Rooms with many views.
Colin MacIntyre must be one of the most creative spirits ever to come from the Isle of Mull, if not far wider. A musician, producer, author for both adults and children and playwright, Mull Historical Society is the name he gives his musical projects. His debut album ‘Loss’ in 2000 attracted immediate acclaim as have subsequent releases but whether on record or the page MacIntrye is a storyteller. His latest project under Mull Historical Society is ‘In My Mind There’s A Room’ where he takes that storytelling tradition back to his home in Mull to the house where his grandfather once lived. This house made a huge impression on McIntyre, particularly his grandfather’s room now a recording studio, so perhaps other writers feel the same about a particular room from sometime in their lives? To find out he approached various writers who have inspired him to write about a room that had meant a lot to them. This is an impressive group; Ian Rankin, Nick Hornby, Jacqueline Wilson, Val McDermid, Jennifer Clement, Sebastian Barry, Alan Warner, Jason Mott, Stephen Kelman and Scottish poet laureates Jackie Kay and Liz Lochhead. With their enthusiastic and bountiful responses MacIntyre went to the Mull studio and with a group of musicians including Donald Shaw, harpist Camilla Pay, guitarist Sorren Maclean and violinist Hannah Fisher put their lines to music. The result is this impressive album.
MacIntyre’s genius lies in his ability to apply a range of musical styles to these reminiscences. Whether fast-paced Britpop, rock, folk or just the spoken word each complements the thoughts and emotions of each song. The album roars into action with opener ‘Not Enough Sorry’ written by novelist Jennifer Clement. This frenzy of indie activity slightly distracts from the words. A determined rock riff opens ‘1952’ but the pace slows to let in Liz Lochhead’s literary thoughts from that year “In a room with my own view/ Who needs Virginia Woolf”. Turning down the pace further ‘Wake Up Sally’ is muse in a lighter pop style. Stephen Kelman’s ‘The Red Flame Diner’ sounds like another Scottish band, The Blue Nile, delicately twinkling across the “The New York skyline”.
Inevitably attention will particularly alight on the authors most familiar to the listener, for example Nick Hornby. A blend of pop and punk drives ‘Panicked Feathers’, his wry look back, not so much at his childhood bedroom but its window. Through this he looked at cats, climbed out for a smoke and offered access to his sister’s boyfriend. In a couple of minutes we are returned to a junior ‘High Fidelity’.
The views of Scotland are of especial significance. In ‘Somebody Else’s Life’ Jacqueline Wilson goes back to her early days in Dundee, a long way from home. MacIntyre and piano echo her sense of isolation but at the same time there is determination. “I’ll start a magazine/ I’m on my way and everyday I’ll write”. That was ‘Jackie’ a very popular title! She also learned how to appreciate the local delicacies too, “Stovies and stew hen”. Ian Rankin’s room was also a launchpad, ‘My Bedroom Was My Rocket’. A turbo-charged pace propels his imagination as his parents waited downstairs, “My stories are what I’m made of”.
‘Meltwater’ with Jackie Kay haunts with the echoing harmonies of The Fleet Foxes. From city to Highlands she returns to a simpler life in a croft long ago. MacIntyre’s arrangement give those thoughts distance in time. Val McDermid’s room is in her house on the Fife coast looking out across the river Forth. ‘Room of Masks’ is her meditation on that magnificent seascape, she draws on what makes her sad and happy finishing by bringing all that she sees inside to inspire her writing. ‘Anaglypta’ is a work in itself. Liz Lochhead recites her verses about her parents getting a new house in 1952 meaning she would have her own room. Seventy years on Lochhead draws the listener into her young life, marking her growing up by listing what she read. The poignancy sticks as securely as the material of the song’s title, all the more so in her local dialect accompanied by solo piano.
Very fittingly, MacIntyre returns to a figure of huge influence on his childhood, his grandfather. the poem ‘Memories of Mull’ is a recording of that fine man looking back, “let us sing together the Gaelic songs we sung in clachan and in shieling in the days we were young”. Unaccompanied, his resonant voice may talk of times long past but like the land he describes there is a resounding permanence.
Concepts and collaborations can fall short of expectation but not this. On seeing the list of contributors anticipation ran high but ‘In My Mind There’s A Room’ comfortably exceeds this reviewer’s very high expectations.