Mark Mulcahy: Return of the great unknown
Mark Mulcahy’s fanbase may be stellar but it is painfully small. Undaunted, the cult hero is back for another shot at fame. Plus, a who’s who of ‘who?’ – our top five cult acts
“I still can’t understand how anyone thought it was a good idea to have Miracle Legion as a support band for anyone,” says Dunne. “The venue emptied when they finished their set, which was painful for us. They were promoting the Drenched (1992) album at the time and to this day I still listen to songs such as So Good from that album and almost weep . . . So good, so brilliant, so utterly unknown.”
Mulcahy, who is of Irish heritage, is one of the true cult figures left in the music world. Technology has almost rendered the condition obsolete. You can’t be a cult and have your entire back catalogue available at the click of a mouse – it’s against the rules.
To qualify as a cult figure your output must be notoriously difficult to find, there need to be a few intriguing myths about you (and these days they must be Google-proof), and it really helps your case if you carry some of the DNA of the “freaks, aliens and mad prophets” musical family.
Winning any form of award or daring to sell more than a handful of records worldwide means instant and irrevocable expulsion from the Cult Club. Going so far as to have your own web page is frowned upon and perceived as being unnecessarily “careerist”.
And the first rule of being a cult musician is you should never be referred to as a cult musician – as then you’re in danger of bandwagon-jobbers hopping on board and making you vaguely popular.
Perpetual obscurity, a debilitating drink or drug habit, a fragile mental state, an utter unwillingness to play the game, and living in a van are the lot of the cult musician. And you’ve hit the jackpot when no one even knows if you’re alive or dead.
Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You is out now. Firerecords.com
Panel: Total Cults
1 Vashti Bunyan: In the late 1960s this British folkie travelled around the Scottish highlands on a horse and cart and later recorded the songs she wrote on the one year journey. The album - Just Another Diamond Day - sank without trace on its release in 1969. But word of mouth kept her beautiful, pastoral songs alive and there was a re-release in 2000 that sold relatively well. One of the better cult name-drops - even if a mobile phone operator have used one her songs in an ad.
2. The Replacements: “They often performed under the influence of alcohol” is the phrase one reads most about this brilliant Minneapolis post-punk band. A perfect, exhilarating mix of The Ramones and The Beatles, they released a series of still classic albums before throwing/drinking it all away. Their best ever song “Alex Chilton” was written as a tribute to another cult musician - the Big Star frontman.
3. Skip Spence: Spence played with both Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape but was overly fond of LSD. After a delusional breakdown, he travelled to Nashville to record the solo “Oar” album - routinely described as “one of the most harrowing documents of pain and confusion ever made”. Tom Waits thinks it’s one of the best albums ever released.
4. Vic Godard: The only real punk rock cult. Godard formed Subway Sect in the mid-1970’s but refused to compromise the band’s literate approach in favour of generic punk posturing. Disillusioned, he went off to work as a postman for a number of years before returning with a series of fine solo albums.