My Inspiration: The Wild Rover – Where Do The Memories Go? | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Photo By Ian Allcock – EnA Photography

Celtic musician, energetic frontman of The Wildcats Of Kilkenny and Irish meets Teesside musical ambassador, Mike McGrother shows his more gentler side, under the guise of The Wild Rover, with his debut solo album, Where Do The Memories Go? It’s a reflective collection of stories from Mike’s travels roaming around Ireland, France, Belgium and his native North East of England that have been recorded during the less mobile times of the current lockdown.

We ask Mike to tell us more about what inspired the album ahead of its release (Friday 3rd July).

‘Where Do The Memories Go?’ is, as I’ve sub-headed it, very much of a ‘Set of Lockdown Sketches’. One of things I think we’ve all done over the past few months is reflect on a lot of the people, events and places in our lives. Memories have become important – perhaps more than we’d previously expected and now seemed the right time to document some of the stories and songs that I’ve been writing about Teesside people for the last three years.

I only write songs to capture the ‘spirit’ of people I meet. I still have a creative sense of imposter syndrome preferring my more ‘natural’ role at the front of The Wildcats of Kilkenny. This album shows the gentler, more interpretative side of me and to be honest it is scary – but the stories behind the songs deserve to be heard. Everyone’s stories should be heard… that is my mantra and the motivation behind my debut recording. 

A few of the inspirations on the album…

‘Where Do The Memories Go?’ The title track. It’s about a lovely gentleman called Norman. When I met Norman he said very little. Dementia had stripped his mind and his ‘self’. I could see the stories and words floating around behind sad eyes and I longed to delve deep into his mind. But it was locked. Occasionally he would spark into conversation – excitedly telling me he used to play in a band…with his brother – and then forgetting that he’d told me it minutes later. It’s a song for Norman – but for anyone who has forgotten themselves – to ensure that THEY won’t be forgotten by us.

‘Jack Watts’ Predictability’ Jack is a young lad in East Cleveland. His dad proudly posted on Twitter than out of the blue his son, who has Down’s Syndrome and Autism – both massive barriers to his communication even before lockdown – had written a song. In effect a series of words – from Postman to TV to Predictability I was fascinated with what he was describing – sensing it was his own articulation of lockdown and how it had affected him. This song is my, (socially distanced) collaboration with him. He wept when he heard it – and then I did.

‘May 27 1975’. Still the date of the UK’s worst ever road crash but somehow frequently forgotten other than by the community of Thornaby, the song details the ill-fated day trip of 47 elderly ladies to the Yorkshire Dales, (Tammy Wynette was number 1 at the time). With brakes failing their bus careered off Dibble’s Bridge close to Hebden killing 32 women and the male driver. Due to Bank Holiday shortages the ambulances took several hours to arrive and so local people laid their bodies amongst the flowers in the garden below – an attempt to provide some dignity amongst the silent carnage. To this day the approach Dibble’s Bridge contains no warning signs and fatalities continue – the latest in April this year. I walked there on May 27th and laid 33 Yorkshire Roses for the victims. 

‘Joe Hall’. The man who inspired my song-writing. He answered my call out for stories about local shipyards as I was trying to create a ‘Pub Opera’ for ARC in Stockton. His first words as he sipped at his first pint – ‘No-one wants to listen to my stories – I’m too old’. That first meeting led to several more – his rich and wise stories forming the narrative for much of my show. But Joe died weeks before it was staged. His stories were shared – and listened to and, loved and so, as a thank you, I created ‘Joe’s Speakeasy’ – a weekly gathering in the Pub where we met that allows many more older people to tell me their tales, laugh, often cry, make new friends and know that they are being listened to. Some of their extraordinary stories fill the rest of this album – along with others detailing chance encounters in school, in prisons and on deserted beaches. Every story on this album matters to THEM and there are many more to come. I give them my word.

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