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Wee Shall Overcome
As frontman of Littleboy, Neal Hughes is at last growing into his husky vocals. He talks about life, his struggles and the true meaning of art. Words Colin Carberry.
Colin Carberry, 17 Oct 2012
Neal Hughes has the perfect vantage point from which to watch the world go by.
The rum-throated singer-songwriter spends his days serving coffee in the heart of Belfast, a prime spot for quiet observations, random conversations, and unlikely encounters.
“I would say the funniest and strangest thing would be James Dean Bradfield drinking coffee at the side hatch, talking about his day ahead,” he says. “The Manics were headlining ViTal that night. It was kinda surreal: he was very quiet and gentle. And he didn’t wanna leave. No-one realised who he was. We sat people-watching for 45 minutes. It’s quite a location. Everyone from two Doctor Whos to firemen from the Twin Towers have stopped off for a coffee and a chat.”
Anyone who has encountered Neal over the decade-plus of his involvement in the local music scene will tell you about his credentials as an A-List coffee companion. He may have made his name as singer with the likes of Tyler and Driving By Night. But despite being blessed with a wonderful voice, the role of cock-of-the-walk front-man never seemed an easy fit. Low-key and sociable, if Neal didn’t appear an obvious candidate for a solo move when those bands broke up, obviously no-one told the man himself.
“It was actually something I always wanted to try,” he laughs. “I had an idea for a solo album after spending some time listening to the Bunnymen and a lot of Bowie, especially the Low album. But really it all started in Charley (Desert Hearts) Mooney’s house, listening to [Bruce Springsteen’s} Tunnel Of Love.”
We should maybe rewind a bit at this point. Name-checking the lead singer of Desert Hearts (two albums in 10 years) may set off alarm bells amongst some of Neal’s well-wishers. However, with another fine DH album proving Mr. Mooney’s muse remains in fine working order, it has turned out to be a shrewd creative move.
“For me, writing with Charley was the start of a strong friendship and our movements over the years have been quite similar. Let’s say he walked the other side of the same block. His perspective helped me in the artistic sense. He isn’t afraid to be himself. And I respect him for that.”