There is something inspirational about the room with a view. Numerous songs over the years have been written with the writer looking wistfully through a window.  It helps if that view is one of the most beautiful in the world. If it has associations with fondly remembered family members that’s all the better. It is easy to see why the latest Mull Historical Society album has been something of a labour of love.

Colin McIntyre, author and the driving force behind the band Mull Historical Society has done a great deal to encourage tourists to the Scottish island of Mull with his writing.  His description of where his latest album was recorded as “one of the most beautiful seafronts in Scotland” may sound biased, but there is more to that statement than just being proud of his homeland.

For Colin, the call (an email to be precise) from home came while he was on the Tube in London and he described how it came as something of a shock. “A guy called Gordon MacLean, who previously ran the art centre on the island (which happened to be my old primary school). He was looking for new premises to record musicians. He’d said to me, I’ve got a nice sea view turret window looking right down Tobermory main street (or Balamory for those with kids).”

It was a description that Colin recognised. It was a view from a flat that had longstanding family connections. “My grandfather, Angus MacIntyre, was the manager of the Clydesdale Bank, in Tobermory. He lived above it with my grandmother for about 45 years, even after his retirement.”

The flat had been left empty for several years and was in a state of disrepair, but it inspired something in Colin. Given his links with the flat and the island, he was the ideal person to record a few tunes there.  It was a moment of serendipity as it coincided with the start of the next project, the album ‘In My Mind There’s a Room’. For Colin, the development of the album felt authentic to what he wanted to do next.

“Gordon didn’t know my idea had been developing to try and do something a bit different. I just had one of those kind of light bulb moments. Sometimes creatively you get a sense where something just feels right. So, I thought, okay, this is the opportunity to make music in this significant room.”

The importance of the room stretched beyond it being a family home it was where his grandfather would write his poetry. This started the idea of an album consisting of songs based around significant rooms of writers. The writers would write the lyrics and Colin would supply the music to the songs about these meaningful rooms. “I thought, I’ll reach out to some authors. I just kind of put together an email saying, I’d like to be Elton, to your Bernie.”

One of the first authors to respond was Nick Hornby, whose book ‘Fever Pitch’, Colin remembered seeing for the first time in his grandfather’s flat. Nick’s response was “Wonderful, how could I not be a part of this?” He delivered the lyrics to the song that appeared on the album as ‘Panicked Feathers’. “Cocky little shits as he had it originally. I’m happy to write about anything. Would I have come up with a lyric like that? Probably not. It’s nice to be pushed in different directions and almost to have my hand on the doors of these authors and their stories.”

Alan Warner, the author of Morvern Callar was one of the next authors to get on board, with lyrics for the song ‘Wake Up Sally.’ It wasn’t just his Highland and Island connections that made him an ideal choice. He was familiar with both Colin’s and his grandfather’s work. “He had my grandfather’s poetry anthology ‘Ceilidh Collection’.”

From that collection, a spoken word contribution from his grandfather’s poem ‘Memories of Mull’ appears on the album. It can be heard in all its crackly home-taped glory. This enhances the connections across the album further. Colin has great memories of his grandfather, who was affectionately known as the Bard of Mull. He describes him as a polymath and someone “who seemed to bring school textbooks to life.”

Colin talked reflectively about hearing his grandfather’s track being played through the big speakers at Abbey Road. Their recognisable rooms were used for the final recordings and mastering of the album. “As a kid growing up in Tobermory, I would say I was obsessed by The Beatles. It sounds a bit strange because I didn’t know their music that well. As a 14-year-old, I would have known all about Abbey Road [the album], but would not have known the whole Beatles back catalogue.”

Being in the room at Abbey Road even stirred memories of home, in particular his grandfather’s flat. “The funny thing was, when I was in there, I was saying to Gordon, it smells like the bank flat. There was a thread running through it all. It was lovely that the final room was in Abbey Road. It was nice to hear my grandfather’s voice which he recorded in the 70s, coming out of the speakers there.”

The Scottish poet laureate, Liz Lochhead, came up to the bank flat to record her contribution which is another spoken word contribution ‘Anaglypta’. It is accompanied by a sparse musical backing from Colin. The project started to gather speed once Ian Rankin was signed up.  Ian was up writing his new Rebus in Cromarty and he was there in the timescale of recording the album, he supplied the lyrics to the track ‘My Bedroom Was My Rocket.’

Another contributor who came on board was inspired by his daughter’s love for books. “I’ve got two little girls and my house is full of Jacqueline Wilson books, and they subscribed to her magazines. I thought, well, I’ll try and gain at least one brownie point from them. I ended up doing a launch at the Hay Book Festival. Dua Lipa was there and they met her. I earned another brownie point for that.”

Other authors that have contributed to the album included Sebastian Barry, with the track called ‘Kellshabeg’. It surrounds a story set in a room on a rural Island. Barry is someone that Colin describes as his favourite author. It’s one of the highlights of the album and it is quite an ambitious track musically.

The artwork for the album has an evocative image and was painted by John Maclean, formerly of The Beta Band and now an award-winning film director. Another one of the many layers and connections across the project.

There has been a flurry of activity in the last year for Mull Historical Society, last year saw the release of the boxset ‘Archaeology – Complete Recordings 2000-2004’. This brought together songs from ‘Loss’, ‘This is Hope’, ‘US’, and a disc containing a selection of B-sides, and rarities. His first three albums were all re-released in various formats.

The Bookends Tour, this February, brings together both parts of his career. Colin will be playing three dates in Manchester, London and Glasgow. All nights see two albums played in full. Manchester and London will get the debut album ‘Loss’. Glasgow will get the third album ‘This is Hope’. All nights will see ‘In My Mind There’s a Room’ played in full.

Colin will be joined at all dates by authors who have contributed lyrics to the album, these include Val McDermid, Liz Lochhead, James Robertson, and Stephen Kelman.

The period that encompassed the first two albums was a creative period for Colin, but it was also a time when he was dealing with the grief of the death of his father. That was a theme that ran through his music at the time. Revisiting the songs of the first two albums in full has stirred other memories.

“I just put everything into my creativity at the time. I had a load of different titles for the first album like Community and stuff that album became ‘Loss’. It has brought up things that maybe you think you had been dealing with then. The thought was I’ll write a song about this. Ok, that’s that dealt with. I think now, was that my way of keeping something at bay? Maybe a way of processing it when you write about grief? One of my cousins is an English teacher and recently she said, that grief seems to run through everything you do. I hadn’t noticed that before.”

It was his father that brought him his first guitar as a Christmas present. This moment is described in his memoir, extracts of that can be found in the ‘Archaeology’ liner notes. It is a guitar that he still has to this day and he kindly treated me to a few bars of a song on it during the interview.

After the tour Colin, will turn his attention to the other aspects of his creative output. In May, he will release his fourth book and it sees him returning to the character of Ivor Punch and Mull.

“’The Letters of Ivor Punch’ was my debut novel. Ivor Punch is a retired police sergeant. When I returned to his voice when I wrote the stage version of the first book. I felt I could just shake this guy’s hand. The new book ‘When the Needle Drops’ is a crime novel surrounding the Great Mull Air Mystery of the 1970s. I’ve fictionalised it. It’s quite a powerful mystery of a plane missing around Christmas time. I thought Ivor could try and solve this. It’s going to be part of the Mull Mystery series. It’s two books initially. The needle reflects several things. He does have a bit of a passion for vinyl.”

Music is a thread that runs most of Colin’s novels and the next one is no different. In ‘The Letters of Ivor Punch’, the islanders take offence to the upstart singer pinching the name of their beloved historical society. ‘When the Needle Drops’ mentions Colin’s teenage band The Lovesick Zombies, who Ivor, describes as a ‘racket’ “I’ve kind of put myself in again. It’s just quite nice to do that. I like the layers of the stuff I do.”

Layered is a good description of Colin’s work. He gets a lot of pleasure from his various creative pursuits. The concept of in my mind…may have a life beyond this album, watch this space. For now, it will be good to share his enthusiasm when he takes his work into more rooms when he takes these songs out on tour.

You can catch Mull Historical Society on the following dates:

Thursday 08 February 2024. Glasgow Oran Mor

Playing This is Hope & In My Mind There’s a Room featuring, Val McDermid, Liz Lochhead & James Robertson

Friday 09 February 2024

Manchester, Yes

Playing Loss & In My Mind There’s a Room featuring Val McDermid

Saturday 10 February 2024

London Bush Hall

Playing Loss & In My Mind There’s a Room Feat. Stephen Kelman (Pigeon English)

The album ‘In My Mind is a Room’ is available now on Xtra Mile Recordings.

The novel ‘When the Needle Drops’ is published in May on Black & White Publishing.