Biography

To a teenage boy struggling to master three basic chords on his guitar in his room in his home in the Ireland of the early ‘60s, the possibility and probability of seeing his name in the American Top Ten charts must have seemed exceedingly remote indeed. At that time, in that place, it must have seemed as remote as being the first man on the planet Mars; a dream beyond the wildest imagination.Nevertheless, it was a dream shared by many aspiring Irish musicians; though achieved by very few over the last three decades. For one Limerick City teenager wrestling with the guitar intricacies of the Apache, a huge instrumental hit for the Shadows in 1960, it must have seemed an impossible dream.

Thirty years on, however, that dream has come true for Irish singer-songwriter Mick Hanly. He has just seen one of his schoolsmallsongs, ‘Past The Point of Rescue’ (as performed by rising Nashville country star, Hal Ketchum) storm the U.S. country singles and album charts and remain there for several months, earning the coveted Gold Disc for both performer and writer. It’s been a long road, one with many turns, diversions and more than a few lay-bys. Ultimately it has been one which has brought Mick Hanly and his music to a wider audience than he ever dreamed possible while struggling to master the A minor to D major guitar-shifts of ‘Apache’ in 1960.

The road to such success is rarely one on which any artist hitches a free ride. It is a road on which the artist must travel with unwavering determination, commitment, self-belief and self-discipline and, most of all, the talent to carry the artist through to the road’s end. These are qualities which Mick Hanly has in abundance. Qualities which have seen him carve a career in an often unforgiving music business; from would be teenage rock ‘n’ roller to professional folk-singer to country singer and, more significantly, country songwriter of world class stature, earning him an international reputation and the respect of both peers and ordinary listener alike.

Mick Hanly was born into a music loving family in Limerick and grew up in that city where his early influences were “hurling, confession, leathers, Alan Ladd, Jack Palance and ‘The Boy’ (the film hero – Audie Murphy etc). It was understood that Mick would continue school and secure himself a “permanent and pensionable” position with a reputable company. State body or the Civil Service.

The arrival in Limerick of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid -’50s was to change all that; with Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brother’s records blasting down the airwaves from Radio Luxembourg, firing Mick’s imagination as nothing ever had before. His first guitar, purchased for little over £2 in Todds of Limerick, accompanied him as he steeled his nerve to perform ‘Living Doll’ (while wearing his mother’s straw hat!) at a primary school concert in 1958. “I got my first real guitar much later”, Mick recalls. “It was a Hagstrom costing 63 guineas and paid for in ten shillings-a-week installments for four years. It was a beautiful instrument. I picked up its half-brother in 1983 and that’s what I play today.

The early 60’s brought the Beatles and ‘Beat Boom’, which obsessed Mick and his fellow Limerick musicians Jack Costello, later bass-player with Grannies Intentions and Don O’Connor of Reform. This obsession was to incur the wrath of the Christian Brother School Superior (never renowned for their understanding, gentility or humanity) when Mick turned in his best Lennonesque rave-up performance of ‘Twist and Shout’ with his group The Astronauts, at the end-of-term concert.For Mick, the ‘60s slipped by to the rhythm of The Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Animals, the Hollies, the Spencer Davis Group and to the internal rhythms of everyday Irish urban living, shaped by the influences of Christian Brother’s schooling, the Harty Cup hurling team, Confraternity, the Leaving Cert., and the weekly local dance-hops. Many of these images were to find expression in his powerful song, written in the ‘80s, ‘All I Remember’, first recorded by Mick himself on the 1983 Moving Hearts’ ‘Live Hearts’ (W.E.A.) (and also the title track of his first Round Tower album) and later by Christy Moore on his 1987 ‘Time Has Come’ album.

School days complete, it was time for Mick to find a ‘real job’, and 1970 found him working in Galway City for the E.S.B. (Electricity Supply Board) and performing Woody Guthrie and Paul Simon material in his spare time in the Golden Key, a well known folk music venue in that city. His new found interest in folk music had begun a few years earlier when, at a concert in the west Clare seaside town of Kilkee, Mick witnessed Sean O’Riada’s group and also the playing of the legendary Clare uilleann piper Willie Clancy.

As rock ‘n’ roll had touched his heart in his teenage years, the traditional sounds of O’Riada and Clancy tugged at his sound in a way that forced him to fully understand his sense of ‘Irishness’, “Suddenly I realised I was no longer a Liverpudian. There was something of essence here. I’d gone from the Tostal and Corpus christi processions to Liverpool to America and on hearing this music. I realised I was home”. Mick recounts his ‘conversation’ to Irish traditional music and song. He harbored however, nagging doubts as to just how he could adjust his style to his new passion, “I just didn’t know how the guitar would fit into this new reality. Michael opened the door”.

The ‘Michael’ referred to by Mick was none other than Michael O’ Domhnaill (of Bothy Band fame) whose finger-style guitar-playing had been influenced by John Renbourn and whose reputation as a singer and song collector was already well established. Michael had successfully married that contemporary guitar style of traditional singing with the group Scara Brae. For Mick, meeting Michael at the Swamp Folk club in Rathmines in Dublin in early ’72 was timely. Together they formed Monroe and landed a spot as support for the now-famous Planxty Irish Tour of 1973. Monroe recorded an album, ‘Folk Weave’, for Polydor, now considered a seminal album which signposted the arrival of a new, and confident breed of contemporary Irish folk singer. Monroe split in ’75 when Michael joined the Bothy Band and Mick headed for Brittany and the life of an itinerant Irish folk troubadour.

He returned home to Ireland in ’77 to record a brace of albums for the Mulligan label, ‘A Kiss In the Morning Early’ and ‘As I Went Over Blackwater’ with the cream of Irish traditional musicians, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Matt Mooloy (now with The Chieftains), Paddy Glackin, Noel Hill, Peter Brown and Declan Sinnott (Mary Black Band). After the release of his debut solo album, Mick regularly embarked on Irish and European tours with Andy Irvine who was forging ahead following the demise of the ground breaking Planxty.

Skip to 1981, Christy Moore leaves Moving Hearts. One man seemed an obvious choice to fill the role of lead singer; and so Mick Hanly found himself handling the vocal chores with the Hearts; far and away the most powerful, innovative and exciting Irish band ever.

Succumbing finally to crippling economic pressures, the band called it a day and went their separate ways in 1985. Once again, Mick Hanly found himself and his acoustic guitar back on the solo circuit. He was not despondent at the prospect of ploughing a solo furrow, as he now had a fresh string to his bow.

While in the Hearts he had begun to perform his own material – ‘All I Remember’ and ‘Open Those Gates’ (written by Mick for the Irish men and women prisoners and hunger-strikers in the Long Kesh concentration Camp), being two of the best known and best loved.

More and more, he found he had tapped into a creative vein that delivered to him the bulk of the songs that went to make up his first album as a country singer-songwriter. The album, Still Not Cured revealed Mick’s emergence as a songwriter to be reckoned with; showcasing songs of lost love, broken relationships and fresh beginnings and new hope. ‘Still not Cured’, ‘The Silence’ and ‘Sorry I Said What I Said’, Became radio hits and Mick was soon back on the road with his new band, Rusty Old Halo. Other Irish artists were now taking his songs seriously – Mary Black being one of the first to record a Mick Hanly original on her celebrated debut album.

1989 say the release of one of Mary Black’s best selling albums up to that period – ‘No Frontiers’ (Dara). Track two, side one say the unveiling of the song that was to eventually launch the rocket of its writer’s success story in the U.S., ‘Past the Point of Rescue’, which Mick recorded on his ‘All I Remember’ album, is a classic song of unrequited love. Riding on a memorable hook and chorus, “.and I wonder if I’m past the point of rescue/ and is no word from you at all the best that you can do”, the song is a masterpiece of finely-honed control and expression. This refined art was not lost on Nashville country-producer Jim Rooney, who passed the song to Hal Ketchum, a new artist he was working with who was about to record his debut album. The song, the title track of Hal’s album, was released in late ’91 as a single. A few short months later, ‘Past the Point of Rescue’ became one of the most played and the most-requested songs on the 2,500 country stations across the U.S., which sent both the single and the album into the top selling charts earlier this year. Mick Hanly had arrived internationally.

These days Mick Hanly is a happy man. He has cause to be, with a hit song under his belt, a new album on release, ‘Warts and All’ (Round Tower Records), and songs such as ‘My Love Is In America’ (one of the great modern songs of emigration), aired daily on Irish radio. He also possesses a strong back-catalogue of songs waiting to be explored and recorded (Fall Like A Stone, Free to Run, Birthmark etc.), as they no doubt will be following the American success of ‘Past The Point of Rescue’. There is, after all, no success like success. He is, along with Jimmy Mc Carthy, Noel Brazil and Donagh Long, one of the truly great Irish songwriters to emerge in recent years. It is a greatness which is being fast recognised by American artists such as country megastar Garth Brooks, who said of Mick, “His songs are real, they mean something. He is one of the best songwriters around at the moment”. Try and catch him. – © P.J. Curtis.

 

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21 responses to “Biography

  • Katherine Madden

    Mick played at the Percy French festival in Castlecoote recently. I have been trying to get “The Silence” (memory from the 80’s) and Mick posted the Rusty Old Halo CD to me! I’m blown away by it and all songs have amazingly well constructed lyrics and music – ah sheer bliss, I just can’t stop listening to the CD, it hasn’t disappointed! Perhaps he should re-release it and feed the music souls of the younger generation with his timeless treasures? Love you Mick, Katherine xxx

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  • Eimear Baxter

    Does anyone know when Mick Hanly’s birthday is?

  • Rosemary Short

    Saw you on the Late Late show for the first time. Very interested in what you said about babies being affected by mothers emotions in the womb. My darling husband died suddenly two years ago having completed a Masters in Psychology as a mature student. He suffered quite a bit from depression, as I do, and he always maintained exactly what you said. I couldn’t believe my ears. He was fostered as a baby and never got over the fact that his Mother gave him away I play the fiddle and Ray thought himself the fiddle and we even busked in Grafton Street together! I hope you have continued success. I was glad to hear your medication worked for you. I am in a very dark place and hope they (the doctors) find a way to help me. Anyway I had to write this to you because I understand everything you say about anxiety and life. I have not taken my fiddle out of its case for two years. Someday soon I hope to say hello to it again. You were an inspiration to me on The Late Late Show and I thank you for that.

    • mickhanly

      Hi Rosemary,
      Thank you for getting in touch…I’m snowed under with people’s good wishes…it’s so heartwarming. Also, people like yourself identifying with this anxiety problem? I’m certain that there is a lot more of it around than we think…but that it’s disguised by self-medication with alcohol, drugs, etc.
      I didn’t mention on the show how important I feel the walk that I try to get in every day..come rain or shine…is? If you can…squeeze in a walk of some description and the fiddle will soon follow? Afterwards..who knows the sun may start to shine again??
      I wish you the very best of health for the future, Mick.

  • John Cunningham

    Hi Mick,
    Really enjoyed ur interview on Late Late Show. As one who suffers from anxiety and depression myself, I found ur openness, honesty and insights on the subject to be very helpful. I found myself using drink the same way u did and have now packed it in as a bad job too.
    God bless you and thanks for the insights.

    John Cunningham, Galway

  • Ede

    I was just listening to the interview with Róisín meets. Lovely to hear it and glad to hear that there’s no mellowing. talk.Everything is sooo mellow and banal these days.Time did fly so you might do another interview soon again. Róisín lets people talk. I really want to see the interview on The Late Late but not on RTE player. Any idea where I can see it? Look forward to reading your book. Bon courage – you have a good smattering of French I heard on the radio. Edel

    • mickhanly

      Edel,
      Apologies…I’ve been away from things for the last while…no excuse…I don’t know where you might see the interview. So far as I know the only place would be RTE player…however, if I learn of another source, I’ll be in touch. No mellowing….too like retirement and that’s not on the cards!!! Mick

  • Kelli Johnson

    Hi Mick! I’m a huge fan of your writing. I would like to record your song “Past the point of Rescue” . Who is your publisher on this song?

    • mickhanly

      Hi Kelli,
      Thank you for your kind words and your interest in Past the Point…..The publisher is:

      Rathmines Music Ltd.
      185 Rathmines Road Lower,
      Dublin 6.

      By the way I’ve just released a new album…if you would like a copy..let me have a snail mail address and I’ll send one to you. I can’t guarantee that you will like all the songs (I’ve returned to a traditional style of writing), but it’s a good piece of work.
      Good luck with your recording,

      Fondest Regards,

      Mick Hanly.

  • Kelli Johnson

    Mick,
    Thank you so much for the quick response!! ! I would love a copy of your new album!
    I’m a songwriter myself, though not as established as you! Could I send you a CD as well? I would be honored if you listened to my music:)
    My address is 129 HAGAN drive , Gadsden,Alabama 35901.
    Thanks and God Bless!

  • Smily Daly

    We shared a few good nights in Douarnenez..

  • christina mc evilly

    great show last night in the town hall in Dundalk..very enjoyable

  • Jim

    Hi Mick,
    Is the ‘As I Went Over Blackwater’ reference to the Blackwater close to Ardnacrusha near Limerick or the Co. Cork river? Regards Jim. Castleconnell.

    • mickhanly

      Hi Jim,
      I have no idea…..my grandmother sang this strange wee song (I’m sure it’s but a snatch of something longer) to me as a child. I was too young to ask her if there was any more to it……but she used to run it into another song that went ‘Where are you going pretty ,bird ? etc’. There was 3 or 4 verses to this.
      That’s pretty much all the info I have,

      Regards,

      Mick.

  • michael nolan

    HI Mick
    Just back from your concert (with Donal) in Kilkee, such a pleasure to see two consummate professionals, at the top of their game! Last time you were in Kilkee, you were rehearsing Moving Hearts in the old Atlantic hotel and eating snacks in between rehearsals in the Beal Bocht in Grattan street where Virginia ( my sister in law) and her crew fed all of the band. Some songs tonight were new to me, beautifully played and sung, well done to both of you. Hope you liked the venue, the acoustics are brilliant, I was in the gallery and we could hear every note. Must download your new “record” soon
    Michael Nolan

    • mickhanly

      Hi Michael,
      Thanks a million for getting in touch….Hey, that brings me back a bit. I have to say, I loved the venue. I found it a bit strange at first and wasn’t too sure about the gallery….I was thinking that ye might feel a little left out up there…I had to keep reminding myself ye were there? Glad you enjoyed the show…..I love playing with Donal, and we get one really well together on the road…above all we have fun and that’s what making music is about. Do download Past the Point…..it’s a good version,

      Hope our paths cross soon again,

      MIck.

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