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