Musicals aren’t exactly Mick Flannery’s cup of tea, he says, as he sits in a hotel lobby on a Sunday morning the night after the musician’s sold-out gig at Live at St Lukes in Cork.
Minutes later, he’s singing ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music, albeit getting the words wrong.
Flannery can’t get away from musicals at the moment, with buzz building around the stage adaptation of his 2007 debut album Evening Train, which will be premiered at the Cork Midsummer Festival next week.
“I’m not into musicals — I’ve seen a few in research mode,” he says. “They’re kind of weird to me.”
Perhaps surprisingly though, Evening Train was initially envisaged as a musical, as part of a project for the music and production course Flannery was doing at Coláiste Stiofán Naofa in Cork in 2005.
“The project was initially to write a musical, but after numerous attempts at dialogue I waded out of the cheese I had written, gave up, and decided to make an album accompanied by a simple narrative thread,” he says.
While he can hold an audience in the palm of his hand these days, Flannery wasn’t first with his hand up when it came to performing in concerts at school in Blarney.
“We did Treasure Island or something, I don’t know if there were songs in it. I just remember having a patch. I was shy. And it wasn’t cool.
"I gave up piano because I didn’t like saying to the soccer team that I had to miss practice because of piano lessons.”
But he found his way back to it.
“Yeah, I picked up a guitar after seeing Kurt Cobain on the television. I was just trying to be cool.”
Does he think he’s cool now?
“Ah, I don’t know. I tried to wear a cool shirt last night but I just looked like a farmer going to a dance. I can’t pull it off,” he says.
Evening Train is the story of two brothers, Luther and Frank, one feckless, the other loyal, and Grace, the girl who is still waiting for Luther to deliver on his promises.
Flannery had received several approaches over the years regarding adaptations of the album.
Eventually, it was Clare playwright and former UCC student Ursula Rani Sarma whose tenacity won through.
London-based Sarma is not exaggerating when she describes the musical as a ‘labour of love’.
“The musical was started before any of my three children were born — it is my fourth child and it pre-dates all of them,” she laughs.
Like Flannery, Sarma is not a fan of musicals in the traditional sense.
“It’s funny because I’m not a musical theatre lover at all. I’d go and see these big shows and people would suddenly break into song, I would stop believing in them.
"I found it difficult to take the emotions they were expressing seriously. But I am a big fan of folk music and when I heard Mick’s album, I could suddenly see it on stage.
"I thought, ‘God, am I actually considering doing a musical?’
“But it would be a non-musical musical, where the songs were honest, raw and painful, articulating what it feels like to want to get more out of life, to love somebody who doesn’t love you back, to have the promises of childhood not quite realised.
"Just listening to it, I felt I knew who these people were.”
The vision for the project crystallised after a week of development in the National Theatre in London, where Sarma and Flannery worked with director Róisín McBrinn.
“Mick and I realised we definitely had the same vision for it. We definitely wanted the audience to feel the same things and we are both quite drawn to a certain type of melancholy — not in the depressing sense of the word.
"I think melancholy can be quite healing in a way if it is shared.
“There are definitely a lot of those shades in my writing and in Mick’s music.
"Once we started putting the two together, we felt like they were coming from the same place. As a result, each was enhancing the other.”
Sarma says she is particularly excited that the adaptation is getting its first airing in Cork, where it will be directed by Annabelle Comyn.
“There were a number of ways it could have happened, a number of places where it could have been premiered but it feels so right that it is premiering in Cork, in the Everyman, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, which both Mick and I have had a long-existing relationship with.
"It is a lovely way to bring it to fruition.”
Flannery says he has particularly enjoyed the insights the process has given him into connecting with a theatrical audience.
“When I made the album, I didn’t need to take into account what someone listening to it was feeling, they could put on any song at any time.
"I didn’t need to take into account how slow certain songs were in succession. Ursula and Róisín knew how to manipulate all of that.
"The placement of all the songs, they’ve changed it all around to suit the arc of the story. The music has to marry with where the plot is going.
"It is also amazing to see how actors are just able to turn it on. I just think to be that free is enviable.
Flannery laughs, acknowledging that he isn’t exactly known for his sunny disposition.
For instance, his Wikipedia page states that he once described himself as a ‘sour old bollocks’. Did he really say that?
“Probably. Although that Wikipedia page gets edited at random by friends of my brothers. They try to sneak in all these weird little things.
"Do not trust the Wikipedia page. It gets hacked on a regular basis by nefarious Blarney people.”
Also taking Flannery outside his comfort zone is his sixth, self-titled, album, due for release next month.
The first single, ‘Come Find Me’, was recorded in LA with songwriting and production duo Eric Straube and Chris Qualls, and is a departure from his usual style.
“They had that upbeat riff going. I find it hard to start off upbeat, I go to the piano and I know that about 70 bpm is where I am going to land, in the middle of modesty.
"Their musical sensibility is different, they see a chorus as a chorus in the old-fashioned sense, that it should be singable. They said, ‘People should want to sing along, Mick’.
"I enjoyed it, just letting go a bit and doing something different.”
Flannery also recorded a different version of ‘Come Find Me’ that he has agreed to release at some point.
He winces as he describes it as having ‘Ibiza written all over it’. He could be the new David Guetta?
“What’s funny is that some of those DJ guys seem as comfortingly awkward as I am. They just sat in their bedroom and mixed beats and made tunes and nobody cared about who they were or what they looked like.
"They can just stand up there and move their head every now and again.”
Who knows, after musical composer, superstar DJ could be the next addition to Mick Flannery’s CV.
Evening Train, part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, at the Everyman Theatre, Thur, Jun 13 - Sun, Jun 23