Tipsy Sailor and the Wild Geese – these are two of the bands Mick Fitzgerald has played with. The Wild Geese are still very well known in Germany, even though they broke up in 1989.
Mick was a member of the band’s last formation, joining the Wild Geese in 1982 and touring with them throughout Europe. But how about Ireland? Home audiences were neglected to some extent during the hectic years of touring abroad, and this may be one reason why Mick is not as recognised in Ireland as he deserves to be. But, as he said at during a gig in Cologne in 2010, his first solo gig in Germany for almost 25 years, “in a way my career is only starting now.”
The fact that he was away on tour when things were happening in Ireland is only part of the explanation. Mick is a multi-talented artist and divides his time between music and other pursuits. Of course FolkWorld is mainly interested in his music career. Mick was born in Dublin in 1951, but spent his early years in his grandparents’ house in Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow, a place that features frequently in his songs and imbues them with a very special atmosphere – for example in “Rathdrum Fair”, which has been recorded 11 times by others musicians; Mick once even heard it played in Dublin by buskers from the US who were under the impression that it was a very old song with no known composer.
His father played music, and his mother sang on Irish radio in the 1940s – Mick sings his mother’s version of the Irish song “Turus go Tír na nÓg” on the CD The Enchanted Lake. Mick’s grandfather was a step dancer and played so beautifully on an ivy leaf that a motoring tourist once stopped and asked where the fiddler was hiding. What better background to foster young Mick’s musical talent. Mick admits that he never quite understood the trick with the ivy leaf, though...
Early on Mick discovered his love for theatre and acting, and studied in Dublin with such luminaries as Deirdre O’Connell (who founded the Focus Theatre and was married to Luke Kelly, which brings us back to music). After the Wild Geese disbanded, the acting bug bit again. In recent years Mick appeared, among other roles, in An Ideal husband by Oscar Wilde and The Quare Fella by Brendan Behan, and currently is rehearsing Executions by Ulick O’Connor.
But there is yet another string to Mick’s bow: short story writing. His first story was published in 1986, still during the Wild Geese days, and was immediately nominated for the prestigious Hennessey Award for short story debuts. Perhaps writing short stories was a sort of natural extension of writing songs, many of which are traditional in style, like “Rathdrum Fair”. But Mick was also one of the few around 1980 who also wrote songs about current, topical issues, for instance a hilarious ballad (as yet sadly unrecorded) about the eternal unpunctuality of Dublin buses, or “Me brother’s a TD”, which satirises useless members of parliament who still manage to cream off money wherever they can (this one is also unrecorded as yet but has at least made it into a book).
Musician, songwriter, actor, author – anything else?
All these talents combine and play off each other in many ways. In The Quare Fella Mick had to sing as well as act, though as he was playing a very mean character on stage, he sang the gentle love song “Peggy Gordon” from behind the scenes. During his own solo performances, the distinctions between acting, music and storytelling genres blur completely as he explains the background to a song or reads one of his stories dramatising several voices. The background stories often tell where he got hold of a song, for Mick is an active collector too. Many of the traditional songs he sings have been compiled from fragments he gleaned from different sources, and he adds lines to make the fragments complete.
Artists with so many different talents are rare, whether in Ireland or elsewhere; Mick’s colleagues speak very highly of him, but the wider public has yet to discover him. A new CD is out, recorded live in 2011 in the Eifel mountains. Eifel? Sure, the Eifel region and Mick go very well together. Before the gigs he wanted to know what kind of place the Eifel was, as it didn’t mean a thing to him. “Mountains, old volcanos”, he was told, “looks a lot like Co. Wicklow.” Which the Rathdrum fan refused to believe, of course. The day after the first gig we went for a drive – and Mick, surveying the landscape between Rheinbach and Münstereifel, said in surprise: “Strange, this looks a lot like Co. Wicklow.” Small wonder than that his voice was in great form; those who listen carefully will also hear the frogs in Rheinbach and the swallows in Gimmersdorf join in the chorus.
Photo Credits: (1)-(4) Mick Fitzgerald (unknown/website).