"The Morrissey tour was great. He hand picked us and personally invited us to support him, which was a great honour. Bizarrely, though, we never met the man..."
In Conversation With... Matt McManamon
Liverpudlian Matt McManamon is best known as the frontman of the ska-punk band The Dead 60s, a band which spawned a top-forty album, and in itself spawning five top-forty singles. From pubs to Top of the Pops, pop-punk to ska, a fascinating career, Matt McManamon took the time to speak with us for an in-depth discussion of his career; from his early bands, supporting acts such as Green Day and Morrissey, touring as a member of The Specials, and the launch of his solo career…
What music did you grow-up listening to?
Growing up there was always music being played in the house. I had 3 older brothers who all listened to music intently, and my father wasn’t around but he’d left his collection of Beatles cassettes which I swiftly commandeered, and my mother always had Irish music blasting out of the kitchen. So, everything from rock to reggae to 60’s sounds to Irish rebel and ballad songs could be regularly heard. The first record I ever bought was ‘New Kids on the Block’ and I can remember my mother taking me to the famous Penny Lane Records (close to where I was brought up) and I purchased the record. I loved that record back then. I wouldn’t say it was a significant purchase but it definitely wasn’t regrettable. I still have a soft spot for it!
Were you encouraged to explore a musical career path, or did you find yourself falling into it?
I was never really encouraged to explore music as a career path, it was something I got interested in off my own back from an early age. I was around 12 years of age when I felt music was my calling.
You formed a band as a teenager called Rest Home, before changing it to 'Pinhole'. How did the formation of this early band come together?
Charlie Turner (Dead 60s bass player) had met some likeminded musicians in the summer of 1996 who were in the throes of getting a band together. They needed a singer, so, I was approached. They didn’t have a name or anything. After I joined I soon christened us ‘Rest Home’ and we started to gig for about a year or so in Liverpool. It was my first ever band and my first ever experience of performing live. It was the start of me cutting my musical teeth and certainly was an exciting and special time.
You would often play The Pit. What was that experience like?
The Pit was a great place, and I regularly gigged there for a few years in the late 90s. Most of the clientele where friends of the band – all underage because we were underage. It was the only place in Liverpool that would turn a blind eye and let us illegally play. There were always a few interesting characters hanging around… mainly older punks indulging in drink and drugs. There was always something going on in that den of iniquity.
What was the recording process like for your EP, '122 Duke Street'?
This was my first ever proper recording session in a professional recording studio. We’d manage to blag the money to record for a weekend in Parr Street Studios in Liverpool, and we knocked out four songs live in two days. It was an incredible experience and really exciting to get our own original material down onto tape. It brought us closer and tighter as a band and a unit. They were happy days.
Did this EP help you to gain traction, as your next EP was released on Thrill City Records, and a single the following year on Too Nice Records? Clearly you were gaining recognition form labels, but was you actually offered a recording contract?
The 122 Duke Street EP was an extremely limited run. It was a DIY, self-release CD EP. There were probably as few as 50 CDs knocked up. I don’t think Thrill City or Too Nice Records were even aware we had done this. We gained traction through gigging and word of mouth (the old-fashioned way). We soon came to the attention of Thrill City and signed a ‘One EP’ deal, leading on to a ‘Single’ deal with Too Nice.
How did you manage to land a recording session for John Peel in 2002?
[Pinhole] released the ‘Breaking Hearts & Windows’ EP through Thrill City and a copy of it was sent to John Peel. He liked it and started giving it spot plays on his radio show, which led to him inviting us to do a ‘Peel Session’, which was my first ever experience of playing live on radio. We benefited from the actual recording experience and learnt a lot about this process, and the session helped us to gain invaluable exposure.
You have supported many a band, such as Green Day. Do you have any tales from the tour bus that you can share, nothing too scandalous, I hope?
Supporting Green Day was the first big gig I ever did, and the first time I supported an established big band. They were lovely guys and treated us with the upmost respect, and they put on a wicked show too. I did meet Paul McCartney some years ago, as he was recording in the same studio in New York as I was with The Dead 60s. We chatted about Liverpool and music and he also told us a few stories about John Lennon. He was a lovely approachable guy. I still find it slightly odd that I’ve met a ‘Beatle’.
What was the decision behind dissolving the band, because it ostensibly seems that you were rather successful and accelerating?
At that time, we had been steadily accelerating, however, we all felt quite quickly we had reached our peak, plus our musical taste was changing and maturing. So, with a desire to expand our sound and move into a different musical territory it was decided to dissolve the band.
As your sound changed, and you signed with a new label, what happened in the time between dissolving Pinhole and forming The Dead 60s?
The change had been coming for a while, and as I mentioned above, our musical taste was maturing. We’d naturally progressed into ska, reggae & dub music, and felt we wanted to incorporate that style of sound into the band, whilst maintaining a punk element. That period of transition before signing with Deltasonic was spent daily writing, jamming and rehearsing songs in this new vein. So, once we had a new batch of songs ready to go, we found ourselves coming to the attention of Deltasonic.
You began touring again with more fantastic names, but did you have new material ready to be performed?
Yes, we had new material and a whole new set to play live. It took us a couple of months to get this ready. The set never consisted of any covers, we always had enough of our own original material to play.
Any other tales from this period of touring, such as Morrissey being as cheerful as ever?
The Morrissey tour was great! He hand-picked us and personally invited us to support him, which was a great honour. Bizarrely though, we never met the man, never spoke to him, didn’t even see him and never had any contact with him. The only time you would see him was when he was performing on stage. We did get told off for smoking too much and eating hamburgers backstage by one of his minions.
Exploding onto the scene with lengthy tours, did you find touring ever took its toll on you?
There was no physical toll for me. Of course, touring the world is much more demanding than just touring the UK, but I found it easy – it was a walk in the park. It was highly rewarding and highly enjoyable, and it was what I wanted to be doing from day one. Of course, the excitement and adrenaline no doubt played a part as well, but I was doing a job that I loved, and doing a job that you love always brings ease and joy. I never missed anything at all. There was nothing I wanted that I couldn’t get on the road.
You released a limited-edition coat with Fred Perry, which led you to play the famous 100 Club with Terry Hall of The Specials. Did Terry Hall have any comments on the band?
Terry was a fan of The Dead 60s anyway. So, when it was suggested that we perform together at the 100 Club, it was a no brainer. Terry is a lovely guy, very kind human being. He praised us and expressed his admiration for the band.
In 2014 you were asked to join The Specials. What was it like touring with them in comparison to previous bands?
It was a dream come true, and an experience I’ll never forget. The crowd behaviour was much the same as a Dead 60s show, only difference being that The Specials play to much bigger audiences, which was of course a big thrill. The same can be said for their touring style, it’s the same as what I had experienced but on a bigger scale. They’re much older than me, so there was no wild parties or anything like that. So, it was much calmer than a Dead 60s tour, but it was a wonderful thing for me to get to do.
However, it is not the end! In 2019 you released two singles, both of which have an honest, raw-like quality. What led to this change in sound, and did you find it difficult to pick up a pen and write again?
I felt it was important that if I was going to release new music, I wanted to make sure it was different and didn’t sound like anything I was previously associated with. I’d always harboured secret desires to one day release a collection of songs in an acoustic folk/pop style. I’d always privately been interested in that style of music but just didn’t know when I would do it. At first, I guess it was a little difficult to write, but this was mainly down to confidence and I suppose you could say a fear of failure. Once you get a couple under your belt and realise that the listeners are enjoying the songs it gets much more easier and becomes a joy.
Looking back now, do you have any particular songs you found difficult to write, or have a particular connection to?
Back when I was a teenager I didn’t find anything difficult, I was fearless and eager to succeed. Any kind of song writing was still new to me – the concept of difficulty didn’t really come into it. Back then it was more of a case of ‘Anything goes…’. I think as I’ve gotten older, I occasionally find songs difficult to write, but that never lasts too long. To be honest, every song I have written or performed on I feel a connection with. The songs are a part of me, a part of my life and an extension of myself.
You have new material on the horizon. With your new single, Goodbye, recently released, what can fans expect from this new tune?
This song is a bit of a ballad-style tune, with the focus mainly on the acoustic guitar and vocal. It’s quite a powerful track and deals with an uncomfortable subject matter; a toxic and fractious relationship.
You are now signed to Fretsore Records and releasing new music, so what can fans expect from you?
After the Goodbye single, there’ll be another single entitled ‘Pulling at the Reins’,
and then a full album later this year (providing Covid-19 has subsided) …
With the global pandemic, have you found this time beneficial to write, or do you find yourself struggling, being unable to tour?
I’ve fortunately only had to cancel 2 gigs, and I’m supposed to be in the studio recording but that can’t happen due to the pandemic. As well as writing songs, for the last 6 months I’ve been writing a book; and the working title is: ‘Giz a Gig! A Personal Journey Through the Liverpool Music Scene and Beyond’. I’m roughly half way through, so I’ve certainly found the current situation of lockdown beneficial towards completion of the book.
Have you considered streaming, as many take to various platforms as a way of performing?
No, it’s just not for me. Hats off to everybody else who’s doing it, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. I’ll hold out until these strange times have passed and I can do a proper gig.
Aside from writing, what artists are you listening to and enjoying during the quarantine?
DMA’S, Sleaford Mods, David Keenan, Ali Horn, Ronan Macmanus, Fontaines D.C., Gerry Cinnamon, and Steve Mason… to name a few. I tend to listen to older stuff, but these more contemporary artists have all recently caught my eyes and ears!
Whilst the days of Pinhole and The Dead 60s may have been left behind, it is with rejuvenated spirit and excitement that Matt McManamon is creating music, and you can listen to the new single here, whilst eagerly awaiting his next single and album. In the meantime, be sure to follow Matt McManamon via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for all updates and announcements.