Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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SWEENEY'S MEN

Folk group formed in Galway '66. Original line-up: Andy Irvine, vocals, mandolin, guitar, harmonica; Johnny Moynihan, vocals, bouzouki, tin whistle; Joe Dolan, replaced by Terry Woods, vocals, guitar, banjo, concertina. Name derives from a snappier corruption of "Men of Sweeney' in Flann O'Brien's book At Swim Two Birds. Dolan was an influence but soon left for Israel; Christy Moore's The Iron Behind The Velvet on Tara '78 incl. Dolan songs "The Foxy Devil' and "The Trip To Jerusalem'. Later groups incl. former Sweeneys read like a Who's Who of Irish musicians including Dr Strangely Strange, Patrick Street, Planxty, Pogues, Steeleye Span, Woods Band. After singles on Pye "Old Man In The Garret' '67 and "Waxie's Dargie' '68 they signed to Transatlantic and made Sweeney's Men 1968. Irvine and Moynihan pioneered the use of the bouzouki in Irish music; Moynihan also worked and recorded with the English singer Anne Briggs; their influence is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than on her version of "Willy O'Winsbury' on Anne Briggs '71 on Topic. Irvine left mid-'68 to travel to eastern Europe, where he discovered Balkan dance music. Fairport Convention lifted Irvine's arrangement of "Willy O'Winsbury' for their "Farewell, Farewell'; Fairport's first bassist Ashley Hutchings acknowledged Sweeney's role in the English folk-rock movement. Henry McCullough, who later played with Joe Cocker in the Grease Band and in Wings, joined for the Cambridge Folk Festival '68 and other live work; the core duo of Moynihan and Woods persevered made Tracks of Sweeney '69 on Transatlantic in a more contemporary folk vein, epitomised by psychedelic track "Hall of Mirrors' which survived McCullough's departure, and "After Thoughts' which paralleled work by Incredible String Band. Sweeney's Men also infl. Horslips debut album Happy To Meet, Sorry To Part '72; "Hall of Mirrors' had fed their band sound and they covered "Dance To Your Daddy' from Sweeney's Men. Compilation The Legend of Sweeney's Men '88 on Demon was superceded by Sweeney's Men: Time Was Never Here 196869 on Transatlantic/ Demon '92, with Colin Harper's history of the group; Sweeney's Men were not necessarily heard by many people during their lifetime but they were heard by the right people.