John McLaughlin: From Glasgow to Derry Girls, via The Priests, Shane MacGowan, Rod Stewart and Celtic FC

John McLaughlin's musical journey has taken him from Glasgow to Derry Girls, via million-selling pop songs and a string of hits with Westlife, Celtic FC, The Priests, Shane MacGowan and Simon Cowell. Ahead of supporting Rod Stewart in Belfast this month, the singer-songwriter talks to Richard Purden

Johnny Mac and the Faithful will be supporting Rod Stewart in Belfast on December 20. Picture by Richard Purden
Johnny Mac and the Faithful will be supporting Rod Stewart in Belfast on December 20. Picture by Richard Purden

JOHNNY Mac and the Faithful will be supporting Rod Stewart on his final greatest hits tour in Belfast later this month.

Before supporting Rod on stadium and arena tours John McLaughin worked as a record producer with several well-known pop acts and with industry moguls such as Simon Cowell.

He would begin to write songs for acts including 911, Five and, later, Westlife, before working with Shane MacGowan and Echo & the Bunnymen.

Growing up in a Glasgow-Irish Catholic family of Celtic supporters, McLaughlin suggests he had understanding parents when it came to his career.

"I'm from Milton in north Glasgow, many of my friends ended up in sh*t jobs and married very young. My background wasn't exactly privileged, I was left-handed, dyslexic and didn't spend a lot of time in school," he tells me.

"This was during the Margaret Thatcher era and a long period of Tory rule. My first band was influenced by punk. I loved The Clash and punk became a big influence on my songwriting - if you think about songs like Teenage Kicks there is a very hooky element to a lot of punk.

"My parents would tell me to stick in, 'You'll get your break', and I kept going."

By his own admission, there aren't a lot of people like John McLaughlin in the music business. His pragmatic and hard-working approach was a boon to granting him some early hits.

"The punk band wasn't working so I decided to write songs," he explains.

"The thing is, music publishers don't pick up the phone to randoms from the Milton. I began to set up little projects. A friend of mine, Steve Gilmour, was putting together the band that would become 911."

McLaughlin as a writer and producer would enjoy a string of hits with that band and others.

"I wrote When The Lights Go Out which was performed by Five and is my biggest-selling record so far. It went top 10 in America and we won the BMI award for a million airplays. After that Simon Cowell wanted to work with me."

While Cowell took notice, there had been a long arduous journey building a fanbase.

"It wasn't glamorous but when it started to work it was amazing," says McLaughlin.

"I realised that not everyone does this, there were a lot of knock-backs and ups and downs before I got to know Simon.

"He doesn't suffer fools. I think he found it quite amusing, he was wondering how these guys working from a flat in Partick were selling more records than Sony artists."

Cowell would recruit the Glasgow songwriter to write Queen of My Heart for Westlife. "Simon was brilliant at giving you a target, he wanted the song to have the feel of Mull of Kintyre and Fairytale of New York, he wanted a pipe band, he wanted the lyrics to make him cry, he gives you every bit of detail and as a songwriter, I lapped that up."

Another important juncture was recording and assembling a varied collection of musicians to record an album celebrating Celtic Football Club. Shane MacGowan was among the artists that McLaughlin invited to work on the project and they continued recording a series of successful singles including a festive release with The Priests, Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.

"Working with The Priests was amazing," he remembers.

MacGowan is also included on a relaunched version of John's debut album as Johnny Mac & the Faithful (Midnight Glasgow Rodeo) coming out in February. MacGowan was invited to record and sing Tomorrow Belongs To Me, the Glasgow ballad they wrote over 20 years ago.

John McLaughlin and Rod Stewart. Picture by Richard Purden
John McLaughlin and Rod Stewart. Picture by Richard Purden

In the meantime, fans can enjoy two recordings featuring Rod Stewart, including the debut single Me Oh My.

"We recorded the video in New York," says McLaughlin. "Rod was wearing a cap so no-one would recognise him and Penny was filming. It was like a Carry On film with Rod Stewart, Penny Lancaster and some t**t from Glasgow who nobody knows."

The pair began to work together after Stewart heard a song written by McLaughlin, and tracked him down to record a newly worked version, Julia.

"He asked me what I was doing tomorrow night and came up to Glasgow, we had a great old time and have been mates ever since," he says.

Stewart also inspired McLaughlin to form the band that became Johnny Mac & the Faithful.

"He invited me to his house and we were singing and playing the guitar, he said, 'You're not a bad singer, you're coming on tour. I thought we'd had a few wines so I wasn't sure. He then called me and said: 'Have you got the band together yet?'

"At first, we went on a stadium tour, then we got invited in to arenas and this is the third tour we've done with Rod, and we also got to support Ball and Boe. Rod treats the band very well."

Beyond Rod Stewart and Shane MacGowan, McLaughlin also worked with another of his heroes when forming a close bond with Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen.

"I had met Mac (Ian McCulloch) a couple of times in Glasgow. When I was growing up Seven Seas from the Ocean Rain album was one of my favourite songs," he says.

"Songs like that and The Cutter meant a lot to me. He was intrigued by what I was doing with Busted because his daughter was a fan but he also liked the fact I was bringing guitars back into pop music.

"I worked with the Bunnymen at their studio on Think I Need It Too which was used in The Vampire Diaries, the producers of that show were big fans of the Bunnymen and that track was a good fit for the series."

Another good fit for John was his hit record Bodyshakin' with 911 being included in the final episode of Derry Girls.

"It's amazing how songs outlive the time, it was great to hear Bodyshakin' in Derry Girls. I'm in talks with Disney at the moment about all the songs - the music can take on a life of its own. Apart from Rod someone up there likes me."

Johnny Mac and the Faithful will support Rod Stewart at the SSE Arena in Belfast on December 20.