As we sit down with a bottle of white wine in London's Soho House, I open the conversation by asking McMahon about his new EP, titled Hummingbirds & Yellow Things.
“Well, I have parrots, and yellow is my favourite colour,” he smiles, adding that he has a strong songwriting partnership with his good friend, Darren Kirwin, which is also crucial. “Darren is involved with a lot of the writing; we seem to have this connection, and we work well together... And I do love yellow.
"My Grandad loves a couple of the tracks [on the EP], and then my eight-year-old cousin loves one of the others, but they would both hate the ones that each other like, if that makes sense?” he continues, laughing, and admitting that 'he can't understand the menu'. In fairness, nor can I, so we order the burgers. “So, everyone has a favourite song, you know? There's rap on it, there's love songs, there's blues, jazz, Irish music. It's a mix of a lot of things, but it's just music to me.”
Hummingbirds and Yellow Things is quite stunningly put together, and was recorded at London's Sphere Studios with multi-Grammy Award-winner, Andy Wright, and Gavin Goldberg, both of whom McMahon now cites as 'dear friends'. He's also made his mark on the live circuit by supporting fellow-countryman (well, woman) Imelda May, and even the legendary Tom Jones. Much of this impact, he insists, is Peter Aitken, manager at Cork's Marquee, who also happens to be one of his biggest fans.
“I was driving up the road to Tipperary last year, about an hour outside of Cork, and I got a phone call,” McMahon announces. I can't help but smile, as I have no idea what's coming next. “So, I hear this guy claiming to be Peter Aitken, asking if I'd support Tom Jones for him that very night. I said, 'Yeah alright, who's this, like?' Because I thought it was my uncle winding me up. And he says, 'Excuse me?! It's Peter Aitken!'. And I said, 'Ohhh, is it?' So I said, 'yes, I'll support Tom Jones', and swung the car round! I only had two hours until the soundcheck, and in that time, I went home, showered, got my clothes, and flew into the Marquee. The sun was beating down, and I did it! What an experience that was! Tom was amazing, and I hung about with him for about twenty minutes afterwards, and he said he liked my music, so I gave him an EP, and said there might be one or two tracks for him to sing on there. He had a laugh at that.”
We suddenly regress seven years, and McMahon tells me about a terrible car crash, which left him blind in his left eye, and without his sense of smell. Wow. But he's not interested in wallowing in any self-pity:
"Yes, it's a life long sentence, but every cloud, and all that," he beams.
And he does have quite a bit to smile about, as it happens. His next single, Nicola, has been tweaked and mixed by Mick Hucknall, at the Simply Red frontman's home studio.
“Andy [Wright] got onto Mick, and Mick loved the song, so he asked me to head over to his house. We opened up the track, I sung a few bits again, and doubled the backing vocals, and we recorded together,” McMahon explains. He's now buzzing – could be the wine. “I was soooo nervous, but I nailed it, first go; I got there at 10am, and was out of there by 1pm. He also thought it was great that I had a writing partner, and of course, hearing that from one of the greatest soul singers in the UK isn't so bad now, is it?”
True enough. The EP and the single are both released on May 31, and you can read the full article in Headliner Issue 10, also out at the end of May.