Album Review: Scally Folk by Matt McManamon

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After almost a decade in the wilderness following the dissolution of his former band The Dead 60s, Matt McManamon returned to the musical fray in early 2019. Releasing an impressive quartet of singles (including the brilliant ‘Goodbye’) the Liverpudlian broke cleanly with his ska/punk pop past, trading his Fender telecaster for an old battered Epiphone acoustic (now upgraded to a Gretsch Rancher).

Now firmly established as a solo singer/songwriter as a result of those four singles (and a number of well received acoustic shows with Ian Prowse, The Spitfires, Sice from The Boo Radleys and a slot at the Shiiine On Weekender), his debut album Scally Folk (scheduled for release on Fretsore Records in March 2021) is here.

Perhaps the most interesting fact about the album is that it includes none of the singer/songwriter’s previously released work. Both McManamon and Fretsore should be applauded for this brave decision. It’s a testimony to Matt’s rediscovered confidence in his song-writing abilities and a willingness to make amends for the ‘lost’ decade by producing as much new music as he possibly can, as quickly as he possibly can.

The Scally Folker has produced what can legitimately be described as an archetypal Liverpool album. Never one to wear his musical influences lightly, his hometown’s watermark is stamped all over Scally Folk. The ghost of Matt’s former Deltasonic labelmates The Coral haunts Out of Time whilst the Celtic soul infused Mulranny Smile is an admirable tribute to the work of Michael Head. Even Gaslighting, the album’s opening track, features a powerful riff (from the excellent Vinny Redmond) not too dissimilar to one found on Alright, the opening track from Cast’s 1995 debut album All Change. Everytime I Close My Eyes is a joyful pop gem. The ‘I can’t sleep tonight’ refrain, lifted wholesale from Lee Mavers, bridges a catchy verse and  dreamy chorus.

There are two very good reasons to forgive McManamon this ruthless plundering of the musical vaults of Merseyside, and they are as follows: the first, he does it extremely well. The second, from his musical beginnings with John Peel favourites Pinhole, to playing Top of the Pops with The Dead 60s and performing at Lollapoloza in Chile with The Specials, he has rarely, if ever, looked towards his hometown for musical inspiration, preferring instead, to turn his eyes and ears to bands like Green Day, The Clash and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. 

Meet Me by the River evokes the geographical sentimental vein mined by The Pacemakers, Prowse, Wylie et al. It’s the strongest track on the album, an obvious single, and if the video doesn’t feature the Royal Liver Building and the silver scimitar of the River Mersey, then McManamon and his label Fretsore Records will have missed a trick.

Thanks to Mick Cronin’s skilled production, Jumpin’ the Gun, due to be the album’s first single, has been lifted from its original stripped back acoustic form and given a glossy New Wave veneer, the net result of which is a tune which now sounds more like Julian Cope’s early solo work than it does The La’s.

The album concludes with the aural comedown I Ran Away. A downbeat brooding affair in which McManamon confesses: ‘I’ve got no feelings anymore ’cause I killed my insides’. As an album closer it plays a similar role on Scally Folk to that which Something in the Way does on Nevermind.

Scally Folk is the sound of a songwriter moving ever closer to finding his own voice but still leaning a bit too heavily on his influences for support. And whilst fans of McManamon’s former band hoping to find another Riot Radio will probably be disappointed, Merseyphiles who admire superior song-writing and memorable melodies will not be. This is an excellent album – but I suspect that Scally Folk is but a beginning, an augury of a much brighter future ahead.

The album Scally Folk will be released by Fretsore Records in March 2021. It will be preceded by the single Jumpin’ the Gun in January 2021.

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