Now & Then Playlist: Mull Historical Society looks back on 22 years of making music as a new anthology of his recordings from 2000-2004 is released

Acclaimed Scottish indie artist Colin MacIntyre, aka Mull Historical Society, has an anthology of his early records out in the new year via Demon Records, alongside deluxe double 12″ vinyl resissues of his first three albums Loss, Us and This Is Hope. The four CD box set Archaeology: Complete Recordings 2000-2004 features all three albums and a treasure trove of unreleased material, featuring 80 tracks in all along with a media book compiling exclusive photographs, extracts from his writings (including a preview of his new memoir ‘The Boy In the Bubble’), and a chapter on Loss from Tom Clayton’s 2022 book When Quiet Was The New Loud, and an essay from journalist Billy Sloan discussing the Mull Historical Society legacy.

Mull Historical Society will also be playing a special anniversary live performance of Loss and Us at Celtic Connections on 3rd February 2023.

We caught up with Colin to reflect on the years in which these albums were recorded and released and contrast them with today’s music scene.

How did the anthology release come about?

It is 21 years since my debut ‘Loss’ came out, and 20 years since my second album ‘Us’ was released. So it felt like a good time to pull a lot of songs, years, experiences together. I’m usually all about looking forwards creatively but it has been quite a life-flashing-before-the-eyes experience revisiting my first four years of releasing, which was a very prolific period. How it came about was that Bernard Butler produced my last Mull album Wakelines, and he was doing a reissue with Demon Records, and recommended them. So I contacted them and they have been great to deal with. 

The collection has grown and evolved to include an 80-track Box-set, including my first 3 albums, plus rarities, live tracks, session tracks, covers and b-sides. There is also a 36-page booklet, including articles, exclusive live shots, extracts from books and tour memorabilia. I’m particularly pleased my third MHS album This Is Hope is coming out on vinyl, because it never did on its original release. So it was great to revisit that. 

The boxset is titled Archaeology, not only because it literally feels like I have been digging in boxes for material, and creatively for years, but because the real MHS on the island (whose name I stole) had to change their name to ‘Mull Historical Society & Archaeology’ as a result of this upstart. Though relations between both bodies are good. I’m pleased now to also have an ‘archaeological’ arm.

How did it feel revisiting these albums and looking back at pictures, reviews and footage from that time?

I recently moved and was organising a lot of archive material and it felt really good actually to connect with those earlier versions of yourself, and relive lots of exciting and creative times. I write books now too so it was important to me that the collection reflected my 20+ year music journey, but also my pursuits as a writer/novelist. The booklet includes extracts from my memoir Hometown Tales: The Boy in the Bubble and also a chapter on Loss from the excellent book, When Quiet Was The New Loud by Tom Clayton. 

It is great to be able to hold these works in my hands and say, ‘well this was what was in my head, in my life, all around me, at this point in my life’. It was an exciting period when my life changed, but somehow I was still the 14-year-old kid in my bedroom, with a 4-track and a head full of dreams, but getting to realise them. There are a lot of additional backstage/studio photos taken by my cousin, Paul Kirsop, who is a great photographer, that have never been used before.

Looking back at your earliest release in 2000, where do you think it fitted into the music scene of the time and what about it and the other records in the anthology has meant they’ve been able to stand the test of time well enough to warrant a reissue?

My first release was ‘Barcode Bypass’ and it was amazing to me the reception it received, but it also felt very natural and I was quite at home with how my life was changing in a sense, because it was everything I’d ever wanted. The song was about an ageing shopkeeper trying to tell his wife that they are going under as a result of the new 24-hour superstore nearby. I switched the track to the first-person narrative and it just came alive. I kind of inhabited that man. It was as much The League of Gentlemen as anything else. So I suppose it was my comment on globalisation and the draining of community.  I come from a small community so that is always at the heart of what I do, maybe those elements have given my work a sense of place, and a test of time.

I remember being at King Tuts in Glasgow sound-checking one afternoon to find out that Jo Whiley had just played all 7 minutes of it on her Radio 1 show. People did say my stuff sounded different at the time, but I suppose I was just having fun – arrangements using synths, tubular bells, steel drums, choir boys — it just feels more sonically interesting to me.

It’s hard for me to answer where I fitted in but I think a lot of the material that had inspired me (see my 2000 playlist below) kind of merged into a melting pot of my own sound. I did record a lot of songs for my first 3 albums because I wanted to give them all a chance, so as a songwriter I feel they all warrant a revisit now.

The booklet part of the boxset has tour memorabilia from early tours with The Strokes, REM, and others. I also found a photo of my meeting with one of my artistic heroes, David Byrne, and have included that in the booklet. He turned up at my first ever US MHS show in NYC. Unfortunately I blinked in the shot, but who cares, he was there!! (Still not sure if he was expecting the real Mull Historical Society).

Were there any bands back then that were on a similar wavelength to you or that you felt a sort of kinship with?

There are cover versions of The Strokes’ ‘Last Nite’, Radiohead’s ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ and ‘It Takes More’ by Ms Dynamite. I toured with The Strokes on their debut UK tour, great times, and also Radiohead came to the Oxford show; they had hugely influenced me so it was quite a proud, but nervy moment…

I moved from the isle of Mull to Glasgow and quickly (through football as much as music) met Belle & Sebastian, Snow Patrol and others, and found a scene in a sense. But really I was always working pretty solo tbh. And I remember hearing a song in HMV in Glasgow and asking who it was and it was ‘Holes’ off Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs album. That album became a huge influence, alongside OK Computer and the Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin, Grandaddy, Beta Band’s 3EPs, as well as Eminem, Wu-Tang Clan and a lot of Hip Hop. I was also massively into Bach’s Goldberg Variations and that Baroque style. All of those created a melting pot for me to find my own voice in a sense.

I remember Geoff Travis from Rough Trade playing me a CDR on his Walkman (yes, Walkman!) at Glasgow Airport… he had come up to see me play at Nice n’ Sleazy the night before andI had a sense it had gone well…I was on my way down to doing my first bit of promo for NME TV (thankfully they had given my debut single ‘Barcode Bypass’ off Loss their Debut Single of the Year accolade) — and being really struck with this song. He told me the band were from NYC and that he wanted me to tour with them in 6 months. They were The Strokes, we did tour, and it was so much fun. Thank you Geoff!

Thinking of the musical landscape into which the anthology is being released, what has changed since you started out?

So much has changed in terms of how music is distributed and consumed, but really I think the important factors such as: What makes you original? What do you have to say about where you come from? Where do your ideas/songs come from? What new do you have to say? Hasn’t really changed at all. There is certainly more of a DIY ethos for artists, but then I was kind of doing that anyway. 

Who are the current bands that you admire? Are there any in whom you can hear or feel a similar spirit to what you were trying to achieve with the records in the anthology?

I enjoy Sam Fender and see some similarities. He seems to sing about real things in his life, but also points the lens on the world around him, trying to make sense of it, and that seems the furrow I have been ploughing too. I work with some emerging songwriting and production talents and that is what I always try and shine a light on for them. Use your influences but also make sure to tap into your originality. It is easy to sound like the current big thing, but to find your authenticity, can take time. It certainly did for me.  

What have you got going on at the moment/coming up soon?

I have a new MHS album coming in 2023, as well as a new novel. It has been a really creative period through the pandemic and on either side of it, and so the parts of the puzzle — which ideas are songs, which are books (for grown ups and children) are starting to fall into place. I’m really excited about the new album as it has a twist, in terms of bringing my two worlds together… music and writing, and I’m also recording it in a very special place to me back home… all will be revealed.

We asked Colin to put together a playlist of songs from the year of his debut album’s release – you can watch it below:

Archaeology: Complete Recordings 2000-2004 is due for release on 24th February 2023 via Demon Records – pre-order here
Tickets for the anniversary performances of Loss and Us at Celtic Connections on 3rd February are available here

Find out more on the official Mull Historical Society website

Interview by Paul Maps

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