Music journalist and author Colin Irwin has died – Folk Radio UK | Episode Movies

We were deeply saddened to hear that author and journalist Colin Irwin passed away on November 3rd. Our thoughts and love are with his family and friends at this incredibly sad time.

His son Kevin wrote on Facebook on November 4: “Father passed away suddenly last night. We think it was a heart attack, but we’re not sure yet. He was a wonderful, loving, crazy, creative, brilliant man. A really great, great, great husband, father and grandfather. He had an incredible life. The stories are endless. He was the best.”

For those reading this, Colin is perhaps best known for his folk and world music reviews in fRoots, The Guardian, Mojo, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Sunday Times and many other publications…he has also written a few pieces for written for folk radio. All in all, he seemed to be a man of many hats.

He was Associate Editor at Melody Maker and a judge for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize (his persuasiveness led to Anthony and the Johnsons winning the 2005 Mercury Music Prize for I Am A Bird Now). He has also been a television and radio presenter, including BBC Radio 2’s Acoustic Roots Series (in the 1980s) and Singing Families of Ireland (1996). With the latter he covered some of the all time greats including Mary Black, Frances Black and Family, Dolores Keane, Ted Furey, Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers and the Sands Family.

As well as writing biographies for Neil Young and Bob Dylan, he also had a deep love for Irish music, which he shared in his book In Search of the Craic: Irish Music Pub Crawl for One Man (2004), which was followed In Search of the Albion: From Cornwall to Cumbria – A Ride Through England’s Hidden Soul (2005). His humor shone through in these books – some quotes about it are great too –

“Funnier than Bill Bryson or Pete McCarthy, and also more likeable because Colin is a more generous, reserved ‘clever tourist’ than either.”

A born storyteller, he wrote a number of plays including The corridor, One of us is lying, When Barry met Cally and I am the way. Recently I was able to see his stage production She Roamed the Fair: The Legend of Margaret Barry, which totally blew my mind. In addition to telling the story of this incredible, self-proclaimed “Queen of the Gypsies,” he had done extensive research into Margaret’s life, including interviews with her family and friends. We got a moving glimpse into her life both in and out of the public eye… including the incredible story of her performance on David Attenborough’s TV show Song Hunter when she forgot to put her teeth in and her banjo dropped out of tune thanks to the heat of the stage lights … and how it became the toast of London’s Irish pubs and folk clubs. Along the way, she insulted Frank Sinatra, hung out with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, attended Elvis Presley’s wedding, and drank under the table with Brendan Behan. Colin did such a remarkable job here…I so hope it gets picked up again. Here are Mary McPartlan, Lisa Knapp and Gerry Diver rehearsing for the 2019 performance at Kings Place.

I last saw Colin face to face at the last Folk Awards in 2019…which seems a long time ago now. He reviewed the “Gizmos” for us, and as usual he never really missed much… he had his own unique style:

The BBC Folk Awards, God bless ’em, has provided some memorable moments over the past 20 years.

Numerous lovers who stumble over their own egos and try to convince us of their folklore qualities with endless ramblings when asked to present an award; rambling acceptance speeches from winners (who mentioned Donovan?); a bit of politics (Tony Benn and Roy Bailey get the Best Live Act award, a standing ovation for Robin Cook as he stood up to present an award shortly after he resigned from government over the war in Iraq).

Of course, there were occasional over-emotional winners (particularly in the decadent days of The London Brewery, when the BBC provided guests with dinner and booze); and some amazing performances from the stage along the way (the Unthanks, Anais Mitchell, Demon Barbers, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker spring to mind), plus a few seedy performances (hello Don McLean).

It’s also an opportunity for emotional overload, and there was plenty of that, especially when the attention turns to embattled heroes like Bob Copper, Nic Jones, Dave Swarbrick, Shirley Collins and John Martyn.

After a rather dull ceremony in Belfast in 2018, this year’s awards ceremonies at Manchester’s grand Bridgewater Hall provided plenty of talking points, a bit of sparkle and a special moment that falls into the ‘no dry eye in sparkling water’ category.

Read Colin’s full insight here.

This is just a small personal tribute, and I appreciate that it doesn’t even scratch the surface of his fascinating life. One thing that struck me deeply while chatting with Colin was how warm, humble and personable he was, and that always seems to come up in the comments I’ve read from his many friends.

His play about the life of Margaret Barry was a magnificent celebration of her life… and that was clearly important to Colin, who was also trained as a celebrant. He recognized the importance of celebrating someone’s life and that this also plays a role in the healing process. Last night, as I was writing this, I pulled his book In Search of Albion off the shelf and opened to a random page… it opened to chapter five…

I tape a tape on the way south. It’s “Rainy Night in Soho,” one of Shane MacGowan’s finest God-like songs ever, though this heartbreakingly beautiful version comes from the sublime Mary McPartlan...

Rest in peace Colin.

We send all our love and condolences to his family and friends.

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