Most people recognise Mike MacNamara as being the frontman of Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band - a 12-piece outfit who have been together since 1990 and this year will be celebrating their 30th anniversary. 

The band has not only played at the most prestigious venues all over the UK, including The Marquee Club, The Café Royal, and The Rock Garden, but also at venues in Vienna, Cairo, Tenerife, Germany and Dublin.

They have supported or shared the bill with acts such as Billy Ocean, Jools Holland, Van Morrison, Earth Wind & Fire, Sister Sledge, Gabrielle, Jimmy James, Craig Charles, The Commitments, Sheila Ferguson (The Three Degrees), Pato Banton, The Pasadenas, Jaki Graham and many more.

The band also does a lot of work for charity, such as performing at the V Awards in 2018 to help raise money for St David’s Hospice Care.

Mike McNamara, was born in Ireland, and has worked as a lorry driver, library assistant, scaffolder and scrap metal dealer. He spent three months, which included his 17th birthday in a psychiatric ward for drug dependency. He has also experienced the life of a military prisoner for nine months in Colchester and lived homeless for a short while on the streets of Dover, London and Cornwall.

His experiences and recovery from alcoholism and addiction and subsequent employment as a key worker for the Kaleidoscope Programme were documented in the television programmes My Way (2006) broadcast in 2006, and Wales In The 90’s (2018).

Mike has recently published his third poetry book, Dialling a Starless Past, an ongoing poetic odyssey of unknowing chronicling an outsider’s search for meaning through six decades of popular culture, music, addiction, love, loss and mercurial confusion of recovery.

Voice caught up with the big man himself to ask him a few questions about his new book and his thoughts on the last three decades in the band. Here’s what he had to say:

Is this a new beginning for you or something that you’ve always done throughout your career as a musician?

I began writing verse and poetry well over 50 years ago. I like to think I’ve improved a tad!

What’s the most difficult poem you’ve written?

No one particular poem springs to mind. Poems can be difficult because of content or form or other factors, eg. some are so personally sad your tears are preventing you continuing, while others are technically challenging.

Do you find it therapeutic to put life experiences to paper and would you say it helps with mental health?

Most definitely. And I’ve had the privilege of working with Helen McSherry, who ran the Mind writing group and to which the haiku poet Paul Chambers contributed greatly, and I’ve seen the difference it makes. Music too. We know so little of this phenomenon, its relationship to dementia etc. More funding and less disposable consumerism are required!

Do you have a favourite spot in the home to work, or can you write anywhere at any time?

No particular locale and often at the most inopportune times. In the middle of film, a gig, walking up the street or when you’re exhausted and about to sleep up pops a line and you know it’s started!

Apart from your life experiences, what else inspires you to write poetry?

It’s clichéd perhaps, but nevertheless true: it’s a satisfactory explanation of meaning for our existence without recourse to orthodox religion. It’s possessed me from my early teens. Politics and current affairs hold little interest for me in poetry. It’s more likely to veer toward psychology, philosophy or romanticism. People lump it in disparagingly as ‘mysticism’, but after reading Colin Wilson in my late teens I knew I wasn’t alone.

Which are your three favourite works from your new book?

Off the cuff I’d say God Of The Locked Ward, The Waster Land and On Newport Bridge. But that’s today!

You provide the artwork for the covers of your poetry books. Are there any plans to illustrate some of the poems too?

I illustrated a good number of Small Press Mags in the late 80’s. The editor at Arenig Press, Martin Evans felt there was potential of some kind there. I don’t plan much tbh. I seem to stumble unwittingly into whatever projects present themselves!

And where can people find more of your poetry work?

My first book Overhearing The Incoherent is now out of print. But: 1.The free download for the ebook This Transmission, edited by Jeffey Side is here:

Dialling A Starless Past is available here: It will be available on Amazon, but postage costs are cheaper via Arenig and I’ll always tout a few at gigs and poetry readings. A thankless task but no one else is up for it!

Wholly Soul Band Celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Are you doing a special anniversary tour or event?

Well we’re playing at The Newport Centre with my daughter Erin’s band supporting on June 13 Some promoters have made noises about organising a mini-tour but nothing confirmed as yet. We’re open to offers folks!

What was your favourite gig of the past three decades?

Oh, that’s a hard one! It’s not necessarily the most prestigious gigs but some ordinary venue where the “stars align” and everything is special. We’ve played some fabulous joints all over the world but a gig outside The Y Maerun in Marshfield, or Cornerstones in Cardiff via The Brogue Trader for Beaujolais Day or The Upton Festival, where the band, the sound and the audience gel in some way you could never contrive: they’re the ones!

If your future self could give your younger self any bit of advice, what would it be?


Do you believe the band will make it to its 40th anniversary?

Ha! Well I was middle-aged when the band began 30 years ago, so 40 years may depend on a number of both genetic and other factors. From an audience point of view ‘Will you still love me tomorrow’ kind of applies!

Finally, what does the future hold for Mike McNamara?

I’m in the middle of recording two separate albums of my own songs (one primarily reggae the other of mixed genres). I’ve published a number of songs over the years, I have an album on Cdbaby. 

I currently have a non-exclusive sync deal with Kult Records in New Jersey. Last year I’d written a song as a tribute to one of my favourite singers, Wilson Pickett and his daughter Veda contacted me. We ended up singing it as a duet. That was special!

I have more than enough poetry already written for at least one book or more. Getting publishing/ release for these current projects would be something I’ll work toward.

Literature, I’ve found, (particularly on a parochial level), revolves around cliques… my work falls somewhere between the gutter and the cosmos. That said I’ve been as equally surprised and grateful to those both locally and from places such as Canada, America etc who’ve contributed great reviews as I’ve been mystified and disappointed at those on my doorstep who’ve refused to even acknowledge my requests for such.

For more information about Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band and for bookings visit or give Mike a call on 01633 255631 or 07904 278552.

A poem from Dialling a Starless Past:

On Newport Bridge

1988 Years later now, an older man it seems

in contrast to the boy with visions lit by hopeful schemes,

sated now, misled by blind addiction

but spared at least self-pity for this self-imposed affliction.

I dreamt in colour then but cannot now recall who dreamed,

inspired by the radio and hymn like songs that seemed

to echo long ago those gospel tunes by Motown blades,

with lyrics painting endless love behind those hipster shades.

Western patriarchal gods I prayed to in my youth,

or Eastern koans I meditated on in my careless search for truth,

tabs of acid, grams of speed

or flagons of alcohol and vomit while the needle syphoned love.

I stumbled willingly across the bridge each night,

Over the river Usk, blessing the patterns from the docked boats’ light,

every winding backstreet seemed like the blueprint for some plan,

That led me onward to a knowledge of the ways of man.

I walked across that bridge once more tonight,

A squanderer of words and empty years and love’s lost light,

Just a wanderer in a 60s suit from some Dock Street Oxfam

shop Wishing with every wasted breath this cold night crossing would stop.