Living the dream

DEBUT Marcus Magee & The Hollaw Men release single

A dream in which a deceased friend appeared to Marcus Magee and helped save his life is the inspiration behind his superb debut single.

The frontman of Marcus Magee & The Hollaw Men released the track, ‘Mac Dee’ on Friday. Featuring renowned violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire the song is a stirring tribute to the frontman’s close friend Mairead McDermott who died from cancer in 2020.

Mairead, fondly known to friends as Mac Dee, visited Marcus in a dream back in 2021, leaving him with a warning to take heed of health concerns that had been bothering him. Little did he know that the then 38-year-old father of three was about to enter into an intensive battle with stage 4 cancer, a diagnosis that was to reshape his life and rekindle what had been a longstanding but partially neglected passion for music.

Marcus Magee & The Hollaw Men hail from areas surrounding Kill and Cootehill and first came together in 2022 after Marcus received his first clear scan. Feeling compelled to share his songs with the world, he brought together a band for what was supposed to be a once-off gig at the Townhall Theatre in Cavan. Joined by bandmates Darragh Slacke on lead guitar, Ben Folkman on bass, Mark Brady on drums, Ronan Brady on flute, and his Danish wife Julie Magee Karlshøj on vocals, the talented six-piece was born.

The gig created a huge stir and was followed by a series of sellout shows throughout 2023. One year on, the adventure has evolved to the recording of a debut album, ‘Rising from the Hollaw’, a unique blend of folk, rock and alternative originals, which launches April 27 at a sold-out gig in the Sugar Club in Dublin.

‘Mac Dee’, a haunting indie folk anthem, is the first single from the band’s forthcoming album and was  released on - Friday, February 23 - what would have been Marcus’ friend Mairead’s 40th birthday.

Making Mac Dee his first choice has given Marcus a way to honour Mairead, her life, and the impact she had on him.

“I first met Mairead at college, then we were on a J1 student visa for a summer in San Francisco. I was busking at Fisherman’s Wharf, and she was selling boat trips to Alcatraz. We became very good friends, and both groups of friends started mixing and going to festivals together in the following years. She would dance with us into the early hours, even when she was undergoing treatment for cancer. Mairead was an incredible human, and I learned a lot from her. We were all heartbroken when she passed away.”

Marcus adds “Mairead visiting me in that dream will stay with me forever. It was very surreal like I was between worlds. It had a profound effect on me. It got into my consciousness in a way no other dreams have. At the time, I had some symptoms I was a bit worried about, but this shook me up and propelled me to get checked. The song is a tribute to her and to that experience”.

‘Mac Dee’ is a captivating track that captures the spirit of this life-changing event. “…You cross the ocean to find me…In this dream, you alert me, Mac Dee” sings Magee. Capturing the raw vulnerability of the experience, the song starts with a dream-like melody before building in tempo to a beat that conjures up a sense of deep emotional release as the full force of the drums and guitar take hold. All of this is aided by the talents of renowned violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire who is a founding member of iconic indie band The Frames.

“The music has been like medicine during what has been a very challenging time for me and my family” says Marcus. “It’s been a wild and tough few years, the dream, the medical tests, appointments, fear, anxiety, chemotherapy,  surgery and scans. I’m still receiving immunotherapy treatment once a month and having regular tests. There’s been a lot of learning in it all and I was very fortunate to receive counselling thanks to the Irish Cancer Society.”

Marcus happily admits to being a fan of Colm Mac Con Iomaire and was thrilled to have the Frames-member play on Mac Dee.

“I met him after Lisa O’Neill’s album launch in Cavan and we ended up playing a song or two together. I played Mac Dee and explained what it was about. Colm knew Mairead too, and even played at her funeral. He said that if I ever recorded it, he’d be happy to put strings on it. It ended up being such a powerful song - it’s as if the song has its own life, with Mairead weaving her magic from the other world.

“The whole experience has given me a new appreciation for life, for living, for music, and connecting back to myself. I feel so grateful to everyone who has supported me on this journey, my friends, my family, my wife Julie, the doctors and nurses. To play alongside my friends and bandmates has brought great joy and healing.”

Marcus Magee & The Hollaw Men play the Cavan Arts Festival on May 19 and Whelans on July 18, tickets are on sale now. “Mac Dee” is available now for streaming and downloading on various platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp.