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Mick Flannery comes of age

Living

Ahead of his Claremorris performance, the singer/songwriter chats about the themes explored in his new album

Aoife Lacey

Award-winning, double-platinum selling artist Mick Flannery is poised not only to release his self-titled sixth album, but he also just finished overseeing the premiere of the stage musical, ‘Evening Train’ (based on his 2007 concept debut album of the same name), which garnered rave reviews at the Cork Midsummer Festival. To celebrate, Flannery is taking to the road on a national tour, stopping off for a headline show at the Folk Festival at Claremorris on Sunday, July 21.
The Cork singer/songwriter began to write songs as a teenager in his home of Blarney. As musical influences from albums by the likes of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits seeped into his creative DNA, Mick absorbed, learned and honed the craft that would send him on his way into the world. The path was smoothed somewhat when, at the age of 19, he became the first Irish songwriter to win the Nashville-based International Songwriting Competition. By the time he turned 21, he had signed to a major label and released his debut album.

Loose themes
With his simply titled latest album, ‘Mick Flannery’, which is due out on July 5, the singer touches on loose themes of ambition and the search for a meaningful life in the context of a musician’s sometimes feckless and dysfunctional lifestyle. The central character, he reveals, is someone like him, ‘although this person achieves more notoriety than I have. He is properly famous, and he has to deal with that’. The loose theme is just that, however. “I’m not going to hammer it home. Facets of the theme are on the album, but the storyline itself isn’t an overarching one – each song can stand on its own, and not need to be part of a narrative.”
Songs on the album reference reputation and ego, emotional search and rescue, socio-cultural intransigence, flawed or unreliable love, moral collapse and loss of status. Whether or not the listener locks onto the themes or topics is irrelevant, says Mick. “There are a few relationship songs on the album that don’t necessarily marry into anything; I see them as a background thing, although with value.”
Threading a line throughout is Mick’s uncanny knack for blending melody with thought-provoking lyrics. Now in his mid-30s, Mick is fully aware of the internal struggles that come with trying to balance ambitions with whatever life throws their way.
“What happens to a person, sometimes, is that they attach self-worth to their career, and once the career fails then self-worth also plummets. The more weight you put into this persona you’re trying to be, you set yourself up for a bigger fall. It’s the danger of having big ambitions that are based on the external rather the internal.”

Balancing act
Mick Flannery has, of course, experienced and processed enough in the past 15 years to know what his views are. He smiles when he says that for the sake of the songs, he ever so slightly embroiders certain facts for creative effect.
“Obviously, I don’t equate to the levels of conflict I’m describing in the songs. I know the spectrum because of how reserved I am, and how – in my years of being in the music industry, and through varying levels of being noticed – it can change your life a bit. You’re not anonymous in certain places, and when that modifies your behaviour things can happen to you that are unknown to the general public. It’s a strange thing, a balancing act. Most of the time, however, I can go out for a quiet night and not be recognised. I wouldn’t want to give up that freedom.”
Such freedom is hard earned and comes at a price, yet Mick wouldn’t dream of giving up songwriting. Why would he when, he says, it’s getting easier.
“I mess around with all sorts of ways to write a song – silly songs, impromptu songs, joke songs that I co-write with a buddy of mine in America. We have about 200 of them by this point. I’m a little bit addicted to it, I think; it is certainly my favourite thing, and I’d like to keep doing it. I put a lot of hours into the craft, and it would be a shame to change tack. I like the merging of lyrics and melodies. I have a passion and a facility for it, which I know I’m lucky to have.”

Amply filled arsenal
This self-titled release is Mick’s sixth album – that is a sizeable back catalogue, a genuine body of work. For live shows, he says, it’s comforting.
“I remember feeling at the beginning of my performing career that I didn’t have an armoury of material. If a gig wasn’t going well, I knew there was no cavalry of songs coming over the hill to rescue it. Different songs call in different moods, and at the start all I had was a handful.”
He has six times that now, with decades ahead for many more, whatever his age. Mick has long since disregarded the view that anyone over the age of 30 has little to write about.
“The outside perception is that the people who buy music are young, that the music they buy is what gets played on the radio,” he says. “There’s such a wealth of experience in older people, however, that’s as valid as anything a young songwriter brings.”
As a mature songwriter, he reasons, he’s trying to hold on to what is essential to him, and resigning himself to the fact that the naïve, passionate 20-something ‘Mick Flannery’ is gone. What comes next, he contends, is much more interesting and experienced: “You have a larger worldview and are more learned, each of which combine to create something new.”

Mick Flannerty’s sixth album, ‘Mick Flannery’ is set for release on July 5. For tour dates, head to www.mickflannery.com. The Claremorris Folk Festival takes place over Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21. For ticket to festival events, visit www.claremorrisfolkfestival.com.