Hope springs eternal

ONCE upon a time there was a young lad from Mull who loved writing songs.

Then he got frustrated with his record label - they had no money, were struggling to get his records into the shops, and were more interested in a new band called Kaiser Chiefs. His management didn't really understand either.

So he left them both. He disappeared off to the United States with his new American wife. And Colin MacIntyre, aka Mull Historical Society, lived unhappily ever after. The End.

MacIntyre knows all about stories. He's written enough of them to know how his recent travails look on paper. Speaking in a London pub, he admits he was annoyed when 2004's This Is Hope didn't do as well as expected. This despite it being better than Mull Historical Society's 100,000-selling debut Loss and the follow-up Us.

"I just felt I needed to extricate myself from those relationships," MacIntyre says of his contracts with his management and the B-Unique label. "'It's the first time I'd come across my music being compromised in a sense. And your music needs to be treated with respect."

The upheaval was such that, 18 months ago, he cancelled some gigs. He recently wrote an explanation on his website. "A mate in Mull saw that and sent me a nice e-mail saying 'It seemed like the business got in the way.' That was it in a nutshell. I was already starting to write and form themes for my new album. And I think that confidence helped me make the split. It made me think: I know where I'm going with this."

These days MacIntyre divides his time between his flat in Glasgow's West End and his marital home in south London. But he and his wife spent summer last year in New York, her home town, and wintered in north-east Florida. They took road trips into the Deep South, and he listened to the New York sound of Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith and Lou Reed.

His creativity was bubbling in all directions: in the past three years the 35-year-old has written three novels. The World Is Dust runs to 160,000 words, is illustrated by MacIntyre "and is basically a complete rip-off of Lanark by Alasdair Gray. So that one had to stop." He describes it as almost a "type of computer game, it moves between fantasy and reality. It might be more for teenagers."

Gone is set in Alaska, in a town called Point Hope. He became obsessed with the notion of 'hope' while working on This Is Hope, and discovered various places in the world with 'hope' in their name. This novel, set in the part of the world where America is only 50 or so miles from Russia, also encompasses another MacIntyre interest, that of border areas. "I remember as a kid being desperate to see the sign where Scotland becomes England."

Then there's The Government Of Nouns, set in "a modern-futurist world that's actually taking place in the centre of London. But this couple that get drawn into it don't quite know where they are."

ALL THIS LITERARY fecundity resulted in him recently meeting an editor at the offices of Bloomsbury. The Harry Potter publishers are mulling over the merits of two of his short stories. He also wrote the treatment for the recent video by Badly Drawn Boy, in which the troubadour in the tea cosy drives around in a car that's pimped out with a piano. "None of that's the day job," MacIntyre says, "but I've never been more creative in my life."

He's currently without a record deal - although he's had discussions with most of the major labels about signing to them - but MacIntyre has almost finished the first draft of his fourth album. He's calling it The Water, and he's been recording it with Nick Franglen of electronic pop mavericks Lemon Jelly.

And after a long time out of the public eye he's about to begin his 'comeback', road-testing the new songs with two shows: the first in Glasgow, the second in London.

The first single is likely to be 'Famous For Being Famous', a rollicking tune about the curse of instant celebrity. Equally punchy is 'Be My Saviour', which appeared over the closing credits of the Stormbreaker teen-spy film (the producer was a big Mull Historical Society fan). 'I Can, I Will' and 'I Don't Have To Ask' are examples of MacIntyre's elegiac balladry - the latter song being a tribute to his dad, the BBC Scotland political correspondent Kenny MacIntyre, who died in 1999. The title track, meanwhile, starts off like a medieval sea shanty, courtesy of Colin MacIntyre's newfound love of the harmonium.

Water, he says, is the theme of the album, touching on how man evolved out of the water, amniotic fluid and "cutting the umbilical cord". All of which goes some way to explaining why MacIntyre has, after three albums, decided to start releasing records under his own name. His rebirth starts here.

"I've just dropped the Mull Historical Society pseudonym," he says. "The first album was nearly released under my name but I'd already written the song 'Mull Historical Society', and I wanted something to hide behind. And I don't really need to hide any more. It's my fourth album, and it's just a continuation of what I do."

In the same way that, inspired by the raw guitar sound of Television and Talking Heads, he wants to make simpler, "dirtier" records, he wants to present a simpler image too. "It feels like I've stripped away a layer, and it helps me grow as a writer and artist to go under my own name."

And what if, in the worst case scenario, MacIntyre can't secure another record deal quick enough to satisfy his creative outpourings? Well, he'll do what he did in the first place and get the ball rolling himself. He thinks back to the Bank of Scotland manager on the Great Western Road who loaned him 15,000 to make the debut Mull Historical Society album.

"Maybe that breached his bank's code of practice," he says, "but that loan allowed me to give up my job working for BT's directory inquiries service, defer my university course, and get all this musical gear on hire purchase. I knew I had songs like [first single] 'Barcode Bypass', I knew something was coming together - and it paid off. I feel exactly the same now. You've got to believe in yourself.

"And when you come through what I have - having albums out, having songs in the charts, having management and publishing deals and record contracts - you realise you get used to this machinery around you. You rely on everyone else to do things for you. And actually it's quite liberating and exciting to be taking control."

The next night, MacIntyre is meeting cult dance boffins Simian Mobile Disco. Having self-produced his first three albums, he's keen to collaborate with outside forces - especially if they can inject some clubfloor wallop to his more uptempo new songs.

"You've just got to make things happen for yourself," he says. "I can't predict what will happen before the end of the year. But what I do predict is I'm gonna make the best record I've ever made."

Colin MacIntyre plays King Tut's, Glasgow (0870 169 0100), on Saturday. The new album will be released next year