It's Not That Grim Up North: Interview with Mull Historical Society's Colin MacIntyre
by Anna Battista
Part of the Inner Hebrides, Mull is one of the most popular islands of Scotland, and not only because of its marvelous scenery created by impressive mountains, fairy tale-like castles, rugged coasts and a picturesque capital, Tobermory. No, for a minute forget the sheep, the grey seals and the wild goats that populate the Inner Hebrides, and think about something else. Think about music for example, in particular pop music courtesy of a terrific band named Mull Historical Society. Aye, I know that many of you are now wondering if living in Mull would be somehow like being cut out of the world. "Yes, but I made you find your own entertainment, I played football and music, what more could you want?" Colin MacIntyre, the voice and the soul behind Mull Historical Society replies. Well, the man is right. He mustn't have felt that cut out of the world, if he's the main creator of a band that plays a unique blend of pop, the musical mind behind Loss, one of the best albums of the year 2001, which contained tracks such as MHS's first single "Barcode Bypass," its glorious follow-up "I Tried" and the latest, the sunny and solar and summery "Watching Xanadu."
"I've been playing music and writing what I thought then were songs since I was about six years old. The first track I ever recorded was 'My Baby's Gone Away,' with my cousin when I was about six or seven years old. It wasn't a classic!" Colin reveals. "I released my first single 'Barcode Bypass' in November 2000, after having written hundreds of songs, it was a struggle! But I wanted it to be right and it feels that way now." Actually, it feels brilliant, or rather it sounds brilliant, especially because, after changing this and that job, Colin seems to have finally managed to make a dream and obsession come true. "Before becoming a musician, I worked in an office, I worked at BT, I was a student. I was doing music and writing the whole time though. I wrote the song 'Mull Historical Society' first, after having seen a local newspaper ad on Mull for the real MHS. I liked the mystery of the name, since it doesn't sound like a band and it's more interesting than my name!" Funnily, he proclaims that the honorary member of Mull Historical Society would be "Tobermory, The Womble!"
Mull remains a particularly lucky and shining star in the personal constellation of Colin's life: "I just had a mini documentary filmed about my music on Mull by friends of mine for Channel 4 TV. We filmed the sheep, the local old women, the fishing boats, the weather, the beaches -- and some music!" Scotland has always had a great musical tradition: Postcard Records dictated a trend in the early '80s, and Glasgow has always been considered a hotbed for musicians. Colin admits to know not much about Postcard Records, though the booklet of Loss looks like a Postcard Records extravaganza, with all the cut-ups, weird ads and photos. Colin likes Orange Juice's Rip It Up and The Delgados' latest album The Great Eastern, but he doesn't identify his music with that of any other Scottish band. "Geographically, I'm obviously from Scotland, but I don't really know that it has any significance. I'm from the Isle of Mull, which lies off Scotland's West Coast on the Atlantic Ocean -- it's remote and maybe that has more of an influence lyrically on what I do than being Scottish. As a musician I have no real heroes, but I loved John Lennon as a kid. David Bowie and Bob Dylan came later. It's hard to know what influences me really -- I just try and mix it all up and come up with something of my own. While I'm at home I use to listen to John Lennon, Neil Young, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Eminem, but recently I've been listening to a lot of classical stuff, such as J.S.Bach. Just a mix of stuff, don't get much time though! I think I'll keep producing myself at the moment. Though doing something with Radiohead would be great."
Colin lived for a while in Glasgow, but he doesn't seem to have hung around with the local bands. "I was always playing my own music really. I struggled at time to find musicians in Glasgow. I've been through quite a few different bands playing my music, but hopefully it was always leading to what is happening now. I couldn't have done it without the help of some people in Glasgow in the venues and rehearsal rooms, who were always supportive. It's nice for them to see that things have finally come together also."
Regarding Loss, Colin says, "There are no particularly favourite tracks on the album, but I suppose that 'Barcode Bypass', being the first single that started it all and raised awareness to what I was doing, will always be significant." "Barcode Bypass" will actually also be significant for another reason: "I wanted the sound of an electric saw on 'Barcode Bypass' so I went with my engineer to a local plant-hire machinery yard. There we recorded a still-saw with a mini-disc recorder. It caused much amusement with the staff in the shop and I was delighted with the effect. It comes in just before the coda in 'Barcode Bypass'. It adds to it a sinister edge. Thanks to Martin Planthire, Glasgow!"
Mull Historical Society have been hailed as a novelty by many music journalists, but what does Colin think of music journalism in the end? "Like everything else, there is good and bad. Hype is the worst thing, but there are good music journalists and bad, just as there are good musicians and bad." And talking about people who are good at doing something, apart from being good at playing and writing songs, Colin, the man that puts at the top of his fave books Post Office by Charles Bukowski, admits that there's something else he'd like to do. "I'd like to think I'd be writing. I've got a couple of novels that I should do something with sometime and poetry. So, hopefully, if I weren't a musician I'd be doing that -- or busking?"
One of the latest gigs MHS played was on Hogmanay in Edinburgh, when they played to an enthusiastic crowd. "Edinburgh was incredible!" he says. "Had the crowd singing along. Did a Mull Historical Society version of 'Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town' -- It was a riot. Just a great thing to be doing and everyone was in great spirits and up for having a laugh. It was a great end to the year for me and everyone involved with Mull Historical Society. But the hang-over was unbearable! What a nite!"
Colin and his band will be rather busy in the next months: "I'm off to London today to do loads of promo for the next single, 'Watching Xanadu' which will continue all this month. I have four weeks booked in the studio to begin recording new material as I have about forty or so songs to do. Then I'll be touring the UK in February and Europe in March. Can't wait to tour Europe, I'm sure Italy will be among the dates -- it's great to have the album out there and gigging across Europe will be fantastic! The new album will be out at the end of this year or at the beginning of next I'd imagine." So, if you're lucky you'll be able to catch around Europe Colin and the rest of MHS--Alan Malloy on bass, Tony Soave on drums and Colin MacPherson on keyboards--and if you're not, then just surf the net and get on www.mullhistoricalsociety.com to join the not-so-secret society directly on their web site, a web site on which Colin would like to see "More hits!" A thing, I guess, he won't have to wait a long time to see. "Me me me, I'm determined to be a loser," sings Colin in "I Tried." Losers? This guy and his band? Oh, forget it!
All the pics used in this article are taken from the Mull Historical Society web site. Thanks to Colin MacIntyre for his patience in answering my questions!