‘I’ll always be recovering’

Stephen McMahon’s debut album, Half Blind, refers to his injuries after a car crash six years ago. Writing songs has sustained him through recovery and a relationship break-up, says Colette Sheridan

‘I’ll always be recovering’

CORK singer/songwriter, Stephen McMahon’s new album, Half Blind refers to an horrific car crash that changed his life. It happened six years ago. McMahon, now 32, wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He was with three friends, including his former fiancée, and suffered severe injuries. He cracked his skull, lost the sight in his left eye, and lost his sense of smell.

McMahon, whose well-received debut EP is Deep Down, will release Half Blind, this summer. It is produced by All In Recordings in Manchester. McMahon will support Imelda May at Live At The Marquee in July, and a mooted appearance on Jools Holland’s TV show has yet to be confirmed.

The title of the Wilton-reared singer’s album is half in jest. McMahon is actually half blind following the car crash.

“I’m still recovering from the accident. I’ll always be recovering. Of course I get depressed, but I don’t let people see that. Only my dog, Rover, sees how I really am,” says McMahon, who, prior to the crash, was a successful sportsman. “I’m still into sports, but not as much as I was. I was on the Irish gymnastics squad. I won a lot of All-Irelands and I represented Ireland in the European championships. I got into roller-blading and got sponsorship for that. When I was younger, my mother used to say that if only one of my batteries was taken out, I’d be fine, because I was hyper-active,” he says.

These days, McMahon channels his energy into his music career. Writing is cathartic. His fiancée broke up with him a year after the accident. “At the time, it was probably the right thing for her to do. It hurt me a lot, but I wrote four pretty good songs about it. A broken heart writes a masterpiece. My best friend, Darren Kirwan (who collaborates with McMahon), went through a break-up, too. He also wrote about that,” he says.

McMahon took up the guitar at the age of nineteen and taught himself how to play. “It took me a while to learn it. I’d play at parties and started doing gigs with a singer, Aidan O’Brien.”

After the accident, McMahon and Kirwan went to Thailand for a holiday. While staying in Koh Phangan, they met Terry McCabe, MD of All In Recordings.

When McCabe heard the two Corkmen sing, he offered to work with them and develop their music. McMahon, being the stronger singer, was offered a recording deal. “I thought it was a joke, but Terry kept in contact with me. So I went to Manchester, where he collected me in a brand new Range Rover!”

McMahon made four tracks, and, later, the album, which is produced by Tom Knott (Courteneers, Paul Weller, Paul Heaton), with additional production by Andy Wright (Imelda May, Mick Hucknall, Eurythmics) and Gavin Goldberg.

McMahon describes his music as a mixture of “soul, soft rock, hip hop and jazz. I can’t be placed in any category. I’m told that’s a good thing.” He continues to work with Kirwan, who has written a few songs for the album.

Having gone through dark times following the accident, McMahon, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with former Oasis band member, Liam Gallagher, is on a high. “Sometimes, I think it’s a dream. Being asked to support Imelda May will be huge exposure for me. I can’t believe it’s happening.”

McMahon doesn’t analyse his song-writing. “I’ve always been good at stories. One of my songs on the EP is ‘Every Day.’ It’s about a cowboy who’s lost in the desert. He plays his guitar at night, imagining his lover can hear him. He tells her he’s going to come home. It sounds fantastic, backed by a cellist based in Manchester.

“At the moment, I’m getting my name out there by doing acoustic gigs. But I’m going to be with a band when I go on tour with my album and when I play the Imelda May gig.”

Many of McMahon’s songs are about love. “Everything is about love, in a way. For me to go through the experience of the accident, and to be able to express my feelings and tweak them for songs, is fantastic. Some of the songs on the album are incredibly serious. They’re about the psychology of my head and are sad. But I’ve got happy songs, as well. I write about what is close to my heart. I believe people will connect with that.”

McMahon is a big fan of musicals, citing Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables as favourites. “Colm Wilkinson is one of my heroes. He can hold a note for over a minute. I think I’d like to write a musical some day, but I’d need to have a topic.”

For the moment, McMahon is concentrating on raising his profile, travelling back and forth from Manchester and London.

“I just need to keep working. My dad is helping to take care of the business end of things, because I’m not good at that. There’s so many issues that I’m dealing with, as a result of the accident. It’s a bit complex. Every day I wake up, I’m just happy to be alive,” he says.

Does he want to be a famous rock star? “It’s not about being famous. It’s about getting recognition for my songs. When I’m dead, I like the idea that people will be able to hear the songs on the radio and on iTunes. That’s immortality.”

“I want my music to reach a wide audience,” he enthuses. “I’m very optimistic. The record label is really supporting me.”

- Stephen McMahon is playing support to Imelda May at Live at the Marquee on July 9, and at the Indiependence Music & Arts festival on Aug 2-4, in Mitchelstown, Co Cork.

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