- 24 Jul 20
Following the success of his chart-topping self-titled album last year, Mick Flannery is back with Alive – Cork Opera House 2019 – a fully independent release, with proceeds going to his band and crew. He tells us about the new album, the importance of live music venues, life in lockdown, and his upcoming project with Susan O’Neill.
Having played more than his fair share of legendary gigs at the Cork Opera House over the years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better setting for Mick Flannery’s new live album.
“It’s a nice coincidence alright,” he tells me. “And it was great that it was Cork. Having the home-crowd, and people you know in the crowd, does help when you’re playing gigs. But you’re not going to be able to skip town with your mistakes!”
Of course, Alive – Cork Opera House 2019 was less of a premeditated project, and more of a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic’s decimation of the live music sector. Capturing the magic combination of raw talent, nervous energy, and deadpan, self-deprecating humour that makes the Blarney-bred artist’s gigs so special, the album serves not only as a celebration of the joy of live music, but also as a way of raising funds for those hit heaviest by the lockdown fallout – with all proceeds to be shared among his band and crew.
“I have to give full credit to my manager, Sheena Keane,” he says, humbly. “When quarantine happened, she had this idea of trying to do something, to keep things going.”
“So I said yes – because I was hardly going to say ‘No, fuck them!’” he laughs. “No, I thought it was a nice opportunity to pay gratitude. Especially to the crew. For live sound engineers, this was all the work they had. They have no avenue to turn down now. I can sit at home at least, and try to write more miserable songs, and some of the lads in the band can do some other musical projects – but the engineers have very limited options.”
As someone who has gigged extensively across the country over his career, Mick recognises the importance of protecting Ireland’s unique live music scene.
“There’s nothing like a small venue that’s run by passionate people,” he remarks. “They’re so valuable. I’d be very sorry to see some of them around the country go. Wherever you might have lived during your life, you remember where the place was that people gathered for live music. When I see towns that don’t have a place like that, a hub of music where travelling bands would come in, it feels like it’s lacking something. If those small venues die, it would be a great shame.”
While he’s made do with alternatives to gigging for now, he’s also itching to get back to the real thing.
“I’ve tried the online streaming from my house,” he reflects. “It’s kind of awkward – and I was awkward enough already, before the advent of looking at a laptop. I haven’t done one of the socially-distanced gigs yet, but I have one planned for Kilkenny in August, in a quarry. I don’t know what to expect. You must be constantly aware of the fact that you’re socially-distanced. There’s something very unnatural about it. It’s too prescriptive. You’re trying to respect people who are in a more vulnerable situation than yourself, but it’s an on-edge, anxious scenario – which is not the ideal way to have an audience.”
And what he misses the most?
“The craic with the band,” he says. “The craic before, during and afterwards. Playing gigs is a great social thing to do. We have a nice thing going in the band, where we don’t use setlists. We play it how we feel. There’s not huge restrictions on what the band can play at any given time, so they’re free to jam away. That has its benefits, for a sense of expression.”
More recently, Mick has been expanding his sound through a musical partnership with the immensely talented Susan O’Neill, aka SON. Following the release of their first single, ‘Baby Talk’, earlier this year, plans are underway for a collaborative project.
“Susan did a couple of support gigs for me, and then we started to try co-writing,” he recalls. “I started to write songs with a project in mind, and Susan did too. Now we’ve a mixed bag of songs that we’ve written together, and songs we’ve written separately. We’re going to start recording it this summer, but with the timeline of things, it will probably be next year by the time we get to release it. There’s a semi-theme going through the whole thing – we’re playing the part of a couple, but things don’t always go so well for them.”
Throughout his career, Mick has been a notable champion of young and emerging artists. Over lockdown, he has continued to share his major platform with lesser-known musicians through his ‘Mini Gigs at Mick’s’ series – which showcased Emma Langford, Niall Connolly, John Blek, Niamh Regan and more
“I can’t really say that I’m all that altruistic, or that I’m some type of mass of empathy,” he laughs. “I’m pretty selfish and anti-social, really! But I am aware of how lucky I have been. People come to my gigs, so it’s a nice thing to be able to offer that audience to someone who might not yet have one for themselves. I’m just lucky to be in that position – and people were very nice to me when I was young.”
“And I’ve enjoyed meeting people, over my time of playing gigs around the country, and having different people playing support,” he continues. “Sometimes you meet someone that you click with, too – like myself and Lisa O’Neill. We did a good few gigs together. It was great to meet her. I love her writing, and I love her as a person as well.”
Of course, it’s the artists whose career momentum is only starting to take off that will feel the impact of the lockdown, and the loss of live gigs, the most: "There's nothing to beat experience, when it comes to gigs," Mick acknowledges. "You have to do the shit ones, and make all the mistakes."
All that can be done, he reckons, he to make the most out of a negative situation, and attempt to use the time constructively.
"I know this current situation has been forced upon them, but in a certain sense, this is the ideal scenario for people – to write what they may not have finished yet, or even to sit in a stupor and see what comes. Time to yourself is something that musicians often have to prescribe to themselves. You often hear of people, going away and self-quarantining when they want to write an album.
“But at the same time, I can’t say that it’s a good thing,” he adds. “There’s too many people being affected by this in a bad way.”
Indeed, the impact of lockdown on people’s mental health was part of the inspiration behind Mick’s decision to re-release his Mickmas EP Vol. 1 back in April, in aid of suicide prevention charity Pieta House.
“When the quarantine came in, I felt so lucky that I’m living with people that I really like,” he says. “Granted, it’s a rented house, but it’s still a house – there’s a spare room and a small back garden, so we can get away from each other if we need to. I felt lucky that I wasn’t in a small flat, in a relationship that has its storms.
“I’m reluctant to say this, but I enjoyed the quarantine,” he continues. “I found it useful for finishing songs. I did a couple of different co-writing things over the phone and over video call, and that was really good. I can’t say that it wasn’t productive.”
Alive – Cork Opera House 2019 is out now.
To celebrate the release, Mick Flannery plays a special live-streamed launch on Saturday, July 25, at 9pm. Tickets are available here.