Mattie Fox: Mick Flavin richly deserves his 30th anniversary celebrations

Mattie Fox

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Mattie Fox

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Mick Flavin

Mick Flavin is celebrating 30 years in the music business this year

Mick Flavin is a man whom I'd never actually met, until he arrived to do this interview.

This is hard to believe perhaps, but though I spoke to him several times, we never really met in the real sense.
Mick is a laid back sort of guy, who obviously has bones to pick here and there, many well deserved.
Flavin is a man who for most of his life - he did not tell me this, rather it's a fact I strangely picked up on - regarded music as a sort of part time occupation. He never really packed up the carpentry and building.
I came across his name once in Nashville, when I was meeting with Pete Fisher, Vice President and General Manager of the Grand Ole Opry at the time.
Pete has since moved on, in January of this year, to become CEO of the Academy of Country Music in California.
Pete was regarded as one of the great authorities on Country Music, and in a long conversation - we spent most of that day together - he asked me if I'd ever come across a singer called Mick Flavin.
I was very surprised when he told me that Flavin had appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, with distinction, and Pete thought he was an exceptional singer.
He just wondered what had become of him….
I couldn't help but smile. I told Pete Mick was from a neighbouring parish at home. We had a brief conversation about Mick, and we both agreed that he was one Irish singer who was constantly punching well below his weight.
I say this knowing that Mick Flavin has had a very successful career in Country music, and has done extremely well.
Maybe as well as the real depth of his ambition allowed.
But I believe he could have scaled much higher mountains.
George Hamilton had invited Mick onto the Opry, and Mick sang Johny Cash’s Forty Shades of Green.
It was quite a few years ago that took place.
Fast forward to the current time and meeting Mick.
Flavin is a laid back guy, who has never lost his inbuilt natural Irish-ness which he wears on his sleeve. Nothing gives him more pleasure than to walk in the fields in Glenmore, Aughnacliffe looking out over Loch Gowna.
A modest man, he seems happy with his journey in the world, and looks, and indeed is, content with life, and living, and general operations, so to speak.
His thirtieth anniversary in the music business is being celebrated in the Longford Arms Hotel on Sunday August 27 next.
Mick is now in his sixties, and enjoys nothing more than heading off to play a gig, whether that be in Cork or Donegal.
He talked openly about his start in the business, how he stumbled across recognition, but sometimes didn't embrace it because others in the group wanted to preserve what they had, and for Mick that was a real good reason not to change.
At 10 years of age he'd entered a competition run by the McFaddens Roadshow - a touring circus really - and Mick won it. Cycling home he had the cup, and “couldn't wait to get to the end of the long lane to tell my mother, God rest her”.
That was really the start of his taste of being rewarded for singing.
Shortly after, while going to Gaigue school, Pat Joe McGlaughlin who was a teacher in the school asked Mick to sing a few songs in Murphy's Hall down in Ballyduff below Moyne Cross - it was to be his first gig!
Mick finished school and had always wanted to be a carpenter, so he took a job with John McHugh in Longford doing an apprenticeship.
After he finished he moved to Dublin where he got a job with Sisks. A great firm who he stayed with until he formed an idea that himself and Mary, his wife, would build a house in Longford - they were living at the time in an apartment in Dublin.
Mick took on the job of building and with help from his father he erected the entire house himself, except electrics, etc.
He'd found a job with Longford Co Council, and that kept him busy as a “craftsman” which he says was an “inflated description of ordinary tasks!”.
In early ’75 he met Jet Calders in Arva, who asked him if he'd be interested in playing a few pubs. Mick said he hadn’t done much since way back before he went to Dublin. A lifetime ago it seemed.
Jet told him he knew a saxophone player, and they’d drop out and see him and maybe hear him play.
Paddy Nichol was in the byre milking the cows with a three legged stool, but he quickly got the saxophone out and standing in the yard, started to play it there and then!
Paddy also played Clarinet and was a good player on that too.
They began doing the pubs and stayed together almost ten years when Jet became very ill, with an inflamed pancreas.
The pubs were good, but brought Mick into an environment which he wasn’t prepared for.
Every night it was very easy to get a drink. The man of the house would blow a drink to the lads, and Mick found it very enjoyable. At least he thought he was enjoying himself.
As time passed the drink took hold. They began staying on in the pub, later and later, often spending more money than they'd made from the gig.
Mick became totally addicted to alcohol.
He just couldn't shake it off.
He was in and out of hospital several times with all sorts of complaints. But still the drink governed his decisions.
Several times he stopped drinking, but after a short time relapsed.
He missed a few Mondays in the council, then gradually began missing Mondays and Tuesdays.
On one occasion he went drinking for three whole weeks - three weeks! - “drinking every single day”, with little food.
Meanwhile his wife in desperation, probably to try and make him see sense, moved out.
Mick found himself alone in he world, carrying on with nothing to live for, except the four walls.
He realised he had to do something about it.
He'd attended AA and other such “help” a few times but nothing lasted.
He decided that he was going to take it in hand because he realised he couldn't go on.
Mick went on to Dr Mel Gorman in Longford and he told Mel that he was at rock bottom, and “might do something I'd be really sorry for”.
Dr Gorman looked at him, and wrote a letter to see Dr Hill in Mullingar.
Mick drove to Mullingar, and met Dr Hill who took the letter.
After reading it, he asked, “a lot of people come to me, for differentreasons….maybe to get away from the taxman…why are you here?”
Mick said “I want to stop drinking”
The Doctor replied “if you really want to stop drinking you're in the right place”. “There's a lot of things we can do for you”.
Mick stayed in Mullingar for a seven week course. Painful but effective.
He came out of Mullingar sober and a new man.
Thirty years later, he's still sober, and really enjoying the world.
He's looking forward to every date now, and has been for a long time.
He knows he's cracked the problem, providing he keeps watch.
But never lets his guard down.

Next week, part two, when Declan Nerney convinced Mick to record his first album.