Musician and Author, Colin MacIntyre, talks about Mull Historical Society’s new unique, collaborative album
Mull Historical Society. It’s not the most obvious name for an artist. Then again, neither was Meat Loaf but it didn’t do him any harm.
“I had various band names when I was a student in Glasgow,” Mull-born Colin MacIntyre tells me. “I was back one summer and saw that Mull Historical Society had a meeting that night in a hall that I’d performed in as a kid. I was just taken by the name… and it felt like it was a bit of an identity for me. It was a creative decision. You do a lot of things instinctively but it gave it a bit of geography.”
Within 18 months, the original society had changed its name to Mull Historical and Archaeological Society in order to make a distinction. “Relations between the two parties remain pretty good,” Colin assures me.
Mull Historical Society has since released eight albums, the latest of which features contributions from a string of talented authors. Titled In My Mind There’s A Room, it brings together the words of invited guest writers who each penned their thoughts relating to a significant room.
“For some time, I’ve wanted to bring my two worlds together of being an author and a musician,” Colin explains. “The actual collaborative element came about because the room in question for me was my grandparents’ flat in Main Street, Tobermory, above the Clydesdale Bank. My grandpa, Angus MacIntyre, was the bank manager for 30 years. He was also known as the bard of Mull, he was a published poet. It wasn’t the usual banker’s residence, it was a bit of a go-to for Cayleigh, storytelling, whisky, languages and all this kind of stuff. People would leave with a poem stuffed in their pocket and an overdraft they didn’t even ask for! He was quite a character, quite eccentric.”
I briefly wonder what my own significant room would be, but I’m too engrossed in Colin’s story to pursue the thought.
“Grandpa was a real big influence on me,” he continues, “and this space hadn’t been in the family for 20 years. Then a friend back home, Gordon McLean, got in touch with me last year. Being a musician and engineer himself, he was looking for a recording studio and lo and behold he said: ‘I’ve found a characterful building with turret windows looking right over the seafront.’ I couldn’t believe it when it was the bank flat!”
Gordon wanted Colin to be the first to make use of the studio. That’s when Colin had what he describes as ‘a bit of a lightbulb moment’.
“It just felt a good time to be more collaborative. I’ve always written everything myself and I was getting this rare opportunity to record in a significant room to me. So I reached out to some of my favourite authors to see if they could give me original words in a significant room to them.”
Nick Hornby was the first to respond saying, ‘How can I not be involved in this?’ This was followed by further positive replies from Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Jacqueline Wilson, Jennifer Clement, Sebastian Barry, Alan Warner, Jason Mott, Jackie Kay, Liz Lochhead, James Robertson and Stephen Kelman.
“I was curious to see what it would be like to work with somebody else’s words,” Colin continues. “I wanted to see where their words, their rooms, would take me. Ian Rankin’s was very much about a teenager in his bedroom, wall to ceiling posters, that being the launchpad for his storytelling.”
Colin also wanted his late grandfather to feature on the album so the final track is Angus MacIntyre reading ‘Memories of Mull’, his most famous poem which, incidentally, was first recorded in that very same room in the 1970s.
“Growing up in Tobermory,” Colin adds, “I was pretty obsessed with The Beatles. I finished the album in Abbey Road and that became the final room which was a full circle for me.”
Having listened to (and enjoyed) the album, I can cite ‘All Empty Rooms Must Be Mourned’ as my favourite.
“I have to be honest, I like them all,” says Colin, perhaps predictably. “But ‘The Red Flame Diner’ by Stephen Kelman… it just grew out of nothing. It’s set in New York and my wife’s a New Yorker so New York means quite a lot to me and I just thought his words were beautiful.”
I’m intrigued to learn what the authors thought once Colin had worked his magic and put music to their words. I’m not at all surprised when he tells me every response was positive.
“It wasn’t until the songs were mastered at Abbey Road that I shared them. I just wanted every one of them to be the best they could be. They could go in different directions style wise, but the unifying element was this element of rooms. It felt like quite a privilege to have my hands on those doors. It was a genuine 50/50 collaboration but I still needed the space to be a songwriter and the freedom to explore. They all knew that from the starting point.”
Having performed four songs from the new album, in addition to a ‘pick and mix’ from his back catalogue at the Edinburgh Fringe, Colin is now looking forward to the Tobermory Book Festival at the end of October.
“That will be nice. I’m going to do a bit of words and music. It’s quite nice to be able to do a bit of both. It’s at the Western Isles Hotel which actually features in my novel funnily enough.”
Colin’s first novel, The Letters of Ivor Punch, was published in 2015. His second novel, the first in a new crime series called ‘The Mull Mysteries’, is due to be released early next year.
“It’s called When The Needle Drops,” he divulges. “In the first book, Ivor Punch is a retired police sergeant. In the new crime series, Ivor Punch returns but he’s younger.”
With such a varied and successful career, I wonder if Colin has one stand-out moment or if there are simply too many highlights to choose one in particular.
“I think getting into print,” he says without hesitation. “Music was just in me as a kid and songwriting is something I’ve been doing since I was about eight years old. But I always had that writing ambition so I think my highlight was seeing The Letters of Ivor Punch in the local book shop where I’d browsed a million times. There have been loads of musical highlights but seeing my book on the shelf was a special moment.”
That would be another significant room then…