Flan­nery the lat­est tal­ent from a city re­fus­ing to play sec­ond fid­dle

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

MICK FLAN­NERY’S cur­rent num­ber one al­bum sta­tus con­tin­ues a fine tra­di­tion of atyp­i­cal Cork mu­sic acts mak­ing a break­through. And yet again it’s em­pir­i­cal proof that it is a coun­try’s sec­ond city that usu­ally pro­duces the most in­ter­est­ing mu­sic. Flan­nery – although a rel­a­tively ortho­dox mu­si­cian – shares sim­i­lar­i­ties with other Cork lu­mi­nar­ies in that he is po­litely marginalised by the me­dia and has an un­com­pro­mis­ing ap­proach to his craft.

There are man­i­fold rea­sons why you should al­ways look to a coun­try’s sec­ond city (or be­yond) for its mu­si­cal heart­beat.

Cap­i­tal cities – be they Dublin or London – are too of­ten ham­strung by re­ceived no­tions of “cool­ness” and “fash­ion­abil­ity”.

Be­liev­ing them­selves to be in a cul­tural van­guard, cap­i­tal cities have a self-con­scious ap­proach and the re­la­tion­ship with the me­dia/ hang­ers-on with a wi-fi con­nec­tion can be too cosy and mu­tu­ally ad­mir­ing.

The star­burst of tal­ent that emerged out of Cork from the punk/new wave era and on­wards showed that the city shared none of Dublin’s earnest­ness and over­wrought sin­cer­ity. From Five Go Down To The Sea? and Mi­crodis­ney and up to The Frank and­wal­ters and The Sul­tans Of Ping, there was a quirk­i­ness – if not an artis­tic bloody-mind­ed­ness – in the way these acts sketched their mu­si­cal vi­sions.

Freed from the claus­tro­pho­bic Dublin scene, they de­vel­oped as and how they saw fit with no quar­ter given to con­sid­er­a­tions of what was “on trend”. And, in Mick Flan­nery, Cork has an­other artist of sin­gu­lar vi­sion – some­one who has am­bi­tions be­yond hav­ing his name dropped on some MP3 site.

In many ways, Cork is Ire­land’s Manch­ester. And Manch­ester isn’t even Bri­tain’s sec­ond city. That’s Birm­ing­ham – the home of Bri­tish rock. That city and its im­me­di­ate en­vi­rons have given us Led Zep­pelin, Joan Ar­ma­trad­ing, The Spe­cials, Slade and so many more. Both Birm­ing­ham and Manch­ester have shaped and shifted the Bri­tish mu­si­cal sound far more than London. The Dublin in­dier­atti would have scorned the way The Frank and Wal­ters (the most un­der­es­ti­mated Ir­ish band of all time) set about their pure pop mu­sic. Grand Pa­rade is one of the best Ir­ish al­bums of all time and would prob­a­bly be recog­nised as such if they had spent half their ca­reer drink­ing with mu­sic jour­nal­ists in Whe­lan’s. Which they didn’t. The Sul­tans Of Ping wouldn’t have got out of the start­ing blocks in Dublin. The Dublin com­men­tariat would have given them the Crys­tal Swing treat­ment.

But lis­ten again to the power and ur­gency of their early work. This was quite a beau­ti­ful sound. And you can ex­pect their Where’s Me Jumper? to chart all over again this com­ing Septem­ber for rea­sons which will soon be­come clear.

In them­selves Mi­crodis­ney were a for­mi­da­ble band but to­gether with the acts they split into – Fa­tima Man­sions and The High Lla­mas – they form a tri­umvi­rate of tal­ent that is lit­tle ap­pre­ci­ated.

In his ex­cel­lent book about the city’s mu­si­cal im­por­tance, Cork Rock, au­thor Mark Mcavoy gets Mi­crodis­ney’s Sean O’hagan to pin­point ex­actly why the mu­si­cal scene flour­ished to such a rich de­gree: “Cork was bizarre. Cork back then was much stranger than it is now. It was very iso­lated and sur­real, full of char­ac­ter and strange­ness. It wasn’t plugged into the world in those days. That’s why all those good mu­si­cal things hap­pened, be­cause it wasn’t plugged in. There seemed to be quite a lot of fairly open and lat­eral think­ing.”

Whether it be Bris­tol (Mas­sive At­tack, Por­tishead, Tricky) or Detroit (Tamla Mo­town/techno), be­ing ge­o­graph­i­cally and cul­tur­ally re­moved from the no­tional epi­cen­tre fa­cil­i­tates bet­ter art.

In Dublin’s de­fence you can make the case that the shadow cast by U2 dark­ened hopes of mu­si­cal in­ven­tion as a clutch of wannabes clut­tered up the city’s re­hearsal spa­ces and venues but the point re­mains: you don’t look to a coun­try’s cap­i­tal city for it’s real mu­si­cal beat. De­spite what that cap­i­tal city may like you to be­lieve.

Mick Flan­nery: sec­ond city sound

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