Home Book editor Colin Irwin obituary | Folk music

Colin Irwin obituary | Folk music


While music journalist Colin Irwin, who died suddenly at the age of 71, specialized in folk music, his writing spanned many genres, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s when he worked for Melody magazine Maker. There, his knowledge was deemed encyclopaedic.

Later, as a freelancer, he was the most prolific editor and reviewer for the folk and roots trade magazine fRoots. His first contribution, when the magazine was called Southern Rag, came in 1982, and he continued to write in almost every issue until it ceased publication in 2019. Editor, Ian A Anderson, recalled: “He was a lovely man – his enthusiasm and vast knowledge continually inspired readers.

He has also written for the Guardian, Observer, Telegraph, Independent, Mojo, Q and Time Out and was a judge for the Mercury Music Prize. His enthusiasm for folk music shines through in his writing, and many performers are grateful for his support.

Born in Chertsey, Surrey, Colin was the son of Gwen (née Hodges) and Bill, a printer, jazz fan and regular Melody Maker reader. From Strode High School (now Strode College, Egham), Colin went to Guildford College, aiming to become a journalist, and his first job was at the Slough Evening Mail. Colin was drawn to folk by the music of Bob Dylan; As a regular at the Star folk club in Guildford, he heard all the well-known singers during the height of the folk revival of the 60s and 70s.

Colin Irwin, left, interviewing American blues musician Seasick Steve at the Cambridge Folk Festival, 2010. Photography: Phil Carter

When Melody Maker’s folk columnist Andrew Means left, Colin began writing for them as a freelancer, becoming a staff member in 1974. At the time, folk music had a few pages each week: an interview plus news and reviews, and Colin relished the opportunity to write about the artists he had seen live.

Other interview subjects included Dolly Parton, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. Personnel changes within the magazine led Colin to become editor and then associate editor. In 1987 he moved to edit the weekly pop magazine Number One, and when it was bought by the BBC Colin worked on various magazines covering music, sport and travel.

Going freelance, Colin was sought after by the new wave of music magazines, such as Mojo and Q, which wanted to feature established and emerging folk artists. One of Mojo’s first interviews was with Irish singer Christy Moore, one of Colin’s favorites.

His first books were on Dire Straits (1994) and Abba (1996, with Tony Calder and former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham). In the wake of books like Round Ireland with a Fridge, Colin wrote a book on Irish music, In Search of the Craic (2003). Subtitled One Man’s Pub Crawl Through Irish Music, it was the anecdotal account of his journey across Ireland in search of the essence of his music.

Colin used a similar approach for In Search of Albion: From Cornwall to Cumbria, A Ride Through England’s Hidden Soul (2005). As before, the focus was on the characters encountered along the way. He also wrote books on the Highway 61 album by Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Dylan.

A supporter of Woking Football Club, in 2006 Colin brought his two interests together with a book of football songs and chants, Sing When You’re Winning.

In 2017, Colin was the narrator of She Moved Through the Fair, a stage show about Irish Traveler singer Margaret Barry. Co-written with singer Mary McPartlan, it premiered at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, but Mary’s illness and untimely death limited subsequent performances.

For the BBC, he has presented Radio 2’s Acoustic Roots series and TV programs on the Cambridge Folk Festival, and acted as a consultant for BBC Four’s Folk Britannia. One of his latest reviews was for this year’s Cambridge Festival for the Guardian. In recent years he has been active as a humanist funeral celebrant.

In 1975, Colin married Val Fagence. She is survived by him, their sons, Kevin and Christy, and his brother Donald.

Colin Lester Irwin, journalist and folk music writer, born May 19, 1951; passed away on November 3, 2022