MICK FLANNERY doesn’t know where his next song will come from.
The cult troubadour is creatively becalmed, in the middle of the longest dry spell of his career.
Should he worry? He’s not sure.
“Music feels ‘old’ to me,” he says.
“I haven’t been writing as much. It’s been a while since I finished anything. I miss finishing a song: it’s a nice feeling.”
Flannery, 31, rents a cottage in rural Clare, just outside Ennis.
He moved here with his girlfriend after a sojourn in Berlin.
The contrast is, needless to say, huge. But the change in location hasn’t fired his creativity.
He shrugs: that’s just how it is.
“This is the longest period I’ve gone without writing a song. I don’t panic about it. I still tip away on tunes. I play guitar every day.”
The problem, it seems, is that he is in a happy place in his life (though he would never say as much out loud).
Stability is wonderful for most of us: for songwriters, though, it has serious drawbacks.
With no misery to channel, what do you sing about? Flannery is still trying to answer that question.
“I have less to say — nothing to say, actually,” he explains.
“I’m not a huge fan of firing off some lyrics for the sake of it. I’d prefer to have a vested interest in what I’m putting out there. I’ve toyed with various conceptual ideas, in the hope something might kick-start me. I’m still waiting.”
Writer’s block aside, it’s been a good year for Flannery.
He negotiated a potentially tricky transition between record labels after EMI, with whom he’d worked with all his career, essentially ceased to exist in Ireland.
With its constituent parts sold off to other labels, Flannery found himself signed to Universal, the world’s biggest record company.
In April, it put out his fourth LP, By The Rule.
“My experience on that last record was particularly good, I have to say, for someone on a major label. In the context of Universal being a major, well, I work with the Irish subsidiary. It’s not as big, it doesn’t feel like a monster. They were very hands-off and let me do what I wanted, which I appreciate.”
For the most part, he leaves the non-musical side of the job to his manager, he adds.
“It’s a business,” he says.
“I don’t think anyone sees the point of becoming lifelong friends. It’s cut and dried: if they don’t want you , that’s it. There aren’t going to be any Christmas texts afterwards. So it’s best to keep a certain distance.”
Early on, Flannery developed a reputation for intense shyness.
There is the oft-repeated anecdote about him throwing up before a high-profile appearance on The Late Late Show.
Such reticence in the spotlight was sometimes mistaken for grumpiness (in fact, in conversation, Flannery can be witty and charming).
Thankfully, as his career has progressed, so the jitters have declined.
It helps he is no longer performing in super-intimate venues — curiously, he finds it easier to headline larger spaces such as the Olympia in Dublin than cosy clubs.
It’s more straightforward when you can’t see the whites of the audience’s eyes.
“I still get worried, especially if I’m performing in an imitate setting,” he once said.
“It crosses my mind that I might not be able to hold an audience’s attention, because of the style of songs I do and the fact I’m not a virtuoso at guitar — I can’t fill in the gaps between songs with astounding solos. On the other hand, experience makes things easier. You think ‘Well , I have performed 300 times before and I haven’t died. I can do it again’.”
Flannery is recently returned from a tour of Australia, with John Spillane.
Though both are from Cork and nominally in the singer-songwriter tradition, as artists, the two arguably do not have a great deal in common.
However, Flannery enjoyed their time together.
“It was kind of a ‘package deal’,” he laughs.
“We did four cities in New Zealand and four in Australia over quite a short period. We had a flight almost every day: it was hectic. It was enjoyable. I felt a good deal less pressure. When you’re sharing the headliner spot, the responsibility isn’t as onerous.”
With his own gigs, he sometimes feels he is begging the indulgence of the crowd.
Flannery’s songs can be bleak — too bleak in his opinion. After 60 minutes or so, he believes he has subjected the room to more than enough angst.
He wants to pull back the shutters, let some daylight in.
“I wonder if I’m going on too long,” he says.
“It’s like I’m bombarding the audience with misery upon misery. I try to break it up with some stories. Nevertheless, I usually feel an hour is enough. After that, maybe they should go away and take some Prozac.”
A native of Blarney, he’s enthusiastic about his upcoming New Year’s Eve concert at Cork Opera House.
Hometown shows can be nervy affairs — thankfully the crowd is usually on his side and their enthusiasm carries him along.
“The audience nearly always puts you at ease. A lot of these gigs attract people home for Christmas. There’s a great hometown vibe: it does have a positive effect.”
After that, a busy 2015 awaits.
Flannery enjoys a substantial German following and is looking forward to going back for a tour in the New Year.
He would not describe himself as ambitious in the commercial sense. Still, the prospect of taking his music outside Ireland excites him.
“The album is being promoted in Germany in February. The last time I played there, a lot of the gigs were sold out. The venues were 150, 200 capacity. I always remind myself that if the 15-year-old me was to be told that he’d be going to Germany and playing gigs for money he wouldn’t believe it. I try to keep that in mind.”