Cork Midsummer Festival at St. Luke’s: “A Fabulous Space”

Live at St. Luke’s presents a varied bill of music and discussion next month for Cork Midsummer Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan takes a look at the programme and speaks with some of the artists involved.

For years, Cork Midsummer Festival has represented the beginning of Cork’s summer festival season. Across ten days, art and performance spanning multiple media and disciplines, occupies dozens of venues around the city in a collaborative effort between the festival and the city’s arts scene. This year’s lineup is arguably the strongest yet, with a mixture of community and international arts groups presenting music and opera, dance, circus, film, spoken-word and visual art.

In this spirit, and off the back of the success of their own first festival in Trabolgan-based weekender It Takes a Village, promoters The Good Room are mucking in on the effort with some high-profile events from the worlds of folk and traditional music, as well as hosting a live taping for the country’s most popular podcast. The Good Room’s Joe Kelly talks about the collaborative process. “For the last few years, we’ve got on well with the Midsummer Festival, and Lorraine (Maye, festival director). We did Fleischmann at the Glen with them last year and obviously for the last few years, we’ve done Crosstown Drift (music trail) with them. We’ve always had a good relationship, and Lorraine is an incredible frontwoman. They’ve got a lot of bang for their buck, because they collaborate. And the end result is we have a much better festival, because they collaborate with people.”

The venue plays host to some of the festival’s flagship musical events this year, but also homes three of the festival’s prominent visual arts events in the former cathedral’s crypt, from the likes of Vicky Langan, Alice Maher and Ailís Ní Riáin. Kelly is enthused about this expansion of the venue’s use. “St. Luke’s sat idle until the last three years, when we started doing stuff in there, and now we’ve seen the Crypt come into use for exhibitions. Being honest, at the moment, we’re existing alongside Midsummer Festival (with both spaces being used for it)… I can’t really say ‘oh, we just booked a few gigs to piggyback along with the festival’, but it’s not like we were sat down tearing our hair out. The most important thing was the double-use of the building, for us, and the City Council, who own it. The Crypt is a fabulous space.”

On Friday June 15th, alternative/folk outfit Little Green Cars open Midsummer proceedings at the venue, continuing their momentum over the past couple of years after their ‘Ephemera’ LP saw them move into a more mature, contemplative space. Amid a busy touring schedule, the band performed this past month at the Together4Yes fundraiser at the Olympia in Dublin, an important fundraiser for a largely grassroots-driven movement. “To be able to contribute to a cause we so strongly believe in was beautiful. It was a powerful night. The sense of togetherness and compassion was really moving. The Repeal movement is so important to us and it’s brought a lot of people together in an exceptional way. There’s been so much devotion, energy and self-sacrifice put into the campaign over the years, it was an honour to be involved in our own small way,” says band co-founder Adam O’Regan.

Ahead of the band’s Midsummer gigging at the Summerhill venue, O’Regan also speaks warmly of the gigging experience. “Live at St. Luke’s is by far one of the most unique venues around, and the atmosphere it generates reflects that. It’s a special gig for us. We love playing in Cork and we are delighted to be back playing in St. Luke’s.”

Fairplé is a movement dedicated to the rebalancing of the Irish folk/trad business along gender lines, joining a larger sea change of movements in different genres and formats towards addressing payment, billing and booking inequities. Leading the charge ahead of a special gig at St. Luke’s on Saturday June 16th is singer Karan Casey. “It came about from conversations backstage between many women and men, about how women were being treated in the trad and folk music worlds. I made a statement at a gig in Dublin about how things needed to change, and I also wrote a Facebook post saying things needed to change radically. We then called a public meeting in Dublin, and it has mushroomed from there really. Twenty people came to the first meeting, and forty to the second, and we now have a website followed by hundreds (at fairple.com). The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both women and men. We’re advocating on behalf of female performers looking for more access, more support, and more respect in our musical workplaces.”

Casey and Pauline Scanlon, accompanied by guests The Whileaways, Kate Ellis, Anna Mieke, Julie Goo, and Niall Vallely among others, round out a heavyweight line-up for the cause. For Fairplé, it’s about setting the tone for future major events. “It’s my own personal view that people and children need to see women on stage more, to know and understand in their bones that women are equal.  The role-modeling is vital to future performers. The average lineup of many of our festivals are 76% male, 24% female, and that’s on a good day. It’s often worse. This is a problem. It needs to be addressed and a radical change needs to happen. St. Luke’s is addressing this problem.”

From releasing prank phone-calls on CD-R while still at school, to touring the world and leading the national conversation on mental health, Limerick comedians/conceptual artists The Rubberbandits have over the years become a beloved institution for unofficial Ireland. Little surprise then, that one-half of the duo helms the country’s most popular podcast, with the Blindboy Podcast averaging 250,000 listeners weekly, topping Irish listenership charts for thirty weeks and counting. Appropriately, then, Blindboy Boatclub’s show on Thursday 21st is about to sell out, as he treads the boards at St. Luke’s to tape an episode of the podcast with support from poet Cormac Lally. Speaking to the Irish Examiner’s Richard Fitzpatrick last month, Blindboy outlined succinctly the appeal of the medium. “The best thing about podcasts is the element of choice… a podcast is never forced on anyone; it’s always sought out. It’s pure democratic. It’s a vernacular medium where mistakes and rough edges are part of the craic.”

Those numbers have allowed for the further opening-up of the media process for Blindboy. Releasing the show for free every Wednesday morning, Blindboy’s main source of funding comes from his listeners, donating via membership platform Patreon. On the topic of crowdfunding, Blindboy is effusive. “My Patreon page is fantastic at the moment. It’s giving me a lovely incentive to deliver on time each week. I also love the philosophy of it – it makes the podcast experience feel reciprocal.”

Having quickly sold out his first show on Friday June 22nd, Corkonian singer-songwriter Mick Flannery has been announced this past week for a second show on Saturday 23rd, as part of the St. Luke’s Midsummer festivities. Off the back of last year’s politically-informed ‘I Own You’ album, Flannery has been pursuing his usual endless touring itinerary, spending the past few weeks touring the Netherlands and Germany in support of the record, and working on new material. “I enjoy travelling and seeing places I’ve never seen. This trip I took was on my own, which gave me more time to work on new songs. When a group of people go on tour, it can be very hard not to head out to bars and stay in said bars and have a good time, but travelling solo makes it easier to stay a bit healthier. The end of the German tour was three gigs with a group of German musicians who were running a kind of musical collective, called Vereinsheim. This was a nice way to end the tour, I got to meet very nice people and hang around with them and play music for four days.”

An excursion to North America, including dates in New York City among other locations, awaits Flannery on the other side of his Midsummer dates. It’s going to be something of a journey of discovery. “I’m looking forward to going to Canada and America. Songwriters and singers from these countries have been the major reason I found myself in this business. I’m still stuck with a slight American twang when I sing, which I find very hard to shake because of early influence. I’m lucky to be heading to some festivals in Canada like Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver, I’m looking forward to seeing those places. My youngest brother is going to join me for the month and share some driving. We’ll see how that goes.”

Mick Flannery: Owning the Opera House

With his fifth album in the can and the touring underway, Mick Flannery is a busy man heading up to his New Year’s Eve gig in the Opera House. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the singer-songwriter.

It’s been over a decade since Mick Flannery first entered the public consciousness, lurching from attempting to write a musical to solidifying that work into a debut album, fresh out of the Music, Management and Sound programme at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa. With new album I Own You now in the can, and doing the business on both national and international levels, Flannery is keeping characteristically busy, conducting interviews on the road during snatches of time between travel, checking and performance. It’s in one of these breaks that we find Flannery in quiet form, tired after encountering logistical issues with continental travel.

I Own You is a different beast to its predecessors, aesthetically and musically. The album cover tells its own story– a man, masked with horns, poses outside a housing estate set against a grey sky, the image drenched in sepia tone to the point of washout. Meanwhile, with more electronic influences creeping in came more synths and a more rhythmic sensibility. Flannery gives some insight into its creative process. “Christian Best and I worked on and off for two years or so in his studio outside Midleton. We tried to give preference to the rhythm section, we used a few different instruments and synths, and we got a few guest singers in. It took a while but it was very enjoyable to make.”

While it might be a while yet before Flannery can settle on his own feelings about the album as a body of work, the nature of record releases necessitates a certain awareness of how a record has been received, what the buzz is. He seems minimally concerned with this end of the process, recognising it as the other end of the business of releasing records, when questioned on the matter. “I’ve got a few nice texts about it. I think I read a couple of nice reviews, as well. The build-up to releasing an album inflates the importance of it to an unsustainable level, I think. When it comes out, you realise that it isn’t going to change the world, after all.”

A hot topic surrounding the album’s release has been the sharp veer into social themes Flannery’s songwriting has taken, a long wander from the rather more inward focus of his previous excursions. Listening to Kendrick Lamar among others certainly sharpened these instincts for him, but the greater point of it has all come from observing the world events of recent years, the seeming unbalancing of current affairs, and its knock-on effect, including the dear human cost of recent conflict. “Certain events in America regarding police brutality, and abuse of power, which goes unchecked”, mentions Flannery, “footage of refugees fleeing Syria. As I get older, I find it hard not to be disappointed with humanity.”

This turn away from the self as the germ of creative thought hasn’t gone unnoticed. So much of modern society and pop culture is aimed inwards – the scourge of personal branding, the unending gallery of selfies that awaits one’s own newsfeeds, and so on, and so forth. Flannery has stated prior that he was ‘bored of himself’ before and after writing and recording – how did he reach this conclusion, and how might one explain this externalisation to others? I’ve written a fair share of self-referential songs. “Playing them at gigs over and over again, I get tired of hearing me talk all about me. I think it’s natural that after a person’s twenties, they start to lose a sense of self-importance, and see themselves as another disappointing animal among many.”

Though his music has been made available on streaming platforms such as Spotify and Deezer for those that are so inclined, press material and official websites push heavily in the direction of CD and vinyl sales as a means of experiencing and owning I Own You. One wonders, in the wake of the deaths (and New Orleans funerals) of bands like Fight Like Apes and Enemies, if creators like Flannery are keenly aware of the knock-on effects of the ongoing changes the major-label music industry have been forced, whether by piracy or their own refusal to embrace same change at such a rate in the past, to weather. Whatever the solution may be, Flannery is hopeful of a market righting itself. “Technology has dealt a blow to the music industry, and to the pockets of artists. I like to think that things will right themselves, and that people who endeavour to make good music will be able to eat as a direct result. I think that music fans value the music they like more than what they are charged for it, and perhaps this value will be reflected in the future.”

On New Year’s Eve, Mick Flannery plays one of his biggest hometown shows yet, an evening engagement at Cork’s Opera House booked and promoted by Coughlan’s Live Promotions, the sister company of the venue of the same name, dealing in presenting bigger gigs than their home base can handle in venues around the city. These are boards he has trod before, of course, as a chart-topping artist. So the conversation on the Opera House turns not to the usual thoughts on a big show, but rather of the small details, the facets of performing at the venue that Flannery prefers the best. “I like having two pints in Cashmans beforehand. Also, the sound in there is very good, thanks to Chloe Nagle and Sandra O’Mahony.”

What next for himself and the band in the new year? “I hope to keep getting away with this for a while longer. It’s a very nice way to get by.”

Mick Flannery headlines the Opera House on New Year’s Eve. Doors are 7.30, tickets on sale now at the box office and online.