Danny Mahon – interviewed by David Brown.

Danny Mahon, Manchester singer-songwriter, recently went out on tour with Reverend And The Makers.  Described by the Reverend as “Danny makes music for the people. Proper northern soul.  Absolute hero.”, Danny took time out before the show in Birmingham to speak to Dave Brown from Louder Than War.

So Danny, for the uninitiated, can you describe your music and what people would expect from you?

It’s kind of modern folk in a way, in the sense it’s story-telling, but the folkies don’t let me into their world, because they think if you play acoustic guitar, you should sound like Laura Marling and not talk about the subjects I do. The true modern folk songs now are, in a way, hip-hop and urban. I’m folky, because I play an acoustic guitar, but I write modern stories. I get classed as a protest singer a lot, but I’m not a protest singer, I just talk about what I see. It’s all true, everything I’ve written is either a real true story, down to the names of the people and places in it, or it starts as a true story and I exaggerate it slightly.

I’ve been around a while. I’ve been in bands that didn’t quite work out, about ten years. The first song I wrote completely myself was “Resurrection”, which I still play now. I took it to the band and they didn’t dig it, which was fine, but I kept on writing what I thought were good songs, that I believed in. From that point on, I felt that if they didn’t want to play it, then I would. Someone has to, so I played it.

They’re my life experiences. Songs like “Beat Me Up”. I was born in a council estate, you go into the city centre, short guy, long hair, I live in a rough place so I got a lot of aggro because I don’t fit in. I’m not whinging about it, you learn to deal with it and get on with it. If someone thinks I’m weird and wants to beat me up because I’ve got long hair and sing songs, I think they’re strange because they steal cars.

There’s a line in “This And That”, from the demo CD, which chides a fellow singer “How can you write a song about New York, when you’ve never left Ancoats.”

I can’t place myself somewhere else, although I do admire the songwriters who can, I’ve never been able to do it and I don’t think many can. That line kind of sums it up in a way. It sounds like I’m having a dig, and I suppose I am in a way, like Arctic Monkeys’ “Fake Tales Of San Francisco”, but I wrote mine first.

“Odd Socks”, also on the demo CD, is a boy meets girl love story that ends with the boy getting the girl, but also getting beaten up. Again, it’s from Danny’s own experiences.

It’s a true story, it’s slightly exaggerated as the song goes on, but I fell in love with a girl, she fell in love with me, she was already in a relationship that was doomed. Needless to say, nothing went on while she was in that relationship but it was pretty obvious that we both cared for each other, so when she came out of that relationship, we went out for a drink. Before that I went to see him, because I knew him, and asked him if he minded. He said no because I know you’re not an arsehole. Two or three months down the line, this guy wants to shoot me, trying to buy a gun in the local boozer. I go to see him again, he wanted to beat me up and it was well if you have to do it, but I’m in love with her. Still with her now, nine years on, endured a lot of crap after that, you can tell from the song.

At the Sheffield show the night before, Danny engaged in some banter with one of the front row, and a similar thing happens in Birmingham tonight. Danny enjoys this interaction with the crowd.

If there’s a bit of banter, it helps. When they shout something at you, you have a giggle, take the piss out of them back, maybe even have a drink with them later. Too many musicians take themselves too seriously. You can’t lose, do your worst.

Danny doesn’t have a set songwriting pattern, he just writes from how he’s feeling and what he’s observing at the time.

I don’t know where they come from really. I’ve always written tunes since I was 14, it was lyrics that were always a struggle. I don’t know if I was trying to be something that I wasn’t. In a band, I’d write the music then take lots of lyrics other people had written and piece them around my music.

When I wrote “Resurrection”, it seemed too simple and basic like “woke up this morning, switched on the TV, nothing on, got up, went down stairs, wrote a song.” I wrestled with that for a while, but it’s just what falls out.

Having been around for so long, how many songs do you have?

It’s hard to put a number on it. Hundreds, but they’re not all good, there’s some crap in there. You have to write crap songs to learn how to write good ones. The songs I’m writing now are far far better than anything I’ve written before.

You’ve only had a couple of singles despite that, so what are your plans?

Rent-A-Crowd, a few friends of mine who were music lovers started putting on a club night, set up a record label and put out one of my singles, which was Beat Me Up/AK47 and that became the biggest selling 7 inch single in Manchester in 2010, which is a bit odd. Off the back of that, Plainsounds put “Odd Socks” out, but then ran out of dough before I could get an album out.

What are you going to do in 2013 about getting more music out to people?

I’m pretty confident in saying that after a lot of false starts that there will be a record out next year, in one way or another. It’ll probably be a mixture of me on my own and with a band. I’d love to play with a band more than I do now as it’s great to fill out the songs and experiment with them, but I can jump in a car and come here and play tonight on my own, which you can’t with a band and it’s a lot more hassle. I’m not so young in the tooth now, there’s work and family, so I just do my thing and rock up at the venue with a guitar. If I get to a stage where I’m doing music for a living, I’m pretty sure I’ll have a band around me, if I could have that luxury.

Having the support of Reverend and The Makers has been important this year and Danny recognizes there are some similarities in the subject matter of their songs and also some other unsung Mancunian heroes.

Rev is real. If you listen to “State Of Things” now and “Council Estate Love” of mine, the themes of the songs are so similar, it’s untrue. It’s still relevant now, and it still will be in twenty years time, to people on council estates. He grafts and he knows what it’s like, giving people a leg up, giving me the chance to do this. There’s not many people do that any more. Manchester bands used to do that. We’re all after the same thing at the end of the day, but there’s too many egos at the end of the day and it’s competition.

I Am Kloot are brilliant, completely under-rated. They’re like that too. He has his voice and if you like his voice, you love his voice, but there’s as many people who want to turn the radio off when you hear his voice. I love it and I love them, they’re brilliant, and his early Johnny Dangerously stuff I get compared to in Manchester quite a lot, which I take as a really huge compliment.

Danny wants to get his music played on radio, but recognizes there are difficulties for a solo artist without record label backing to get heard.

Yeah of course. I know I’m not going to be Radio 1, I just want to be heard. The hardest thing for bands now is getting heard. I’ve done these dates with The Rev, this is the fifth one, and every night it’s been so well received, it’s untrue. The place is full, and thanks to the Rev, I’ve played to a full house. And they’ve got it, so these kids are people who are like me exist all over the UK. I can’t get myself heard to them and I’m pretty confident that if I did, I’d have a career. It’s getting through. Most of the media is controlled by the middle classes so they don’t get what I’m saying. They think I’m just a yob, but I’m far from that. This tour has proved that to me, it’s gone off every night.

With songs like “Twat”, is Danny concerned that swearing in most of his songs might actually put people off?

I’m not going to swear as much in songs. It was quite a calculated move, I’m a small guy in stature, 5ft 3 whatever, little chubby guy with an acoustic guitar, so people think I’m going to play James Blunt, so they turn away from the stage chatting to their mates.  I wrote the song “AK47” and normally on a record I’d sing “I wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire”, but there’s the saying “I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire” and when I sing that the people who are ignoring me turn round. So it was pure and utter shock value and it worked, so I explored it a little more. People swear in real life so I think there’s a place for it. But there won’t be as much swearing on the record as it’s not always necessary. But it was there to get their attention and then I could keep it and they would look deeper into what I do.

Despite that, he does recognize that certain aspects of the Manchester media have already pigeonholed him despite the reality being somewhat different.

There was a review in the Manchester Evening News of a gig at the Jabez Clegg I did in the middle of a Sunday afternoon and it said the venue was full. I’d have been happy if it had left it at that, but then it started talking about what I was wearing, how the crowd looked, what they were wearing, and it became about them rather than the fact I’d filled a room on a Sunday afternoon.

People who write about me think because I’m from a rough council estate that I’m the kid who nicked their school dinner money. Look at me, I’m five foot three, I was the kid having their dinner money nicked. There’s lot of irony and sarcasm in my songs if you listen to them rather than dismissing me.

Danny’s next headline gig is a Christmas special at the Ruby Lounge on December 21st. It’s going under the intriguing headline of “Danny Mahon And Friends.” Due to the 18+ policy of the venue in the evenings, he’s also doing a matinee show to allow his younger fans to attend.

I’ve got to get some friends first. The plan is to make it a one-off special show, there’ll be some support bands, people will be joining me on some songs. It’s a long time since I’ve done a headline show in Manchester, I’ve been rocking up at other people’s shows. The “and friends” will be the cast joining me on stage.

Danny plays the following gigs :
November 22nd – Ramsbottom First Chop
December 7th – Macclesfield Snow Goose
December 21st – Manchester Ruby Lounge
January 26th – Leeds Cockpit 3

Follow Danny Mahon on MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook.

All words by David Brown. You can read more of David’s articles for LTW HERE.

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