You have to remind yourself that Mick Flannery is still very young. It feels like he’s been around for ages. I saw him first in the Half Moon Theatre some years ago, seated at a piano playing a solo set in support of Niall Connolly. Someone told me later he was twenty, I didn’t believe them.
Now as 2010 draws to a close, Flannery is the ripe old age of 26, with a string of awards and nominations behind him and working on his third album. If you were to listen to his voice alone on his records, you could easily mistake him for a world weary crooner that has seen a few too many bars and damaged relationships in his time. In person though, Mick still has the glint in his eye that reveals his age and is still caught firmly in the throes of a career that is both exciting and uncertain.
Starting with the concept album that was Evening Train (a series of connected characters and stories ran through the record), Mick was signed to EMI Ireland in 2007 and he released the award-winning White Lies. It was a big step up for the Blarney man, one which he took in his stride and despite the grumblings from many artists about the drawbacks of big labels, Mick is able to acknowledge the benefits.
“There’s a lot of things a label like EMI can do for you that are very difficult otherwise,” he says. “It give you a bit of clout and opens doors that would be tough to open on your own. It’s still down to me though to deliver the songs, they can’t really help you there.” Delivering the songs for the next album has been proving trickier than the songwriter might have expected however. EMI asked him who he would like to work with on the album, and despite (very tongue-in-cheekily) requesting the services of Rick Rubin or Daniel Lanois, Mick decided to go it alone and act as his own producer. It is a decision he is now regretting. “Hindsight is nice, but you do need someone there to keep a bit of structure on what’s going on,” he offers. “I didn’t rein myself in and just kept writing songs. I think the label got a shock when I sent them the first recordings. It was all over the place – bits of songs and some of them just had the music, more ideas than anything else. I don’t think they were too happy.
“Basically they told me to go away and bring them back an album, with a couple of poppy singles on it. I don’t like doing this. I don’t write poppy singles. But the lads in the band pointed out a song and said ‘put a skirt on that’. So we’ll try.”
There is a streak in Mick that doesn’t like playing the game. For a long time, he has been told to ‘work on his stage presence’. Anyone who has ever attended a Mick Flannery concert will know that the man comes across as painfully shy on stage and you imagine would seem quite comfortable playing the whole gig with his back to the crowd. It is a self-consciousness that is taking a while to grind out of him. Most people assume the very fact that a person is on stage implies they love the spotlight. It is not always the case. “I’ve never really got the hang on the between-song banter. It feels wrong to me to be repeating the same shit, night after night, totally staged.” I point out to him that its perhaps what people expect of their songwriters, a little personal insight and something that is really part of the show.
“Maybe,” he says, “but funnily enough having the band there with me puts me off talking about anything remotely personal. Those guys know me well, I don’t feel comfortable with it. I find it easier to talk to a big audience, people who don’t know me, about personal things when I’m doing a solo gig than a small audience with the band on stage.” The label has also encouraged him to open up a bit live, but there’s also a certain charm about a performer who you have to dig a little deeper with to get to know. Mick is spending some of December in Boston and New York before his Cork gig at The Pavilion, travelling to the US with former Rubyhorse frontman, David Farrell. Bob Dylan’s tour manager has been invited to one of his Boston gigs and the chance to play with one of his heroes is something that he smiles at. “Yeah, it would be nice alright, but sure we’ll see what happens . . .”
Mick Flannery plays The Pavilion on December 22