Mull Historical Society – Zodiac, Oxford

On the intro tape, Johnny Cash's austerely remorseless "The Man Comes Around" sets the mood, then Colin MacIntyre's men come pounding out of the traps. For this mini tour, the school choir, feather boa and inflatable sheep of previous expeditions have been packed away, in favour of frill-free punk aggression.

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On the intro tape, Johnny Cash’s austerely remorseless “The Man Comes Around” sets the mood, then Colin MacIntyre’s men come pounding out of the traps. For this mini tour, the school choir, feather boa and inflatable sheep of previous expeditions have been packed away, in favour of frill-free punk aggression. But the eccentric, ambivalent, freshly subversive attitude to society animating both Mull albums, Loss and Us, fights through to the surface anyway.

“Barcode Bypass” and “The Supermarket Strikes Back” introduce one of the typically perverse arenas in which MacIntyre’s obsession with control and freedom plays out?Scottish small-town supermarkets. Hallucinatory neon islands of zombie consumerism one minute, and of late-night aisle-wandering hedonism the next, Maclntyre’s songs see both sides, showing the rebel potential in pushing a trolley, more than illegal chemicals, just so long as you don’t conform, as he defiantly sings: “My friends are getting stoned, but I want you to know, I’m staying at the supermarket.”

A blue spotlight on Maclntyre signals more personal concerns, as “Oh Mother” and “I Tried” address the death of his father and its aftermath. But the overwhelming emotion from the stage tonight is one of release. Like the contrary characters of his songs, Maclntyre in private is a neat-haired, polite young man, an ex-call centre worker who understands the buttoned-down life, who when he plays taps into a violent joyousness, an anarchic side you’d never suspect.

“Watching Xanadu” (“about an unmanageable obsession”?with Olivia Newton-John) brings the night’s lone special effect?needle-fine laser beams which threateningly slash my throat. But the true, simpler point of Maclntyre and Mull is once again made apparent near the finish. Singing “Strangeways Inside”?with its subtext of blessed Scots island isolation from “normality”?Maclntyre stands on the monitors to clap his supporters, like he’s a footballer saluting his fans. The music, appropriately, has a terrace chant stomp, and a Dexys echo. Finally comes “Mull Historical Society” itself, that open challenge and invitation: “Come and join us, if you can.” There are worse places to belong.

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