Monday 23 April 2018

Come in to the sound

Stockton's Wing front man, Mike Hanrahan tells John Manning how much the band is looking forward to playing the Seamus Ennis Arts Centre

Stockton’s Wing are all set to play at the Piper’s Garden
Stockton’s Wing are all set to play at the Piper’s Garden

On Friday night the legendary Stockton's Wing will 'walk in around' and invite you 'into the sound' as they play The Piper's Garden at the Seamus Ennis Centre for a very special Gig in the Garden.

The band have been crossing the traditional and the contemporary for 40 years now and exciting audiences across Ireland and the world with a unique fusion of the two genres.

This summer sees the band tour for the first time in a very long time to mark their 40th anniversary and Stockton's Wing singer, Mike Hanrahan spoke to the Fingal Independent about their upcoming appearances at the Naul venue where he is no stranger.

Mike said: 'I've played the Seamus Ennis Centre in a few guises over the years, but never with Stockton's Wing. I've played there with Brendan Begley and with Lesie Dowdall and Eleanor Shanley.

'The audiences there really love their music and it's great they have a such a beautiful place to go and enjoy their music.'

Mike who has played just about every venue of note in the country, has high praise for the Seamus Ennis Arts Centre and is particularly looking forward to playing the new outdoor venue which he got a look at last year and was suitably impressed with the space.

The Stockton's Wing front man also had plenty of good things to say about the management and staff of the Naul arts venue which he said 'just get it' and make this special local venue 'an absolute pleasure to play' for musicians.

Stockton's Wing were quite a late addition to the bill on Friday night in a real coup for the venue and Mike explained that when the band got the invitation to play from director of the venue, Sean Paul O'Hare, they had no hesitation in accepting the gig.

The band are in the middle of a summer tour around the country to celebrate their 40th anniversary and coincidentally are finding that many of the festivals they are playing this summer are also celebrating 40 years in the business which points to the fact that in the 70s and 80s, exciting things were happening on the Irish music scene.

Mike hopes a bring a taste of those times to the Naul, saying: 'I hope the audience on Friday night get a sense of what it was like back in the 80s when it was really exciting and a lot of exciting things were happening in Irish music. We get a lot of our fans from times gone by at the gigs and they are bringing younger people along with them and they are getting into it.'

While mixing traditional Irish music with rock and pop is something a number of artists take on these days, it was a fairly revolutionary idea when Stockton's Wing started, as Mike explained: 'We were definitely trend setters but that was a period of time in the late 70s and 80s when there was so much creativity going on in Irish music.'

He said the band was 'lucky enough' to hook up with producer PJ Curtis and sound engineer Brian Masterson and stretch themselves in the studio, to uncover their own unique sound.

For many people, that unique sound is encapsulated by perhaps their most enduring song - 'Beautiful Affair'. While many bands come to see their most popular tunes as something of a millstone around their necks, that is not the case for Mike and this song.

He explained: 'You couldn't not enjoy playing that song in a room of a 1,000 people and when the band stop playing, the entire room continues with the song - you can't buy a feeling like that. Why would you turn your back on something like that? If I judged that song in friendship terms, it would be my best pal - it has taken me everywhere.'

Mike still remembers recording the song, which has scarcely been off the radio ever since. He said that the band recorded the song with producer, PJ Curtis and there was 'magic in the studio at that time'.

The result was not only their most enduring hit, but their seminal third album, 'Light in the Western Sky' which defined the band's sound.

That was in 1982 and 35 years later, Mike said the band had 'nothing left to prove to anyone' and at last he was able to reflect on what Stockton's Wing achieved and be comfortable saying: 'We actually did a great job.'

That feeling of a band relaxed with its achievements and comfortable with its place in the canon of Irish music is permeating this tour and Mike said that after 40 years they are just enjoying getting out in front of audiences again.

'We are not trying to take over the world anymore. We are really enjoying touring again because it is not something we went after - it came to us and we are embracing it and loving it.

'When we were younger we were completely focussed on the band and on touring and it was a hectic life - it's much more relaxed now.'

The band that will take to the Naul stage on Friday night will feature regular members, Mike Hanrahan, Paul Roche, Steve Cooney and Tommy Hayes and the band will be joined by two young Clare musicians in Tara Breen and Karol Lynch.

Mike was effusive in his praise for the two young members of the touring band and promised that the Naul audience was 'in for a treat', listening to these young talents.

He said: Tara grew up with our music - she plays with The Chieftans at the moment and is an incredible musician. The people of the Naul are in for a treat listening to her, I think she is a class above most of the fiddle players I know.'

Karol was described as a 'great banjo man' from Clare who also plays mandolin on the tour and is a hugely talented musician who also keeps the band firmly rooted in its home county.

Getting back on the road has been a serious shift in gear for Mike Hanrahan who these days, is more often found in the kitchen than on stage.

He trained in Ballymaloe House as an organic chef and then became a teacher there before moving on to cook in a number of restaurants around the country.

Mike told the Fingal Independent: 'It is a shift in gear but I was planning on getting back into music anyway. I never stopped playing, I just stopped dedicating my life to it and needed a break from it.'

While Stockton's Wing have been getting together on and off in recent years to play one-off gigs, this is the first time in a very long time they have toured together and Mike said that has brought a 'more focus to what we are doing and the band are more into it'.

He promised a healthy dose of hits from the band's vast back catalogue as well as a few surprises on what promises to be a very special night.

The band's lead singer said: 'We are doing the back catalogue and there are quite a few albums to choose from. We are not here to take over the world, just to play and have a good time - it's going to be really great.' Mike is also excited to be joined on the bill by the likes of Ulaid and Duke Special and is a fan of both of these unique acts.

The Stockton's Wing front man has been familiar with the music of Ulaid for a long time and is looking forward to hearing them in the Naul. He also described Duke Special as an 'incredibly special talent' who he was happy to meet a couple of years ago and spend a few nights in Dublin talking to him about music.

Stockton's Wing headline the next Gig in the Garden on Friday night, August 11 at the Piper's Garden, bringing their 'Beautiful Affair' to the Seamus Ennis Arts Centre on a bill that is packed with talent and looks like being an unforgettable night on the band's 40th anniversary tour.

Friday night also sees another blending of styles as the contemporary song-writer and performer, Duke Special joins forces with traditional group, Ulaid to bring a unique sound to the equally unique Naul venue.

On Saturday night, a man that has earned a place in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame comes to the Naul stage in the shape of 60s icon, Donovan. It is a 'real coup' for the arts centre to be able to bring Donovan to the Naul for the Gigs in the Garden summer series and it's a performance not to be missed.

Donovan is supported by The Whileaways and you can find out more about both gigs and book your tickets at

Fingal Independent