Review by Ken Williams with Photography by Louise Morris

On a rainy night in Islington, as another Irish singer-songwriter almost said, we go to church. Mick Flannery is in town. Mick is from Cork. Just like me. Mick has a beard. Just like me. Mick is one of our finest artists. Just like I once won a Bachelor of the Year competition.

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If Saturday night is party night, Friday nights feel like the blue collar night out and that’s what Mick sings about: gamblers, groupies, tortured singers, juvenile arsonists – so it feels perfect.

After a quick dinner (with a bottle of Malbec) on Upper Street, we’re in the holy place.

Union Chapel is one of my favourite venues in London. It’s a working church. An architectural treasure. An amazing space. It helps the homeless. Boasts tremendous acoustics. Has friendly staff. Serves wine and hot pies upstair. And is 5 minutes from Highbury & Islington station. In a world of corporate venues that smell of nachos, it’s a beacon.

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Every visit to church needs a Sermanni and when we arrive Rachel is providing a very beautiful one indeed. Rachel Sermanni is Scottish and performs what she calls ‘folk noir’. I call it very good. She sings gorgeous songs, strums sensual guitar and charms the audience in between.

It’s a cliche to say Celts speak with a lilt but with Rachel, the lilt is real. Each dedication is heartfelt, sweet and very easy on the ears. A songwriter of real skill, I’m getting my wife her new record (So It Turns – her third full one) for her Christmas stocking – don’t worry she never reads anything I write (wife not Rachel).

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Rachel says her goodbyes before rushing off back to Scotland so we slide up to the bar for another glass of red. Hope the night train back to Edinburgh wasn’t too crap, Rachel.

The bar is a mix of nice scarves, the liberal elite and immigrants like me. There’s a Friday night buzz and the bar does the business – then the two minute call. Everyone downs their drink, you can’t drink in the venue, it’s a holy place. Enter Father Flannery.

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No fuss. All in black. He’s bigger than I expect, with the look of a quiet giant who smokes fags and drinks pints down the GAA club and will give you a box in the head if you mouth off too much.

Mick is like a rock of granite when performing. He barely moves. His giant back stays still sitting at the piano, his mouth moves at a minimum, but to call it expressionless would be unfair, the effect produces some of the greatest pieces of folky rock since the Macgillycuddy Reeks.

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Some slower songs at the piano set the scene. He shares funny stories about the songs and his process. Then he moves to centre stage and rips things up ever so slightly, shows some of that might and goes back behind the piano for a while – so as not to take the piss like.

He sings songs about marriages, artists, workers. He writes like Dylan, Van Morrison and a sing-along John Steinbeck.

“I lit a small fire, mum. I don’t know who lit the big one” has always been one of my favourite Flannery lyrics. We were treated to its origin story and are richer for it, I’ll never listen to it the same again.

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The hour and a half flies. An evening spent in great company with fantastic tunes. It’s a happy room but Mick can’t resist one more quip, “We’re selling more misery out the back”, he jokes, pointing towards the merch stand. But with one last look around, the musicians bathed in light on the small stage beneath the huge dome and stained-glass windows, it’s hard to feel anything but joy.

Amen.

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