Rewriting history

MULL Historical Society is dead, long live Colin MacIntyre, the man who released three sparkling pop albums using the MHS moniker and who has now chosen to revert to his own name. "I suppose I want to make music for as long as I'm alive and I didn't really see myself going on with that name," he explains, while on a flying visit to Glasgow.

Such was the success of MacIntyre's band that the original Mull Historical Society – the society on Mull which is dedicated to researching and preserving the history of said island – changed its name to the Mull Historical & Archaeological Society to avoid embarrassing mix-ups. This means that, where there were once two Mull Historical Societies, there is none currently in existence – "so there is a gap in that market," notes MacIntyre, "although there aren't a whole lot of opportunities in the Mull historical market…"

MacIntyre remains very connected to the island on which he grew up, though these days he rents out his flat in Glasgow, lives in London and spends some time each year in his wife's home town of New York, a city he finds inspiring. "I seem to find I'm just really focused when I'm there," he says.

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He wrote his latest batch of songs in NY last summer, after unearthing a toy guitar with only five strings in his brother-in-law's basement – "so they can all be performed on a toy guitar, should I ever go down that road as a child's entertainer," he remarks.

MacIntyre then returned to Tobermory and, in keeping with the childlike conception, recorded the tracks in the An Tobar Arts Centre, in what was once his primary classroom – just along from the science lab where his teenage band The Lovesick Zombies used to rehearse.

While he was there, he conducted a guitar workshop for local children, who all turned up with their instruments strapped over their backs, no cases. "That used to be me," says MacIntyre, nostalgically. "It's quite centring for me to go back to a place I have so many memories of."

MacIntyre's new album, The Water – composed on conventional grown-up instruments, since you ask – features the backing vocals of the Girls Choir of Tobermory High School and a guest appearance by the Tobermory town clock, which MacIntyre sampled chiming one o'clock in the morning. "It's not going to mean that much to anyone else but me," he says, "but it's a good chime."

This album has been a long time coming. Following the release of the last MHS album, This is Hope, in 2004, MacIntyre and his major label amicably parted company. The songs kept coming and MacIntyre wanted somewhere to put them. "There were times when I felt like the music was in my head bursting to come out but I needed an influx of money to realise it. I'm thankful that came before I lost my head."

While he gathered the finances to set up his own label, Future Gods, there were other affairs to attend to – he got married, bought a house and wrote a novel. Notes to an Unborn Child is actually the fourth novel he has finished, though he has never sought to get any of the others published.

"I get as much out of writing as I do out of music," he declares. "Writing is in my family more than music." His uncle, Lorn Macintyre, is a novelist and historian, while there are samples of his grandfather Angus Macintyre's poetry on Colin's website. With this latest novel, about a man who returns to his island home to uncover his past, MacIntyre would love to join his forebears as a published writer.

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"I felt very similar, writing this, to how I felt just before I got signed for my first album. I'd spent a lot of time writing a lot of different songs, maybe sounding like a lot of different people. Then with the songs I pulled together before Loss came out, I felt this incredible shift. It was like the opposite of a breakdown, this incredible swirl of stuff, and I knew how it should sound. I can feel a similar process in my writing over the last three or four years. But I need to stop putting lines from my songs into my novels!"

Finally, this prolific writer feels, he has a place to put everything he has to say. "I wondered if I had too many balls in the air, but it worked the other way – my manager said, it is possible to ride a bike and chew gum at the same time. It really helped me focus."

In a further literary endeavour, MacIntyre hosts a bookclub on his website, where the merits of works by Andrew O'Hagan, AL Kennedy and Ian McEwan have already been debated and his uncle's latest novel, The Broken Lyre, will be the next monthly choice. Currently under discussion are the diaries of Tony Benn, who is an unlikely guest star on The Water.

MacIntyre was looking for someone to speak on the album's rather epic finale Pay Attention to the Human and had long been an admirer of Benn's political integrity. An initial contact through his publisher led to an e-mail correspondence and ultimately to an unorthodox recording session in Benn's house, where he recited some self-penned lines of hope and warning – and reminisced about visiting Mull in 1940 with the scouts.

"He said he's learned everything in his life by listening to people," says MacIntyre. "Of course, I talked too much when I was there, I was so nervous, but I was just really chuffed for it to happen in such a natural way. He really represents what I was trying to say in the song. And he also has a great voice."

Their encounter must have been some kind of fate, as MacIntyre actually wrote a poem called Tony Benn's Voice ten years ago when he was a student. "I haven't told him about it, because that would probably be stretching it to the point of stalking him," he says, mindful that in a few days' time he has been invited to take tea with Benn in the Houses of Parliament.

Another touching emotional element to his newfound acquaintance is that Benn reminds him of his maternal grandfather, who died a year ago to the day of our meeting. "My other grandfather, the poet, was a charismatic character, but this grandfather was much more of a quiet man," recalls MacIntyre. "He knew his politics, and he knew when somebody was talking bullshit and knew when somebody wasn't. I regret that he never knew about this association, because he would have been pleased about that."

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• The Water is released by Future Gods on Monday. Colin MacIntyre plays Oran Mor, Glasgow, on Saturday as part of Celtic Connections, and then launches his album with appearances at branches of Beanscene in Ayr (5 February), Glasgow (6 Feb) and Edinburgh (7 Feb), and at Heart of Hawick Auditorium (8 Feb).

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