Down singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan told David Hennessy about having Ed Sheeran as a fan, touring with Snow Patrol and why he was contemplating his life moments before he played Glastonbury for the first time.
Down singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan has toured with Ed Sheeran, Snow Patrol, Kodaline and The Coronas. He’s been all over the world and he’s played on some of the most prestigious stages.
However, he’s keen to play those same stages again but as the big name above the door.
Ryan told The Irish World: “It’s about doing those shows under my own name. In Belfast the Ulstler Hall was always the dream and now we’ve done that and the Waterfront twice. Now we want to do it not supporting Ed Sheeran and not supporting Snow Patrol but headline shows.”
Ryan could very well have been releasing his debut album this year if it had not been for the Covid-19 pandemic scuppering those plans. He sees his album coming out next year but has filled the gap with the Ruthless Cupid EP which came out in April.
“I liked the idea of doing a concept EP. I had the idea for a while of villifying Cupid as opposed to cheering him on.”
While it has been positively received, he has found it strange to be releasing music in lockdown: “Yeah, it’s weird because of the lockdown. Usually you release something and you go out and play it and you see the response firsthand. I haven’t been able to play it to a crowd yet. I’m excited to get playing live again just to see firsthand how people are receiving the songs and reacting to it.
“It’s weird but everybody’s in the same boat like. We’re all counting the days until we can play venues again.”
The crisis forced Ryan into some timeout to look back on what have been an amazing few years for him: “That’s what’s been interesting about the lockdown. Because normally I’m always thinking ahead, I’m never looking back. Now, I’m still thinking ahead but I’ve got more time to look back.
“Snow Patrol live at Ward Park was on TV the other night and I had totally forgot I got up and sang and played a song at the beginning until we started watching it.
“I was like, ‘I was on that stage..’ It’s been great to be able to look back on things, or talk about when I was on ‘such and such a tour’ and share stories as opposed to constantly being on the move and never get a chance to.
“It was kinda nice to look back on things. I’ve nearly ticked all the things off my bucket list, I have to keep writing new ones.”
However, if you ask him right now, there is only one thing he wants to do: “My bucket list at this point is to do a gig.
“The most I’ve been home in the last five years is about three weeks. It’s kind of weird but I’m kind of enjoying it too. I’m trying to use this time to keep in touch with friends and family. I’m learning how to cook and do other things. It’s been an interesting time for sure.
“I’ve been very happy to get time off to rest and regroup but also I’ve really missed touring and playing shows and meeting people.
“You can plan ahead but until we can get back to work, I don’t think anybody’s plans are really concrete. I’m just looking foward to getting a few shows on the go, just getting the wheels in motion again.
“It’s like whenever you push a bike, the first one is just a wee bit tougher than the rest and every peddle gets easier after that.
“I’m sitting on the bike waiting for somebody to tell me I can go.”
Speaking of Snow Patrol, the Derry lads are a band who have been good to Ryan with Gary saying of him, ‘One of the most exciting artists to come out of Northern Ireland’.
“John hurt his neck and they asked me would I play piano for Glastobury . That kind of stuff is just a dream.
“Even talking about Ward Park, I was at the first two as a fan. If you would have told me back then that the next time they did that I would be on the stage with them, I would have laughed at you. Lo and behold, it happened.
“They’re just unbelievable human beings and just so supportive of what I was trying to achieve.”
However, it was a less pleasant experience when Ryan was struck down by illness while on the road with Gary and the boys.
“It’s a weird thing because you don’t have any time to recover because you’re going on to the next place and the next place. You have to work all day and you just don’t get the rest that you need.
“That whole tour, I think the first four shows I was fine and then the rest of the tour I was sick and as soon as I sat back on the plane to come home, I felt great. I couldn’t believe it. As soon as I got on the plane, I felt, ‘Oh, I think I can eat today’.
“It was just over-exerting myself. I was doing too much and getting away with it for too long. My body, fair play to it, had held out for a long time and then it got to a point where it just had to shut down.
“I was doing too much touring and my body just turned around and said, ‘You know what? That’s the end of that for a minute’. Although it wasn’t because I still had to keep doing it.
“If you don’t look after yourself, it catches up.”
And how exactly did the singer-songwriter from Portaferry come to count one of the biggest names in music, Ed Sheeran, as a fan? “Long story short, I was supporting Foy Vance in London and Ed came to the show and that night asked me if I wanted to go on tour with him and that was it. It was pretty much as organic as that.
“I adore that guy. He’s one of my favourite humans. He’s such a sweetheart and to have his support like that is just unbelievable.
“I played a show in New York to 40 people and two days later I played a show supporting Ed in Italy to 16,000 so it was a shock to the system for sure. What was wonderful about him was just his interest in what I was doing and he would help any way he could. At the end of every show he would give me pointers and tips.
“The whole thing was an incredible experience.”
Going from an intimate gig in America to a huge Ed Sheeran show in Italy may sound extreme but Ryan can even top that.
“The weirdest one happened me last year,” he says remembering an even crazier timetable. “I was on tour with Snow Patrol in Australia. On the Tuesday night we played in the Sydney Opera House. On the Wednesday I flew home to Belfast and on the Thursday I did my biggest headline show at Custom House Square. On the Friday I played at Croke Park and on the Saturday I flew to China- I can’t remember that show because whatever time I landed at it was literally: Land, get off the plane, get in the car, go straight to the venue, do your soundcheck and play the show. That was the most hectic week of my life.
“I think musicians talk about days in a different way. I never hear a musician saying, ‘Oh, it’s Monday’. Someone says, ‘What day is it?’ They’ll tell you, ‘It’s London today’. What’s tomorrow? ‘Tomorrow’s Manchester’. It’s a really weird way to live. You don’t go by the day, you go by the city.”
He might not remember what day it fell on but Ryan will never forget the day he played Glastonbury last year.
Was his first gig at the massive festival a highlight of his career so far? “It is now but five minutes before the show it wasn’t because I was really worried.
“There wasn’t a single person in the tent, not one. I was talking to myself saying, ‘I need to do better’. What had happened was they had actually closed the tent so they could get footage of when they opened it: People running in just in time for the show. I didn’t know this so the minute before we went onstage, I was kind of like, ‘Okay, do you know what? I’m just going to do the show and sure we’re here for the weekend, we can just have a good time’.
“Then I get onto the stage and it was full. I couldn’t believe it. It turned out to be a great show. Just five minutes before I was contemplating my life’.”
We may not see Ryan’s album until next year now but we can expect new music. Although he has been on the scene for four years and toured the world multiple times, he is not bothered by the fact he has yet to put an album together.
“What I kind of find funny is that I’ve released a lot of songs that would have been on the first album. Whenever I look at what I’ve released and what I’m about to release on this EP, had I not released any of them, that would have been the first album. I would have been really proud of it but I would still be waiting to release it and that’s more than four years. That’s just a waste of time. I’d rather keep giving people songs and then when an album’s ready, an album’s ready.”
He will fill the gap with another EP, just saying of it: “The songs are much more personal to me. I hope people like them.”
The EP Ruthless Cupid is out now.
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