Ronan MacManus tells David Hennessy about his new musical project Brand New Zeros and how his late Biblecode Sundays bandmate Carlton Hunt features on their album three years after his death.
For years Ronan MacManus was best known as the front man of London Celtic rockers The Biblecode Sundays, known for songs like Maybe it’s Because I’m an Irish Londoner and Drinking All Day.
In 2006, Ronan and the band, then known as Slàinte, won an Irish World Award.
In November 2017 the band lost its much-loved drummer, Carlton Hunt, following a serious illness. Among the Irish community in the capital he is still missed.
Ronan left the band early last year to go solo. He is back but not quite solo. He and Luke Dolan go under the name Brand New Zeros and they have a single out, Love You If You Let Me and a forthcoming LP.
Prominent on the album will be the Carlton’s drumming, keeping his memory alive in a poignant way.
Ronan MacManus told The Irish World: “It’s just really nice to still be playing with him and to feel like he’s still part of it. He’s actually going to be releasing more music in the coming years posthumously so it’s amazing to still be working with him. It’s great.
“Carlton was one of those gig horses who kept going and played for a number of years with everybody. Even dying isn’t stopping him from releasing music. It’s crazy. It’s very Carlton.
“When we were mixing this one, hearing him playing and his unique style, it’s just really nice.”
Brand New Zeros started as Ronan’s own project with Luke, who has Cavan heritage, but they would soon call in the help of Ronan’s Biblecode Sundays band mates.
“The original Brand New Zeros line-up had Enda and Carlton from the Biblecodes.
“It started with myself and Luke writing songs together as a side project. We kind of had a lot of mutual friends on the Irish scene but hadn’t actually met each other. He’s a barber in my local town. That’s how I met him. We used to write all our songs in his barber shop.
“We recorded an album over in Ireland, in Longford, in Drumlish. When Carlton died, we had started a second Brand New Zeros album and it all got shelved.
“We were dealing with everything.
“The Biblecodes, and keeping everything afloat really, became a priority.
“When I left the Biblecodes in January 2019 and I got a record deal, it was going to be a solo album. I quickly realised that we were using a lot of the old songs that had originally been the second Brand New Zeros album. Carlton is actually playing on half the album as a result of that because he’s on some of the old recordings. We decided to put the Brand New Zeros label on it and kind of resurrect that band.
“It’s great for his wife and his son as well to hear Carlton still producing music.”
Brand New Zeros released their first album in 2015 and work had started on a follow-up while Carlton was still with us.
“We started recording the second Brand New Zeros album three years ago, before Carlton died. Actually a year before Carlton died, I had gone into the studio with him.
“How Carlton used to like recording was to get the drums down first. I would go in and do a guide guitar and vocal so he plays along with me. I have a load of recordings with Carlton. One song on this album is from those sessions.”
The album will also have a heartfelt tribute to the friend Ronan lost: “The last song on the album is actually a tribute to him called I Carry Your Heart in Mine. That was a song I wrote for Carlton sometime last year.
“We all had these pin badges that Carlton’s wife Kathy asked us all to wear, a blue heart with a red heart on it. We all wore these on the day of the funeral. The idea of it is, ‘I Carry your Heart in Mine’. That phrase has really leapt out at me. It was such a beautiful way of putting it so I wrote the song all about the funeral day.
“Everything I ever go through comes out in song. It’s my cathartic way of dealing with things. I wanted to write a song for him.”
Another track This Love came from an impromptu session that could not, and now never will be recreated: “One is just a jam. We went in to jam some songs out: Carlton, me and Luke.
“Luke started playing this guitar riff, Carlton joined in. I started singing this vocal over the top of it.
“This thing happened. This magic happened.
“We recorded the whole thing and the idea was to go back. This song just happened out of nowhere amazingly and we tried to recreate it and couldn’t so that’s actually on the album. We tried at the time to redo it but the vibe just wasn’t the same. We built the song around the original jam.
“The album has got some magic for me in moments like that which we can just never repeat now obviously. Those things you cherish.”
The lead single Love You if You Let Me was chosen for Ronan’s new departure: “Just after I left the band I was struggling with mental health. I was at a very low ebb. I’ve been very open about my depression and anxiety over the years.
“I was having a particularly bad time around then so I decided to just start writing songs without any purpose. In my mind this represents the beginning of this new era, new phase. It just represents that new start.”
Since leaving the Biblecode Sundays, Ronan has been enjoying playing smaller venues as a solo artist and spending more time with his family. The band have continued with Kian taking over on vocal duties: “I’m enjoying where my life is right now. It’s certainly a change of pace which I needed.”
This doesn’t stop Ronan being proud of what he did with the band: “People know me from gigging around and they know me from the Biblecodes. I think it was such a great time in all of our lives and not just for people in the band. It was a golden age for the London-Irish music scene. We were just enjoying ourselves and everyone around us was enjoying us and themselves.
“Someone came to me who grew up in that time when we were gigging around. He said to me, ‘I don’t think you realise how important your band is to me and a lot of people’.
“We always thought we were just a pub band gigging around but I think there are a lot of people and it was their going out and drinking time. It’s nice to think that we are remembered by some people in that way. It’s nice to hear that. It meant something on a different level.
“It’s always going to be a special time for me and it’s nice to hear it was special to other people too.”
Love You if You Let Me is out now with a second single and album to follow from Fretstore Records.
For more information on Brand New Zeros, click here to stream the single, see the video and find them on platforms like Spotify and Facebook.