Transcribed by our own Ni C. (Thank You!!)

(copyright 1998 Mail on Sunday, reprinted here without permission, but with full respect)

There is a photograph on the wall of Mark McGann’s spare room. I t features a man in his late twenties wearing round spectacles and a fur suit. He’s clutching an acoustic guitar, and standing at a microphone belting out ‘All You Need Is Love’. I had been in the room half a day before I realised that the photo isn’t of John Lennon.

Mark McGann’s likeness to Lennon is remarkable: the jutting jaw, the shining eyes, the long and winding nose. But it’s when he sings that it gets really spooky. Sean Lennon met McGann and freaked out. It was the voice. The softly smirking, gentrified Liverpudlian accent. Just like Dad’s, Sean said.

Although people recognise McGann from his recent television appearances as the relentlessly evil Marcus Bannerman in ‘The Grand’ or Conor Phelan in the potato famine drama ‘The Hanging Gale’, most remember him as the Four-Eyed Fab. His portrayal of Lennon in the musical of the same name, and again in the NBC film ‘John and Yoko: A love Story’ fixed him in our minds as ‘that actor bloke who sings like John Lennon’.

McGann is singing a song in his small back bedroom which, over the past few years, he has converted into a professional standard recording studio. The song is one of his own compositions, entitled ‘I Want Out’ and sounds like an early Beatles number. A real fringe flailer. Occasionally he’ll slip in a little light Lennon vibrato, a tremulous, flattened vowel, partly for my amusement, but more out of habit. I accompany him- all pork n’ beef fingering and approximate time-keeping- on a three-quarter length Rickenbacker guitar. ‘It saves space,’ jokes McGann, but we both know who once played these stumpy fellas.

We run through the arrangement again and again. He is a generous accomplice, barking out chord changes, emphasising beats with his entire upper body, willing you on. His enthusiasm is contagious. I’ve always treasured the vacant gaze that musicians, especially guitarists, adopt while learning a song. It begins with all expression vanishing from the eyes and degenerates until a facial state normally associated with chronic emotional under-development sets in. Unfortunate incidents of dribbling have been known to accompany such moments of intense musical concentration. I speak from soggy personal experience. Thankfully McGann, too, is no slouch in the slack-jawed, 1,000-yard stare department so we both look as dosy as each other.

Between what we laughingly call ‘takes’, McGann attends to the sound equipment, tweaking knobs, prodding his computer keyboard and all the while muttering ton himself in the impenetrable Esperanto of the studio boffin. Adjustments satisfactorily completed, he picks up his acoustic guitar and punches out the riff one more time. ‘That’s it,’ yells McGann as my frantic strumming finally falls into step with his. ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ Crikey, I’m sure Bert Weedon never meant us to have this much fun.

But this is no idle jam session. McGann is recording an album, at a rate of knots, for pre-Christmas release. The majority of the numbers are cover-versions, some conventional soul numbers ‘Just My Imagination’, ‘People, Get Ready’, ‘Drift Away’- and some other, more eclectic choices: ‘The Teardrop Explodes’, Passionate Friend’, Omar’s ‘There’s Nothing Like This’, Prince’s ‘Slow Love’.

The album is being made under the name of The McGanns, for although Mark has been professionally typecast as the Four-Eyed Fab, he will forever be credited in blood as a McGann brother. There are four of them, Joe, Paul, Mark and Stephen. All are actors, writer, performers. There’s a sister, Clare, too. You could call them The Scouse Osmonds. If you wanted a slap.

Paul is arguably the most famous McGann. He was the true star of ‘Withnail and I. Richard E Grant’s hysterical performance- which he has rehashed ever since- may have drawn all the plaudits, but Paul quietly stole the show. Paul was the cool one. There is even an official website dedicated to him. Set up by the Paul McGann Estrogen Brigade, it has, so far, received more than 12,000 hormonally tormented cyberfans.

Paul and Mark have had their differences in the past but both are coming to the conclusion that life is far too short for unseemly public squabbles. Sometimes, Mark is stopped in the street by people who believe him to be Paul. Not wishing to disappoint them, he’ll often sign his brother’s name. Nonetheless, says Mark with a small, resigned shrug, Paul will not be appearing on the album.

The title of the song may or may not be ‘Feudin’ Family Band’ after a song Mark has written detailing the frustration of sibling rivalry gone mad. ‘I’ve been exhausted by attempts to resolve the situation’, it goes. ‘I’m torn apart, torn apart’. It concludes on a saddened note of strength: ‘But at least we know love is letting go. Love is not afraid to be on your own’.

At 37, just as McGann’s personal life has reached some sort of peace, his professional life is in turmoil. He has to make an immediate choice between music and acting. ‘It’s so difficult to decide which way to go,’ he sighs. ‘I’ve been acting for twenty years and it’s my trade, but now this music thing has come up and it’s so exciting.’

Pop stardom of it, whisper it, Robson and Jerome-like nature beckons for the McGanns. They’ll soon be maddening middle England’s womenfolk with their angelic harmonies and robust good looks. ‘That’s not out of the question,’ laughs Mark. ‘We’re a classic bit of rough. To certain women we’re actually pretty sexy.’

Not wishing to dwell on the subject, I pick up the guitar and launch into ‘I Want Out’. McGann is there in seconds, eyes shut, head back, filling his secluded Hampstead homestead with that lovely Lennon-y tone.
I join him on the chorus and, naturally, ruin it. We agree to record the tune properly when we have time. ‘Maybe it would make a B-side’, says Mark encouragingly. More like a C-side if I have any musical involvement.

As the sun sets, this soulful troubadour plays me a moving song called ‘Heartbeat Away’, which he wrote in memory of his father. As the ballad reaches a poignant peak, McGann breaks off and grins knowingly. ‘It’s pure ‘Des O’Connor Tonight’, isn’t it?’

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