One of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite albums of the year so far is Scally Folk – the debut solo record by Matt McManamon, the former frontman of noughties Scouse ska-punkers The Dead 60s.
Don’t expect to be skanking to it, though – his first release in 13 years, it’s a strong collection of reflective and autobiographical songs that are steeped in the tradition of Irish folk music – Liverpool-born McManamon’s family are from County Mayo – as well as the jangly Scouse indie sound of The La’s, and the Wirral psych-pop of The Coral, who were former Deltasonic label mates of The Dead 60s.
McManamon’s new single, Mulranny Smile, is a haunting, folky ballad that’s shrouded in Celtic sea mist, and if Lee Mavers had had tunes like What About You?, Out Of Time and Every Time I Close My Eyes up his sleeve, that second La’s album might’ve actually come out and been another classic.
“Traditional Irish folk, Scouse power-pop, classic ‘90s indie, West Coast American pop-punk and Americana have all influenced this record greatly,” McManamon tells us, in an exclusive interview.
“I think anyone who is aware of my musical past, and the type of music I have been previously associated with, will definitely be surprised, but I’m fairly confident it will be a welcome one.”
Where are you and how’s it going?
Matt McManamon: I divide my time between the west coast and east coast of Ireland, but today I’m currently on the east coast in County Wexford. And it’s all going mightily.
You’re just about to release your debut solo album, Scally Folk, which is your first new music since your previous band, The Dead 60s, split up in 2008. What have you been up to since then and why has it taken 13 years to put a record out? Did you give up on music?
MM: Quite soon after The Dead 60s split, I moved back to my family’s ancestral home, in Ireland, and have been here ever since. I wouldn’t say I gave up on music, but I definitely did take a somewhat unwanted hiatus. I was always chipping away behind the scenes, and attempting various musical projects and activities, but, to be honest, they never came to fruition and barely made it out of the bedroom. That was largely down to confidence issues, which stemmed from The Dead 60s being dropped. I was definitely suffering from two issues in particular: fear of failure and fear of completion.
Through lack of confidence, I was unable to get anything over the finish line. I did, however, avail of the wonderful opportunity that was presented to me a few years back, when I was asked to join The Specials, as a live touring guitarist. That proved to be the first step in me re-finding my confidence and passion for music. It was a long slow process, but I’m pleased to tell you, I’m now firing on all cylinders again.
‘I wouldn’t say I gave up on music, but I definitely did take a somewhat unwanted hiatus’
Scally Folk took 13 years to come out, but only 14 days to record. How were the recording sessions at the Transmission Rooms studio in Drumlish, County Longford, Ireland?
Mick Cronin (Shane MacGowan, Kodeline) produced the record. How was it working with him? What did he bring to the process?
MM: Mick is a dear friend of mine – we’ve known each other for many years. I definitely had a firm idea and vision of how I wanted it to sound, and, in truth, we achieved it and more. It’s fair to say it eclipsed my expectations.
This was down to the invaluable input and musicianship – not only from Mick, but also from guitarist Vinny Redmond, bassist Enda Mulloy, keyboardist Dave Cox, multi-instrumentalist Kane O’Rourke, and whistle and box player, Andy Nolan. All of those people massively helped to shape the vision and sound of the songs.
Did Covid-19 affect your recording plans?
MM: We started the record on July 2 2020, which also happens to be my birthday. I took that as a great omen. In-between lockdown and travel restrictions, due to Covid-19, we did four sessions, lasting three days each, and then a final two days to put it to bed. That accumulated to 14 days’ total recording. It was all signed off, fully recorded, mixed and mastered by November 2020.
‘We started the record on July 2 2020, which is my birthday. I took that as a great omen’
One of my friends, singer-songwriter, John Murry, sings backing vocals on the album. How did you hook up with him?
MM: John just happened to be hanging around the studio, as he had recently completed a session there himself. We quite quickly hit it off, and we have become good friends. We regularly hang out and have some wicked conversations about music. He was highly enthusiastic and complimentary about my songs, as I am of his, so it just made sense to get him singing backing vocals on the album. I asked and he agreed – job done!
The record has Irish and Liverpudlian influences – trad folk and psych-power-pop. There’s a big nod to your roots, isn’t there?
MM: Yes – 100 per cent. I grew up in south Liverpool, in an Irish family that stems from County Mayo. I’ve always considered myself Liverpool-Irish, or Scouse-Irish, and I was very keen to get that point across on the record.
Liverpool power-pop and traditional Irish folk music, have, from an early age, been a great influence on me. I wanted to reflect that in the songs musically and lyrically, which I think I’ve managed to successfully do. I love the idea of flying the flag for Liverpool and Ireland. Hopefully that comes across.
The songs are autobiographical, aren’t they?
MM: Yes – everything I write about is something I’ve done, seen, or experienced. I always try to write with unflinching honesty and, in part, write about difficult subjects or situations that life has a habit of throwing at us. It’s quite therapeutic to be honest.
‘Liverpool power-pop and traditional Irish folk music, have, from an early age, been a great influence on me’
What’s your songwriting process?
MM: I write the songs at home on acoustic guitar, and once the general structure and blueprint is in place, I then bring it to my dear friend, guitarist and musical partner in crime, Vinny Redmond. We then set about finessing the songs by coming up with extra melodies, guitar parts and backing vocals. Lastly, they’re then brought to the wider group of musicians, before we set about recording them.
Were any of the songs old ones, or did you write them all for this album?
MM: There was a mixture of both. There are a couple of songs that were first written approximately 13 years ago, after the dissolution of The Dead 60s, yet there are also songs that were written literally a week before I commenced recording.
I tend not to ‘try’ and write songs – when they come to me, they come to me. The second album is already written and has been partially demoed. As bizarre as this may sound, I never once sat down to ‘write’ the second album. The songs just came out of me super-quick and with the utmost of ease.
What were your main influences for this album – musical, or otherwise?
MM: Geographically speaking, Liverpool and Ireland are huge influences, as well as personal life experience. Musically speaking, traditional Irish folk, Scouse power-pop, classic ‘90s indie, West Coast American pop-punk and Americana have all influenced this record greatly.
‘The second album is already written.The songs just came out of me super-quick and with the utmost of ease’
Do you think the record will surprise people?
MM: I think anyone who is aware of my musical past, and the type of music I have been previously associated with, will definitely be surprised, but I’m fairly confident it will be a welcome one.
Tell me about the title of the album. It has a nice double meaning…
MM: The title came out of a conversation I had with Mick Cronin, when I started doing music professionally again. I would find myself constantly being asked, “What does it sound like?” I always struggled to give any kind of definitive answer.
One day, Mick said to me: “It’s dead easy – it sounds like scally folk”, and with that, not only did I have an album title, but quite possibly a new genre of music. I particularly liked the way it also gave a firm nod to my Liverpool-Irish roots.
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the record. What can you tell me about the first track, Gaslighting? It has some faint echoes of ska – a nod to your Dead 60s – past, doesn’t it?
MM: Yes it does, but that came about by accident. I’d initially intended that song to have a more straight-ish ‘indie’ feel to it, but once we started laying it down in the studio, Vinny came up with the idea of setting off a counter offbeat rhythm to my rhythm guitar, and it just worked fabulously.
I think that throughout the record there are some subconscious nods to The Dead 60s. That was never my intention, but The Dead 60s was a big part of me and who I am, so it stands to reason that hints of the past would invariably seep through.
What about the new single, Mulranny Smile? What can you tell me about that? It has a traditional Irish folk feel. What inspired it?
MM: Mulranny Smile is a dreamy, pure Celtic soul tribute to my grandfather, which also gives a firm nod to a place I came to call home – the picturesque coastal village of Mulranny. Anyone who knows me will tell you of my love for the west coast of Ireland and County Mayo, so the goal was also to immortalise the place in a song.
The song Liberty Shore is in a similar folky vein, isn’t it?
MM: Yes – it has a similar vibe. That song is actually about leaving London for a better future. It’s definitely inspired by some of the great Irish emigrant folk songs that I would’ve heard constantly as a youngster.
One of my favourite songs on the record is Out Of Time. It has a power-pop feel and a big, infectious chorus. I think there’s a La’s and Coral sound to it too. Jumpin’ The Gun comes from a similar place, doesn’t it, as does Every Time I Close My Eyes. I really like the sound of those songs – they’re great, melodic, jangly guitar pop.
MM: Out Of Time was one of the first songs to really spring into life while recording Scally Folk. It was originally intended to sound like a gypsy-esque folk song, but it took on a new lease of life – especially once we cranked up the guitars. It organically morphed into a Liverpool power-pop monster, as did Jumpin’ The Gun.
Every Time I Close My Eyes came out exactly how I envisaged it. Being likened to The Coral or The La’s is definitely no bad thing – it’s something I welcome. And, of course, The Coral were my old label mates.
Here Comes The Fear could be a prequel to There Goes The Fear by Doves, couldn’t it?
MM: That song was actually my attempt to sound like Simon & Garfunkel – again it just organically grew during the recording process. It actually did play on my mind that the title was similar to the Doves song, but musically it isn’t, so I quickly put that out of mind.
I’m a big fan of Doves – they’re a great band. I really wanna catch then live soon, or, better still, I’d love to support them. If any members of Doves happen to read this, I’d just like to let you know that I’m here and I’m available. Ha-ha.
Any plans to play live this year?
MM: Yes, there’s going to be a small UK tour in November – details to come very soon, I’m just in the process of getting it all signed off.
There may well be something a little sooner this year, but it’s still too early for me to book anything with confidence, especially as Covid and Brexit seems to have worked a number on the live music scene.
What music – new and old – are you enjoying at the moment?
MM: Fontaines D.C., DMA’s, John Murry, Jagged Baptist Club, Paul Westerberg, and John McGlone and The Souls Of Emotion.
Can you recommend some other ‘scally folk’ to me? Music and/ or people?
MM: There’s nobody, to my knowledge, doing ‘scally folk’. It’s something that my crew and me have invented. I am the original and best scally folker. Ha-ha-ha.
‘One memory that springs to mind is meeting and hanging out with Paul McCartney in the studio, in New York, while we were recording our second album. That was pretty surreal’
A lot of bands from the era of The Dead 60s are reforming? Were you not tempted?
MM: At this moment in time, I’m too busy doing my solo stuff. I always say ‘never say never’ but, in all honesty, I can’t see it ever happening. The past is the past. Onwards & upwards – the future is scally folk.
Finally, any memories – good or bad – from your time in The Dead 60s that you can share?
MM: I have absolutely tons of good memories. One that springs to mind is meeting and hanging out with Paul McCartney in the studio, in New York, while we were recording our second album. That was pretty surreal. But, honestly, there are so many. I’d have to put them down in a book
‘A book?’ you say. Funny that! I’ve been writing my memoirs and it’s very close to completion. It’s called: Giz A Gig… A Personal Journey Through The Liverpool Music Scene & Beyond. I’m hoping to get it published in the very near future. Watch this space.
Matt McManamon’s new single, Mulranny Smile, is out now on Fretsore Records. The album, Scally Folk, will be released on May 28.