Back in 2013, Scottish music mogul Alan McGee spoke about discovering his latest prodigious talent – 14-year-old Doncaster native, John Lennon McCullagh. At just 15, John became the first signing to McGee’s 359 Music, who released his debut album North South Divide on 14 October 2013.
McGee had famously discovered or worked with a number of treasured bands – Glasvegas, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Oasis, Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub to name a few – so when the Glaswegian’s new label emerged with this acoustic balladeer, the expectations were that he had unearthed his very own Jake Bugg.
McCullagh’s acoustic and harmonica-drenched debut painted a bleak picture of life in the mining village of Rossington in Doncaster, which led to him being described by John Robb on Louder Than War as being:
Like a young Paul Weller, a 1977-era Joe Strummer or a Billy Bragg when he was first on the road – but even younger. The sharp-dressed kid from Doncaster sounds like he has seen it all and is singing it back, couched in songs that drip melody and beauty and that have a gravelly wisdom and an anger when it’s needed.”
By 2015’s follow-up, McCullagh had dropped the ‘Lennon’ and added ‘The Escorts’ as he entered the studio with John Power (The La’s & Cast) to record New Born Cry. As well as producing the sophomore LP, Power also co-wrote 8 of the 11 tracks on what was to be McCullagh’s final album on 359 Music.
The collaborations didn’t stop there, as Towerland Lullaby – a single from New Born Cry – featured Alabama 3 and was a standout track on the album. Look out for the St Pauli t-shirt in the video:
By the age of just 17, John McCullagh had released two albums under two different guises and, three years later, he returned with self-proclaimed “Peyote Punk Band” Children of the State, which had also been a pet name the FBI used for Charlie Manson’s notorious ‘Family’.
Whilst McCullagh’s first two albums called on the folk influences of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, by the time that Children of the State’s debut EP arrived, The Beach Boys and Beat Generation had been dutifully ingested and were gloriously evident in the resultant Kill Your Darlings.
Another EP, Gideon’s Bible, arrived in 2019, before Big Sur – with another nod to Kerouac – was released last week. Big Sur is loaded with a soaring, distorted organ intro which leads into a doo-wop inspired vocal melody and piercing fuzz guitar solo:
When Big Sur was named ACSOM’s Single of the Week, John McCullagh responded by Tweeting an image of him in the hoops, so we were duty-bound to invite him on the podcast for a chat…
In our latest episode – the 33rd in 33 days – Paul John Dykes spoke John McCullagh about a whole host of topics, including:
* Being signed by Alan McGee at just 15;
* Working with John Power;
* The impact and brilliance of Irish writers;
* Falling for Celtic and watching Henrik Larsson;
* Inspiration from the Beat Generation and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood;
* Children of the State’s new single ‘Big Sur’.