THE SINGER of one of south Wales’ most well-known bands has reflected on more than three decades of 'keeping it soulful'.

Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band is a 12-piece classic soul band which launched in 1990 and has performed all over the globe, also being featured on television and radio.

The band has changed over the years with lots of different drummers and backup singers – but Mike McNamara has continuously fronted the band as lead singer with guitarist Dave Ramsey also remaining in the band throughout their 32 years.

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The band was fairly unplanned when it formed in 1990 – and Mr McNamara (Big Mac) did not predict their rise to fame - and a career spanning more than three decades.

He’d put an ad in the paper for a trumpet player, and also found a trombone player and it “just sort of gravitated from there”.

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Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band has performed at concerts and events locally and all over the world – including Germany, Egypt, Vienna, Dublin, Tenerife and more – over the years.

“We’ve performed great gigs,” said Mr McNamara whose previous jobs include factory worker, road sweeper, scaffolder, and serving in the military.

“We’ve played at Cairo in Egypt which was beautiful – there was no trouble and money was no object. We got to see the pyramids and go on a boat ride on the Nile.

“We’ve performed at a palace in Vienna; we stayed at a five-star hotel and organisers told us we could have and do whatever and put it on the room bill.

“We’ve been all over the world and seen some beautiful places we would have never known about.”

Through their gigging they’ve also met celebrities, including Tom Jones.

“I met Tom Jones at a gig once,” said Mr McNamara.

“He was a really nice bloke, and so down to earth, I could have talked to him all night.”

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In contrast, he recalls performing at a festival which included Van Morrison who - Mr McNamara claims - jumped off stage and left as soon as his set finished.

“People were calling for an encore, but he was already gone,” said the singer who grew up in Newport.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the band; with members facing “all the typical chaos” of being involved in the music industry.

“We just never stopped,” said Mr McNamara who has been sober for 26 years.

“We had all the typical chaos – drinking and drugs – and came out the other end.

“Music is a focal point for stability and having reliable people is paramount.

“Even through the nonsense and craziness we always showed up and played.

"We made a point of going and always giving the best performance we can – no matter where it was or how big the crowd was.”

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He recalled one gig – at a museum – in which the speeches went on for so long that the band performed a five-minute set. He also recalled too many weddings and functions to list here, adding:

“Dancing and good times – that’s what it’s all about!”

Mr McNamara – who studied at Cardiff University, completing a degree in humanities - has always had a creative spark; along with recording albums he has published four collections of his poetry.

“I love art, music, literature – not necessarily in that order,” said Mr McNamara.

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A big fan of rock ‘n’ roll and music from the 50s and 60s his musical idols include Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Wilson Pickett.

He’s also a big fan of The Beatles, The Kinks, Motown, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the king of rock ‘n’ roll: Elvis Presley.

“Melody is what it’s all about, which is why I can’t listen to rap,” explained the musician.

“Elvis never recorded without a strong melody – one of the first EPs I owned was Elvis.

“Little Richard is also phenomenal; he’s one of my favourites.

"I never got to see Little Richard, Sam Cooke, or Wilson Pickett perform but they were big influences.”

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Closer to home his musical influences include his parents.

“My father was a great singer and loved country music,” said Big Mac.

“My mum loved music and taught me to sing; she would sing one line of a song and I would sing the next.

“I get a real kick out of singing – even when I was working as a scaffolder, I’d be in the back of a lorry singing my heart out.”

South Wales Argus: Mike McNamara is passionate about music (Picture: Nick Fowler)Mike McNamara is passionate about music (Picture: Nick Fowler)

He enjoys the freedom of being able to improvise somewhat at performances, knowing that he can rely on band members to hold the structure of the songs.

“I never sing the song the same twice, even in the studio,” said Mr McNamara.

“To sing a song exactly the same each time is an art in itself, but the improvisation keeps me from getting bored.

“The band holds the structure of the songs and I stick loosely to the melody – I never know how I will sing a song and that openness has always appealed to me.”

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Despite fronting the band for more than 30 years, Mr McNamara admits that he still gets nervous before a performance – and hates public speaking.

“There’s always an element of – for lack of a better word – anxiety [before going on stage] which leads to adrenaline,” he said.

“I don’t know about other members but I’m always thinking ‘will it be okay?’ which means I’m never complacent.

“The nerves give me that boost, but I’m not comfortable with public speaking – except poetry when the words are there.

“I don’t talk much between songs which keeps people up and dancing which is what it’s all about.”

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Although he confesses to nerves ahead of a live performance he also describes singing as “cathartic” adding: “You forget everything while you’re busy on stage.

“Then, afterwards, it’s back to reality and paying your bills like everyone else.”

The band will celebrate 30 years at The Neon, in Newport, from 7pm on Saturday June 11 (with the exciting event held up during the Covid pandemic).

“Our 25th anniversary – at Newport Centre – was heaving,” said the vocalist.

“People just wanted to dance. I didn’t anticipate that this would go on for so long.

“You either lose your spark or you carry on; we have no plans to stop unless crowds start to dwindle then we will do something different.”

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Big Mac’s Wholly Sound Band will perform at The Neon – on June 11 – with the line up also including:

  • Acoustic artist Mansel Davies;
  • Newport DJ and radio presenter Stan Berry;
  • ​Vocalist Wade Collymore.

Tickets are available online at