“I hate the word ‘artist’, I pre­fer to use ‘maker’. When you’re do­ing it, you get so self­in­volved . . . I’m an artist only in stone”

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

A WHILE BACK, a Ukrainian stone­ma­son used to work along­side Mick Flannery in the work­shop where the Blar­ney singer-song­writer earns his crust. Aside from pro­duc­ing ex­quis­ite al­bums such as Red to Blue, Flannery is also an ex­pe­ri­enced stone­ma­son who turns out fire­places, gates, foun­tains and other pieces.

“The Ukrainian lad used to call me ‘Mickey, Mickey, no speaky’,” says Flannery, re­mem­ber­ing his work­mate. “He used to al­ways say ‘speak and we lis­ten’ or ‘too much think­ing, you go crazy’. He had my num­ber all right.”

Flannery leans back in his chair in a Dublin ho­tel lobby and grins. All the ad­vance word about the singer-song­writer points to a silent, tac­i­turn, grumpy, shy in­di­vid­ual. Yet he also knows how to tell a good yarn against him­self, when the oc­ca­sion calls for it.

It’s safe to say that Flannery does not con­form to type. For in­stance, since Red to Blue was re­leased ear­lier in the year, he hasn’t been do­ing the dog with live shows up and down the coun­try.

“I did loads and loads of gigs for the last al­bum and it was too much. It was head­less chicken stuff,” he ex­plains. “Ev­ery two weeks, you’d get a call telling you about a cou­ple of more gigs and you never knew where you stood. This time, I said to Lor­can [En­nis, his man­ager] that I wanted to do it dif­fer­ently and that’s what has hap­pened.

“I still do the bit of stone work and we’ve a fair bit of stuff on for the sum­mer so I can’t al­ways go and drop ev­ery­thing to do a ra­dio thing that comes up. If I was left to my own de­vices, I’d say I’d have to be forced into it.

“It’s a kind of ap­a­thy where I’m con­tent to drift through what­ever is go­ing to hap­pen and not have ex­pec­ta­tions. Some of the lads in the band would be talk­ing to me about things I should do or peo­ple I should talk to over in Eng­land who might be able to do some­thing for me. But I have ab­so­lutely no in­ter­est. I just go ‘yeah, yeah’ and do noth­ing about it. I don’t know why that is.”

Yet there are some things which Flannery treats with the ut­most se­ri­ous­ness.

“I love the song­writ­ing. The cre­ation is the nicest part: it’s some­thing you al­ways have and you can use it to work through stuff that’s in your head. You have to take it se­ri­ously if it’s go­ing to be any good.

“The rest of it is van­ity, I think. You see some­one on a stage and think ‘I can do bet­ter than that fel­low’.

“I did a post-Leav­ing Cert mu­sic course in Cork and we did this ex­er­cise in the song­writ­ing class where you put ran­dom words to­gether to come up with a verse and cho­rus. It was like a com­pe­ti­tion and I re­mem­ber want­ing to be the best at that. I as­pire to the level of the peo­ple I think are the best writ­ers. There’s no point in do­ing it oth­er­wise.”

When Flannery was start­ing out, the best writer, in his opin­ion, was Tom Waits.

His fas­ci­na­tion with the gravel-voiced, vaudeville boho was due to the Kerry un­cles on his mother’s side singing Tom Waits’ songs in the pub. “When I was young, I wanted to be like those un­cles. They sang Tom Waits’ songs so I wanted to do that too.”

He was also at­tracted by Waits’ “put-on gruff­ness and the Amer­i­can ac­cent and that type of lyri­cal ap­proach. Just the way he is. He is not too flowery, but he is rock­ing in his own sim­ple way”.

Waits was also a role model for what Flannery thought be­ing a mu­si­cian was about.

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing those ro­man­tic no­tions of what an artist should be, that I was sup­posed to be lost and out­side ev­ery­thing, like all these fel­lows I was read­ing. I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘I’m not go­ing to work in an of­fice’ and was go­ing to live this bo­hemian life. I’ve of­ten drunk too much, but I don’t think I’ve done it to the same de­gree as Charles Bukowski did.”

Grow­ing up in Blar­ney, Flannery says he was as shy then as he is now. “I didn’t have a huge bank of friends and I didn’t seek out any mu­si­cians. I was too self-con­scious to write or try out ideas in front of an­other per­son.

“I was in a band with three friends of mine but they weren’t as into it as I was. It was just an ex­cuse for them to get to­gether – mu­sic in­ter­fered with their so­cial life. Af­ter that, I was never afraid to call the shots and get peo­ple to play my tunes and put my name on things and get peo­ple to play how I wanted them to play.

“I’m stub­born more than dog­matic. I think that comes from my dad’s side, that ‘why isn’t this hap­pen­ing? Can I make it hap­pen?’ thing.”

Flannery may talk about ap­a­thy, but he knows his ac­tions con­tra­dict this. “I know there’s a hyp­o­crit­i­cal side to it. Here I am, trav­el­ling up to Dublin to do this in­ter­view and go­ing on about ap­a­thy. But I don’t want to let the record la­bel or Lor­can down. There’s a lot of peo­ple work­ing be­hind the scenes to get stuff done and when there’s no rea­son that I can’t do some­thing then I should do it.

“I’ve never been very self-pro­mo­tional or am­bi­tious, but at the start, I did send off CDs to com­pe­ti­tions and set up a few gigs. Be­cause things went well and peo­ple paid at­ten­tion, I went ‘oh shit’ and re­treated to the shad­ows a lit­tle.”

With three al­bums to his name, Flannery has be­come used to at­ten­tion from all quar­ters. “A lot of it is dis­pro­por­tion­ate, con­sid­er­ing the style of mu­sic I do. It’s not main­stream mu­sic. Some­one will come up to me gush­ing about a song I’ve writ­ten and how much it means to them. I’ll say ‘thank you very much’ and then I’ll for­get about it be­cause of­ten, they see the song in a way which wasn’t my in­ten­tion. I try not to think about it too much.

“Have I ever gushed to some­one? I’d of­ten give some­one a com­pli­ment say­ing I liked that line or that lyric. I feel it for the song rather than the per­son. But gush­ing wouldn’t be my forte.”

He winces when peo­ple de­scribe him as an artist. “I hate the word ‘artist’, I pre­fer to use ‘maker’. When you’re do­ing it, you get so self­in­volved. Some of the wor­ries are so ob­ses­sive and ridicu­lous. You get into some stupid lines of think­ing. It re­minds me of a spoilt

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