I had wanted to record a collection of my songs for many years; an album I hoped that I could look back on and be proud of in years to come.
I began song-writing in 1981 at the age of 12 and, as the years progressed I continued to write, finding a place to perform them in youth clubs, and busking on the streets of Belfast. I joined a band called Admiral Spears in 1987. Often billed as an all girl band (I was the only male member!) I was able to include some of my own songs in our repertoire. We recorded some demos in Homestead Studios which was my first taste of recording. It was a very scary experience! The band split up in 1990 and we went our separate ways.
Around 1993 I used a student loan to fund my second recording project, producing a tape of 10 songs under my own name. This would form a template for Beautiful Mistake.
I recorded demos with Stone River in 1995 and with Greengrass in 1998 all the while developing and writing new songs. One of my songs from these sessions was used in a compilation CD called ‘Some Nerve’ and on a short Film, ‘Quando’, commissioned by RTE.
In 2000 I was one of 8 students chosen to record a CD which was to be produced by the well known Irish traditional guitarist Steve Cooney. This 10 day recording session taught me a lot about arrangement and production and taking care of the smaller details. The hidden track on Beautiful Mistake, ‘Victim (of your advice)’ was recorded at this time.
It was around this time that I heard a CD by a local band North. The title was ‘Throughother’ and contained 10 songs penned by James Devlin from Maghera. I was amazed that such a high quality recording could be possible from a local artist. Throughother remains one of my favourite albums. I decided to ring James up and said to him, ‘If I can produce an album that sounds anything like half as good as yours, I’ll be very happy’. He agreed to co produce it with me and I sent him down rough demos of the about 15 songs.
I went down to his house to go through the songs and to see the studio which was spaced out between several rooms in his house at the time. We chose a dozen songs we thought were the strongest and I set about arranging musicians to play on them. First stop was to get a drummer and bassist. I rang the best that I knew, Tony Phillips from Omagh and Michael McGinty from Donegal. We recorded the songs live and got most of them within 2 or 3 takes. It took 2 days in the studio to get down the bass and drums plus a guide vocal and guitar for the 12 songs.
Then I rang round other musicians I knew and friends of friends, in the end 15 different musicians played on the recording! I rang up guitarist Henry McCullough (Wings, Joe Cocker etc) whom I had met when I lived in Portrush, Cathal Hayden (Four men and a dog) and Rosemary Woods. Me and James talked about what instruments we thought were needed on the different songs but often we would just try something out to see if it worked! Looking back I can see that I was still fairly new to the whole recording process but it was fun and enjoyed ‘colouring in’ the songs in different ways.
We often took 3 takes from the musicians on each song which was a nightmare when it came to mixing and I usually would want to keep everything! While we were mixing in Blast Furnace studios in September 2001 the news came through about the attacks on the world trade centre in New York. We paused from our mixing session to watch the news on TV.
I asked a friend to take some photos for the cover and he took some live shots in a bar called the Anchor in Portstewart, County Derry, N.Ireland. We took some more photos at the back of his house and the only prop I could find was an apple!
I got the title from track 11 ‘Be my prison’ which contains the lines “She really knocks me off my feet; was, is, and ever shall be my beautiful mistake”. Looking back I think it was an apt title for the album as often I didn’t know what I was doing exactly! I think some of the production worked and some didn’t but as a whole I think and hope it retains a freshness and charm of its own.
TEARS IN THE END
I went to Scandinavia on a tour with 3 other members of our band Greengrass in 2000. The trip was pretty gruelling with 40 gigs in 40 days, staying in very dodgy accommodation, but I enjoyed it nonetheless!! We went 3 times within the space of 1 year and it was on one of these trips that I wrote this song.
I think a combination of a pretty girl on the dance floor at one of our gigs and a fall out between band members conspired to give inspiration for this one! Our mandolin player Paul said to me ‘It’ll all end in tears’, and so the song was born.
SLEEPING IN THE CAR
I wrote this one while sitting in my car one night in 1999 in a lay-by in the village of Greysteel, County Derry. I had fallen out with my girlfriend and the song was a tongue in cheek response to my predicament. I soon got fed up trying to sleep in my Vauxhall Astra and wrote the words for the song before heading home. The next morning I got up to find that my car had been stolen and burnt out along with my PA system and the lyrics for the song.
I had particular trouble getting the first verse for this one. I liked all the other verses but just couldn’t find an introduction. After struggling for several months I settled for the recorded one. I began writing this around 1993. It has a spiritual theme to it and talks of a struggle with fears, truth, and myself and the ultimate hope of a love that is stronger than all these. The melody is simple and reminds me of hearing the Faith Mission singers on Portstewart promenade.
I wrote this around 1999 about a relationship that I knew in my heart was dead and my regret. ‘I didn’t mean to crush everything you are’, this line still is painful to me as it talks of my own insecurities and my own inability to regain the relationship I felt I had crushed.
YOU COAXED A DEVIL OUT OF ME
I had a privilege of knowing an exceptional man, a Methodist minister called Rev Sydney Callaghan who lived and worked in Belfast up until he died in 2001. Sydney had been a good friend to the family over many years and in my early 20s when I began showing signs of depression it was to Sydney that I went to counselling for around 5 years. He had all the wisdom of a 70 year old man who had founded the Samaritans in N. Ireland and had gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in all his many dealings with people, yet the vitality and enthusiasm of a teenager! I could say so much about Sydney but simply as the song says, ‘You coaxed a devil out of me’. I’ll always be grateful to him for showing me a way out of the darkness of depression, revealing how to use my anger in a more constructive way.
He used to call his God ‘The Boss’ and lived his belief that we are all unique and precious in Gods sight. He surely did ‘break the mould’.
FAR FAR AWAY
This is a much older song probably written around 1988-9, with all the angst of a teenager as well as being tongue in cheek and having just a touch of sarcasm!
I was at a songwriters group in my home town of Lisburn when a man called Ian Mclearn began singing this song. I was intrigued by this song which mentioned towns like Ballynahinch and Saintfield that I knew very well. He was a bit unsure of the music for the song but gave me the words and I built a tune around these.
The song itself tells the story of a linen maker called Henry Munro from the town of Lisburn who becomes a leader in a revolutionary group called the United Irishmen in the year 1798. This was an interesting time in Irish history and time of great changes. After an initial victory at the battle of Saintfield Henry Munro was eventually captured and hanged in Lisburn. His ghost is still said to haunt the Linen Museum in the city.
COME BACK LUCY
Sheena Wilkinson wrote the lyrics for this one after reading the children’s novel ‘Come back Lucy’ by Pamela Sykes. Sheena, who has a doctorate in children’s literature, said ‘it’s really just a ghost story, but it could be about any kind of obsession. I wrote the melody pretty quickly on piano.
NOTHING LIKE LOVE
This started as a song about 3 stages in love. Maybe it’s just about its ups and downs. Wrote this around 2000 I think. I had intended to have female backing vocals on the recording but this didn’t work out. Maybe I’ll record it again sometime; it’s one I still love doing live.
I’m disappointed with the way I recorded this one. It’s one of my favourite songs on Beautiful Mistake but don’t think I fully did it justice.
It’s the story of a woman struggling to make ends meet at Christmas time whilst dreaming of a better life in ‘foreign lands’, or in a ‘house in the country’ with ‘one good hearted soul’. There is a dodgy landlord who wants ‘favours’ there’s a recognition that riches don’t always bring happiness, yet yearning for a little relief from the poverty trap she finds herself in. It’s based on an actual person I knew.
I wrote this around Christmas 1998.
BE MY PRISON
Every now and again I seem to have what I can only describe as some kind of spiritual wakening, this in turn comes out in my songs. It was during 1992-3-4 that I wrote several songs with a spiritual type theme. At this time I had great difficulty with the traditional view of God as a Father figure, and was much more comfortable thinking of my God as She.
This is a twisted story of love. It is about the passion, and hunger for a ‘love that will never grow cold’. The prison is to be avoided as stifling but also longed for as comforting. Looking back I might have taken out a couple of the verses.
STILL NO NEWS
I saw a documentary in 1999 about the families of people who are missing, and their struggle to cope with their lives. I wrote this simple song as I imagined how I would possibly feel if something like that happened to me and my family. I had forgotten about this song when James suggested it’s inclusion on the album. I think we got this one just right in terms of arrangement and production. Stella’s violin is haunting and beautiful. I wanted to keep it simple and to include it as the last track on Beautiful Mistake.
After having released my debut album ‘Beautiful Mistake’ I began playing around the pubs and clubs of Ireland with a four piece band which comprised of brothers Michael and Liam McGinty on bass and drums respectively and Dutch electric guitarist, Remco Rodrigues.
One by one I began to introduce new songs into the set as I wrote them, collaborating with Remco on a couple of the new tracks.
I had seen other songwriters who had released great albums only to be virtually forgotten within months of their release. I really wanted to follow up my debut with the difficult 2nd album and try to keep the momentum going. So, in early 2003 we began recording the new songs. I felt I had learnt a lot from the first album and was really happy with James Devlin’s recording studio but I decided to change studios. Partly because I wanted to record closer to home and also as a third McGinty brother had a studio based in Donegal. Now we had 3 McGinty brothers working on the new CD! We booked some days to begin the recording and recorded it live as a four piece band
THE MAN ON THE MOON AND ME
I was at a traditional music festival with a couple of friends and we were staying in a couple of tents. We started talking about were we grew up and what our childhood was like. Donegal, Glasgow and Belfast. I began to remember and see things in a more objective way. I thought of growing up in Belfast in a wealthy side of town. Whilst the whole city was tearing itself apart I was relatively unaffected and almost unaware of the madness ‘outside’.
My Grandfather had built up a successful business selling protective wear and he bought himself a Silver Shadow Rolls Royce, for him, the ultimate statement of success. I remember as a child of 6 or 7 sometimes we would get the loan of Grandpas big car for the weekend. Hence the line in the song ‘I was driven around in a Roller while Belfast burned’. I began with this line and worked back and forwards to make some kind of sense and tell some kind of story of growing up in Belfast.
YOU WON'T LET IT GO
Just a little wistful love song, ‘for one so young’.
YOU'VE BEEN AWAY TOO LONG
Built around a strong electric guitar riff, this is a song about longing to be home but not being sure exactly where home is. We recorded a long wave radio frequency at the beginning and end of this, the idea of being out of frequency or something like that!
Written by James McMurtry. The only cover version I’ve recorded so far. We used to play this one in my previous band ‘Greengrass’. The singer and the song aren’t well known in Ireland I think it was ‘Dinky’ our drummer in the band who introduced us to the song. I was amazed to find there actually is a place called ‘Levelland’ in New Mexico. I had always presumed the name to be purely descriptive.
A STRANGER TO ME
Probably the most personal song I’ve ever written. The subject matter is difficult but I had written the lyrics fairly quickly and then matched them to a traditional tune I had been writing and they seemed to blend well. The middle 8 came later on.
A pop rock song which got a fair bit of radio airplay in Ireland. Some great piano work by Eddie Lynch. I remember doing a gig with the band in Derry, but no one turned up (except the band!) so we began working on this song, changing choruses about etc. So the band should really be credited with helping me better arrange this one!
SHARE THESE CHAINS WITH ME
An older song, written between 1992 and 1994, it kind of lay dormant for a while till we were thinking of songs for the album. I played the bare bones of this song to Remco who thought it needed a bit more light and shade and helped me write some instrumental pieces to make it more interesting.
SHE IS FREE
Another song partly stolen from the back collection! At least the chorus was from an older song called ‘She’s a lady’. I re wrote the lyrics for verses which took a while! Sometimes it feels harder to re write something than to begin from scratch.
TIME WILL TELL
I like to have a piano ballad on my albums. Perhaps I’m a frustrated pianist. My mother sent me to piano lessons as a kid but I just didn’t take to them at the time.
YOU BRING ME LOVE
Another re written song by the same name. The original version which I wrote when I was 15 was recorded and featured on a short TV Drama on RTE, Ireland’s public broadcasting station.
I re wrote the verses influenced by the poetry of John Donne which I was reading at the time.
A MAN OF 33
I was watching a documentary about an American TV evangelist. He was showing the camera all around his very grand house, and meeting with his ‘perfect’ family, counting his Cadillac’s and all the wile explaining that the reason he had all this was that God had blessed him. This seemed to raise more questions than it attempted to answer. What about those who don’t have enough? What about Jesus Christ, he didn’t seem to have been ‘blessed’ in this way. Perhaps it was because I had just turned 33 but I began to write down a few disjointed ideas, thoughts and questions. Remco gave the song it’s distinctive ‘run down’ riff. I love Maire Breatnach’s strings section in this one.
This album also features a video of SLEEPING IN THE CAR.