This month would have been singer-songwriter Mic Christopher’s fiftieth birthday. A new documentary sheds life on his life which was so cruelly cut short.
“It’s strange thinking about how long I’ve spent rummaging around this man’s life. It’s an odd thing, telling somebody’s life story.”
In November 2016, friends and fans of the late Mic Christopher gathered in Dublin’s Vicar Street venue to celebrate the joyous songs he left behind before his untimely death in 2001, aged thirty-two. Over the course of the evening, a commemorative gig for Christopher’s fifteenth anniversary, Glen Hansard was joined on stage by several stalwarts of the Irish music scene; Bronagh Gallagher, Colm Mac Con Ionmaire and Paddy Casey, amongst others. All of whom had, in one form or another, played music with the songwriter throughout the 1990s. This September another milestone beckons; Mic Christopher’s fiftieth birthday.
To a certain extent, since his death, Mic Christopher has garnered a sort of mythological status. Take a moment to list the things you know about the Bronx-born, Clondalkin-raised musician. Undoubtedly, the chorus for his most successful hit, HeyDay, which soundtracked a pre-Hollywood Michael Fassbender swimming across the Atlantic ocean in an effort to make amends with a friend in New York over a pint of Guinness, comes quickly and easily to mind.
On a more tragic note, the circumstances surrounding his accidental death, a fatal head injury resulting from falling down a series of steps whilst in the Netherlands (in the final weeks of his life he joined The Waterboys on their tour as the support act) is often mentioned when his name enters a conversation. However, between those snapshots are a number of stories that portray an exceptionally humble artist with an innately mismatched combination of having boundless talent with little interest in playing the industry game. Shrouded in Mic Christopher’s mystique are anecdotes of teenage years spent busking on Grafton Street, travelling to Bosnia with his former band The Mary Janes to perform at the opening of the Pavarotti Music Centre, actively avoiding the gaze of A&R heads, and, most crucially, how he was a central figure in bringing people together through music.
Official Trailer: Tickets to World Premiere on July 13th available now -https://www.galwayfilmfleadh.com/project/heyday-the-mic-christopher-story/
Gepostet von Heyday: The Mic Christopher Story am Freitag, 5. Juli 2019
Finally, in a new feature-length documentary, HeyDay: The Mic Christopher Story, directed by Alan Leonard in collaboration with Speed of Light Films and Single Cell Films, light is being shed on the life and career of a songwriter who made an indelible impact on Irish music in a short space of time and with a limited body of work. On one of the final evenings of summer, a funeral party congregated upstairs in a central Dublin hotel. It seemed appropriate, if not eerily coincidental, that whilst waiting at the bar to order an orange juice I overheard strangers converse fondly about somebody they knew that was now gone.
Glass in hand, as I approach Níall Carver, the documentary’s producer, he’s sitting at a table reading The Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine’s 2014 memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. Later in our conversation he touches on how Albertine described that to be labeled “careerist” was to be marked with a dirty badge within the punk scene. This crossed-over to one of the contributing factors to Christopher’s enigmatic legacy. “Mic struggled with the idea of engaging with labels and taking a careerist approach to music. He never wanted to sell-out. In that way, he was his own worst enemy.”
With that in mind, when you see footage throughout the film of Christopher playing with The Mary Janes or doing solo sets there’s an overwhelming sense that he could have been hugely popular with Irish and international crowds. “When Mic performed, there was an effortlessness to his style,” said Carver. “It’s as though he was touched with a musical genius. The fact that Skylarkin’ was the first body of Mic’s solo work – outside of The Mary Janes two LPs – boded so well for what he could have made. It does him a disservice to think of what he could have done instead of taking the philosophical approach and celebrate what he did achieve in such a short space of time.”
Now, more than ever, feels like the right time for Christopher to be celebrated. Amongst the wave of new bands and artists claiming their spot in Ireland’s fruitful music scene, there’s been room to appreciate the figures who have, from either little-to-no industry-backing or limited opportunities their music heard by audiences during their lifetime, slipped through the cracks. Since 2018, through their Allchival imprint, Dublin’s All City Records have been busy putting out a series of releases from Ireland’s lesser-known musical treasures such as Michael O’Shea and Shano. Expanding on why Christopher’s musical legacy struggled to reach the acclaim it warranted, Carver claimed, “I suppose it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing. Now more than ever, it’s so important for artists to have a live presence to make sure that their music is reaching audiences.
Mic wasn’t around to tour Skylarkin’ when it came out because he passed away the year before. Yes, it went to number one in Ireland at the time, but the albums that came out at that time have lasted in memory more because the artists were and still are around to perform those songs.” It’s through interested and proactive external sources, like All City Records and Carver and his team of Alan Leonard and cinematographer Fiona Graham, where some of Ireland’s most vital voices in Irish music are finally being heard.
Reflecting on a project that he has worked on for close to a decade, Carver considered the weight and responsibility in making a documentary of this ilk, “It’s strange thinking about how long I’ve spent rummaging around this man’s life. It’s an odd thing, telling somebody’s life story.” The documentary features interviews with Christopher’s contemporaries, including the aforementioned Hansard, Colm Mac Con Ionmaire, Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Horgan, Rónán Ó’Snodaigh, and Josh Ritter along with his family sharing memories of the man who sang about making his Heyday last forever. What began as a radio documentary submitted as part of a thesis for his Communications Degree from Dublin City University, Carver was inspired to piece together the various strands of Christopher’s life because, as he recalled, here was “a really great story that nobody has ever told.”
Having moved from Cork to Dublin over twenty-years ago whilst dabbling in songwriting, Carver remembered his introduction to Mic Christopher’s music, “We had a number of mutual friends that I’d been playing music with. In December 2001, I was at a friend’s house, where a group of people prepared for an upcoming performance of HeyDay on The Late Late Show’s New Year’s Eve special. That was the first time I heard of Mic and his music. From that moment on, I became fascinated by his songs because it cut through everything else that was around at that time.” A year after Christopher’s death, in 2002, under the tutelage of Karl Odlum (a dear friend and former Mary Janes member) Skylarkin’ – Christopher’s only solo record – was released and took home the prize for Best Irish Album at the 2003 Meteor Awards.
When you listen to the record today, there’s a timelessness in both the arrangements and lyrics. The songs remain fresh, exuding a comforting warmth anchored by his gravelly cadence which sometimes resembles Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. “Everytime I listen to the album, something new stands out to me,” smiled Carver. “You can go deep with the lyrics, almost thinking that his words foreshadowed something, even though that wasn’t his intention. On ‘Skylarking’ he sings, “Cos my songs don’t know that I exist / And though I give them life it is.” That verse ends with a beautiful line, “My songs are friends I’ll never know.”
At the core of what Carver hopes will come from making this feature-length, which has been included in this year’s IFI Documentary Festival’s programme, is that Christopher’s music will be heard and appreciated, “You hope that the music will be enjoyed for a second time around and hopefully reach a new audience, also.” He continued, “I also thought it was important to document his legacy. I wanted to give him the chance to be discovered as an Irish Nick Drake for generations to come. That was the lofty aim, anyway, in making the documentary. Most people listening to the radio in Ireland will recognise HeyDay, but to a certain extent, the rest of his music has fallen through the cracks. For me, as a music fan, the idea of a kid discovering Mic Christopher, hearing his music because we made a film about him was always a huge inspiration and motivation. Who knows how people will be consuming culture in twenty or thirty years, but let’s presume it’s similar to today, you hope that there’ll be people, maybe even around the world, flicking through say Netflix and go, ‘Oh, let’s watch this,’ and for Mic Christopher to become a sort of Sugarman figure.”
Certainly, as you watch people remember Christopher and detail his life, in which he did so much, you come away from the documentary feeling like you knew him, too. You feel how the loss of Mic Christopher is as palpable as it was eighteen years ago when the news of his accident reached home.
With HeyDay: The Mic Christopher Story now a completed chapter in Carver’s career, he’s forthcoming on the impact the project has had on him and his life.
“Rónán Ó’Snodaigh said to me after the Vicar St show in 2016, ‘You’ve carried Mic’s soul with you for a long time.’ That floored me. I feel blessed to have had Mic be such an important part of my life from the making of the documentary. It’s very humbling to think it all just happened the way it did. At this stage, I think of Mic as a friend. I’ve talked to him a lot and had countless moments where I’ve asked him if we’re doing ok with the project. Towards the final stages, we almost had a four-hour long film. Alan and I had a huge challenge editing the film in terms of making sure it made sense filmically. We had a lot of back-and-forth with what worked and what we needed to have in there; whether it was including certain pieces of music or making certain points. During those stressful times, I used to ask Mic, ‘Are we doing alright?’ I’ve even consulted him about aspects of my personal life. I think of him as an avuncular presence, a sort of older dude that’s part of my life now.”
HeyDay: The Mic Christopher Story screens as part of the IFI Documentary Festival on Saturday September 28 at 8.30pm and will be followed by a Q&A director Alan Leonard and producer Níall Carver.
Words: Zara Hedderman
Photographs of Mic: Patrick Glennon
Quotes from Those Who Knew Mic Christopher
“His lyrics weren’t straight-forward. They were unique.” – Paddy Casey, singer and musician.
“He used to write his phone number in pen on the back of the CDs so anyone who went into Road Records to buy it had Mic’s phone number. People would text him, that he didn’t know, and say, ‘Hey Mic, I got your EP and I really liked it. Hope you’re well!’ And he would text back. It was brilliant.” – Donal Scannell, founder Born Optimistic
“‘HeyDay’ is about just that. This is it, this is your Heyday and you’re not going to be afraid to shout. I think those are words to live by and he really ways the guy to say them.” – Josh Ritter, singer and musician