FORMED IN 1977 by a group of All-Ireland winning musicians, Stockton’s Wing almost immediately stepped away from their pre-band trad roots by abandoning staples. The Ennis act, named after a Bruce Springsteen lyric, went on to produce more than a dozen well-loved albums that explore the boundaries of guitar-pop and rock.
Mike Hanrahan was there for it all, and now stands at the heart of the band’s revival. The vocalist has spent serious time away from music, becoming a high-end chef and teaching in a cookery school after an extended period learning on a job miles from his prior, musical life. Today, Stockton’s Wing return with a retrospective release, named after their hit single ‘Beautiful Affair’, released on major label Universal.
“It was quite a nostalgic process, listening back to all the albums and thinking of times during recordings,” Hanrahan says. “As we progressed we got more into the writing aspect of it, being more creative. It was good looking back at those phases and sounds that the band went through, and remembering the musicians who came and went. It was very transient. There was always that central Stockton’s Wing sound. Looking back, we did okay, we left a good mark behind us.”
Having started out with a trad-related sound, but playing very much their own music, Stockton’s Wing initial riled the purists. It was a different time, musically, and Hanrahan never let it bother him. “We always figured that for every purist we lost, we gained a lot more young people who just wanted the music,” he laughs. “I never think about the people who gave out to us. It’s more about those we enjoyed and had a good time with.”
“I remember I discovered Doolin when I left school, and back then it was really a hive for new thinking. There was a real air of protest, so it was a good time to start with music. People were open to different things, and bands like Horseslips, my greatest influence, were blazing a trail. It’s the same now with people taking Irish music onto a different level. Who are we to tell them not to?”
There’s not just retrospective material to be examined, though, with Stockton’s Wing back in the studio themselves. “We have a live album recorded with your new band,” Hanrahan tells me. “They’re young, exciting musicians and we’re writing tunes again. I hope the live album will be out later in the year, and the next step after that is to go back into the studio. We’ve been reuniting on and off all our lives, and this year we just decided to return.”
“We’ve been lucky to get the support of Universal who have taken on all our music,” he continues. “They’ve been a great support, because the Irish music industry isn’t the best, it has a real village mentality and doesn’t spread its wings. To have someone with the might of Universal come in behind you, we really appreciate it.”
“We get a really positive energy. These are happy days for us, we’ve got offers coming in for shows that weren’t there a couple of months ago. We’ve got offers in America, and in England. We’ll see what happens when we’ve taken a breath, and then go back into it.”
“I went into a whole different world as a professional cook, hiding away in the steam. When I came back out, there are no singles anymore, it’s all changed, but what’s nice about Ireland is there still is autonomy for DJs and stuff like that. We’re in a good place.”
Stockton’s Wing’s Beautiful Affair: A Retrospective is out now.