pivotal moment  | 

Ryan McMullan's debut album was put on hold due to Covid but he's backed by big name pals

Ryan has received support and advice from Foy Vance, Snow Patrol and Ed Sheeran

Ryan McMullan

By Roisin Gorman

Singer Ryan McMullan couldn't be happier.

His debut album has been delayed and his tour plans have been put back by Covid, but he's got advice from Ed Sheeran, Foy Vance is in his corner and Snow Patrol are his pals.

The Portaferry man has also had a film crew following his steps to stardom for a new movie charting the pivotal moments when he realised the stage could be his career.

And one of the highlights among his gigs with superstars around the world was at the Ulster Hall in Belfast when the audience sang his songs back to him.

"That's the thing I crave the most," says Ryan. "It was incredible feeling in the Ulster Hall that night and that's my favourite part of the movie."

The 31-year-old has already built a following with tracks You Don't Dance, Bowie on the Radio, In the Back of My Mind and fan favourite Letting Go For A Little While, written about his final farewell with his parents at the airport before he flew to Australia at 19.

It's taken on a life of its own and Ryan has been touched by the messages about it from followers. One brother and sister adopted it as their anthem when they knew he was going to die from cancer.

"The idea that people can take your lyrics and mould them into their own lives is incredible," says Ryan.

His determination to write unforgettable songs was sparked by his first meeting with mentor Foy Vance in Washington DC, when Ryan realised he had no songs and nothing to say.

Ryan McMullan and Foy Vance

He'd played in pubs in his home town, spent time in Australia, performed in a band with friends and studied civil engineering at Ulster University. The musician had also grafted as a joiner, flipped burgers and worked for the civil service, and admits it was only four years ago when he realised he'd have to make a decision about his music career, and commit to it.

"I was doing a grunt job in DC for £2.50 an hour and when I saw that Foy was playing, I had to go. He was the one who said 'I want to hear one of your own songs' and I didn't have any.

"Until Foy said that I thought what do I have to say, and how do I do this? I had to learn on the fly, and when you do it enough you figure it out."

When Ryan was playing a support gig for Foy in London, Ed Sheeran heard him, loved his music, invited him on tour and everything changed.

He hung out with the Castle On The Hill star after gigs and says Ed was generous with his advice.

"When he asked if I wanted to go on tour, I said I'd have to check my diary," says the singer.

"He is such an incredible human and a master of the stage. I have never seen one person on such a big stage make it look so small.

"He's a really kind and sweet person, and he was also a huge help with all the business side of things.

"In Germany he came in after the show and said I should talk a bit slower on stage, because English is their second language, and I'm Northern Irish.

"He said to bring the CDs on stage, and I sold a ton of them that night. The next night he said point to the area of the arena where you'll be after the gig.

"Up until that point I had just been happy to go along with all the opportunities that came my way, and it was a lot of fun and a great life experience, but I would probably go back to civil engineering.

"I was half in and half out but after the Ed tour I thought if this is my career, I have to make a decision right now."

Ryan McMullan on stage

The backing of manager Paul 'Hammy' Hamilton and the support of Foy Vance have made the path to success easier, and their enthusiasm has kept him afloat despite the delay in releasing his debut album. It's now slated for release next year.

"You shouldn't do this on your own. If you do it's very tough and very lonely. The more support you have the better, and every time I speak to them, they make me feel like I've accomplished something. I'm really glad they're on board."

After a hectic few years, including a five-day period when he played in Sydney, Belfast, Dublin and China, the pandemic stalled his album plans and the tour to promote it, but it also gave him some down time.

He's spent it writing new songs, establishing a base in Northern Ireland after spending so little time at home, and taking the chance to breathe.

"I couldn't be any happier. I couldn't be more content with the art I'm creating and the team I have around me.

"And I'm in a movie. Growing up I loved music documentaries and I never thought there would be one about me, never mind before I released an album," says Ryan.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld. com

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