Postcards from the Edge: Mike Hanrahan – Cooking up a storm

With a book tour, live music tour and a number one album, singer-songwriter Mike Hanrahan‘s year was looking really good. Then Covid-19 came and he had nowhere to go. So he took a leap into online performing and created a positive space for those sailing into the unknown

After studying and teaching at Ballymaloe Cookery School, followed by 10 years working in the food industry, I recently returned to my wonderful life of music. In the past few months I celebrated a number one album with Stockton’s Wing, my book Beautiful Affair – A journey of music, food and friendship, was published and was shortlisted as best Irish published book of the year in the An Post Irish Book Awards.

A book tour was in progress; tours were set with Leslie Dowdall and Eleanor Shanley; The Wing had a few gigs throughout the summer; and I was back writing songs again. My year was looking really good, I was bubbling, at a creative peak, ready for action, with so many places to go. Then suddenly, I had nowhere to go.

It’s frightening to watch the pages of your working diary flitter away on a breeze of Covid 19 until all you have left is one book festival appearance, in Wexford, at the end of September. In a year of empty theatres, a southeast stage becomes your focal point, your only hope – all is not yet lost. You imagine the space, the lights, the audience, the stories, the laughter and the songs. As each day passes without a quit notice, your resolve is spun by that single thread of hope.

Fear filled my first days of isolation but I knew I had to address it in a positive way, give my life some structure, occupy myself with purpose and discipline to ward off any signs of depression or anxiety that thrive in such times of uncertainty, always ready to pounce.

Facebook can be a cruel place at times and, in the midst of a growing number of keyboard warriors, I decided to use its platform to counteract the negativity, shut it out by creating a positive space for me and others who were sailing out on similar boats into the unknown.

I offered to help people develop new skills in that part of the house that hitherto had been cordoned off, a no-go area – the kitchen. On the first day I gave simple recipes: my mum’s brown bread, an Irish stew and an orange cake. Within minutes the pings of like, love and smiles lit up my screen with countless post approvals and queries. A friend suggested I go live and sing.

Two days later, on March 15th, I pressed ‘Live’ for the first time.

Am I on? Can you hear me ok?” Hearts flew across my screen, I sang Beautiful Affair, talked cooking and baking. Later I read and replied to all the wonderful messages from all over the world, Nova Scotia, Arkansas, Michigan, Boston, London, Sydney, Geneva, Thailand and Myanmar. I remember Myanmar from my stamp collection. My friend John Cutliffe lives there now and he baked my mum’s brown bread for his family. How cool is that?

I received photos, recipes, suggestions, questions and so many gifts, including a stunning pencil drawing of Ronnie Drew which formed part of my backdrop. As the days passed my music room was my main stage where I creatively thrived. My lockdown had found its antidote.

For 57 days I woke up, planned, researched and wrote a menu blog. At 1.07pm ‘Cooking up a Storm’ lunchtime concert went out live. I sang my old songs, new ones, odd requests, talked food, gave tips, responded to queries, interacted and sometimes ranted about things that annoyed me. Like the day Facebook accused me of a copyright breach of my own music and another tune from the 1950s which I had legally downloaded and paid for called, ‘If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake, baked a cake.’ I particularly enjoyed that rant.

When easing of restrictions was announced I decided to close the curtain. On the final day I posted the following:

To all of you who jumped on board ‘Cooking up a Storm’ throughout its nine glorious weeks of fun, craic and laughter.

The end of any tour is always bittersweet, the longing to return to the calm of the nest sits uncomfortably with the knowledge that the adrenalin buzz will soon dissipate, yet it is during that emotional transition you realise just how lucky you are to experience such diversity in your life, to connect with so many people who walk in and out of your daily routine leaving behind a beautiful glow of friendship.

These past nine weeks I found many kindred spirits in food, music and chat as we meandered our way through an astonishing and unprecedented period of all of our lives. I feel lucky, fulfilled and enriched this morning. Little did I know on March 13th 2020 this incredible journey would take me into so many homes and hearts. It has replenished my faith in humanity and in that beautiful side of Facebook which allows us a space to be kind to each other, friendly, supportive and non-judgemental. The end of this tour is sweet because it really is only a beginning.

Twas friendship brought us all together
Friendship makes our hearts unite
Friendship leads a life of pleasure
Twas friendship brought us here tonight.

People are inherently good and decent and at ‘Cooking up a Storm’ we sailed through the unknown with the knowledge that, on any given day at 1.07pm, we could moor for a short rest at https://www.facebook.com/mikehanrahan46/ to celebrate life, friendship and humanity.

The day after it ended two significant events occurred. My new iPhone developed a glitch which knocked me off all networks for several days. It had had enough. And I received an email from The Write by the Sea festival in Wexford to sadly announce the cancellation of this year’s event but with an invitation to come back on September 21st, 2021 to fulfil the booking.

My diary has started its refill.

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780008308759/beautiful-affair-a-journey-in-music-food-and-friendship/

 

We’d like to hear from you! Back to normal or time for radical change? We’re asking people for their views (in less than 350 words) on how to move forward together in Clare in the wake of Covid-19. You can win a €50 restaurant/take-away voucher. Details of how to submit here: http://clareppn.ie/what-do-we-want/

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