Mark Mulcahy @ Gullivers, Manchester, 4 Sep

Miracle Legion's Mark Mulcahy brings joy and hope to Manchester's Gullivers

Live Review by Pete Wild | 12 Sep 2019
  • Mark Mulcahy

Gullivers is at the more lugubrious end of the Manchester venues scale. Plying its trade since 1865, it’s the epitome of a side-street pub that just happens to have a room upstairs in which bands can play. And this is where we find Mark Mulcahy, fresh from his reformed Miracle Legion tour, pushing a new album in the form of The Gus, and accompanied, it has to be said, by three young men who stand in stark comparison to the fact that Mulcahy is, shall we say, now starting to get on in years. If The National’s Matt Berninger finds himself described as a university lecturer more often than not, then Mark Mulcahy is a head of year – someone who has seen a number of younger lecturers come and go, someone who has reached the point where he can get away with wild scarecrow hair and the occasional forgetful glance into the middle distance as he tries to remember what it was he wanted to say.

The evening begins quietly, with Wicked World, the opener from the new record. Like a lot of songs on The Gus, it feels like a short story (Mulcahy was inspired by George Saunders, he’s said). A man takes a walk, the world spins out of its orbit. Mulcahy half bends over his guitar and ekes a sound out of two strings that is awash with loveliness. The band loiter with intent, and then make a racket at the climax. The crowd cheers like it’s everything they’ve been hoping for. From here on in, we get treated to a ramshackle, occasionally sludgy, frequently wonderful dash across his back catalogue.

We get the hits (for want of a better word) in the shape of Cookie Jar, She Makes the World Turn Backwards and I Have Patience (although, it should be noted, there's no outing for Hey Self Defeater). We get the kind of tangents, side-streets and back alleys you’d expect from an artist of long standing with a good old set of songs to choose from (Where’s the Indifference Now?, Taking Baby Steps), and we get a first live view of new songs that sound like instant classics: Daisy Marie and Happy Boat, the latter of which is sung, guitarless, heartfelt, from the top step at the side of the stage, in a way that reaches the audience, collectively, anew.

There are times when the band rock out and the sound system in Gullivers can’t quite take it, and there are times when the younger members of his band watch him for the changes, because it's Mark’s show, and the band aren't really a band, they're support. But equally there are times that feel like momentary magic, when everyone in the audience smiles and bands together. For instance, he introduces Ciao My Shining Star, a song he sings in falsetto, as being “for the most beautiful girl in all of the world” and we all smile and look at one another and for a moment it's as if we're all thinking of the same person.

This is Mark Mulcahy’s peculiar genius. And it’s a peculiar genius that maybe doesn’t travel well any more, that is unlikely to fill enormo-domes the world over, that is rarely to be found on the soundtrack of rom-coms. But we love the joy he brings and hope he gets to continue bringing joy for many more years to come.