Perched precariously on a collapsible stage barely large enough for his four bouzoukis, bag of harmonicas and himself – Andy Irvine looks surprisingly comfortable. This in spite of the perils experienced by those sat in the front row of the unusually full side room of The Orange Tree pub where the Baldock and Letchworth Blues, Folk and Roots Club meets. What with the support act’s wildly swinging guitars, a couple of flying mike stands, and people, as cables are tripped over it has been a perilous experience so far – but whoever said that the pursuit of live music was a safe one?
Andy Irvine emerged as one of the most significant musicians and songwriters of the sixties folk boom – playing with Sweeney’s Men and Planxty, and in a myriad of musical combinations since – including, of course, the seminal album of tunes and songs recorded with Paul Brady. His solo performance on this night covers a range of material, all stitched together with tales such as how he abandoned acting for the life of a musician because the musicians’ pub was so much more interesting than the theatricals, along with little insights into the excitement of the burgeoning Irish folk scene. These are reflected in My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland which is a wistfully sung potted history of a young man’s adventures – sleeping in a barn, keeping warm with whisky as it rained, of lock-ins and of song. Andy Irvine retains both nimble fingers and an almost unchanged voice. And a fine memory – The Highwayman is a nine-minute recording, with dozens of verses and it’s no shorter or lacking a word tonight – a modern folk ballad that sounds centuries old. When The Boys Are On Parade offers a questioning of the military – the recruitment and deployment of it – which rolls along at tongue-twisting pace asking a series of difficult questions : “and as the procession passes by / consider the sight before your eyes / ‘cos it’ll be you they’ll kill and die for / when they are called to the crusade / you may love them and adore them / you may hate them and abhor them / but for gods sake don’t ignore them / when the boys are on parade”.
A tireless sequence of tunes, stories and songs including a magical rendition of The Blacksmith, as fine as any version you’ll hear by band or solo artist. And you can tell you’re having a good time when it goes so quick and the end fast approaches. Not an end though – a pause, just a pause, until the next time.