Basement Manners: Enda McCallan

Words by Daniel Rourke

The UK's DIY scene is one unrivalled in most parts of the world, whether it's punk, folk, indie, there's always a basement, there's always a show. Basement Manners is a feature set to uncover those artists, allowing them to tell their story and sell their trade. 

First up is Enda McCallan. Born in Ireland, McCallan moved to England to pursue higher education. Since his move McCallan has become a focal point in the Manchester punk community, and has gone on to start up a solo project under his own name. We sat down with the Irish singer songwriter to find out more.  

Burn After Writing: You started your solo project last August, you're also a big part of the DIY punk scene in Manchester and back home in Ireland. What was it that got you into music?

Enda McCallan: The first memory I have of anything musical is quite a cool one, I've come through the realms of absolute dad rock. I remember being at my grandmother's house and going through my dad's record collection when I was no more than four years old. I found AC/DC's 'Let There Be Rock.' I hadn't a clue who they were, but I remember seeing the massive lightening bolt, then sticking it on and it sounding real old to my ears, but also really cool. I just started jumping on my dad's bed.

After that it was anything I could get my ears on. My first gig was Status Quo at my local Leisure Centre. Luckily I grew up in Omagh, which is quite a musical town, there's a couple of venues and everyone is extremely supportive.

BAW: What was your first band/musical project?

EM: It was myself, four friends, and my garage. We formed the "legendary" Irish punk band The Wild and The Innocent. I loved it, it lasted a year, and we recorded a five song EP. We played throughout Ireland, and we even made it to Manchester once, we played The Music Box on Oxford Road, which I believe is a Tesco Express now. We opened for a Wigan band called Smudge, and it was my first time out of the country. I think Smudge are still on the go, at the time we called them "Top Man punk." It was a lot of fun.

I then moved and joined a more established hard pop-punk band called The Soviets. We were a band who were influenced by the likes of Fighting With Wire, as well as And So I Watch From Afar. It was a lot heavier.

I then moved to England for university and sort of took a hiatus up until now, last year sort of came about by accident.

BAW: How exactly did last year come about, how did that project get started?

EM: There were a couple of things - you mentioned earlier on that I'm active in the punk scene in Manchester and I'm extremely proud of that, it's my identity that I've built up since I've been in Manchester. However, I started to get a little restless, I felt like I had more to offer than being the nameless face in the crowd.

I also had guitars at home. I knew I could play, I knew I had them, and I wanted to get out there and show that off. It was a case of now or never. I'm 27 now whereas most people are 17 or 18 when they get started, so I thought if I didn't do it now, then I never would do it.

Once I had a few songs I asked Better Weather Promotions for a gig, and they were kind enough to put me on. The rest is history.

BAW: Your first show was with Andrew Cream, you then played Leeds a few weeks later and it just seemed to snowball from there. How were those first few months?

EM: Terrifying. I've never felt so exposed before in my life. I think a lot of people start their careers playing open mic nights here or there and do it in front of strangers. I did my first few gigs in front of my best friends, they're all music fans, they know what they want to listen to and know what they like. I felt a lot of pressure immediately, it was scary, but it also became rewarding really quickly. I was really lucky that the people who did listen were really supportive, and they continue to be. It's been really nice.

BAW: You released your demo EP alongside your first few shows, and there's a song that's essentially a love letter to the Manchester punk scene, as well as local venue the Star & Garter. How did that come about?

EM: That was the last song I wrote for the EP, I didn't really believe it was finished, and I'm still not 100% happy with it but I wanted to put it on there for a number of reasons. It's a love letter to the scene, it's an ode to the Star & Garter.

The first gig I went to in the city was Austin Lucas, he played a show downstairs at the Star & Garter. Emma Hallows was opening, Anthony Barlow was putting it on, and I was quite drunk. I discovered Barlow, Emma Hallows, and the Star & Garter house whisky that night.

The whisky lead to me being confident enough to me talk to the guy who put on the show. Since then I consider the people I met that night some of my greatest friends and the Star & Garter my home, just like so many other punks in Manchester do. We're constantly under threat of losing it (Star & Garter) and losing that hub of the community, so I wanted to write something about it and I wanted to express some gratitude for everything it's achieved.

The other reason I wanted to include it is that my brother put a solo over it and it sounded like Thin Lizzy, so I had to include it! [laughs] Nah, it's a song that took off and stuck in everyone's mind. A friend of mine kindly designed the cover of the EP and the image is the building itself. It means a lot and it's quite nice to pay that back.

BAW: The venue works with the scene as well - you have these working class kids playing their trade whilst you have the sound of the busses passing and the trains rolling in. There's nothing else like that.

EM: There's nothing like that, I haven't come across anything like the Star & Garter. It's a time warp, it's dirty, it's filthy, it's rundown, and I wouldn't change anything about it. As you say, you've got huge industrialisation standing over it ready to pounce. You hear the trains over the acts...

BAW: And the announcer. It just feels authentic.

EM: Exactly. There's some particular rooms - Gullivers for example. I struggle to connect with Gullivers; there's a massive stage, it's a long room, you sort of feel like there's a divide between you and the acts.

BAW: It feels like it's designed to be a room such as the Star & Garter...

EM: Exactly, the Star & Garter doesn't feel like it's been designed to be anything, it just fits and it works. It's possibly the most genuine, authentic venue... Oh! Did you know the PA upstairs belonged to Lemmy of Motörhead? They recorded an album in a studio above the viaducts in the early 80's, and they donated the PA, it's been there ever since. I think that's quite nice.

BAW: You've got a show with Harker and The Doublecross coming up. What are your thoughts on that show, as well as working with Moving North?

EM: Kieran Kelly (Moving North) is another old friend of mine, we met years ago. He's an influential figure within the Manchester and UK punk scene. He puts on our heroes; I know he's good friends with The Menzingers and The Flatliners and he's also one of the brains behind Manchester Punk Festival. He's not keeping the scene alive because the scene is still living, but he's providing the flame for it to flourish.

For Kieran to ask me to play a show... it's an absolute honour, to be sharing that line-up is humbling. I question why I'm on that line-up, but it's a major compliment. Harker's music is amazing, I came across them when they opened for Red City Radio in the now closed down Ducie Bridge. They blew me away that night.

BAW: Ah, I didn't rate them that night. It wasn't until Manchester Punk Festival last year - when they went full band - then it finally clicked.

EM: That was a definite step up, but the song writing caught me that night. It was a case of if they were not supporting Red City Radio, then they would have overshadowed the headliners. Their music blows me away.

I know they're opening for Beach Slang, so I feel like technically I'm opening for Beach Slang [laughs]. Nah, it's a huge honour, and to be playing a Moving North show is a big achievement.

BAW: So what comes next?

EM: I'm taking a break up until February, I'm going to try my best to write as much as I can. I want to get eight or nine songs, they won't necessarily be songs I'll be playing, but I want them down.

After that it'll just be playing as much as I can, I'm in the early process of planning a tour for April. It'll be my first tour of the UK, and I think we'll be bringing out Chloe Hawes who is a fantastic songwriter, I love listening to Chloe sing. I'll also be bringing my little brother along with me (Aarron McCallan) which is a gamble for me as he's definitely the more talented of the siblings. He's a fantastic guitar player, a fantastic singer...

BAW: And Brain Fallon approved!

EM: Brain Fallon approved, exactly. You can underline that and put a link to the video if you want [laughs].

Aarron's been doing the band thing back home and he's been really successful over the past ten years. He's played in metal bands, punk bands, he's now playing in a brilliant hard rock band called Part Time Pilots. He's going to be trying the acoustic thing this year, and he's coming on tour with me.

There's a lot of personal stuff happening this year, I'm getting married, but the big thing I hope to do with the summer is record a full band EP back in Ireland.

BAW: You mentioned real life. You don't do this for a career, you're a teacher. How do you manage such a taxing job with being a DIY musician?

EM: I let the teaching suffer. (laughs) It takes a lot, but I think if you let one thing take over your life completely then you miss out and suffer. Life is all about balance and it's about doing the things you love. I love teaching, I think it's a great opportunity to both learn and stay in touch with what people are connecting with, and in turn it helps my songwriting. If I'm speaking to the kids in my school or colleagues and finding out more about their life, then it encourages what I'm writing about.

It takes a lot of time organisation. If I'm playing a gig on Wednesday, then I'm going to have to make sure everything is ready to go the Thursday before. I guess everyone is in that boat, we're all in the DIY scene. We all have things we do to survive.

BAW: Finally, who are top 3 DIY artists that you've came across from either watching or from playing with?

EM: Top 3 is a very difficult thing to answer, I try not to rate things in that manner. There's a lot of competition in music, we grow up with battle of the bands and judging who is the best, so I try not to do that. At the end of the day we're artists, you don't really rate poets or painters in that way, so why musicians? 

If we're talking about people who influence and mean a lot to me, then the first person I'm going to have to mention is Arms & Hearts. The support he has shown me since the beginning has been phenomenal, that will always mean a lot to me. Taking away from that, his song writing is the most honest - sometimes bleak - writing. He's continuously getting better and better, if you catch him on a confident night then you're not going to find a better singer songwriter.

I've already mentioned Chloe Hawes, she's a brilliant voice. I'm really excited for her new EP. I'm not sure if you'd consider him DIY because he's so famous, but I don't think anyone makes me feel the same way inside as Tim Barry... can we count him?

BAW: Erm, I think we could count him.

EM: It's a silly one to bring into it, there's so many local people. There's people like Sammy Battle, Oli Ng, Chloe Hawes, Arms & Hearts, there's so many around. If you want to see DIY brought to the maximum, brought to you without selling your integrity, or changing who you are, it is Tim Barry. Every time I see the guy I realise he's doing the same thing as we're doing, but he believes it to another level. He makes everyone in the room want to quit their job, he's completely infectious, and honest. It's that honesty and integrity that I think is unrivalled, I love him to bits.