Rising star John remains true to northern roots

Doncaster singer-songwriter John McCullagh, second from righty, and his backing band, The Escorts.
Doncaster singer-songwriter John McCullagh, second from righty, and his backing band, The Escorts.
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He has a European tour under his belt and his music has been endorsed by some of the biggest names in music.

Meet Doncaster’s teenage star John McCullagh.

After leaving Hall Cross School, John rose to fame with the release of his debut album, North South Divide and is now preparing for the release of his latest album, Newborn Cry, which comes out on Monday, May 4.

He says: “It’s hectic but brilliant.

“I’ve just got back from Scotland after doing a few shows up there and that was amazing.”

His interest in music started when he was aged just 11.

John McCullagh on stage.

John McCullagh on stage.

He said: “I got well into rock music – my first ever record was a Black Sabbath album.

“Their track NIB was one of the songs that really got me into music.”

His taste evolved to more nuanced sounds of singer songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Donovan.

John says: “I then got really into Bob Dylan. I think if you aim to be as good as Dylan you’re doing all right.

“Everyone changes though. No matter what you do, whether you’re a musician or an accountant you will change from one year to the next.

John McCullagh

“My favourite of his tracks is Simple Twist of Fate and I always aspire to be as good a songwriter as Bob Dylan.

“I love his phrasing and, from the age of about 12, I used to lock myself in my room and listen to Dylan all the time.

“I think I learned more from his Visions of Johanna than I did in an hour’s maths lesson when I was a kid.”

And, like Dylan, John makes acute observations about life in his songs.

John McCullagh and The Escorts.

John McCullagh and The Escorts.

North South Divide – recorded under the name John Lennon McCullagh – is about the social chasm that exists between the south and north of England.

He says: “The album takes its name from a song about the way things are in England.

“You go to London and it’s a world away from places like Doncaster or Sheffield.”

However, while aware of the social disparity between the north and south of this country, John is proud to be in the north.”

“We have so many great cities up here,” he says, “Liverpool is fantastic and I love Sheffield.”

But while his debut centres on being a northern observer, John says his style has changed on the new album, which features his band The Escorts and has been produced by John Power, of Cast and The La’s fame.

John says: “We all change as we get older and I’ve changed even since the last record.

“Everyone changes though. No matter what you do, whether you’re a musician or an accountant you will change from one year to the next.

“Doncaster – my home – will always play a part in my music but not as much as it used to.

“I have spent a lot of time in Liverpool though so that may be an influence.”

His stance on life belies his meagre years.

But it is his maturity that makes him such a strong songwriter, one whose music is celebrated by the likes of Richard Hawley.

“That was a weird day,” John says. “We had a family day out in York and I said t my dad that I wanted to watch Richard Hawley play that night but didn’t have tickets.

“The next thing I knew my phone rang and it was Hawley asking me to support him at his Sheffield show. It was unbelievable.”

Indeed, the rapidity and strength of his success is unbelievable itself.

But it is thanks to his Doncaster family.

“I couldn’t do any of this without mum and dad,” says John.

“They’ve supported me throughout everything, I couldn’t do any of this without them. My dad’s even my tour manager.”

Clearly, his parents are doing a good job.

n John McCullagh & The Escorts play Diamond Live Lounge, Wood Street, Doncaster, on Saturday, May 9.

For tickets, priced £6, visit www.diamondlive.co.uk