tribute

Geraint Watkins, Derroll Adams, Joe Locker, Hans Theessink, Mike Whellans, Gary Richard, Odetta, Allan Taylor, Hannes Wader, Holly Near, Andy Irvine, Hamish Imlach, Tom Luke & Iain MacKintosh : tribute to Woody Guthrie, Tønder Folk Festival, 1984. (By courtesy of the Tønder Folk Festival Committee).

1984 saw Andy at the Tønder Folk Festival in Denmark for a major Woody Guthrie tribute. Derroll Adams read some of Woody’s lyrics and introduced a glittering array of fellow artists, among them Odetta, Geraint Watkins, Joe Locker, Hans Theessink, Mike Whellans, Gary Richard, Allan Taylor, Hannes Wader, Holly Near, Andy Irvine, Hamish Imlach, Tom Luke, Ian MacKintosh, Davis Craig, Kieran O’Connor, Robin McKidd and Arthur Kitchener.

Never Tire Of The Road (1991)

In 1991, Irvine wrote his tribute song to Woody Guthrie: “Never Tire of the Road”, first released on the solo album Rude Awakening. He recorded it again for the album Rain on the Roof, released in 1996, after including another verse plus the chorus from a song Guthrie recorded in March 1944: “You Fascists Are Bound to Lose”.

“This started out as a song about my great hero, Woody Guthrie. Somewhere along the way it made a slight diversion and took in the early days of the “Wobblies” (Industrial Workers of the World) who followed the harvest in the Western States of America and, I suppose, just about anybody who finds themselves with a job of Hard Travelling.”
In a 2000 interview, Irvine stated: “I never met Woody, but I corresponded with him in hospital. […] The kind of values that Woody represented are one of my great passions.”


I was just a smalltime country boy
When I left that dusty town…(more)

Alternative Last Verse

Andy has often sang an alternative last verse to this song which directly mentions Woody:

“Don’t let them ever fool you or take you by surprise
That dirty smell of the politician and the man with the greed in his eyes
Woody might be dead & gone
But the words he wrote they still live on
May his spirit ever shine upon
The cause that never dies”

The Woody 100 Concert (2012)

Billy Bragg & Andy Irvine performed “The Woody 100 Legacy Show” at Vicar Street, Dublin – Monday 17th September 2012.

Andy wrote on of the event at the time in his online journal:

“I’m very flattered to have been asked to share the bill with Billy Bragg for the Woody 100 Concert in Vicar Street, Dublin on 17th September.
Having been a devotee of Woody Guthrie’s since the age of 15, it’s a great chance for me to re-learn the songs that I used to play way back when!
I recently located my old Gibson L0 guitar. It was in the shed where it has been languishing for some years.
I used to be able to do a pretty good impression of Woody’s guitar playing. Hope I can get it all back!
Playing 6 single strings instead of the bouzouki’s 4 double strings presents a few problems – it’s amazing the way the single string of a guitar is ‘stopped’ by the left hand, precisely between the callouses built up by the double string of the bouzouki!! There will be roars of pain after the first couple of practices!!
Also the plectrum held in the right hand has a wider string span to cover when doing Woody’s ‘Church’ lick.
I have asked Dónal Lunny to play my set with me and I hope he has put it in his diary!! I’d better get practicing…”

—Andy’s Journals 22nd June 2012

Andy with his Gibson L0 6 guitar from his Woody days. Photo by Chris Larkin Guitars.

Possible Tribute Album

It has long been a goal of Andy’s to record a full album of Woody material as he has mentioned in interviews over the years. However, to date Andy has not found the time. Perhaps he will get there soon, it would surely be a real treat.

Andy Plays Woody

  • Talkin’ Dust Bowl Blues – Live At Foxrock Folk Club 1970-72 (2015) – Various Artists
  • The Ludlow Massacre – Prosperous (1972) Christy Moore featuring Andy Irvine
  • Seamen Three - Parallel Lines (1982) Dick Gaughan & Andy Irvine
  • The Dodgers Song - Parallel Lines (1982) Dick Gaughan & Andy Irvine
  • Tom Joad - No. 2 Patrick Street (1988) Patrick Street
  • The Ranger’s Command – Performed live but Unrecorded to Date
  • Buffalo Skinners - Performed live but Unrecorded to Date

Andy Sings Woody Playlist

Press and Peer Quotes

  • “Andy Irvine is Woody Guthrie’s representative on earth.” – Hot Press

  • “Woody would have been proud.” – Denver Post

  • “Andy Irvine is Ireland’s Woody Guthrie, with a philosopher’s ear and a prophet’s passionate voice.” – Si Kahn

  • “Never Tire Of The Road, the Woody Guthry tribute, is a wonderful song with such a glorious unbending spirit, it might easily have been written by the man himself!” – Colin Irvin for “Folk Roots”