Album Reviews

Mull Historical Society – In My Mind There’s A Room

(Xtra Mile) UK release date: 21 July 2023

Colin MacIntyre enlists a group of literary contributors for his latest album that proves to be a successful labour of love

Mull Historical Society - In My Mind There's A Room There’s a lot of work which has gone into Mull Historical Society‘s ninth album – so much so, that it seems harsh to describe In My Mind There’s A Room as a mere record. This has ‘project’ stamped all over it: Colin MacIntyre has teamed up with various writers, and asked them to write lyrics about a particular room which means a lot to them. Once those lyrics have been provided, MacIntyre has put them to music.

MacIntyre is the perfect figure to create such a project – in fact, there’s only really The Divine Comedy‘s Neil Hannon who you can imagine doing something similar. As well as recording as Mull Historical Society for the last 20 years, he’s been a novelist, a playwright, and collaborated with figures such as Irvine Welsh. It’s fair to say he’s got the contacts.

The list of literary figures he’s gathered for In My Mind There’s A Room is an impressive one. There are giants of Scottish crime fiction, such as Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, Booker prize winner Sebastian Barry, two Scottish poet laureates (Jackie Kay and Liz Lochhead) and Nick Hornby (who is, of course, a bit of a dab hand at this kind of thing, having co-written Ben Folds‘ Lonely Avenue in 2010).

MacIntyre has set these tales to a variety of musical styles – opening track Not Enough Sorry, penned by the American-Mexican novelist and poet Jennifer Clement, whizzes along on an infectious piano melody and catchy chorus, only spoiled by some truly irritating stylised backing vocals which threaten to throw the entire song off-course.

Luckily, 1952 is more successful – the lyrics are easier to make out (surely the point of a project like this), and Scotland’s second ever Poet Laureate Liz Lochhead (who also has a spoken word track, Anaglypta, towards the end of the record) has created an evocative portrait of her childhood bedroom in the early ’50s. Nick Hornby’s Panicked Feathers is even better, a driving guitar rock number about the “cocky little gits” who gathered in his bedroom during his teenage years.

Nostalgia is a theme that powers In My Mind There’s A Room, sometimes rose-tinted, sometimes not. Somebody Else’s Life, written by children’s author Jacqueline Wilson recalls the uncertainty and insecurity that comes in relocating to another city, which MacIntyre beautifully sets to a yearning piano ballad. The theme of childhood bedrooms is one that Ian Rankin returns to in My Bedroom Was A Rocket, a tribute to the power of infant imagination.

Val McDermid’s contribution, Room Of Masks, is one of the album highlights, a big, stirring gospel-like anthem about the view from the room where she pens her many novels, while Seeds is powered along by an funky piano melody, which is reminiscent of Ben Folds at times. Kelshabeg is another highlight, Sebastian Barry’s lyrics being sung as a duet between MacIntyre and, surprisingly, a female operatic singer.

It all comes full circle with an old recording of MacIntyre’s grandfather Angus reciting his poem Memories Of Mull – appropriate as the entire album was recorded in his old study which MacIntyre has revamped as a studio. It rounds off an album which hangs together surprisingly well, given the number of contributors, and is a successful labour of love for Colin MacIntyre.

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