Mick McConnell – Music In The Veins
Whilst holding the guitar slot in international touring pop-rock band Smokie, Mick McConnell has a neat line in roots music styling and original songs and a solo album Under My Skin coming out to showcase this side of his work. He meets our man in London to explain all over lunch…
Supplied By Artist
JLTT: Thanks for travelling down to meet up, Mick to talk about this record of yours – where are you based?
MM: Now that’s a difficult question for me! I live in Ireland in the Winter, in the West between Galway and Sligo and then in Summer, I live in Spain. Though I’ve come down from Yorkshire today. I’m a bit of a gypsy! I have two kids, one going to university, one at school. When Smokie tours, I’m with the band, of course.
Your record – I listened closely to it and with a completely open mind given that I am always playing all kinds of music and what I like – without being too obsequious – is that it breathes. The songs don’t grab me by the ears and shout in my face. So is that a deliberate move, Mick or is that just your natural style?
(Emphatically) It’s deliberate. In many ways, that is. By the way I choose the music and what to play on each track and I am a great believer – learning this while doing hundreds of recordings – that being a good musician for me is really learning what NOT to play. Does that make sense?
Well yeah! I was friends with the great Andy Fraser of Free and that was his vibe. I did discuss exactly this with Eric Johnson and said ‘There’s a point at which the painter puts down his brush’..
(Warmly) Yes! Obviously you are doing each song individually and the one thing I hate in a recoding process is throwing the kitchen sink at it ! You have to do twenty guitars, you gotta do this and that..and a lot of producers subscribed to all that a few years ago. But I think you can attain the atmosphere with the dynamics of the playing. And I go back to the thing again, what not to play. Good musicians learn to understand quite quickly what the other musicians are doing.
I like groups that look at each other,, If I see a metal band and they’re all just standing there looking quasi-tough staring forward it just isn’t happening for me.
With us it’s all totally live, the players in the room together. A small handful of overdubs and that is all. So the entire band every time is playing together. And especially on the tracks recorded in the States.so you can really just bounce off one another. I love that way of recording.
The vocals and the backing vocals on this, they’re very good so what’s the process here?
The bv’s evolve as the backing vocalist takes on the task of contributing. Four tracks were done in the UK and the other six in the US. For the UK I gave the brief to the engineer and I did know the girl who sang so that sorted that out. In America the producer Blue Miller did it, knowing what I was after. He has a Grammy for working with India Arie, so as he lives in Nashville and works there a lot on sessions he knows all that. It’s the highest-paid trade in Nashville music, backing vocals. He knew Lisa, who got to the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent. Now she would spend hours on a single track with him and on a personal level I love what he did. Most people reviewing the album at present do seem to love that aspect too..
How long have you sung?
I turned professional as a guitar player when I was eighteen. And I have sung ever since.
Many of us start playing and then try singing later down the line…
Yeah! That was me! When I was fifteen I started playing in a blues band called Driving Sideways
Yes. And I supposed doing bv’s..then I was in a couple of very heavy rock bands I was singing and I had a much higher range than what I have now. I have this croaky voice now…
I described it as sandpapered
(Smiles) Quite – but I hope and think it serves me well and gives me bit of distinction or character!
With the organic band sound you favour, there’s a slight Faces vibe that creeps in..that means it’s not going to be operatic, it’s going to be more soulful thing. I don’t know your record collection, but..do you like Little Feat?
(Sighs) I LOVE Little Feat!
Hmm, yep, in parts certainly
And sometimes your vocal phrasing has a pinch of Boz Scaggs BUT within your own style…you’re Irish, aren’t you?
Yes, born in England but to Irish parents. If I turn the clock back, to when I first picked up an acoustic guitar, those times I was very influenced by all my brother’s records. So yes The Faces, Thin Lizzy the first one
Shades Of A Blue Orphanage..I saw that trio at the Lyceum, they ran out of songs and did I’m A Man! Eric Bell..
Taste of course and then a little later the guitar bands of the 70s such as Wishbone Ash with the twin-lead guitar style going on
Home, Holy Mackerel! But if you dig that it gives you a tumble into arrangements and arranging, how you want things to blend or counterpoint…
Yes ! methodically worked out and structured for effect..winding the clock forward to where I am today I want that structured element to the guitar solo’s, a song within that song and really saying something..
The best people at that are probably Steely Dan..King Charlemagne
Yes! That great phrasing! So when I write today, I usually get a riff going. Lyrically I write that part of the song on my own, usually. For the US tracks we agreed that Blue would go away and do what he thought worked best and then we would review it all later. On the first song he’d kind of changed the lyrics around BUT without changing anything I’d written. He made lines make sense. He asked if I was happy with that and I just said yes it was great, it was working.
Is it a bit like handing a painted canvas to someone and they come back with it framed?
Yeah, exactly and that’s what a producer does with a song. It’s putting the fairy dust on the music…when you are doing a solo album, you need to take step back from it and let someone else put their stamp on it, add their little creative ideas to enhance it all.
Of these songs here, which of them is you at your most emotionally open?
(Ponders) All My Soul. Me and Blue wrote that song in about ten minutes, start to finish. Electric and acoustic guitars…and for some reason, Pete the lyrics just came straight off my tongue, that immediate thing, effortless really.
What Dave Crosby calls The Muse dropping on your head!
(Laughs) And I just don’t know what happened ! A lot of the other songs I wrote in my little music room over in Ireland. I would go back to the lyrics week in and week out. Tweaking this and that. But there’s a point where you have to run with something.
The players in Driving Sideways, they could presumably sense that they should encourage you and you would come through and develop your talent?
Absolutely..they really took me along into the music and looked after me. Under their wing at the time..and we gained a bit of a cult following around Leeds. Eventually we had two or three residencies playing live to the crowds. We became a twin guitar band. Doing F Mac and Mayall stuff and that gave me a great grounding not just in playing blues music but structuring the guitar parts to get the best results. All part of the building blocks ..
Will you be doing some promo dates for the record?
Oh yes, that’s the plan – and we’ll make sure you’re invited along…
Thanks for the chat Mick
(Many thanks to both Mick and Golly for all of their time and help with this interview. Photos supplied by artist except second side image.
Mick McConnell’s new studio album ‘Under My Skin’ is out now on Stuff Music.
You can read our full album review of ‘Under My Skin’ here: http://bit.ly/2mY7eJb
For more information visit Mick’s official website here: http://bit.ly/2mYmk1x