Multi instrumentalist, sound engineer, song writer and, most importantly, ukulele performer, we chat with Marc Gallagher to find out what drives him to gig as much as he does and probe into the thoughts behind his new forth coming album.
1 – You play a number of instruments as well as having talents in sound engineering and writing. What extra does the ukulele offer that leads you describe yourself as a ukulele player first and foremost?
In 2016 I was primarily a guitarist in an acoustic duo. I saw guitar as my ‘work instrument’. It would sit in its case until I had a gig, then I’d take it out, play for a couple of hours, and back in its case it went until my next gig. During this time, I would recreationally play ukulele at home instead of watch TV. This was my ‘fun instrument’. When my acoustic duo broke up, I needed to reestablish myself as a solo artist, and taking up the ukulele (which I was really enjoying anyway) could be seen as a rebranding of sorts. It was important to me to show what the ukulele could do in the hands of someone who took it seriously.
Now, 3 years later, I know my way around the ukulele better than any other instruments. Playing it feels natural, I am so used to the neck, the scale patterns, the chords, that I actually have some rust when trying to play guitar. I write on ukulele almost exclusively, so trying to make some songs translate to guitar is quite challenging.
2 – You are one the hardest working musicians on the ukulele circuit and you’ve played all over the world. What differences, if any, do you find between playing home and away?
It’s amazing to see my reputation grow in the international ukulele scene, because I am largely nobody in Manchester. Manchester is a city celebrated for its musical output, but there are thousands of musicians playing the same exploitative places trying to get noticed. I have a nice network of musical friends in Manchester, but I often hear “what? they have festivals for ukulele? And you’re going to Berlin to play?”
Meanwhile when I play these international festivals, I have guys come up to me who I’ve never heard of saying “I love your videos, you inspired me to play ukulele” and that is so rewarding.
3 – Uke Planet is always interested in looking backwards to see how ukulele artists of the past influence modern performers. Are there any particular players you would sight as an influence?
I am very grateful for the community of ukulele players who have given their time and advice to me, especially when I was a kid with so much naivety, and their guidance has occasionally rubbed off in my music. In “Songs From a Shit Summer” the song “Sexy Butt” is of direct influence from Manitoba Hal, and “Dear John Letter” takes inspiration from Dead Man’s Uke.
After that, I kind of found more of my own sound, and when I see ukulele acts I admire, I mainly take things in terms of performance or stage presence from them, instead of songwriting. When it comes to my playing style, that was born of me being left to my own devices!
I greatly like the presentation of the Bad Mouse Orchestra, and that may have influenced the blue suit/boater/bow tie outfit that I am often seen in.
That being said, I wish I could write like Krabbers, his work is just stunning! I tried doing a shanty like him on my new album, but I don’t think I’ve quite captured the imagery he creates.
While not a “ukulele act”, German band Annenmaykantereit have been of influence to me this year in terms of sound, energy and they just write songs that make me feel something, which is something I think is lost when people strive to play something ‘perfect’. They occasionally use ukulele. Not sure if that counts.
4 – What do you look for when choosing a track to cover & does your approach differ greatly from creating an original song?
For covers gigs, I just want to have as many tools at my disposal, because I take pride in my versatility. I have relative pitch, so when I hear a song I instantly know what key its in and what chords are being used. Many times I have played a song live just because I was like “I heard this once, I think I know how it goes” and take educated guesses on the chords.
I often take requests, if someone shouts out a song that I’ve heard, I google the lyrics on my iPad, and play it for them as a first time ever. If it goes well, I like to include this in my repertoire. My repertoire currently has over 350 songs, giving around 18 hours of material, and I just keep it growing!
As it pertains to covers videos, I like doing something that’s topical, or something to do with the backdrop. Examples include Under The Sea with an aquarium behind me, “Heroes” outside of David Bowie‘s old house in Berlin, or Tennessee Whiskey at a distillery. When I saw Chicago’s ‘Route 66 Begin’ sign that was just an open goal. My primary reason for stuff like this is because I really love puns, which probably highlights how British I am!
Otherwise I just scroll through my repertoire on my phone and see what I feel like doing at that particular time. I bear in mind what I want to say with the cover, and I use it as a chance to showcase what I can do to promoters, festival organisers and audiences alike.
5. The new Marc Gallagher album is imminent… tell us all about the process and thought behind it?
Indeed! “Songs From a Happy Winter” will launch on December 2nd in Manchester. This is a direct rebuttal to “Songs From a Shit Summer” in 2017.
Shit Summer was a concept album where I wrote loads of music during a difficult time, and I presented the songs in chronological order along with a booklet explaining the stories behind the songs, so it acts as a sonic journal of sorts.
This album is like that, but opposite. I made the point in November that I wanted to have a happy winter-that I wanted to do some awesome things with awesome people and let those experiences inspire me. It was a touch different to Shit Summer in rather than collect music from a productive-but-tragic time, I challenged myself to enjoy myself and make an album in the process.
I set the writing times from December 1st to February 28th, my definition of Winter. With this 12 week period I could do a song a week and have a full album by the end of it. I used my time in December to visit friends and see more of England, and then at the start of January I went travelling through Europe to explore EU relatives before Brexit. I mainly lived in Germany, but I ventured to neigbouring countries to see new cities and busk for petrol to the next town. Through the people I met, and the experiences I had, I was presented with a wealth of inspiration, and the latter half of the album writing was completed in my bedroom in Berlin.
While I have love songs as standard, I also write about broader issues like I did with my 2018 album Level Up. This album tackles themes like English farm culture/independent businesses, travelling, dogs, and alcohol! It’s from stuff like this that give me the folk part of Pop Folk, which I think best describes my music.
The songwriting process varied from song to song. Sometimes I had a chord progression I liked, then I’d hum a melody and start adding words. Sometimes I had the hook down, and then I expanded upon it with a uke in hand. But all of the songs tell little stories that add to the book that was my happy winter. It’s an album I’m really proud of and I can’t wait to share it with the world this December.