When Colin MacIntyre was a young man on Mull, he’d look out at the Atlantic dark and feel he was on the edge of the world.
His first three albums as Mull Historical Society were imbued with that feeling, and identity with underdogs. The first, Loss (2001), was directly inspired by the death of his father Kenneth, the BBC’s top Scottish political reporter. It sounded strange and wonderful: literally insular glam-rock, bursting with the released energy of a grieving 30-year-old, with such a powerful need to make pop music buzzing in his head he once feared he had schizophrenia.
In the ten years since Loss, MacIntyre has also made two albums under his own name, including a collaboration with Tony Benn, and spent time in London and New York. Now he’s returned to his old band moniker, for a strong pop album out in January. City Awakenings conjures the wonder he felt as a boy in Glasgow or London, coming from Tobermory. Apart from a gig there two days before, he hasn’t played in years, and this strong, rangy man is breathless and sweaty between songs, yelling and stamping his feet during them, exultant to be back. Though he’s playing in an ornate classical hall, the atmosphere oddly makes it feel like a parish hall, and this a local band who’ve made it big but kept their provincial quirks and pride.
“If it wasn’t for my family, I’d have no songs,” it dawns on MacIntyre. 2001’s “Instead” revisits his father’s death, as he searches for something more substantial than “a photograph…an empty space” to fill the void. A laptop brass section and real trumpeter’s fanfare make it majestic. “The Final Arrears” takes us to an uncle’s deathbed. “You Can Get Better” is sung down his mobile phone to another uncle, too poorly to hear it in person on Mull. MacIntyre, a man who used to go hoarse just thinking about songs, gives it everything.
The link between ten years ago and right now feels very strong. Old songs blend with new, and there’s a sense of resurgence, now MacIntyre is more than himself again. “Mull Historical Society” concludes things. It’s a Big Society founded on a little island, welcoming all those cast out by the government’s version. MacIntyre’s fans these days are a small, hardy band, following a resolute, remarkable pop figure.