Ready for the launch
Pádraig Byrne chats with Cork songsmith Mick Flannery who plays an intimate show in Wexford this weekend before returning for a date in the Spiegeltent on Wexford Quayfront in October
Rightfully holding a place in the pantheon of great contemporary Irish songwriters, Mick Flannery's latest eponymously titled album is due to hit the shelves this Friday, July 5. No stranger to Wexford, the unassuming Cork man returns to the model county this Sunday for a special intimate show at The Sky & The Ground, before returning to The Spiegeltent in October.
Serving as a promotional tool for the new album, those who have pre-ordered Mick's latest release at Golden Discs in Wexford will be presented with a wristband granting access to the intimate show and one at which he's looking forward to playing some new material, as well as the classics.
Notoriously shy and unassuming, self-promotion is perhaps not Mick's strongest suit. With streaming services seemingly decimating the earning power of musicians, they've been required to box clever. Limited access album launch shows could be an example of this and perhaps Flannery is a little ahead of the curve in that regard.
'I think it's one of those shows alright,' he says.
'It's basically a promotional tool. It's kind of what people do now to get a good first week of sales for the album.'
On the impact of streaming services like Spotify, typically Mick seems relatively unconcerned and is happy to continue as he always has.
'I think everything was in the process of changing when I started to do gigs first,' he said. 'There was the switch to digital and the generation above me were kind of saying "Oh f**k, everything is falling apart!". I never had that nostalgia for the good old days, so I was just happy to be gigging away and doing my thing.'
'The thing with Spotify and that is it's quite capitalistic isn't it?' he ponders. 'They're allowed to be as greedy as possible, just shy of complete revolt. It's a complicated one. As a musician, my point of view can be skewed on it. I just feel lucky not to be working a day job. It's hard for me to think a musician should be a millionaire just by playing some music recorded in their bedroom. Most musicians just want to write a decent song and get a kick from a positive reaction to that. In some cases, they'll allow themselves to be exploited just to achieve that kick.'
Having ended up jumping in at the deep end of things, debating the ills of the modern music industry, taking a breath Mick says he's greatly looking forward to returning to Wexford and showing off some new songs.
'I love getting to Wexford,' he said.
'I come every year for gigs. In October I'll be playing the Spiegeltent and I think that's my third time!? It's a really nice setting and I think it's nice for the audience to experience something different - me playing in a big wooden tent!'
As well as having the new album hitting the shelves, Mick has also been dipping a toe in the field of musicals recently. Although he may shudder at the notion of the traditional musical, Mick's debut album 'Evening Train' started life as just that, before developing into a thoroughly engaging concept album about two brothers, a girl and a game of cards. A full production, complete with Mick, a band and actors, it enjoyed a well-received ten night run in The Everyman Theatre in his native Cork concluding just a couple of weeks ago.
'It was great,' he said. 'Evening Train did start out as a musical and I gave up on it then and turned it into a concept album. Writing dialogue was difficult for me. I couldn't help but feel that all the dialogue I wrote was cheesy bulls**t!'
Some 14 years after the album's release, with the help of Clare playwright and former UCC student Ursula Rani Sarma, and 'Evening Train' has wowed audiences in its stage debut. But the question is, will we be seeing it in The National Opera House any time soon?
'The whole stage thing is a weird game,' Mick says. 'It's so expensive that really you need funding to make it work. It doesn't add up to make a profit...not that that's the only goal, but you're giving up fifteen days of your life to put this thing on. If it's up to me by myself, I can't see it making it around the country, but if there's some help and support available, maybe it's a possibility.'
In many ways, Mick's latest album (three years on from 'I Own You') draws on the same creative space as his debut album did all the way back in 2005.
'It's kind of another concept album,' Mick says of his latest work. 'A lot of the songs are to do with an ambitious character in the music industry.'
'They do all the right things at first to get ahead and then things go a bit pear-shaped and they're forced to sacrifice their relationship. In the end they're left wondering if it's all worth it. You know...it's your standard happy summer music,' he laughs.
While a lot of artists five albums into their careers are guilty of settling for the familiar, this time out Mick has made some changes to his process and he thinks maybe there will be a surprise or two for fans on there.
'I've done some things differently this time. There's two or three songs on there that are different to normal...so I'm looking forward to seeing how much hate they get,' he smiles.
'There's a few different things on there, there's even a couple of choruses which is not like me at all!'
Traditionally wary of collaborations, Mick even brought in some writers to work with him on some of the songs.
'It can be difficult to sit down and write with someone else,' he said. 'If I'm doing it, it can't be with someone who's too like me or it doesn't work. If they're too shy and reserved and careful, you'll get nothing from it. I was approached by these guys ESCQ from America and this one guy came in and was really excited about the whole thing. He wasn't interested in who the f**k I was or anything like that and I went along with it. He was a sound dude and when you let yourself go and get into it, it's great craic.'
Speaking of doing something different, atypically Mick has released a remix of one of the songs from the new album 'Come Find Me', which was overseen by his song-writing partners ESCQ.
'That song was written with them,' he explains.
'We did the version that was more "me" and then they did their own kind of Ibiza version. I was a bit scared of it and it's a bit overproduced, but it's a bit of craic.'
When it was pointed out how acts like Gavin James have benefited from remixes in the past, Mick gets even more shy about it.
'I'd be modest and I'd hate people to think that's what I was going for,' he smiles. 'It's the cynics that I'm more worried about.'
With a serious following in Wexford, it seems that there are very few cynics here when it comes to Mick Flannery's work thus far. To gain access to the exclusive, intimate Sky & The Ground Show (kicking off at 6 p.m.) pre-order his album and Golden Discs and collect your wrist band to show on the night. Spaces are extremely limited, so you'll have to act fast. Should you miss out, fear not! Mick returns to The Spiegeltent on October 12 and tickets are now available from www.wexfordspiegeltent.com.
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