Hilltown blues

Co Down singer-songwriter Matt McGinn enlisted a string quartet, Anthony Toner and Willie Nelson's harmonica player - among others - for his superb new album Latter Day Sinner. Ahead of gigs in Hilltown, Belfast and Dublin, he talks to Brian Campbell 

A GIG in his own village, a gig in a Belfast church and one in a 'rockabilly barbershop' in Dublin - all in a fortnight's work for singer-songwriter McGinn.

And just to add to his list of quirky venues, Matt was in Ben Glover's band for a gig at the Ulster Museum in Belfast in September. McGinn's upcoming shows with his band are to promote his fantastic new album Latter Day Sinner, which puts him up there with the likes of fellow Americana-influenced northern artists including Glover, Anthony Toner and Gareth Dunlop.

Those three singer-songwriters are names McGinn knows well. Dunlop helped produce the new album, Toner adds slide and rhythm guitar and Glover is one of McGinn's closest friends and a long-time collaborator.

Glover, who met McGinn while both were students at Queen's University, will be a special guest at McGinn's Belfast gig at the stunning St George's Church on Wednesday. "Gareth Dunlop might pop up too," says McGinn, who is back living in Hilltown with his wife and son now. The album cover for Latter Day Sinner was designed by Mark Reihill and shows McGinn at the ruins of a church close to where he lives. "It's about 100 metres down the road from me. I wanted to have some connection with home and I've been a fan of Mark's work for a long time," he says.

Latter Day Sinner is a slick slice of roots/ blues/folk/Americana and you can tell that McGinn has spent a bit of time in Nashville. The likes of We're Fine, What Happens, Darkest Before the Day and The Lucky One show what an accomplished singer and songwriter he is.

He says he's more a 'lucky one' than a 'latter day sinner'. "I'm definitely one of the luckiest men you'll meet, just looking around me in terms of family and everything," he says. "Whenever I've come to a fork in the road, somehow I've made the right decisions. I suppose the 'latter day sinner' would have been me in maybe 10 or 20 years having made the wrong decisions. So it's sort of a fictional autobiography."

The track We're Fine features both Mickey Raphael (best known for his work with Willie Nelson) on harmonica and Anthony Toner on guitar. "Mickey Raphael is a gentleman and his stuff is flawless," says McGinn. "And people know Anthony as a great songwriter, but his slide-playing is incredible too."

Two other standout songs on the album feature female vocals - from Nashville-based Canadian Madeleine Slate (on I'm Not Looking Down Anymore) and Rachel Coulter from the brilliant Co Down band Farriers (on What Happens). The album is further enhanced by the Arco Quartet on strings and Colm McClean on guitars. "Arco are incredible. They just nail whatever you put in front of them and that was a lovely experience. And Colm and I have been playing together for years. He gives the title track that real country rockabilly guitar sound."

That song will be perfect for the band's gig at Abner Browns barbershop/rockabilly music venue in Dublin on November 26. McGinn's previous ventures south have included supporting The Webb Sisters and Dave Geraghty (Bell X1) and playing the Electric Picnic. And it's just over a year now since McGinn joined Ben Glover and band in Co Donegal to record Glover's latest album Atlantic. "That was a lovely week and a half, very creative and good fun as well. It made me think about my next album, because [Latter Day Sinner] was spread out over two years and that dilutes the fun that can be had."

While Glover studied law at Queen's, McGinn opted to study music but he has mixed memories of the course. "I re-read the syllabus again a couple of years ago and it said the course was 'perfect for someone who wants to be a music teacher or a music librarian'. So I obviously didn't read it properly before I did it," he laughs.

Matt McGinn plays the Downshire Arms in Hilltown, Co Down, tomorrow and St George's Church in Belfast on Wednesday. Latter Day Sinner is out now (


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