Home boy: Return of Michael J Sheehy and Miraculous Mule
As his band release their second album, Miraculous Mule’s Michael J Sheehy talks Moby, Brexit and London’s housing crisis
02 March, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Miraculous Mule: Michael J Sheehy, Patrick McCarthy and Ian Burns
Michael J Sheehy has been around for a while. The musician has been a figure on the music scene, in various bands and as a solo artist, for more than two decades.
In that time his music has undergone many transformations and he has fought and won a battle against the lure of alcoholism – his addiction brought to a shocking halt when he accidentally started a fire when cooking drunk, passing out while his Bloomsbury home burned around him, his wake-up call coming via the firefighters who saved his life.
His latest musical incarnation comes in the form of Miraculous Mule, with his brother Patrick McCarthy (bass) and their childhood friend Ian Burns (drums), who grew up together in St Silas Estate in Queen’s Crescent – the namesake of one of their former bands – St Silas Intercession.
Miraculous Mule release their second album, Two Tonne Testimony, on March 24 – a fierce, blues-infused rock album that howls with gospel undertones, brimming with vintage sounds while taking on familiar themes of today – moves to the far right and government cuts among other things – but sounding like they emanate from a crossroads in the Deep South. The release follows a launch party and gig at The Water Rats on March 23.
The trio first began jamming at a Queen’s Crescent youth club called The Thanet.
“They had a music room and that was where we first got to turn on amps and thrash the living daylight out of the drums,” said Michael.
“The couple who ran it, Nigel and Muriel, gave us the keys on a Saturday afternoon and trusted us because they saw we really wanted to do it. We didn’t let them down and always locked up after. It was a great release for us to go into that room and let go.”
After many years in bands, sometimes as a trio, sometimes on separate projects (Michael was in Dream City Film Club in 1995 and has since released five solo albums), Michael, Patrick and Ian reunited to form Miraculous Mule six years ago after a headliner pulled out of a night they were promoting at The Alleycat in Denmark Street.
“We didn’t want to cancel it and thought, why don’t we put on our own gig?” said Michael. “We had been watching a lot of Alan Lomax prison films – he had recorded a lot of field recordings in the Deep South. I think on Moby’s album, Play, a lot of the gospel references were ripped from the Lomax recordings.
“We’d been listening to those, basically work songs and gospel songs and said, ‘why don’t we reinterpret those and put our own spin so we don’t have to write our lyrics’, which to me is the hardest part.
“So our first record was a reinterpretation of those songs with some of our own.”
The show was so successful that MM continued and now the band are ready to release Two Tonne Testimony.
“This album is mainly our own words,” said Michael, “a lot of it was written from jams. Some of the songs were written two years ago when we were witnessing people like Farage and Trump being seen as these rank outsiders.
“I was wary of them as characters and their influence and what they were saying and how people were responding, and I wasn’t that surprised when Brexit and Trump happened, so a couple of the songs came from that.
“It’s hard to ignore these things, it seems to be pervading every aspect of our lives, it’s hard to switch off from it and especially if you’re plugged into social media.”
Michael still lives in the Bloomsbury housing association flat he accidentally set light to years ago and says he is concerned about the impact of Right to Buy on younger generations.
He said: “Like a lot of housing associations and council blocks, I’ve seen it change. When an old person dies or a family moves out, a lot of time they are sold and students and professionals move in, so it’s changed, but there is a bit of a community here.
“I’ve seen it change, not necessarily for the better, a sad state of affairs across the country where a lot of social housing is disappearing – a subject I’m quite passionate about, having grown up in social housing and still now I’m not sure I could survive if I didn’t. It’s quite bleak.”
He also worries about the difficulties penniless musicians face today.
He said: “When we were growing up, you had the dole to fall back on, it wasn’t as difficult, particularly when Blair brought in the New Deal. That option isn’t open to young bands anymore. It’s very hard to be young and in a band.
“On the one hand the internet has democratised it, because you don’t need money to make a record, but I also feel that to have a good go at music, going out on the road and having to make sacrifices, financially you’re going to have to take the shitty job.
“Maybe the kids that come from a more privileged background will find it easy.”