We interviewed Andy Irvine at Don Quixote's on September 23, 2012. It was an honor and joy to talk with him. During the concert Andy performed solo on bouzouki and harmonica, and told delightful background stories about the songs. Kasie especially enjoyed his performance of As I Roved Out and Reynardine and watching his skillful fingers from the front row.
~Paul Edwards and Kasie Talbot
Paul: How is the book going?
Paul: I really want to read that book!
I know but it hasn't even started. But it has started—I mean bits of it. I write memos to myself and I write bits of remembered things and some of them are good but you know I actually have to sit down and do it and I never have time.
At the moment I've got no work next year until about October so I'm sure that'll change but I hope it'll give me a chance to do it.
Paul: I did not know Paul Brady until I started reading your thing and then, oh here's Paul Brady so I go look him up on YouTube. Oh my God! The stuff you and Dónal and he were doing in the '70's was just brilliant work. I'm sure there's many a story around all of that.
Oh yeah, if I can remember it.
Paul: Well but I'm not asking for that right now. I want it in the book! [Laughter]
Yes, well it's funny, you know, if you read a lot of people's autobiographies, you'll find that most of it is about their early years, because that's the kind of thing that sticks in the memory most avidly, and I must admit that a lot of the stuff I've written is about the first twenty years of my life so I'm going to have to...
Paul: But Mozaik is brilliant.
Yeah but it's recent you know—it's not quite history yet.
Paul: Oh there you go. [Laughter] So a question I wanted to ask this time is about your family. I know your Mom was an actor and you acted for a while, which I think got you probably more comfortable being in front of crowds in a way.
Well it may have done. I mean, I was a very good child actor. Actually, you know what I have done—I havn't actually written my own biography but I have decided to write—to include a CD of my life—of songs of my life with the—[Andy singing:] I followed my Mother onto the stage in 1951. Made a film with Gina Lollobrigida what fun. And the snotty boys of my... oh whatever. When you ask me that question I should just sing you the answer. [Laughter]
Yeah my Mother being an actress—and my sister thought I was really cute when I was about eight or nine and she sent on these photographs of me to an agent, then I got this part in this movie with Gina Lollobrigida. Well I've never met her or anything, but it was great and then I appeared—I was a drama actor on television for a number of years and I was very very good. It was easy. But then I got to about 16 and suddenly it was kind of [Andy demonstrating he doesn't know what to do with his hands] Uh um, what are these things!? What do I do with these things!? you know, and all confidence disapeared, so getting back on the stage in front of an audience sometime later as a singer and a musician—well I do find—somebody asked me this recently—I do find maybe that my acting career and experience has helped me in talking to audiences. I mean some musicians have great difficulty in introducing songs.
Paul: Exactly, or anything in between the songs. Yeah.
Kasie: I was wondering if you have different ways of playing the bouzouki that you use in different bands, like different tunings?
Not really, you know, I do have different ways of playing it, but I don't think—it depends on the song rather than the band. If you listen to the first two songs I typically start off with a fairly slowish song. As you can hear I'm kind of a bit groggy but that's kind of arpeggios, you know what I mean, it's kind of, well arpeggios, and then the second song will be more kind of strummed, and picking out things inside the stumming. And those are basically the two styles I use, and it wouldn't matter to me what band I was in—that's the way I would play because I am basically a soloist and every band I've ever been in, I bring what I'm going to do into the band and I do it the way I do it. So I'm a soloist within a band when I'm in a band.
Kasie: Could you tell us more—I just chose one of my favorite songs that came from your Eastern European trip. Could you tell us more about the background behind the West Coast of Clare?
Yes, it's a little bit of an anti-climax. I mean, people come over from Europe or where ever, I don't know, and they go to Clare, they go to Milltown Malbay, and they go to the tourist office or whatever...
Paul: I did! I did!
...and they say, "Can you tell us which pub Andy Irvine is talking about?" [Laughter] And in actual fact, it was a brief fling I had with a Danish girl called Birte, and I started to write it just before I left. I wrote it actually, most of it in Ljubljana, in Slovenia, because I started to write at the very end of Sweeney's Men, in April '68 and I finished it in Ljubljana in May/June '68, and by that time it had taken on a little bit more. I wasn't hankering after Birte by that time anymore, so, Christy Moore once introduced it about all the people that we'd met at Fleadh Cheoil's, you know, festivals, music festivals around County Clare, and I think that's probably a better way of describing it, than some Danish girl that I had a brief fling with, but I can't resist the truth, so there you are.
Paul: Um so, actually when I was asking about your Mom and stuff like that I was wondering if there are other members of your family that are musical.
No there aren't actually. My sister married a musician, and my daughter married a musician, which is odd, but they're not directly my family and, my father was supposed to have played the saxophone in a band when he was at college, but I never saw the saxophone and he liked music very much but he didn't persue playing the saxophone unfortunately.
Paul: What music do you listen to now?
Well as I always say, I listen to Miles Davis, I listen to Coltrane, I listen to jazz from the 1960's. I don't usually listen to music in the car because I find that when I'm driving my brain becomes quite clear and in fact most of the stuff I've written in the last five or ten years has its genesis in driving long distance in the car. I've heard that that's—it's not just me. That actually driving a car does kind of release—the other side of the brain is more creative.
Paul: Yeah I think it does. There's something about the countryside rolling by.
Yeah, maybe it's just that, just the feeling of travel.
Paul: Yeah, the visual, something about that. I think also—some of the best sleeps I've had were in the back seat of a car.
Kasie: Yeah, I get my ideas when I go running. Do you think that the time that you spent in Eastern Europe—something about it made you especially creative?
I'm not sure it made me especially creative, but certainly the time I spent there and the time I spent when I got home, trying to figure out the rhythms of Balkan music made a creative impact. I remember sitting in the room I was in at the time, about 1970, learning to play the Plains of Kildare, and I went into this thing in 7/8 time in the middle, and I thought, "I'm not sure I dare to play that," but I did, and people thought it was great. Dónal Lunny of course was instantly intrigued by all this and learned it, and I suppose the high point of that was in 1979 when Matt Molloy was in Planxty. Matt and Liam learned to play Smeceno Horo, and they didn't really understand what they were playing, I don't think, but they took it in, and it came out as a kind of an Irish tune, you know, they addressed it as though it was an Irish tune and it came out in, whatever the rhythm of it is, 15/16, or, mad time signature, and it was really great. I was proud of that.
Paul: Between Ireland and India I think there's been traffic forever. It's been going back and forth and you can hear echoes in one, you know, phrasings and stuff like that that are actually in the other.
Well I agree with you. I think people have not been on the planet that long that they have diverged so much from musical ideas. I mean when I heard Bulgarian music first, sitting in a big truck driving along, hitchhiking, I knew immediately what it was. I didn't think it was anything else except folk music and I was hooked on it immediately there and then.
Paul: One thing I've been dipping into is Transatlantic Sessions. It's amazing.
I never did one. They never asked me.
Kasie: I can't believe that.
Paul: Phffft! Well there's a mistake! But I mean the fact of bringing Bluegrass and Appalachian and stuff like that in—it's so clear.
Yes it's a very obvious connection alright.
Paul: What I was going to ask is, are there any other things like that that you know of. Because of course you guys are so much more civilized over there, than we are here.
I can't think of anything. I suppose there's—you know Irish music made a big impact on breton players, and to some extent their music made an impression on us as well, but not as much as we did on them, but you know the bretons have pursued a very similar line in their music. A couple of years ago I was playing with all the usual breton suspects: Jacky Molard, Christian Lemaître, Ronan Le Bars, Jean-Michel Veillon, and Nicolas Quemener, and the music is very complex you know with different time signatures in it. There'd be a couple of bars of 9 or something in this particular tune and I was very impressed.
Kasie: What kind of voice training have you had?
Kasie: That's impressive.
Well I just sing as it comes out. Don't judge me tonight because I'm not sure...
Paul: Have another beer Andy.
[Laughter] ...how wonderful my voice is going to be tonight.
Kasie: In order to sing for long periods of time do you have to actually exercise first?
Well I don't. I've never had any problem with my voice, apart from the odd thing like tonight, but I think I've only ever had to cancel one gig because I had no voice.
Paul: You could just do it on your string playing Andy. But you like to sing too.
Yes well I—it annoys me—you might see moments of bad temper on the stage tonight if I'm not able to control the voice, but what can you do, you know?
Paul: Play through. Never tire of the road.
Where did you get that silly phrase from? [Laughter]
Paul: I don't know. [Laughter]
Kasie: The way you sing—did that come naturally or did you learn that from somewhere?
Well I learned the style, you know, I mean, yes I listened to a lot of traditional singers in Ireland before I started singing like them, but I didn't find it that difficult, you know, I didn't have to say, "Alright, that's where they decorate that note, and do that on that note—it just came quite naturally to me, that if a note was held a certain length you'd decorate it with, like, "Adieu adieu, sweet Newport Town." [Song: Dear Old Newport Town] I just learned it pretty quickly. That wasn't a very good impression was it? [Laughter]
Paul: Oh no, you're just warming up.
I'm glad I'm not singing that song anyway.
Paul: Well thank you so much.
Oh a pleasure, a pleasure.