Andy White: A Belfast troubadour down under, Irish Times

The singer-songwriter talks about life in Melbourne and how songwriting helped him to deal with the break-up of his marriage.

Andy White: ‘I am the means of production for my life’

He regards himself as one of life’s troubadours, strolling from town to town, playing cafes, pubs, music venues and theatres. Belfast singer-songwriter Andy White has been on the journey for the past 30 years.

It’s been a good few years since White – whose latest album, How Things Are, documents in part the break-up of his marriage – has enjoyed the financial safety net of a major record company, which is why his self-sufficiency skills are razor sharp.

“One of the troubadour’s essential things is to be able to sell your skills. I’ve found a way to make a living, and it’s that I am the means of production for my life. You have to apply and employ all the skills you have been given or have learned along the way, be it producing records, writing articles, books, journalism and blogging, as well as gigging and selling records at the shows.”

White rolled into Dublin several months ago, and he will be back this way early next year. The reasons for his last visit were numerous, he says, and included playing a gig to let people know he was still around, alive and active, and to hook up with his actor sisters, Cathy and Ali, who both live in Dublin.

He has fond memories of the time he spent living in Dún Laoghaire and other southside city places. They were, he recalls, the best days of his life. It was where he met his wife, where his son (Sebastian, now 20 years of age – “doggedly hanging on to his Irish accent”) was born, where he hung out in an atmosphere of hippy/funky grooviness (as they say in Dalkey) with the likes of Hothouse Flowers and other early 1990s movers and shakers.

Glint in the eye

He is now in his early 50s, and, as he sips from a dainty cup of coffee in Dublin’s Fumbally Cafe, you can tell that time has been kind to him. The hair is silver, but there’s a glint in his eye and a lilt in his speech that indicate he is a glass-half-full kind of guy.

“I’ve never sold huge amounts of albums,” he says, “but I sell to loyal and lovely people that I see on a fairly regular basis, and that has enabled me to have the life of a troubadour. You can’t really have that life if you’re on a major record label. The way you play concerts, the way you travel, the way you’re treated and the people you meet – they are completely different things.”

He left Ireland in the late 1990s, just as life in Dublin, he smiles wryly, was beginning to change. Switzerland, his wife’s home, was the first stop for a few years, and then in 2002, through his friendship with New Zealand songwriter Tim Finn, the White family moved to Melbourne. He has lived there ever since.

“It was a total adventure being on the other side of the planet,” he says. “There are so many familiar things over there from all different cultures you’re aware of, and then you see a parrot land on your decking and you know you’re not in Ireland.”

Does he feel he has emigrated? Twelve years in one place, with roots planted, is a long time. He shakes his head. “I’ve never thought of myself as an emigrant, and I’m not sure why. I think so much of what I do is connected to Ireland, in particular, and when we arrived there in a way I wanted to start from scratch again.”

Is there a strong Irish community in Melbourne? Yes, he says, but it’s not like it is in America. “The Irish thing seems much more laid-back to me. People don’t hold on to their specific nationalities. As for there being an Irish community – well, if you play gigs, Irish people will come to them, but I don’t necessarily cater for the Irish people that come to the shows.”

A return to Belfast?

Returning to live in Ireland, be it Dublin or Belfast, is something White often weighs up. “The boy can leave Belfast, but Belfast never leaves the boy? That’s true, and it gets more intense as the years go by. But would I ever live back there? I don’t know the answer, to be honest.”

And what of the confessional latest album? Several of the songs document a tough emotional time. “We had a great time until it wasn’t a great time,” he says, as he places his coffee cup down precisely, gently, adding that certain songs from it are still very raw to play. “But enough time has passed in my life for it to be not as rough and raw as it was.”

When his marriage ended, he says, “I didn’t have a lot of family around me or a lot of really good guy friends, and so I wrote loads and loads of songs. So yes, they were definitely my way of coping with it, understanding it, expressing it.”

Andy White’s latest album, How Things Are, is on Floating World Records, and is available from record shops and via

By Tony Clayton-Lea