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A cliché has it that you have to beware of the
quiet ones, because most of the time their voices speak
sharper and with more range than the loudmouths. Every
cliché, however, has a grain of truth in it,
and so it's fair to say that while County Cork singer-songwriter
Mick Flannery is outwardly reserved, his songs are fluent
in expressing layered aspects of the human condition,
its flaws, triumphs, and general uncertainty.
An award-winning, double-platinum selling artist, Mick
Flannery has not only released his self-titled sixth
album (debuting at No. 1 in Ireland), but also oversaw
the worldwide premiere of the stage musical, Evening
Train (so named after his 2007 debut album). He began
to write songs as a teenager in his home of Blarney,
County Cork. As musical influences from albums by the
likes of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and
Tom Waits seeped into his creative DNA, Mick absorbed,
learned and honed the craft that would send him on his
way into the world. The path was smoothed somewhat when,
at the age of 19, he became the first Irish songwriter
to win the Nashville-based International Songwriting
Competition. By the time he turned 21, he had signed
to a major label and released his debut album.
With his latest release, Mick touches on loose themes
of ambition and the search for a meaningful life in
the context of a musician's sometimes feckless and dysfunctional
lifestyle. The central character, he reveals, is someone
like him, "although this person achieves more notoriety
than I have. He is properly famous, and he has to deal
with that." The loose theme is just that, however.
"I'm not going to hammer it home. Facets of the
theme are on the album, but the storyline itself isn't
an overarching one - each song can stand on its own,
and not need to be part of a narrative."
Songs on the album reference reputation and ego (Wasteland),
emotional search and rescue (Come Find Me), socio-cultural
intransigence (I've Been Right), flawed or unreliable
love (How I Miss You, Way Things Go), moral collapse
(Light A Fire) and loss of status Star to Star. Whether
or not the listener locks onto the themes or topics
is irrelevant, says Mick. "There are a few relationship
songs on the album that don't necessarily marry into
anything; I see them as a background thing, although
Threading a line throughout is Mick's uncanny knack
for blending melody with thought-provoking lyrics. Now
in his mid-30s, and somewhat reflective of the musician
he sings about on his self-titled album, Mick is fully
aware of the internal struggles that come with trying
to balance ambitions with whatever life throws their
"What happens to a person, sometimes, is that
they attach self-worth to their career, and once the
career fails then self-worth also plummets. The more
weight you put into this persona you're trying to be,
you set yourself up for a bigger fall. It's the danger
of having big ambitions that are based on the external
rather the internal."
Mick Flannery has, of course, experienced and processed
enough in the past fifteen years to know what his views
are. He smiles when he says that for the sake of the
songs he ever so slightly embroiders certain facts for
"Obviously, I don't equate to the levels of conflict
I'm describing in the songs. I know the spectrum because
of how reserved I am, and how - in my years of being
in the music industry, and through varying levels of
being noticed - it can change your life a bit. You're
not anonymous in certain places, and when that modifies
your behaviour things can happen to you that are unknown
to the general public. It's a strange thing, a balancing
act. Most of the time, however, I can go out for a quiet
night and not be recognised. I wouldn't want to give
up that freedom."
Such freedom is hard earned and comes at a price, yet
Mick wouldn't dream of giving up songwriting. Why would
he when, he says, it's getting easier.
"I mess around with all sorts of ways to write
a song - silly songs, impromptu songs, joke songs that
I co-write with a buddy of mine in America. We have
about 200 of them by this point. I'm a little bit addicted
to it, I think; it is certainly my favourite thing,
and I'd like to keep doing it. I put a lot of hours
into the craft, and it would be a shame to change tack.
I like the merging of lyrics and melodies. I have a
passion and a facility for it, which I know I'm lucky
This self-titled release is Mick's sixth album - that
is a sizeable back catalogue, a genuine body of work.
For live shows, he says, it's comforting.
"I remember feeling at the beginning of my performing
career that I didn't have an armoury of material. If
a gig wasn't going well, I knew there was no cavalry
of songs coming over the hill to rescue it. Different
songs call in different moods, and at the start all
I had was a handful."
He has six times that now, with decades ahead for many
more, whatever his age. Mick has long since disregarded
the view that anyone over the age of 30 has little to
write about. "The outside perception is that the
people who buy music are young, that the music they
buy is what gets played on the radio. There's such a
wealth of experience in older people, however, that's
as valid as anything a young songwriter brings."
As a mature songwriter, he reasons, he's trying to
hold on to what is essential to him, and resigning himself
to the fact that the naïve, passionate 20-something
'Mick Flannery' is gone. What comes next, he contends,
is much more interesting and experienced. "You
have a larger worldview and are more learned, each of
which combine to create something new."
At the core of it all is a precise and skilled art
form, of which the album is a fine, individualistic
example from a songwriter who still aims to knock the
competition out of the frame.
"When I mess about with songs, with choruses,"
explains Mick, "I try to write the best ones. It's
like a kid kicking around a football on the street -
he wants to be Lionel Messi, not a player in a lower
division. It's hard to kill off that level of ambition
- I just want to be good at the craft."
Beware of the quiet ones? You have been duly advised.