Live Review: Andy Irvine – Junction 2, Cambridge, 9th May 2024

Photo: J. Aird

A glorious day had led onto a glorious evening in the company of a true legend of folk music – a teller of great tales, a sterling supporter of the rights of workers, and a man with more eight stringed instruments than you’d imagine, surrounded on stage by mandola, bouzouki, guitar-bodied bouzouki, as well as a range of harmonicas. Andy Irvine’s importance can be easily encapsulated by reeling off the names of bands he has been associated with – Sweeny’s Men, Planxty, LAPD, Patrick Street, Usher’s Island – but he’s also been a continual performer in ad-hoc duos and as a perpetually appearing solo artist.  And tonight we would have Andy Irvine solo across two forty-five minute sets.

Andy Irvine may have entered his ninth decade but he shows no signs of slowing down with tour dates across the UK, Europe and Scandinavia already planned through this year.  His return to Cambridge landed not only midweek but, as noted, on one of the nicest evenings so far this year which might explain in part the limited turnout – and, well, as it often does, it turned out that everyone else’s loss was our gain as Andy Irvine took the opportunity to shake up the set list, particularly in the second half of the gig.  The first half opened with the notably wistful ‘My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland‘, one of several songs that recall days long gone with scenes from early musical adventures with Sweeny’s Men. Few do musical nostalgia as well as Andy Irvine, and here it is in tales of sleeping in hedgerows, having drinks bought after hours by the local Police Sergeant, and making music that brought tears to the eyes – some combination.

Another strand of songwriting that Andy Irvine is so adept at is the biographical. ‘Houdini‘ tells of the world’s greatest escapologist, but ‘Prince Amongst Men‘ celebrates a man who determined to break the chain of son following father into mining at a young age and at the expense of their education – working oneself to death in order to ensure one’s child can gain an education is a heroic act.  And it’s a true story, Irvine was inspired to write it into song after being told the tale after a gig some years ago. Traditional folk songs are not neglected either – ‘Three Hunters‘ is a unhappy cautionary tale as doing the right thing by aiding a woman who has been robbed and tied up backfires when it transpires she’s actually the bait for waylaying travellers into a robbery.  The first set closer of ‘Plains of Kildare‘ is a happier tale of an unfavoured horse triumphing over the “handsome grey mare” in a challenge race.  It’s a glory.

The second half of the gig got underway with a real standout – the yet to be recorded variant on ‘Arthur McBride‘ set between the end of the Spanish Civil War and before the German pact with Russia which would enable the second world war.  There’s more bittersweet recollection on ‘The Wind Blows Over the Danube‘, a beautiful song about a youthful love that lasted a Balkan summer.  The set closer of  the traditional ‘The Blacksmith‘ showed off Andy Irvine’s playing at its most dextrous, but it was the “One more then?” that was offered as the encore that really capped the set.  ‘Gladiators‘ isn’t part of the regular set list but it probably should be with the retelling of activism by the Industrial Workers of the World, as Irish expats in pre-Great War Australia stood up for the rights of the many against the privileges of the few.  An IWW member himself, Irvine sings with Guthrie like conviction on the chorus “Gladiators of the working class – heroes of mine/  Who travelled down this dark road long before my time / Your actions and the words you spoke are shining in my mind / As I’m going down this old dusty road.”  It’s a stirring conclusion to a gig that was as reliably excellent as Andy Irvine’s appearances always are.

About Jonathan Aird 2744 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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