Mike Hanrahan at the Celtic Cafe


Interview by Alfredo De Pietra

The Celtic Cafe is grateful to Keltika Magazine of Italy for sharing some of the work of Alfredo De Pietra, its Music Column Editor, translated into English. Click here for Alfredo's bio page at the Celtic Cafe, with links to his other features available here at CelticCafe.com.

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The U.S. premiere of the critically-acclaimed show "Ronnie, I Hardly Knew Ya" takes place at the Irish Arts Center in New York City and runs from March 9 to 21, 2004. This is a not-to-be-missed chance to hear the wonderful stories and songs of the one-and-only Ronnie Drew (formerly of The Dubliners), accompanied on guitar by ex-Stockton’s Wing frontman, Mike Hanrahan. Originally written and performed by Ronnie and Mike in 1997, the show has traveled to various venues around the world. The new show still features the writings and songs of Patrick Kavannagh, Sean O' Casey and Brendan Behan, but they've also added the works of Shane
Mc Gowan, Christy Moore, and Irish poets Paul Durkin and Brendan Keneally. It is a true mix of Irish writing, "with the past very comfortable in the company of the present."

Mike's website at MikeHanrahan.com is a great place to keep up with news about Ronnie Drew and Stockton's Wing Reunions as well as tourdates, and there is much information there about Mike's impressive background (click here for the full bio) as one of Ireland's finest musical talents. In addition to his collaboration with Ronnie Drew, he continues to tour as a solo artist, and samples of his terrific music can be heard at the official site. Click here for that particular page, which also includes a full MP3 download of "Firefighter" from the CD "What You Know."

Musicians will likely also appreciate Mike for his work as Chairman of IMRO - the Irish Music Rights Organisation, a national not-for-profit organization that administers the performing right in copyright music in Ireland on behalf of its members - songwriters, composers and music publishers - and on behalf of the members of the international overseas societies that are affiliated to it. IMRO, according to its site at IMRO.ie, is also prominently involved in the sponsorship and promotion of music in Ireland. Every year it sponsors a large number of song contests, music festivals, seminars, workshops, research projects and showcase performances. Indeed, IMRO is now synonymous with helping to showcase emerging talent in Ireland.

Click here for info and tickets for Ronnie, I Hardly Knew Ya at IrishArtsCenter.org and here for more on Mike and Ronnie at MikeHanrahan.com.

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The following is Alfredo De Pietra's interview with Mike Hanrahan:

Mike, your music today is very different from when you played with Stockton's Wing.

My music has moved on to a different level since leaving Stockton's Wing. Gone are the restraints of writing for a group and as a writer I have total freedom to allow the songs to take me wherever they decide to go. This is a great way to write and throws up different influences and there is no doubt that it causes difficulty regarding Record Company interest and radio FM support. I have always rejected the idea of my music being boxed off into a category. I feel this somehow means that my life and experiences are also somehow boxed off. No one should have that pressure unless you invite it and I accept that many people do and I have no difficulty with that either but its definitely not for me.

Please tell us something about your last album, "What You Know."

On this CD I have a number of co-writes with some very talented writer friends and I find this style of writing quite a different challenge. You could argue that there is some restraint but co writing is a team game and the end result is a result of a combined creative force.

Going back to the years with Stockton's Wing...

Before I joined Stockton's Wing I was a free spirit. With the full support of the band I introduced the notion of original material into a trad Scene that had not experienced much of that type of expression and that caused some people to react with dismay but generally it brought new people to the music and we developed as a band with the other lads beginning to write strong tunes and we brought our unique sound to a wider audience and in most cases a much younger audience. We were never afraid to stretch the boundaries and at times we relished in the challenge and the effect it would have on so called purists from within the music scene and without. The purists were not only in Ireland. Mainland Europe had, in some quarters, boxed off the Irish music scene and refused to accept a developing culture reflected in the new music emerging and as a result Stockton's Wing played less and less in Europe and devoted more energy in America where we found a young audience tired of the Leprechaun image and the old sod mentality and they were willing to give us a chance. The powers that ran the folk scene in Europe were less enthusiastic to take on this "new Music." We played some festivals and had reasonable success but nothing compared to the success in USA and Australia. When Stockton's Wing were given the opportunity to connect to an audience we enjoyed the challenge and the audience had a great time. I have great memories to prove it.

What is happening musically in Ireland these days... and what are your plans?

Today in Ireland we have great music and it's not a cultural crime to reach to new boundaries. I think there is less elitism amongst today's younger generation of musicians and there is a far greater understanding of a mature and ever developing Irish society. I find the current Ireland creatively liberating. There are many aspects of our society which are not good and our recent past has exposed many dark hidden corners but we are more aware now and we are developing the freedom of real cultural and philosophical expression without religious chains and government restraint. As a writer I am fascinated by the human response to situations. I love listening to the new Irish songwriters, Mundy, Nina Hynes, The Frames and so many more. I like the notion of artists taking back control from the record companies and dictating their own terms. I am building a little home studio and I will record my next project over an extended period of time, at my leisure and possibly record the entire project as a solo performer. I look forward to experimenting with sound and texture and developing my recording skills.

Please tell us about your work with Ronnie Drew.

Working with Ronnie Drew is a quite different experience and equally rewarding. Ronnie represents all that is good in Irish culture, a wonderful performer, educated in our culture, great story teller with a wonderful ability to find a good song and give it a decent home and most of all one of my dearest friends in every sense of the word. My role with Ronnie is that of guitarist. Ronnie has allowed me to develop as a guitarist and believe me, I never thought I could achieve this level of satisfaction as a musician. I was surrounded by great musicians in Stockton's Wing, Truly gifted players. I sometimes think I would love to replay the years and bring my current style to the band. I was never in a position to develop as a musician in Stockton's Wing. My role was songwriter/singer and front man. My guitar was part of the rhythm section and although reasonably competent it was not a priority to develop that side of my music. I always felt inadequate as a musician but I know now that my contribution in other areas was vast and well appreciated. When I left the Wing I would never have labelled myself as a guitarist. My first solo gig was a nightmare but after lots of hard work and hundreds of gigs I have developed a better understanding of the guitar and I enjoy the challenges of a solo gig or a gig with Ronnie.

What do you think about guitar in Irish music?

In the late eighties the guitar was fast becoming the focus in Irish music, and at times, the main focus -- which I still believe to be a nuisance. It was always meant to accompany unless you played a tenor guitar or picked the tunes like the great Arty McGlynn or Steve Cooney. The guitarist was fast becoming the star. Some players were flash, it sounded good but it wreaked havoc on the main performing instruments. A million Jazz chords to the bar clutters the beauty and essence of a good tune. As a guitarist it was a good time for me to get out of Irish trad Music. I do not miss it even though I recently acquired a beautiful Gibson Tenor guitar. I try to find a tune now and again. I still listen to Irish music. I still love to hear Steve and Arty play and of the current bands I simply delight in the music of Lunasa. They have such a beautiful blend of instruments, swing sweetly and stretch the barriers. They also have a great guitarist who plays with a great respect and sympathy for the tune and lads in the band. Dervish also do it for me.

In conclusion...

In conclusion, all I want to do is write and perform and hopefully reach an audience at some level. My musical journey has been very rewarding and I hope it continues that way.

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Interview: Alfredo De Pietra
Feature: Bernadette Price
Original Web Design: Alexander Servas

Mike Hanrahan



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