IT’S the morning after the first of a three-night residency at Live at St Luke’s and Mick Flannery is enjoying a restorative cup of coffee in the warm sunshine.
It’s a particularly exciting moment for the Cork musician. July will herald the release of his sixth album, but in the meantime he will enjoy the rare honour of the staging of his debut album, Evening Train, as it premieres at the Everyman Theatre as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.
Adapted for theatre by Clare writer and former UCC student Ursula Rani Sarma, Evening Train the musical brings to life characters created by Flannery for a concept album he created in 2005 as part of a project undertaken while attending the Music, Management and Sound course at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa.
“I didn’t even know what I was doing really,” he told Downtown in 2008, yet here is Evening Train, now about to be launched on stage and re-released on vinyl.
“When I listen to the recording I get embarrassed by my accent on it. There are Americanisms and twang I’m still trying to get rid of. But I like it. I had to listen to it the other day. You know you have to listen to the vinyl test pressings. I kind of rarely listen to myself, do you know, unless it’s for mixing and stuff like that. Yeah, it was nice. It was nice to hear Yvonne’s voice,” he says with obvious affection for his aunt Yvonne Daly, who sings the part of the character Grace on the record.
“My aunt sings a lot on the album. To hear the difference in then and now; she sounds so much younger.”
Don’t you all?
“Yeah. Well I think I was trying to sound older. It’s hard to listen to yourself anyway. You get self-conscious and critical,” he protests.
Evening Train the album focused on the divergent fortunes of two brothers, Luther and Frank, over 48 hours of gambling, boozing, and regret, and the woman who waited for one of them, Grace.
Interestingly, Rani Sarma approached Flannery a decade ago about doing something with the story and the singer is impressed with her approach to the script.
“I think she did want to give the Grace character a bit more agency. You see I didn’t flesh out the characters at all really. I tried to write dialogue in the beginning, but it was awful, trite. It’s cool the way she has done it, kind of put back-stories to the characters and all this. They’re kind of her characters now. I think she just saw a potential in the thread of narrative. Fair play to her.”
As part of the live band that will be performing the music for the play Flannery has spent plenty time in the rehearsal room and is delighted by what he has seen
“Ursula gave them so much flesh, more than I did, that it’s kinda gone away from me,” he continues.
“Because I never really had a great idea of who they were or what they were like. The songs, they’re kind of simple little pieces.
“It’s kind of hilarious in a way to watch the actors do what they have to do in figuring themselves out. Like, ‘what is my character thinking right now? Do I hate this person?’ And ‘am I drunk right now?’ All this stuff! It’s amazing,” he marvels.
Clearly tickled by this process, his admiration seems blended with a little amusement. It seems odd to witness the usually studiously downbeat and habitually morose singer speak so effusively about this. In an attempt at provocation I ask what he’s doing in this poncey world of theatre?
“It occurs to me what my friends would say if they were in the room. I mean I don’t have the balls to do what they do, do you know? To be that free. I think it’s cool. Yeah.”
If Evening Train the musical sees Flannery take a journey in an unexpected direction his new self-titled album also throws up the incongruous detail of the Blarney man collaborating with a sunny LA pop duo. The lead single from the album was co-written with songwriters Eric Straube and Chris Qualls aka ESCQ.
He explains: “They’d have a guitar riff ready and it would be upbeat. It would be uptempo — scary for me. But I’d go along with it and see what happens. I’d just kind of allow them to direct a session and they’d direct it towards… I guess their idea is we should have a chorus on this song and the chorus should probably be good.”
‘Come Find Me’ is distilled from the usual vat of Flannery melancholy but it has a lightness that helps it soar.
“I’m terrified,” he confides. As he describes the mixes of the track they came up with the tone of his voice becomes more serious. I’m most terrified of the ‘Come Find Me’ version that they did that day. I changed it afterwards and I made it more subtle, kind of. Now they’re talking about releasing this poppier version.”
Flannery has changed a lot over they years. He still plays up the grouch but he’s clearly mellowed and has become more comfortable in his skin. Yet he still is concerned about being seen as an attention seeker. It makes one wonder why he got into this business in the first place?
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I f**ked up.”
Evening Train: A new musical runs at the Everyman Theatre from June 13 – June 23.
‘Come Find Me’ is out on all digital platforms now.