As Stockton’s Wing release a retrospective album, Mike Hanrahan tells Donal O’Keeffe about getting back on the road, and his love of cooking ...
Stockton’s Wing first took flight in 1977, and blurred the lines between trad, folk and rock, scoring pop hits like ‘Beautiful Affair’ and ‘Walk Away’. A new live album is on the way, and Mike Hanrahan is enthusiastic about touring again.
Did getting back on the road take a lot of rehearsal, or did it all just click together?
“The line-up is very different for us now. During the last five years we’ve been very lucky to get some younger musicians from Clare, who have been reared on our music. The fiddle-player, Tara Breen, who’s a bit of a genius, I used to play with her dad. It’s easy, from that point of view, to have musicians come in who were born and bred on Stockton’s Wing, so when we got back on stage, we tried to recreate the sound.
We rehearsed quite a lot. We always rehearsed when we were younger. We spent a lot of time writing and rehearsing tracks before we went on the road. We always had a very stern work ethic, so it was like getting back on the bike for us.
Now it’s just a joy to be back on stage and to see all the old audience coming back to us. The new album has a lot of rediscovered material.
Did you know it was there, and how did you find it?
We knew it was there, but we didn’t know the extent of it. We had cut two albums, the Full Flight album and the Celtic Roots album, and we were convinced they were completely gone, because the record company had folded and we couldn’t find any masters anywhere.
Then we found a guy who had worked with Stockton’s Wing during that period, and he had transferred the original masters to digital, almost for the rainy day, which was amazing.
Full Flight had a massive sound, full electric, lots of experimentation, instruments and guests. It was produced by Andrew Boland. For us to get that back was a huge joy.
Celtic Roots Revival was produced by Steve Cooney. We thought that was gone too. Getting the masters back was great.”
What new music is catching your ear?
“I like a lot of the younger Irish bands that are coming through. I like people like Emma Langford, Loah, Gavin Glass; there’s a whole energy coming from younger artists in Ireland, and they’re all accessible online, and they’re all telling you about it every day on Twitter, and it’s really great.
There’s a singer from Clare called Katie Theasby, and she has quite an incredible voice. There’s Laura Mulcahy — she’s up from Cork, but she lives in Clare. My God, but there’s so much going on.
I love Wallis Bird. I haven’t listened to Lankum yet, but everyone is raving about them, so I promise I will.
The band Boxing Banjo reminds me of us when we were starting out. They’ve amazing energy. It’s lovely when these young musicians come up and talk to us. Whatever advice we can give, we give.
When we were young bucks up from Clare, we knew no-one, and suddenly we met the Dubliners, and the Fureys, and they opened their arms. They looked after us. It’s only right that we return that compliment now!”
Do you see a lot of changes in the industry since you were last involved?
“I was away from the game for about 10 years. When I came back, everything was changed. Years ago, you had direct access to people playing the music, people like Larry Gogan. Larry was a great supporter of ours from the beginning. Now a lot of that is changed, and play-lists are decided by one or two people who-knows-where.
Thankfully we still have RTÉ Radio 1. John Creedon is great. And Tom Dunne on Newstalk. 96fm in Cork. John Kelly always supported us. Ronan Collins has always championed good Irish music. Fiachna Ó Braonáin is brilliant. Night-time radio is superb, and a lot of that is down to Lilian Smith. She innovated a lot of that.
I’m always telling younger bands that if you make good music, these guys will champion you.”
“Slow dancin’ in the dark on the beach at Stockton’s Wing…” Any Springsteen connections beyond the lyric that gave the band its name?
“None whatsoever! We were fans of Bruce. I was in our house at home — the band began in 1977 and I didn’t actually join until 1980 — and the lads were looking for a name. Springsteen’s ‘Backstreets’ was playing. My eldest brother Ger went into the lyrics and found “Stockton’s Wing” and that was it.
We went looking for Stockton’s Wing when we were in New Jersey and couldn’t find it. It’s actually the wing of a hotel that was used by Stockton College.
When I worked in Pat Shortt’s pub, Springsteen stayed in Castlemartyr Resort. We thought he might drop in (and we claimed he would!) but it wasn’t to be. I’d love to meet him. That’d be some buzz.”
You’ve a book out (Beautiful Affair: A Journey in Music, Food and Friendship) and you’re a Ballymaloe-trained cook and teacher. Do you cook at home, and have you any tips?
“I cook at home. My wife has little interest in cooking, whereas I love it. The only tip I have is: If you’re following a recipe, follow it. After that, use really, really good ingredients. That’s half the battle. When you’re taught how to cook professionally, the first thing you’re taught is not to fear any recipe.
Innovation is fine, but recipes are tried and tested, so you’re best off sticking to the plan.
My father used to say that while I have a guitar on my back, I’ll never go hungry. I reckon now that I have my frying pan on the other shoulder, if it all goes belly up, I can go back and fry a few eggs for someone.
I’m not a monetary animal. I live frugally enough. Once I have my gigs to look forward to, I’m happy. And life is very short.That’s what I’ve learned in recent years. I’ve lost quite a few close friends.
Whatever time is left, I just want to enjoy life, and make music.”
Beautiful Affair: A Stockton’s Wing Retrospective, 2 CD, 2 Vinyl, and digital, is out on Tara Music. Beautiful Affair by Mike Hanrahan (HarperCollins) is in bookshops now