Mick Flannery plus special guest, Susan O’Neill will headline Live at the Big Top this Saturday October 1. Expect to hear tracks from their celebrated collaboration album ‘In the Game’ (2021) and ‘Night at the Opera’ Mick’s lockdown project inspired by his obsession with chess released in February 2022.
With ‘In the Game’ Flannery continues to deliver stories never heard before. This time with a story-telling partner, by way of the unparalleled voice of Susan O’Neill.
Having wowed huge festival stages over the past few years, moonlighting with Irish dance band ‘King King Company’ and accompanying the queen of traditional music Sharon Shannon on her international tours. Susan has now spent the last while honing her own craft. Susan O’Neill is a songwriter of hidden depths, a singer with a voice that is equal parts balm and blowtorch. She is audacity personified, a free spirit. A real performer. And now no longer Ireland’s best kept-secret.
Since then Susan has announced a new EP called ‘Now you see it’ due on September 14.
She comments, “This E.P came together in a gentle assemble of ideas brewing between friends old and new.
Tony Buchen who produced in the game is producer of four of the tracks doing so from Los Angeles and the other two were produced by Sam Kassirer out of Boston.
There are some co writes in there, one being a duet with Mick Flannery, thematically along the same vein as the ‘in the game’ duet album. Heartbreak in adulterous pondering. Some different themes range from self love, and the expeditious nature of the human body and a few to lament of love lost.”
In the meantime Mick released ‘Night at the Opera’ in February 2022 described as a lockdown project based on an obsession with chess.
“A chess piece e.g knight, pawn.. is given a corresponding musical chord, and thus the song structure follows the moves of a chosen (mostly famous) chess game. The lyrics of the songs deal primarily with the often complex lives of the grandmasters. 20% of all profits going to effective altruism.”
2021’s ‘In the Game’ is a themed collection of songs about a couple’s coming together and falling apart. “Susan and I settled on the idea that the two people would be in a relationship with each other, although they may not still be together,” explains Mick. “The songs touch on their associated issues, their ups and downs, beginnings and ends, and what’s happening in both of their lives aside from the relationship.”
“The concept is the dark and the light of the nature of relationships,” says Susan. “The joys of love, the depth of despair in love, the wild abandon of love, and then nostalgia for times past that they know they will never have again yet should be dearly cherished. For me, the album is that sinewave and shape of love.”
Mick and Susan initially met in 2018, when she was the support act at a few of Mick’s Irish shows. The first time they had a proper conversation, recalls Mick, was around the time of their first co-write in late 2019. “I had shown the song ‘Baby Talk’ to Susan, but I had gotten quite close to finishing it, so I thought I’d do that on my own. I had the melody for it but then decided to write it as a duet.
That’s a good tool to help you finish a song, as having two voices is a very specific structure. It’s like an enjoyable little crossword puzzle you have to figure out -they need to be saying something to each other, so there has to be some conflict in there.”
‘Baby Talk’ went on to win ‘Best Original Song of The Year’ at the 2020 prestigious RTÉ Radio 1 Awards, racking up nearly 1 million streams to date, the pair’s live performances on both The Late Late Show and Other Voices ‘Courage’ series (to a near 10 million people) were heralded as highlight performances of 2020. This would be the start of the pair crafting this 13 song duet album.
The album was written and recorded over the summer of 2020 during lockdown between Cork, Ireland, and Los Angeles. Produced ‘virtually’ by LA based, Australian producer Tony Buchen (Courtney Barnett, Smashing Pumpkins, Tim Finn), and featuring musicians from both Ireland and America.
The songs on ‘In the Game’ tell a sorry, salutary story: the likes of Are We Free? (‘Tell me when you’re ready to be never satisfied’), These Are the Days (‘It was better to learn a hard lesson and go, than to never try and never know’), Baby Talk (‘If real is in the feeling, baby, no one is a fake’), and the title track (‘Oh darling, what would have happened if only we’d had a good run’) offer up longing and redemption. The album as an entity seeps equal measures of seduction and sorrow, desire and despair, while the songs are delivered simplistically yet potently.
“If something should be said then it should be said simply and honestly,” says Susan. “Co-writing with Mick has helped me not to be afraid of owning the truth and honesty of what is being said. Songwriters can sometimes be too outwardly tough, so it’s good to expose vulnerabilities with one line or a few words.”
“I was surprised by how intuitive an experience it was,” says Mick of such an unbeatable collaborative work. “There was a lot of unspoken stuff going on. With Susan, every time she sings something, you can hear the consideration from her – she knows what sentiments need to be delivered and in what way.”
‘In the Game’ is a journey familiar to most. The highs and lows of the game of love, that raw space that the human condition can leave one most vulnerable. This record is as nostalgic as it is a fresh wound, it’s so familiar yet a stranger. 13 songs in a timeless capsule, the songs on ‘In the Game’ will resonate for a long time after.