Andy Vine’s Pilgrimage

By Roy L Hales

Andy Vine’s best known song is probably Woman of Labrador, which was released in 2005. His musical roots go back to the UK’s 1960s folk revival. CKTZ listeners know him as the host of the Folk Club, every Wednesday at 10:00 AM. I recently interviewed Andy about folk music, his trip to Ireland and much more.


Andy Vine’s Pilgrimage

Andy Vine – Courtesy Andy Vine

Andy was born in Swansea, in the south of Wales, but spent most of his formative years in a suburb of Liverpool.

His decades long connection with Ireland began with music. By 1963, Andy was in a folk group. They “decided to do a little pilgrimage to Ireland to find out more about the music they were singing.”

“I just loved the culture and the people. They were so friendly and they love music so much. So when I went back to England I told my brother all about this and he was looking for a place to study for his masters degree in marine zoölogy … So he looked up Galway University, where they had a program he interested in, and got accepted at Galway University. While he was there he met his future wife,” says Andy.

He added, “They live in her home town, … Clifden, which is where I [just] went and where the art’s festival [he performed in] was. So many years later that connection that I first started through my love of folk music … still lives on.”

Steele’s Tavern On Yonge Street

Steele’s Tavern on Yonge Street – Photographer: Harvey Naylor ca. 1975 City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1526, File 3, Item 26 via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Andy has returned to Ireland many times over the past half century, but one of the great “What ifs” of his life occurred almost immediately after he emigrated to Canada in 1967.

“When I first landed in Toronto, Gordon Lightfoot had just made his mark at a place called Steele’s tavern … I went to Steele’s tavern and asked to audition and they liked what they heard. They offered me a week … Then they said, you have to be in the union of course. You are in the union aren’t you?”

“And I said, ‘No.’”

“So I went down to the union hall, to join the union. They said, ‘Well, how long have you been in Canada?”

I said, ‘ A couple of months.’

“Oh you can’t join the union until you’ve been here six months.”

“So I was snookered, couldn’t take the gig.”

Andy found other ways to make money, but “kept up the music.”

“I find if I don’t do it, I miss it. It is good for me to do it,” he explained.

A Writer In Marketing Communications

He started his career in marketing communications back in England.

“As soon as I could I started working towards becoming a professional writer, because I knew I had some talent in that area … I saw my self as a translator between  the techies and the customers. I could take technical information of various kinds, translate it into language that ordinary people could understand and motivate them to buy something, or do something, or whatever,” said Andy.

“That’s how I put food on the table while I was raising a family.”

Coming To Cortes Island

Andy Vine in his studio at home, Manson’s Landing, B.C – Courtesy Andy Vine

Andy came to work at the Cold Mountain Institute, on Cortes Island, during the early 1970s. He was there for ten months, starting as an assistant to head cook Martha Abelson and later working with the carpentry crew.

“I had a good winter there. I met Lama Govinda and Alan Watts and had a very interesting time.”

He moved on to live in Quebec, Toronto and Vancouver.

“Eventually, when I was looking for a place to build a retirement house, Cortes came to mind … What really drew me to this island is the community … There are other beautiful islands, but to me the community here is very special.”

That was six or seven years ago.

(BTW –  The original inspiration for Andy Vine’s song “General Store,” which seems such an apt description of Squirrel Cove General Store on Cortes Island, is actually in Quebec.)

The Folk Club On CKTZ

Andy produced over 80 editions of “the Folk Club” for Cortes Community Radio before he took a break this summer.

“It is a great way to share the music that I love And through the doing of it I heard a whole lot of music I’d never listened to before and discovered artists I’d never heard before. So I learned a lot, and also broadened my views on what is folk music and I decided that folk music is music that I like. It is a bit convenient, I know.”

“So I include things like gypsy jazz, which a lot people say is not folk music – but I say it is very rooted in a very respectable folk tradition.”

He plays music from Mongolia, China, Japan and India, as well as the West.

“For me, it is the quality of the music and the authenticity that matters. I am somewhat averse to highly produced commercial music.  It is not what I want to play on my show. So I tend to focus more on simple folky stuff.”

This Generation’s Tourist Travel Addiction

Jet trails by Christian Guthier via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Though he acknowledges there are good reasons to travel, and has done a great deal himself, Andy perceives this as something very different to the travel addiction embraced by so many boomers.

“We are so aware of the environmental impacts of these things, yet we just go ahead and fly off all over the world. I think it is a bit shameful … when you travel as a tourist what do you see? You see architecture; you see other tourists. You have experiences that are fairly well-tailored to you as a tourist. I think if you want to know a place you have to spend months or years there and meet people and get to know the ordinary way of life.”

Some people go “just because I want to see it. It is on my bucket list. Gimme a break! I mean, what about your grand kids? What about the world you are leaving behind?”

Going Back To Ireland

One of Ireland’s thatched roofed houses – Courtesy Andy Vine

His recent trip to Ireland, and the trips he made back to the UK when his parents were still alive, was different.

“My brother has this illness, Parkinson’s disease, and I just wanted to spend some time with him.”

They spent a week sailing off the coast of Croatia. The only “local” folk music he heard was a recording of the Balkan Babes, from Vancouver Island – which Andy took on the trip!

He still recommends visiting Croatia, ” … Good people; good food; nice weather; good swimming; A lovely place.”

Andy was one of the performers at Clifden’s annual arts festival in Connemara, Ireland.

“I thought well it would be nice to have a fiddle player. So I have a friend in Ireland who is pretty in to music and I asked him if he could suggest any fiddle players that I could perform with. He found a woman [Anna Falkenau], a good fiddle player, who was interested in doing it. We corresponded by the internet and she agreed to do it with me. Then we started exchanging music files, so we could rehearse.”

“She was very professional, very focused. When I eventually got to Ireland we had one rehearsal together, where we went through the list we had worked out. She already had arrangements for pretty much everything. Two days later we did the performance and it went really well.”

What He Is Bring Back From Ireland

Andy and Anna Falkenau performing at the Alcock and Brown, during the 41st Clifden’s Art’s Festival. The hotel was named after John Alcock and Arthur Brown, who made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. One of them was Andy Vine’s father’s squadron leader during WWII.

At the festival, Andy heard Irish fiddler Zoë Conway  team up with  “a couple of guys who have been around much longer than her.  One is Donal Lunny and the other Máirtín O’Connor.”

“The three of them just make exquisite music.  They did a concert at this festival. The concert started at 10:00 at night. It was a two-hour concert. I hardly ever stay up that late, but I didn’t feel sleepy at all. It was just great. I’ll be playing some of their music for sure.”

Andy heard a lot of good music and good jokes in Ireland.

Stories About Ronny Drew

He has yet to play any of the Dubliner’s songs on the Folk club, but has known of the band since the 1960s. Andy actually met one of them at a music festival, during his first visit to Ireland. This time he heard some funny stories about one of their founders, the late Ronny Drew.”

“Ronny Drew had a voice like gravel, it was deep and rough and he had a strong Dublin accent. And apparently in his seniority, after he had left the group and was just living as an old guy. He was in a pub and a young woman came over to him and said, ‘Mr Drew, I am here with my auntie and she is very old. Would you mind coming over and saying hello?’

He said, ‘How old is she?’

And the young woman said, ‘Well she is seventy years old.’

He said, ‘I’m seventy three, tell her to come and see me!’

Andy with his sister and brother in an Irish pub – courtesy Andy Vine

Another time, a cop pulled Ronny’s car over after watching it weaving down the road.

“Your Ronny Drew Aren’t You?” the officer said.

“Ya I am, so what?”

“Well Mr Drew, have you had anything to drink today?”

“Nine or ten pints.”

The cop said, “Well them you’d better breath into this breathalyzer.”

To which Drew responded, “Why? You don’t believe me?”

Live Music On Cortes Radio?

“With this next series … on Cortes radio, I actually want to start doing some live music on air. I want to invite people into the studio and I want to play some stuff live myself and have other people play live,” says Andy.

He will be asking the station how this can be made possible.

Top Photo Credit: Irish Countryside – Courtesy Andy Vine

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