After thirty years, Ballinamuck musician Mick Flavin still gets a rush of excitement

Longford Leader columnist Mattie Fox talks to the Irish country music star

Mattie Fox


Mattie Fox


Mick Flavin

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

Mick Flavin performed a special 30th Anniversary celebration concert in the Longford Arms Hotel on Sunday night last and prior to that I sat down with Mick and we conducted a candid interview.

Part one was published last week and here is the second instalment. I hope you enjoy it…

Mick's freedom since he stopped drinking took even him by surprise.

Driving the roads he'd often think about the hopeless case he'd become, and thanked his lucky stars, and Dr’s Gorman and Hill, that he had recovered so well. He privately promised never to stop remembering.

He felt better, singing better, was enthused for life and living, and was literally a brand new man.

In the Cairn Hill Tavern, in 1986, which Nancy McKeon and Tom owned at the time, he met Declan Nerney.

He did a few songs, and after the gig was over, Mick and Declan went into the back room and had a further, enjoyable, sort of sing song.

Declan said, “Jesus Mick, you should record a few songs”…. “record an album” after he'd heard Mick sing old Hank Williams songs from the fifties. Mick laughed and said “what would I do with an album?.”

Nerney was insistent and said to Mick that he should try it out for one day, and see what he thought.

Declan said that local radio was an upcoming development, and that it would be absolutely huge in the future.

Mick listened, but wasn't too sure about that part.

Local radio seemed a bit fanciful, Mick thought. Declan however seemed totally convinced.

They went to Central Recording Studios in Athlone, and with Declan playing everything on the two tracks they'd decided on - lead guitar, rhythm, Steel Guitar, Bass….the lot, and Paul Brewer who was a respected engineer at the time, in charge of the controls.

The only “machine” being used was a drum machine! No drummer.

Mick joked, “we wanted them all in time!”

They recorded the two tracks on a Sunday afternoon and when Mick listened back he was surprised at how good it sounded.

Declan was a very accomplished musician and wouldn't leave anything wanting on the recording. Mick was very impressed.

He took it home, and began to feel quite happy with the record and felt that maybe Declan was right. Maybe he should record an album.

He agreed to plough on and record more songs.

Declan and himself recorded 10 songs, and Mick got Tony Bradfield who had a printing operation in Dublin, called Grafotone, to produce the inlay cards, sleeve, etc.

The sleeve was in old style brown sepia and Mick called it My Kind of Country & Irish. It was released in Christmas ‘86.

Mick was astounded by the reaction. Every pirate radio station at the time, all over the country, were playing the album off the air.

Mick had done an interview with Jimmy Smith (ex founder of the Mighty Avons) who had a radio station in Dublin, and after the interview Jimmy called his brother Peter who was dabbling in management at that time.

He said, “I have a man here and I think you should listen to him.”

Mick took the phone and spoke briefly with Peter and said he'd send on the cassette etc.. A little time passed and Peter rang Mick and asked “are you playing anywhere around soon.” Mick told him he was in Slevin’s in Bunlahy, Co Longford the next Saturday night.

From the time Mick brought out the cassette the crowds in the pubs became huge. Every place was packed to the doors….at times even further!

Peter came to Slevin’s listened all night and asked Mick would he come into the back room after he'd finished.

Once Mick heard the question “would you like to go full time at this” Peter was pushing an open door. Mick finally had a manager.

He was ecstatic. Couldn't believe this was happening.

It crossed his mind that his new found self was being rewarded and this further enhanced his resolve never to drink again.

“The first dance we done was in the Farnham Arms Hotel.”

The directors of Harmac Records, as well as people from another label were all in the Farnham. Mick agreed to sign a two-album deal with Brendan Harvey and Jack McNeice of Harmac Records, and the album was released at Christmas 1986.

Harmac was known for their aggressive marketing campaigns, and they ensured that Mick Flavin became a household name.
Furthermore, Harmac was a proper record company - a well run business.

The album was titled I'm Gonna Make it After All.

He did.

That was thirty years ago this month.

Michael Cunningham from Ballaghaderreen was playing with Mick at that gig in the Farnham, and it probably says something about Mick Flavin that Michael is still part of the band.

It's a story in itself.

Mick says that the greatest thing that ever happened to him, was giving up the drink.

In 1989 Mick performed at his biggest gig ever, in Wembley Arena.

This was the annual Country Music Festival, that year included artists such as Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, and other household names in Country music. To appear among those artists, on the same bill, was the ultimate endorsement.

However the highlight, as far as career achievement is concerned was his appearance in The Grand Ole Opry.

In the thirty years nothing compares to that jewel, for Mick.

In the early 90’s he did a dance in the Longford Arms Hotel, and Paddy Dolan the promoter came to Mick afterwards and asked “is your mother still alive Mick?”. “Ah no, Lord rest her, she died quite a while ago.”

“Well I'll tell you, she appeared at the door maybe a hundred times tonight!” …..using the great explanation “I'm Mick's mother!”

There was over 900 people in the Arms that night.

In the then, small ballroom.

Mick has many memories of small cameos like that which sum up how the showband scene continues to thrive all the time, despite many detractors.

In particular Mick Flavin is really a good singer who tends to mine the repertoire of old time Country, and simply sings it well.

He really likes country music, to an extent that is uncompromising, steadfast, and committed.

He recognises that others may find success with a more modern take on certain aspects of the music, but Flavin couldn't really change.

His heart wouldn't be in it.

The reality of crowds is that they’re not as huge as they once were, but that happens in the natural order of things in any case, nobody goes on forever with the same appeal. Mick's heart belongs there, and wouldn't dream of compromising his music to find favour. In any case, his style is so ingrained that he couldn't even try any other way.

But Mick is in his mid-sixties now, and every time he hits the road for another gig, even after thirty years he still gets a rush of excitement.

That's happiness.

You may also be interested in reading:

More musings by our columnist, Mattie Fox