Three of the first tranche of signings to Alan McGee’s new label, 359 Music -John McCullagh, Chris Grant and Pete Macleod- talk to Louder Than War both about what it feels like to be on McGee’s label and about their respective upcoming releases.
John Lennon McCullagh from Doncaster is one of 359’s youngest and most talented artists. At 15 years old he’s already played and supported Paul Heaton and Richard Hawley. Because he started playing the guitar so young John has already cultivated his own sound and style, one which seems to be influenced by the likes of Donovan, Paul Weller and Johnny Cash. McCullagh knocked McGee sidewards when he first discovering the solo artist playing in a pub in Yorkshire with his awareness and ability. He is now busy building his own career with his upcoming debut album, produced by McGee himself, ‘North South Divide’ due out later this year.
Hi John, and congratulations on signing to 359, it must be a dream to get signed so young by McGee and 259 Music?
Yeah it’s amazing mate, McGee saw me at a gig I was doing in Rotherham. I didn’t have any of my own stuff then, I used to just do Bob Dylan and stuff, but he loved it so he said write some songs. I did & he signed me. It’s been really amazing since the signing, I’ve had some great feedback and to be in the studio with Alan was a once in a life time experience.
So who and what made you pick the guitar up in the first place, what were the tunes and records which inspired you?
My dad was always playing music round the house like Dylan, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Oasis, Elvis, Richard Hawley and I always liked it but I was never into it, I used to just wanna play for Celtic, then I heard Positively 4th Street by Bob Dylan one day when I was about 12 and that was it. From then on I learnt guitar, but I didn’t start writing still I was about 14. There are so many songs that inspired me to write, such as songs like “Girl’ by the Beatles, ‘Beasley Street” by John Cooper Clarke, and lots more stuff such as the poetry of Allen Ginsberg.
You’ve already played a host of gigs and shows haven’t you, in fact you recently just played support for Richard Hawley.?
Yeah, I’ve supported Richard twice and that was amazing, such an honour as he’s one of my influences. I also played with Paul Heaton which was another amazing experience, I’ve got some good shows in the pipeline just waiting to be confirmed.
…and of course we’ll be seeing you play 359’s new club night in Liverpool which is planned for later this year?
Looking forward to the Liverpool gig, there’s a great artist on that night, Chris Grant, so I’m looking forward to seeing him. I love Liverpool anyway so playing it will be great. The last time I played Liverpool was at a gig Alan was DJ’ing and I was unsigned at the time, so to return back as a signed artist will be a great feeling.
You’re going to be one of the label’s first releases with the single ‘North South Divide’, a track which is described as being a ‘reflection of your working class roots’?
Yeah man, North South Divide is in fact the first release on 359 which again is a great honour. I come from a working class mining community in Yorkshire and it’s not hard to see the vast difference in the North and the South, and although it is quite cliche to say it I honestly believe football and music are the only legal ways out of the north. Unfortunately I was never gonna get the number 7 shirt at Celtic so it’s always been the guitar for me.
In a recent interview with Alan McGee he talked highly of you and your talents, he put you in that same bracket as other new young artists like The Strypes and Jake Bugg, young artists who are doing something new with that early blues / rock sound. Do you feel like you’re part of that new scene in any way?
Yeah I love Jake Bugg and it’s great to be part of that scene if there is such a thing, but to be honest I don’t concentrate much on anyone else at the minute, I just do my own thing. I know there’s gonna be a lot of people making the Jake Bugg comparison, which is cool as Jake has opened the door in so many ways, but I never set out to be Jake Bugg 2 as I’m sure you’ll understand when you hear the record.
Coming from the music mad city of Liverpool Chris Grant is another of McGee’s first signings. His upcoming album ‘Its not about War’ is due out October. After starting out with his band The Grants Chris took his own dark, romantic, soulful sound and using his songwriting skills he began to carve out a name as one of the cities most promising solo acts around today.
Confident and always good for a chat Louder Than War talked to Chris Grant about 359, his music and Liverpool itself.
Hi Chris, first off, signing to 359. It’s not the first time you’ve worked with Alan (his old band The Grants played his Death Disco about 7 yrs ago) and even though you’re a solo artist now you’re one of his first signings. How does it feel to have the belief and support of someone like Alan McGee behind you?
I totally get it that McGee is a huge deal and probably the biggest name in cool music worldwide but I only ever connected with him on a human level first and foremost by pure chance, so if I’m honest, to me it just feels normal. I don’t care who you are, where you are in this world, everyone’s shit stinks, everyone is reachable& Alan was cool. I just got talking to him one night about my music ”sign us now while you’ve got the chance ” was my opener, then after that we talked music in general and other things. We both think my music is great and we both like the same sort of music and we share a humour trait so we get on well. He’s me mate, the rest just happened organically. I worked for years on music stupidly hard, he thinks the world should hear it, i do too. The stars have aligned. What else can i say on it.
I understand you started off playing music live singing Oasis covers around your home town of Liverpool, so is it fair to say they’re a pretty big influence on you or is your music coming from somewhere totally different.
I had to sing a lot of stuff to make ends meet. It doesn’t mean it influences my songwriting at all, in pubs drunk people spit in your face for songs they want, you play them, get paid then go home. It just so happens Oasis were doing good stuff at the time so they were on peoples lips. Unfortunately I am really good at it, probably better than Noel at his own tunes, still to this day because of it. I mean, after that band died down and it all went west for them I had to start singing “yellow ” by fucking Coldplay. I always went home and did my own stuff, my own way. Before Oasis and Noel turned up I was already schooled in Dylan, Neil Young and so on, so Oasis was a bit softcore in the writing department, but fuck me, that Noel can win you over, he is an amazing melody coiner and he made it cool for me to get birds and wield the guitar, so I owe him something. Not a lot though. I’m coming from Liverpool…Noel is wanting to come from Liverpool, there is a huge difference. A forty mile one.
Where are we right now then in terms of music and new sounds and groups coming through…in these tough economic times I guess it’s twice as hard for upcoming artists?
It’s never been easier for a songwriter or artist to work at sounds or songs. Ever. Forget about making money, that should never be the issue for the artist. Who gives a toss about the price of a chomp going up. I can write a song in my garage for nothing, put it on the internet and get half a million hits on it, knowing if that translated into sales I would be no. 1 in America and the UK. Trust me, that makes a 20p chomp taste like a 10p one. Fuck the recession, it wasn’t stopping me writing great music. I actually did that on Myspace in 06 / 07 – I thought “this is my focus group”. I realised hundred of thousands of people enjoyed my music across the world purely through word of mouth. If you think it’s hard to get heard today with YouTube etc, you need your head examined. It’s in your palm now for fucks sake with iPhones etc, it was still on computers when i started. Plus it costs nothing to do, nothing at all. Write a song, bang it out, if you get 10 hits sack it, you’re crap, if you get half a million, carry on.
Tell me about your upcoming album ‘It’s Not about War’ this October, where did you record the album and can you describe it’s vibe and style?
Well, following on nicely from the previous question, I recorded the whole album in my garage on a broken £80 computer from about 10 years ago. It’s vibe is one I have totally created in my own secret way, a great one, a true vibe, an honest vibe, an inspiring vibe all in one. Its style is classic, melodic in places and from the right place without question. But of course that’s all bullshit. It’s just a fucking amazing album. It’s not out yet and Seymour Stein loves it, if I have an advert on TV, I want a voice-over to say that. I could retire on that me, I did it at home and Stein loves it. No one will ever beat that now, unless they nail it on a £70 computer. They’ll be a while trying, I’m telling you that now. I’ve proved already £100,000 studios and £100,000 producers are bullshit, nothing to do with songs at all, it’s gone like the premier league, it’s just money, I can do anything Eno can do at home. So can you, if you don’t believe that, you’re a watermelon and should be sold on a market.
‘It’s You’ is due for a September release to coincide with the launch of 359, so is it fair to say the end of the year is going to be a busy time for you?
Yeah I’m busy as, which is a major head fuck as I’ve done nothing but write for two years and look out my bedroom window like the weird kid in that 80s movie ”The Boy Who Could Fly ”. Now it’s going a bit ”Flight Of The Navigator” but I’m well ready and up for it. I’ll be playing some shows from my Liverpool date at District on the 6th Sept right up to Christmas, then my own tour in the new year. I was on the dole 3 months ago so life is great now. I got to go in and do that belter thing everyone wants to do, tell her”I’m signing off, I’ve got a record deal, see you later”. The woman was sound though so it was an anti-climax really. If it goes tits up I’ll just go to another job centre so it’s all covered anyway. I won’t look like a knob.
359 will be kicking off their new club night then as well, as a local lad what’s your thoughts on Alan McGee comments that Liverpool is his ideal choice for the label’s live gig nights, good news yeah ?
Great for me, I’m the king of the castle here now, they all know it too, but the thing is, I’m a good king, I want to get more Liverpool acts on the label and I’m helping with that in future, I’m humbled by it, I’m like Prince William. I’m just being sound about it though, don’t be hating cos I got signed, I fucking earned my place, I’m getting others involved and stuff so its all about good Kama now you see. I’m helping the young bands like Alan helped me, Liverpool needs this, there are great nights here and bands and singers etc but no big names; McGee is and so is his label. He loves the city and the city loves him. It’s real here, it’s a working class city. Alan understands working class people. London is great but it’s a bit ”oh daddy, oh Mammy ” in places. It’s hard to find a band cool if they live in a stately home, if you know what I mean, its just fact.
After starting out as ‘thestar69’ and releasing his music through his own Modrock label Pete is currently finishing off his new solo album ‘Rolling Stone’ which’ll be released on 359 Music. Alan McGee says about Pete “He’s a rock’n’roll star & his next single is the first sign of greatness. I love the guy and his music, he’s a truly genuine talent and a lovely bloke.”
With Ocean Colour Scene and Bonehead already fans of his work Louder Than War talk to the man himself about what it means to be working with his friend and label boss.
HI Pete…firstly, could you tell us about your music please. There’s that west coast vibe in your tunes isn’t there, presumably because you’ve spent time out there through the years, but there’s also the indie side to it all, how do you see your music Pete?
I’m a songwriter from the UK who sings original material from my own experiences in life. I’m not trying to better than anyone musically other than myself. This is something that will always be my benchmark I think. I suppose you can hear US west coast influences but also Scottish west coast too as that’s where I was brought up. The darker side of my songs probably come from those moods – a mixture of both cultures with my view on the World. I see life as three parts and I think I write around this area. Sometimes life is great, sometimes it’s alright and sometimes it’s shit. At the end of the day it’s never a bad thing to enjoy the great moments as they might not last too long y’know…I think we get this as we get older and wiser if we are lucky enough to have an open minded experience and opinion.
You’ve known Alan McGee for some time now so it must seem ideal signing with his new label 359, especially in these times of their being less money about & it being harder to get signed or to find the deal you want with artistic control and working with the right people….what other advantages and plus’s are there for you as an artist working on 359?Alan as he seems very excited to be back in the music game again doesn’t he?
Yes I feel like I’m living the dream working with Alan. It’s something I have always visualised and willed ever since I acknowledged that he helped some great artists that inspired me to write and play music myself. Sometimes in life as you grow up from being a teenager we may think something but it’s not a realistic goal y’know…I think I have achieved that now. That’s how I feel at this moment. Alan has told me that I am one of the main reasons for him starting a label up again and getting back into music. I will gladly accept that, that’s very kind of him to say that. I have always tried to encourage Alan to get more involved but how do you convince the man who has pretty much done it all right? Well, I think it just shows you the measure of Alan in that he doesn’t feel like he has done it all and I’m really happy I managed to convince him that people like me need guys like him in order to be heard by the people that want to hear us. I know people want to hear it. I listen to the same music as these people. Some might not like what I do or even like what Alan does but that’s OK…I accept that as does Alan. That’s the point we are making with 359 Music. From where I’m standing this is an alternative. We all have an opinion and different taste. This is a different taste for a different person that exists in 2013 celebrity society with the TV shows and X factor stuff. Most people that have made money or been successful in the music industry get out of it if they have sense…others continue to stroke their ego’s and lose themselves in their own egos but Alan is a punk, at 52 to still put the gloves back on and get back in the ring to prove that music is still so important to the working class is what he does y’know. He is very aware of the unfortunate situation we are faced in society today with people actually struggling to pay rent etc. as the government slowly but surely seem to be taking everyone’s freedom away bit by bit with their sneaky little laws being passed through the house of commons. So, that for me is someone that actually cares and believes in others who normally get lost in all this bullshit corruption that we have going on around us. That’s loyalty no matter who and where you are. He is definitely an inspirational figure. Certainly to me. I love him man. I imagine that I wouldn’t have signed with anyone else and if I did then I would have consulted Alan in everything and made a decision with his advice. I completely trust him. It’s not about advantage or dis-advantages for me, it’s about loyalty and respect in all aspects of life. It’s really that simple. That’s something my parents taught me. They didn’t fail with that. They’ve done their bit for me that’s for sure. I respect that.
Will we be seeing you playing on the 359 club nights coming up later this year in Liverpool?
I would love to take part in the 359 club nights. That will happen at some point I’m sure. I think it’s great that it’s in Liverpool. To be honest I wouldn’t segregate any city in the UK as there will be a Pete MacLeod or a Chris Grant in them all, working hard on their material just like us and hoping to be noticed. So hopefully Liverpool is just the start? I get it. It’s great. There are cool people everywhere and I’m sure they would welcome it in their home town. I say pick up an instrument and play to everyone, why not? Be part of it all…we all started music as a listener. Without an audience it’s a secret isn’t it? Music should be shared. No one owns the idea of music. It’s universal!
How about the charts and commercial radio, do you think it’s quite hard these days for singer songwriters like yourself to break through among the 1 directions and pub ‘rave’ music?
I don’t listen. I stopped listening to shite music and having shite people around my life a while back. I genuinely don’t have time for it or them! If someones a dick then why be around them? I think the same about music. If the music’s shit then I have a choice not to listen y’know. Internet helps with that and we can choose what we want to hear more now that ever before. That’s an amazing ability if we have the technology to do so. I think what happened with me was I heard all the shit music on radio and TV and it probably forced me to think to myself, rather than waste that energy listening to dribble and dumbing down the masses, I’ll pick up a guitar, be constructive and express myself musically…and here we are. It’s taken me to this point so far! I also think if you don’t have money then you will struggle in music as most rich parents will throw a lot of money into their kid’s dreams but the spark may not be there y’know and some talented kid close by in the next council estates parents can’t afford to throw that kind of money into the development of their child so the real talent get’s overshadowed by a lot of middle class spoiled kids that aren’t really that good. Maybe it’s the same for everything in life? I think money and equality have a bit to go yet before society can change for the better. The balance just isn’t there at the moment unfortunately. I mean, most great musicians were funded by the dole…we don’t embrace our musical heritage and develop musicians unless you come from money. That’s an absolute shambles when you look back on the great music we have created! We won’t be looking back and saying that about these TV talent shows. I won’t be anyways…I will accept any fan that likes my music, I would never dis anyone for getting what I do because that’s a musical connection and that’s what it’s all about. They could be a fan of X Factor or Oasis and like my music. That wouldn’t matter to me. I’m not part of the “too cool for school brigade.” I just do my thing. Everyone that listens to music is welcome to check me out. I love what I do…it’s an expression of freedom. I actually predict that in the next 10-15 years our freedom is going to be more and more expensive and difficult to have in this country due to the politicians. We are paying for our freedom more and more each day…not sure if anyone else is clocking this but I am getting more aware of this. It’s wrong what’s going on and music helps us have a voice. I guess that’s for another interview though eh…
So plans for the future please Pete, long and short term, what have you got coming up in the way of releases, gigs, recording…?
My plans for the future as it stands are to finish my album for Alan’s label 359 Music and Cherry Red, rehearse my songs with my band for the support show with Amy MacDonald, which will be in an open air venue in Hamburg, Germany, to 5000 people at Stadtpark. That will be the biggest audience I have played in front of and the band’s first gig! After that 359 Music will release a single in October on 7″ vinyl and download. I just finished a video for my single “Rolling Stone” with my small team of friends, so that should be finished soon too. Then my album will be released in November. The band and I will do a few shows around the release. I have a few guests on my album which was nice. I’ll just keep doing what I do and if people like it then it’s a bonus. I am grateful for the encouragement. As I said, I just do my thing and try to enjoy it all. I genuinely wish everyone the best in life y’know.
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by carl on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.