Feature: Albums that time forgot – MAE McKENNA – Mirage And Reality

MAE McKENNA - Mirage And Reality

Kadence [1991]

In 1993  “old school” DJs at the BBC, such as Bob Harris and Alan Freeman, would be culled as part of a new regime at Radio 1 but that didn’t stop a “golden” period for a few years before that time.

“Fluff” Freeman presented the last vestiges of his rock show on a Saturday afternoon.  Bob Harris hadn’t fully revealed his love of country/roots rock, although we should have realised that from some of the bias in the venerated TV show ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’.

In the early 1990s he presented an excellent “overnight” show which carefully blended new artists, old faithfuls, and live sessions and interviews.  It was a great time to pick up on his playlist and delight in some otherwise obscure gems, especially from the singer songwriter genre.  One of these received fairly regular play in 1991: Mae McKenna’s second album ‘Mirage And Reality’.

McKenna had an interesting backstory, part of Scottish folk pop band Contraband in the 1970s when just 16, and a member of the original West End production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in the 1980s.  She was then engaged as a session singer (whilst producing several solo albums including ‘Shore To Shore’ in 1999).

Mae’s brother is the late Hugh McKenna, (Sensational Alex Harvey Band) and he plays piano and keyboards throughout whilst one of her cousins is the late Ted McKenna, (SAHB, Michael Schenker, Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore, Womack and Womack, Band of Friends).

Mirage And Reality was originally released by Virgin Japan and subsequently taken up by the independent Kadence label.

The folk fusion vibe of the album chimed with the early 1990s zeitgeist when several artists explored Celtic inspired folk music with crossover potential.  Bands such as Clannad and Capercaillie, whilst The Corrs really brought it into the mainstream.  Subsequently, ‘Riverdance’ would take a Eurovision audience by storm in 1994.  A few more years and Celtus appeared on the scene with a similar ambient/Celtic groove.

McKenna has a lovely pure vocal (reminding of Julia Fordham at times) and amongst the standout tracks ‘Dreamer’, ‘The Chosen One’ and ‘Changes’ whilst there are cameos from Steve Hackett (‘Heart To Heart’, ‘Flamenco’) and brother John.

This was one of those albums I spotted at my local record shop in the mid-1990s but for some reason I thought the selling price was too high.  Perhaps the rush of excitement after hearing Whispering Bob’s playlist had passed.  However I revisited the shop when sadly it was closing down, a couple of years later, and it was still there and – at half-price – a steal.  The album was reissued in 2000 (Mill Records).

David Randall

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 18 April 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at www.getreadytorock.com for that week.

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