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'It's an attempt at empathy' - Mick Flannery on his new single in aid of domestic abuse victims

Singer-songwriter Mick Flannery talks to Sarah Caden about a musician’s life in uncertain times, and the release of his new single, ‘Run A Mile’, in aid of domestic abuse victims

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Mick Flannery's new song 'Run A Mile' is out now

Mick Flannery's new song 'Run A Mile' is out now

Cork-born Mick Flannery

Cork-born Mick Flannery

The recording of Mick Flannery's latest album has been put on hold

The recording of Mick Flannery's latest album has been put on hold

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Mick Flannery's new song 'Run A Mile' is out now

'I live my life day-to-day as it is," says Cork-born singer-songwriter Mick Flannery, over the phone from his home outside Ennis. "I fumble through the day. I'm not a good planner. Maybe that will stand to me in a situation like this."

The day we speak, lockdown is still in full effect, and he's using his time for writing and woodworking. There's a shed in the garden, he says, where he's making furniture out of pallets. An outdoor bench and table have been completed so far, sanded and varnished.

"Upcycling, is that what they call it?" says Mick, who tells me he was a builder of treehouses when he was young. "It takes a while. I like doing it."

Lockdown is not proving hard on Mick, though recording of an album in the US this summer has been put on hold and he'll have to improve his computer skills if he's going to adapt.

"I try not to think about it too much," he says, of how the coronavirus crisis has pulled the rug from under musicians and artists in general. "I take it day-by-day. That's how this business is; there's always the unknown. The music industry forces you to be kind of day-by-day anyway. Because it doesn't really care about what your dreams and plans are. You can work hard, but there's a huge element of luck as to what are achievable goals.

"To a degree, [lockdown] is the kind of thing hipster musicians do. They have an album and they're asked how did it happen and they say: 'Oh, I locked myself away in a hut and had no contact with anyone'. That's what this is."

Blarney-born Flannery has lived in Ennis for six years. His girlfriend lives there, that was the draw, but he mostly keeps to himself, he says. He's not being cranky, he's simply explaining further how being confined to barracks really is no hardship, yet.

"I don't get out much in Ennis," Flannery says. "I don't know many people. I was really doing a lot of gigs before this. You'd do a gig, you'd have a few pints after and then, when you get home, you don't feel like going out to the pub. I've had my calorie quota by the time I get home, so I don't really have a huge social life here."

Describing himself as a "bit of a Luddite", Flannery says that this is going to catch up with him soon, professionally. "I was never willing to make the time investment into becoming computer literate," he says. "I was directing my energy towards writing songs."

He's ordered some basic kit now, he admits, just the tech tools to allow him record a couple of tracks, to allow him engage with the team in the US with whom he should be on site, recording. "Decentralised recording," he describes it, slightly bemused and not necessarily enamoured of it.

"I'll miss playing gigs and seeing the band," he admits. "I already do, and if this goes on, as it's likely to, I'll have more of a hankering for it.

"People that were gigging musicians," Mick goes on, "their income was based on the weekends and on a circuit. And that's a big loss. And then a lot of the staff around the country, sound engineers, riggers, lighting engineers, they're part of the mechanisms of the business, who don't have the outlet to work on a cache of songs and make use of this time. Being isolated, for me, outside in the country in Ennis, is really no hardship."

There's no way Mick Flannery is going to get self-pitying or self-indulgent about what lockdown is doing to him. There are plenty of people far worse off, is his position, and it's this ability to put himself in the heads of others, to write from perspectives other than his own, that has won him fans all over the world.

He's talking - slightly reluctantly, as is his wont - about Run a Mile, a song written from the perspective of a woman suffering domestic abuse, which will be released to benefit Women's Aid. It's a song he wrote some time ago, which never really found its place or time until now.

"I had the song and I didn't know what to do with it. It didn't live easily on the last album because there were a couple of songs that didn't marry well with the theme.

"It's an attempt at empathy," explains Mick, who excels at this in his songwriting. "I'm the man who tried to write a song from the point of view of a woman suffering this kind of abuse. It was an exploration, I guess."

The song was one he'd had for some time, and before the Covid crisis ever kicked off, Mick had collaborated with Samantha Scaffidi (pictured above, top left) a Brooklyn-based director, on making a video for the song.

His manager had worked with Samantha previously and felt there might be a professional simpatico between the pair. Mick's manager, Sheena Keane, sent Run a Mile to Samantha, and it resonated with her immediately, as a survivor of domestic abuse.

I speak to Samantha about the collaboration with Mick as she sits in lockdown in Brooklyn. When she looks out her window, Samantha says, she can see traffic and people and the world looks relatively normal, but then she goes down to the street and it's really not. Still, Samantha acknowledges, she feels lucky to be safe and well.

"The issue is close to the vest for me," says Samantha of Run a Mile. "I've never made a statement per se, but I lived it and I know it from my own experience and went through it and, after that, I found directing as a vocation. You don't want to make your life about that thing, but this stuff just comes to me and I willingly embrace it.

"You think you're in control, but the universe says, 'No, this is part of why you're here'."

Samantha regards the beauty of the song as its power, its ability to rouse empathy for the young woman abused, its ability to operate as a call to action.

The day I speak to both Mick and Samantha, the Garda Siochana announces that domestic abuse calls have increased 20pc since lockdown began. Women's Aid, who will be the beneficiaries of all monies raised by Run a Mile also announce that they are dealing with more people in distress since we were confined to our homes.

The song, Samantha says, was never going to financially benefit Mick; he was always very clear about that. The video, she says, tells the story of the song, but they are hoping to "round it out" into a more complete short film before its release, ideally with survivors of abuse reacting to the song and sharing their stories.

"There's something about Mick that is very powerful and unique and special," Samantha says. "He takes issues that he may not have experienced, but he has such compassion and an empathetic way of conveying it. It was emotional for me to work on this song, and I was so moved that he could bring it alive as a call for action through this medium."

Samantha says the world of lockdown means you have to think of new ways to make things happen, and her industry is very much frozen at the time we speak. "It would be naive not to worry about money right now," says Samantha, "but there is a greater context here."

Run a Mile has been around a while in Mick Flannery's cache of songs. "The conditions now have made it so much more important," Mick says. "I can hardly imagine what it must be like to be in abusive situation now. You think about it and you have to acknowledge how lucky you are to live with people who love you."

That's as effusive as you'll get from Mick, a man who favours letting the music speak for itself.

"I don't like the talking because I'm embarrassed by myself," Mick says, admitting he might be a bit hard on himself. "I find it much easier to stand over the things I have thought a lot about. When I write a song, I spend a long time over it and I'm happy to sing it a thousand times. But when you speak off the cuff, and when you listen back, you think that it's not very thoughtful, that you sound like an idiot.

"Ten years ago," he adds, "the thought of this phone call would have been much more difficult, but over time I've got more used to it and take myself less seriously. Even talking on stage used to terrify me, but you get older and you realise that no one really cares. You're being your own worst enemy.

"It's always in the back of my head that I don't want to thought of as some type of talking-head talking," Mick says with a laugh. "I guess I'd rather have more time to contemplate what I want to say."

Run a Mile has been a long time in contemplation, and now, its time has come.

'Run a Mile', a new song from Mick Flannery, with a video directed by Samantha Scaffidi of Smuggler Productions, is now available on all streaming platforms. All proceeds for the sale and streams of 'Run a Mile' will be donated to Women's Aid - the national organisation working to stop domestic violence against women and children

Sunday Indo Life Magazine