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Andy Irvine

Rockingham Arms, Wentworth
Friday 12 May 2006

The last time I saw Andy Irvine was about fifteen years ago at this very same venue. When I arrived at the venue, one of the organisers was busy showing Andy a picture of him performing on that stage even futher back, in 1977, so the singer has an established history with the club. What we all feared and loathed back then - nostalgia - has become ever more apparent in our lives and especially in the folk club world. That's because we're all getting on a bit now.

I did something quite unusual when I got to the venue, unusual for me at any rate, I took a seat right at the very front of house, which was a little disconcerting once the gig began, for I was almost sitting on Andy's knee. There was no ulterior motive, it's not that I wanted to be close enough to see what his fingers were doing on the three instruments he played. His fingers move so fast that such a close observation would be futile. He had with him three instruments, all from the mandolin family, a large bouzouki, a smaller mandola (it could've been an octave mandolin?) and a battered Stefan Sobell guitar-shaped instrument with eight strings held together with tape, a sort of cross between a guitar and a bouzouki.

Andy's track record puts him right up there with the leaders of traditional Irish music alongside Donal Lunny and Christy Moore. The driving force behind such bands as Sweeney's Men, Patrick Street and Mozaik, not to mention the groundbreaking Planxty. A member of the amazing Seventies band Planxty, Andy along with Christy Moore, Liam O'Flynn and the amazing Donal Lunny, changed the course of Irish music by introducing all these wonderful eight stringed instruments and making it possible to make celtic music without the fiddle.

Andy played a pretty diverse set of self-penned songs Never Tire of the Road, some traditional songs including Reynardine, a couple from the wonderful Planxty repertoir Kellswater, Rambling Boys of Pleasure and his homage to his all time hero Woody Guthrie, a staggeringly energetic Ballad of Tom Joad, which is basically John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath in verse. His two sets of the night were filled with absolute gems, right up to his encore, which was just an awkward plodding dirge, the title of which escapes me - and probably won't be captured.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky