six things: Seán McLaughlin

Sean McLaughlin

Image by Neil MacMillan

About Seán

Seán McLaughlin lives in Edinburgh and co-runs a small record label called Stitch Records, which focuses on the release of alternative folk and jazz. He performs as a musician for hire and with his own alt. folk outfit, Dante (who can also be found on Facebook). Seán lectures and teaches at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Edinburgh University and privately. He is currently in the final year of a Ph.D. in music.

Seán’s website:

• One thing that’s always worth getting out of bed for

I am in the fortunate position that every single day I am either getting out of bed to play music, talk/write about music or spend time with my family. I’m not sure I have the balance quite right yet but I’m nearly there. Getting out of bed would be a fair bit easier if my son, Luka, slept a little more soundly through the night, however.

• One thing about myself that often obstructs me

Procrastination and being disorganised – two things, but they seem like one combined entity to me. I should, for example, be working on my PhD right now.

• One thing I’ve learned the hard way

I don’t think I’m quite old enough yet to give a meaningful response to this, but assuming such a process exists, with very few exceptions, I really do feel that I have learned most things the easy way. Aside from misgivings I have regarding some of those who were in charge of my education over the years, I think I have got off fairly lightly. My parents, too, have always been a good source of guidance.

Ask me again in twenty years.

• One thing that gets under my skin

At the moment; Gillian Welch’s Wrecking Ball, Frightened Rabbit’s Yes I Would, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band’s To all the Lights in the Window, John Coltrane’s I’m Old Fashioned (as always), Sally MacLennane by The Pogues, Withered Hand’s Cornflake, Taj Mahal’s version of Honkey Tonk Women, Passing Afternoon by Iron and Wine, Zoey Van Goey’s You Told the Drunks I Knew Karate, Codex by Radiohead, I can Feel a Hot One by Manchester Orchestra (a band my students introduced me to and who have consequently, alongside The Gaslight Anthem, changed how I feel about contemporary American rock bands), and Lucky Can You Link Ony, a tune my wife plays. I should clarify that all these get under my skin in a good way. Is a pop music playlist a copout?

• One thing I’d love to change

Music as competition. Children are never first and foremost encouraged, as they perhaps are in some other areas of the arts, to write and perform for themselves, or as a principally social activity. There is too much pressure on bairns to achieve grades or other easily quantifiable measures of achievement in music and, hence, many are put off musical performance and expression for life. Given that music has now been accepted as a huge and multi-dimensional area of study, why are we not seeing contemporary music philosophy filter into the primary, secondary and FE education system?

Our assessment criteria are all wrong. We should look at musical instruments more as creative tools and, of course, we should still allow for those who wish to become musical technicians, but should we continue to present this as the pinnacle of musical performance? Is the most complex piece of music still the best? I’m not saying that I have the answer to the problem but perhaps, if we must assess something, we should tailor assessment more towards the desires and creative process of the pupil or student and not to the outdated principles of western art music.

• One thing I hope for

My biggest hopes at the moment all concern my son Luka, who is now eight months old. As clichéd as it might sound, having a child has dramatically changed and complicated my philosophical outlook on life. I am now continually struggling with my lefty liberalism and, what we shall call, a Daily Mail mentality. I worry a lot more about mad gunmen, child abduction, suicide bombers, normal bombers, faulty traffic lights, drunk drivers… and everything else on Paul Dacre’s editorial checklist. Maybe I’ll become a paranoid, right wing idiot after our second – god knows what would happen if we were to have a daughter!

My unrealistic hope is that the world becomes a safer, better-educated and more encouragingly creative environment for my son. My slightly more realistic hope is that he helps bring it a little closer to that ideal.

About six things

‘six things’ is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people, in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts. A new ‘six things’ is published on the site each Saturday.