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Mike McNamara


Mike McNamara is songwriter and poet. His songs have been signed on both sides of the Atlantic and featured on local TV and radio, and on BBC’s Children In Need, Radio 1 and other places. An album of original material available from CDBaby prompted this:

‘Short story writer, songwriter, guitarist and painter. In this formidable batch of songs he attempts to marry the earthiness of 60's Soul with the lyrical honesty of the confessional poet. His songs deal with urban decay, elopement, existentialist angst, drug addiction, psychosis and teenage death, fickle fashion, soul heroes, narcissism, lost love, spiritual restlessness, nostalgia, social responsibility, the playful musicality of words and compulsive musical obsession. In these 18 tracks recorded over a number of years he incorporates various genre from Reggae and Soul to Country Rock, Funk, Blues, Ballads, Rock 'n' Roll and R 'n' B. He's been likened to Joe Cocker, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Womack and James Dewar, and his lyrical and melodic prowess has been attested to by a number of contemporary musical icons.’

He currently fronts Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band who, in 30 years together, have played with acts such as Van Morrison, Edwin Starr, The Saw Doctors, Jools Holland and many more.

Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry? 

A: I guess it depends on what the definition of poetry is. Both lyrics and poems are creative forms of self expression using words and both are governed by certain traditions (although these can often be discarded). Personally, I don’t usually reach a conclusion as to which is which until it’s finished. As a rough rule of thumb if it’s readily accessible I’d be more likely to call it a lyric, if it’s condensed and a little more open to interpretation I’d call it a poem. So, no, I don’t usually think of my lyrics as poetry… although they can be poetic!

Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why? 

A: For me it is. I feel it enhances the melody and phrasing and embellishes the rhythmical flow. It can be discarded I know, but for me that’s a bit like painting the walls in your house with pots of different coloured paint; it does the job but it’s less likely to be aesthetically pleasing! And rhyme in song is far less restrictive, often relying on assonant rhymes like “way” with “face” etc.

Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can also be like free verse? 

A: I almost always tend to follow traditional patterns. I mean, there’s an ever changing terminology used and at times I’d be hard pressed to tag what a particular section is (a pre-chorus or a bridge etc) but the concept behind it is the same: to build, release, create continuity and familiarity and, at the same time, avoid predictability with interesting but harmonious little diversions.

Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed? 

A: I think the closest I would have come to this would have been via hymns which were often akin to Metaphysical poetry set to some wonderfully evocative melodies. On a subconscious level there’s a recognition of that connection between strongly felt sentiment such as love or longing or loss with tunes that touch us emotionally and resonate with primary feelings in a non verbal way.

Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting? 

A: Oh, definitely. Reading the poetry of, say, Dylan Thomas, Yeats or Lewis Carroll was no different to reading the lyrics of Lennon/McCartney, Chuck Berry or Leonard Cohen printed inside album covers. I can’t imagine having one without the other any more than I can imagine writing an instrumental!

Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?

A: It’s a double whammy I guess—words AND music. Oral and aural. Two art forms in one. Songs, as a rule, are far more memorable, it can become almost like sublime advertising. Like back in the day when we’d recite our “times tables” in a singalong format to memorise them. Also, as Adrian Mitchell wrote ‘’Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people’. If it caters purely for the academic literati on the one hand or the political ranters on the other it leaves hell of a lot of the population out!