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strum year Irish guitarist racks up 365 nightly lockdown sessions and earns a new global fan base

“I’ve loved it and it’s rekindled my own love of music. I’ve spent the last year playing all these classics by amazing artists and connecting with people from all over the world.”

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Michael at home playing in his living room in front of the fireplace – which
one fan wanted to buy!

Michael at home playing in his living room in front of the fireplace – which one fan wanted to buy!

Michael at home playing in his living room in front of the fireplace – which one fan wanted to buy!

Michael Rafferty has a world of new friends – and he doesn’t know any of them.

Best known as lead singer for indie legends The Minnows, he has crooned his way into the hearts of a whole fanbase with his nightly lockdown performances.

Saturday night marked his 365th song, performed to what has become a global audience, and March 29 marks exactly 12 months since he lifted his guitar to play Something New by The Minnows.

“It’s been an incredible time,” he said, “I’ve loved it and it’s rekindled my own love of music. I’ve spent the last year playing all these classics by amazing artists and connecting with people from all over the world.”

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Michael last summer

Michael last summer

Michael last summer

Armed only with a guitar and a smartphone, he has played his way through a mind-boggling playlist of his own compositions and countless classics – from punk, to soul, to country to blues – you name he’s done it.

“When I started I was really conscious of the background – Zoom and Teams have opened our homes to everyone. People were remarking on the pictures on the wall, one guy wondered what had happened to the Lloyd Cole CD he had seen on the CD rack the previous week.

“One guy wanted to buy the fireplace! Another asked me if that was a bridge in my garden, a bridge! It was the children’s slide.”

But it was the music that took centre stage and as we moved deeper and deeper into lockdown Michael realised this wasn’t going to be a short-term project.

“I put one song out there on Facebook to see what reaction there would be, and I’ve been doing it every night since. If you had told me I’d still be playing 365 days later I’d have thought you were nuts.

“But here we are.”

He said one of the biggest things about the last year has been a reminder of how important music is to people and how people have reacted and interacted.

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The Minnows are finding fame again

The Minnows are finding fame again

The Minnows are finding fame again

“Music is not just about the sound, it takes people to places, reminds them think of happier or even sad times. But what I've enjoyed the most is the humour.”

And with it has come the long-awaited release of a new Minnows album. Californian Poppy took its bow last week and with an army of new fans it has received a huge response. The band has been around more than 30 years and but the latest album has been a long time coming.

“The album has been ready for ages, the songs were done, recorded, we just hadn’t got it over the line. I think Covid made us realise that we don’t know what’s around the corner for any of us so it gave us an impetus, and we’re very pleased with it.”

He said the death in Texas of a journalist, a huge Minnows fan who had been looking forward to the album, shook them.

“We were in regular contact and he was so looking forward to the new album, but he never got to hear it. It just made us think, life is too short.”

He admits it’s a bit mind-boggling to think people across the globe are tuning in to him playing guitar in his living room. He’s regularly message from the US, Australia, across Europe, Japan – he’s even discovered The Minnows have fans in the Cayman Islands.

He’s had shout-outs from Paul Weller for his cover of You’re The Best Thing, while other artists to connect have been Martin Ware from Heaven 17, Clare Grogan from Altered Images, Lloyd Cole, Dr Robert from the Blow Monkeys, and Peter Hughton from The Farm.

When Michael spoke to the Sunday World he hadn’t decided what to play for the landmark point in his musical journey.

Song 100 was The Long And Winding Road by The Beatles, 200 was a double bill with Elton’s I’m Still Standing, and Queen's Don’t Stop Me Now and song 300 was All Things Must Pass by George Harrison.

“I’ve made all these new friends and I don’t know any of them, they know me because they see my bake on the screen every night, so when we get back to gigging I’m expecting people to come up to me and say ‘right mate, how you doing? It’s me.’

“And I won’t know them from Adam!”

Having never dreamed he would play 100 songs let alone 365, song 400 is looming large but he’s hopeful the time is coming when he will be able to pull the curtain down on his marathon performance.

“Let’s hope so,” he said.

He’s busy uploading his Facebook performances to YouTube so they will be permanently available.

“I look back at the start and the first few songs and I see a clean-shaven man with a nice shirt, now he’s wearing a cap, a T-shirt and has grown a very grey beard!”

The good news for Minnows fans is they are already planning a follow-up to Californian Poppy.

“After all these years, we’re still four best mates making music together and that will never change.”

* You’ll find Michael’s nightly performances on Facebook. You can download Californian Poppy from the usual digital platform while copies of a limited edition CD can be purchased at minnowsband.com.

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