Liverpool Irish Matt McManamon tells Fiona O’Brien about his band The Dead 60s’ comeback, and why he left his the English north west to settle down in Mulranny in County Mayo.
The Dead 60s, features Matt McManamon as lead singer, alongside Ben Gordon, Charlie Turner and Bryan Johnson. They burst onto the scene in 2005 with their eponymous debut album and limited edition Space Invader dub album released through Liverpool label, Deltasonic Records.
A string of singles accompanied the release including breakthrough hit Riot Radio, which found itself on heavy rotation on US Alternative Radio that year. Inspired by Gang of Four, Jackie Mittoo, King Tubby and The Clash, the band’s energised live performances and potent mix of punk, dub and horrorcore ska ignited audiences globally, winning over fans and critics alike and landing them key festival appearances at Lollapalooza, Glastonbury and Rock En Seine, as well as opening slots on tour with Morrissey, Kasabian and their label mates The Coral.
And given their status as ska, Matt’s admission of their biggest influence is quite surprising. “Bob Marley and The Wailers. The reason being that when the band first started we spent many months quite literally learning to play like the ‘Wailers’. Although our songs didn’t particularly sound like the ‘Wailers’, learning to play, feel and groove like them helped to teach us how to play together as a band and a unit.”
The band were a huge hit on the ska scene, with clothing line Fred Perry signing them up to design a limited edition jacket, surely a huge acceptance into the subculture.
“That was really cool, the brand has been such a help to us. They sponsor us, still to this day, and they are really supportive. They have their own subculture website, with loads of interviews and things with different artists. It boosts bands and is an offshoot off of their actual clothing website.
“They’ve always been massive supporters of ours. When they opened their new store down near Carnaby Street, they asked us to headline the concert for the launch. That was mega. Then we were hanging around there afterwards and I approached the main guy James Daly, an absolute diamond of a gent. I just asked him if I could design one, and he just agreed there and then just like that.”
So after a near ten-year hiatus the band have come back together, after pursuing personal projects, and are touring again this year. And again their London gig is part of a Fred Perry festival.
“We were approached to do these six gigs. I was playing lead guitar with The Specials for the past two years and it just stemmed from that really, the promotor is good friends with the lads in The Specials.
“We’re not really sure what’s going to happen. We’re doing six gigs and there has been great reaction to it, so we’re just going to see what happens from there really off the back of them.
“Back in 2008 we just decided that we had gone as far as we could for the time. We were dropped by our record label. We never really split up, things just got tough. And we kept going for it on our own for a while, but it became too difficult then.
“We were losing money hand over fist doing gigs out of our own pocket, and then we didn’t want to look stupid going back to pubs and bars after what we had been doing for the past ten years. After that I got the call to do The Specials, so now it is on for the comeback. Since the band split, the band members haven’t stirred too far from the scene, although they had to pursue ‘normal’ careers in order to keep the bills paid . Ben went on the other side of the music business, working with Spotify music streaming service as well as doing some session work. Charlie, Matt’s best friend from school, is the songwriter in the band and has been working with Paul McCartney’s son in the studio.
“We all got normal jobs then as well which was a bit of a shock to the system. We made the decision to move to Mayo in the last couple of years.
“My family are from down the road in Bangor Erris, and she is from Mulranny. I actually met her in Wexford when I was living there for about ten years.”
The band initially started after Charlie and Matt met in school in Liverpool when they were 11.
“We just started playing songs together. We lived in the same neighbourhood and we’d be around each others’ houses all the time. We just kept going as we got older and we were blessed enough to get a record deal then.
“We were always into the same kind of music. Obviously being from Liverpool you get The Beatles rammed down your throat. But when we started the band we wanted to make a conscious effort not to sound like The Beatles, so we got into punk and all that kind of stuff.
“Punk and ska and reggae, and music with a bit of a Jamaican beat. It’s funny because we used to try and emulate The Specials, they were a massive influence so it was a ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ moment when I got the call to play with them. It was a dream come true, really insane.”
Matt has recently featured on the latest BibleCode Sundays album, which is yet due for release, having met Mulrannynative Enda Mulloy of the band at a recording studio in Longford.
“I was at the Cronin brothers’, Johnny and Mick’s, studio when I first met him. They are from Mullingar and are based in Drumlish. I’ve been friends with them for years, and they do the backing band for Shane MacGowan.
“The BibleCode Sundays were in there recording, so that is how we met. I sang on their new album, there’s a track that I do lead vocals on. Ronan MacManus, the lead singer, wrote it which is a bit sort of ska and punk so they thought it was perfect for me to sing on. I was absolutely delighted to be involved in.
“But it’s funny how it works in the music industry because Ronan is Elvis Costello’s brother, and Elvis Costello produced the first ever Specials album. It’s all swings and roundabouts.”
And being from Liverpool, Matt’s initial introduction to music was inevitably the Beatles, and he still cites John Lennon as his biggest musical hero, with his first favourite song being the ‘Fab Four’s’ Can’t Buy Me Love.
“I used to play that song on repeat as a kid. But John Lennon is my ultimate hero. Not only was he from Liverpool, literally a stones throw from where I was brought up, and, was in the Beatles, the biggest band the world has ever seen.
“I feel as a songwriter he can’t be touched and no-one has ever come close. I love his voice and his lyrics, from love songs to psychedelia and everything in between is just mind blowing.”
“It has taken seven or eight years to get this sorted. We all live in different parts of the world. But for me personally I would love to do it as an open-book type thing as a launching pad for my own thing.
“I have my own solo album I’ve been recording that has taken a while together, but it is nearly ready. I would love to take that around once it is done. Enda Mulloy is involved in it too, as well as Mick Cronin, and a Wexford bass player Vinny Redmond. So we are trying to assemble this almost supergroup.
“I’ve always been like, what does it sound like? And I’ve always been influenced by Irish folk music, though you’d never think of it from the Dead 60s, but even though I am from Liverpool I am Irish to the core.
“I always loved Luke Kelly, and Christy Moore and those kinds of sounds. But then when you combine that like the Liverpool-Irish sound of The Las. Mick is on the drums, and he just went, ‘it sounds like Scally folk’!”
• The Dead 60s play dates from April this year. See www.thedead60s.co.uk for more information