Don for Chickens as the quirky voice of Cork

An ode to Mattie Kiely’s chipshop and a poke at the city’s main drainage scheme form part of a new show inspired by the words of the late Mick Lynch, writes Ellie O’Byrne.

Don for Chickens as the quirky voice of Cork

An ode to Mattie Kiely’s chipshop and a poke at the city’s main drainage scheme form part of a new show inspired by the words of the late Mick Lynch, writes Ellie O’Byrne.

In the 1980s, Cork’s successes on the international stage were few and far between, so Mark Wilkins has never forgotten his mother’s response when, as a boy, he switched on the new ‘Multi-channel’, which beamed UK TV stations into their home, only to see a young man from the same street being interviewed about his band.

“Is that Micky Lynch from around the corner? Bless us and save us, what is he like with that hair?” Mrs Wilkins exclaimed.

It was indeed a young Mick Lynch, sporting his trademark Tintin hairstyle, talking about his London-based New Wave band Stump, who had just released a single.

Lynch, who had left Cork for London’s punk squatting scene, had made his gangly, charismatic mark in bands like Mean Features and an early incarnation of Microdisney before his departure, and here he was, fronting an outfit so surreal and inventive that to this day they are credited with influencing San Franciso rockers Primus.

Stump showed enormous promise: their debut album, A Fierce Pancake, achieved cult status, they recorded four John Peel sessions, signed to Chrysalis records and made appearances on Channel 4’s music show, The Tube, with Jools Holland and Paula Yates.

Success was short-lived. Stump split up and Lynch eventually returned to Cork. Acting, puppetry and performing as his surreal musical alter ego, Don for Chickens, occupied him until his tragically early death, while still in his fifties, in 2015.

“He was part of the Cork landscape,” Wilkins, who grew up a composer and musician himself, says. “Since his passing, the sight of him around the city is missed.”

Lynch had been friends with Wilkins’ eldest brother: “As a kid growing up in a big family, I just remember this really tall character who’d come and knock on the door. My older brother had a pigeon shed and Mick would call up, and they’d be out in the shed smoking fags.”

Lynch penned the subversive and funny lyrics for Stump’s best-known work, songs like ‘Buffalo’ and ‘Charlton Heston’. He continued to write after his return to Cork: ever the wordsmith, frequently to be seen completing the cryptic crossword with a pint at his elbow in one of many city haunts, he wrote puppetry shows in Irish, as well as poems and songs to be performed as Don for Chickens, sung while beating out a rhythm on a stringless guitar.

Following Lynch’s death, Wilkins, who has performed with singer-songwriter Annette Buckley and composed for theatre groups including the Gare St Lazare Players and Macnas, wrote a personal tribute to Lynch for the Cork Folklore Project, and was struck by the wit and beauty in his songs and poems.

“I had seen him perform as Don for Chickens, but when I saw the words stripped of performance I thought, ‘Jesus, this guy really is a wordsmith.’ It struck me that they very much hold up as pieces of writing.”

In songs like Mattie Kiely, an ode to the former Maylor Street chip shop, and the Main Drainage Scheme, which sets the pie-in-the-sky promises of the 1990s clean-up of Cork’s waterways to the tune of ‘The Banks of my Own Lovely Lee’, Lynch captured something uniquely Corkonian, imbued with a gritty punk sensibility and a deep regard for folklore.

Wilkins likens his writing to that of UK punk singer-songwriter Ian Dury: “In the same way that Dury used London as his canvas, Mick used Cork. He had a particular sensibility which came through in his words: a very strong sense of place.”

Now, Wilkins has worked with actor and puppeteer Dominic Moore, singer Vickie Keating and accordion and trombone player Ruti Lachs to weave a theatrical tale from compositions using Lynch’s words, to be performed with live music. Entitled ‘The Madrugada’, after the Spanish word for the time between midnight and sunrise, the show constructs a nocturnal Corkonian tale through song.

“It’s not a tribute to Mick and it’s not about him: it’s a Cork Odyssey with the words of Mick Lynch. The words inform these little vignettes, which form the narrative for the show.”

“I’d love to think he would have approved, but I also hope people get a sense of how talented a writer he was. I think he’d be appreciative that a group of people was coming along to do something with his words: Mick always said that songs were for singing.”

The Madrugada is on at Cork School of Music’s Stack Theatre on Friday and Saturday at 8pm

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