Andrew Kennedy Irvine, known as Andy Irvine, Irish folk musician and singer-songwriter, is born on June 14, 1942 in St. John’s Wood, London, England to an Irish mother from Lisburn, County Antrim, and a Scottish father from Glasgow. He is a founding member of popular bands Sweeney’s Men, Planxty, Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and Usher’s Island. He plays the mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, harmonica and hurdy-gurdy.
Irvine has been influential in folk music for over five decades, during which he records a large repertoire of songs and tunes he assembles from books, old recordings and folk-song collectors rooted in the Irish, English, Scottish, Eastern European, Australian and American old-time and folk traditions. He sets these songs to new music and also writes songs about his personal experiences or the lives and struggles of his heroes, including Tom Barker, Michael Davitt, Mother Jones, Douglas Mawson, Raoul Wallenberg, and Emiliano Zapata.
Imbued with a sense of social justice, Irvine often selects or writes songs that are based on historical events and presented from the victim’s perspective. Some of these songs chronicle the abject living and working conditions imposed on groups of people such as the emigrants, the brutalized migrant workers, the exploited textile strikers or coalminers. Other songs recall the archetypal experiences of single individuals – the woman seduced by an unfaithful man or disowned by her father, the destitute young man ostracized or murdered on the order of his sweetheart’s rich father, the down-on-his-luck farmer or the unemployed worker, the young man inveigled by the army’s recruiting sergeant, the scapegoats. Irvine’s songs also denounce worker deaths and industrial diseases, and lament the plight of hunted animals. His repertoire includes humorous songs, but also bittersweet ones of unrequited love, or of lovers cruelly separated or dramatically reunited. He also sings about famous racehorses, men or women masquerading in various disguises, a fantastical fox preying on young maidens, and the violent lives of outlaws.
As a child actor, Irvine hones his performing talent from an early age and learns the classical guitar. He switches to folk music after discovering Woody Guthrie, also adopting the latter’s other instruments, the harmonica and mandolin. While extending Guthrie’s guitar picking technique to the mandolin, he further develops his playing of this instrument and, later, of the mandola and the bouzouki, into a decorative, harmonic style and embraces the modes and rhythms of Bulgarian folk music. Along with Johnny Moynihan and Dónal Lunny, Irvine is one of the pioneers who adapts the Greek bouzouki into an Irish instrument. He contributes to advancing the design of his instruments in cooperation with English luthier Stefan Sobell, and he occasionally plays a hurdy-gurdy made for him in 1972 by Peter Abnett, another English luthier.
Although touring mainly as a soloist, Irvine has also enjoyed great success in pursuing collaborations through many projects that have influenced contemporary folk music. He continues to tour and perform extensively in Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, North and South America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.