Me and Mr. Ray: An Oral History of Miracle Legion

Mark Mulcahy and Mr. Ray Neal chronicle the story of their New Haven band


    Oral History offers the most comprehensive retelling of a pop culture artifact.

    This feature originally ran in April 2016 and is being re-published in anticipation of their show this Friday at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall.

    In early January, I spent nearly 90 minutes speaking with Mark Mulcahy, frontman of the recently reunited New Haven, Connecticut, band Miracle Legion. For the first 80 minutes, we reminisced, traded jokes, and genially delved into more than three decades of band history. It wasn’t until I finally asked about a possible reunion that Mulcahy’s relaxed tone shifted to one of genuine concern. “I just don’t know, man. I know you like us, and somebody else likes us,” he told me, already grasping for words and audibly wrestling with the idea. “But I don’t know that it’s something that’s gonna be … I don’t know. I just can’t … I can’t really imagine doing it … I just don’t think there’s enough people that are interested – that’s all.”


    At the time, Mulcahy didn’t know that I was privy to the fact that the first Miracle Legion tour dates in nearly 20 years — one of which Consequence of Sound is sponsoring on July 22nd in Chicago — were already being booked. But it wasn’t false modesty in his voice that morning or even an attempt to not divulge his band’s plans. Clearly, he was still experiencing serious doubts about a reunion whose reception could potentially prove disappointing. Despite a reputation for being a dynamic live act and having inspired artists like Thom Yorke and Ryan Adams, there are no guaranteed legions waiting for a Miracle Legion reunion two decades after their dissolution. They may have once shared a label and producer with The Smiths, but they aren’t The Smiths. And as I listened to Mulcahy try to relate his doubts, I began to understand. Why risk reviving something you deeply care about only to find out that nobody else cares?

    portait Me and Mr. Ray: An Oral History of Miracle Legion

    And if there’s one thing I learned for certain from my conversations with Mulcahy and guitarist Mr. Ray Neal, whom I spoke to earlier that same morning, it’s that they still love Miracle Legion and all the sweat, passion, and sincerity they associate with that band and time in their lives. Their cadences in conversation couldn’t be more different — Mulcahy seemingly shrugging off questions while his thoughts assemble and finally arrive in enthusiastic spurts and Neal volleying back precise details and stories with a quickness that belies the fact that I was asking about things that happened decades ago — but neither can hide their joy when talking about being in that band. Neal likens the best Miracle Legion concerts to “religious experiences,” and Mulcahy sounds animated enough to climb through the telephone, like a cartoon character, to explain in person just how much he loved being in that band.


    Three months ago, Mulcahy told me, “I’m going to be the most surprised guy if at some point I step up to the microphone and behind me is Scott, Dave, and Ray.” He now has more than a dozen of these surprises confirmed in America and the UK. Whether legions of fans or thinner ranks mobilize remains to be seen, but one thing feels certain: If Mulcahy and Neal really loved playing in Miracle Legion as much as they indicate, they definitely owe it to themselves to “get in the van” at least one more time.

    As they prepare to write the next chapter of their band’s story later this summer, Mulcahy and Neal took some time to reflect on all that’s happened since they met in New Haven decades ago. This is Miracle Legion’s story, as told by Me and Mr. Ray themselves.

    –Matt Melis
    Editorial Director

    They Came from New Haven

    Miracle Legion’s story begins within the New Haven, Connecticut, music scene in the late 1970s.

    Mark Mulcahy: I got into music just by being around records and people who played records. It’s kind of a weird thing to think about: Why do I like music? It came from being exposed to it through an older brother and the radio. My brother gave me his turntable not too long ago, and I was thinking about him bringing home Fragile or some early Yes records. He had a pretty wide variety then. I didn’t even know what type of music that was. There were probably records before that, but I clearly remember him putting on Fragile – pretty complicated, involved pop music.

    Mr. Ray Neal: I came to music pretty late. I wasn’t one of those eight-year-olds who loved music and played guitar. It was in high school that I really first got struck by music and became obsessive. It was the mid-‘70s, and one of my first concerts was Foghat. I loved Led Zeppelin and ended up loving some of the progressive bands, like Yes and Genesis and that whole thing. I really became a music geek.


    I started hearing what was going on in Britain, and I hadn’t been hip to what was going on in America, unfortunately. The Ramones and all that, I had heard of them, but I was pretty green. I remember seeing Patti Smith on the Mike Douglas Show, and I was just blown away. So there was that whole scene. I got really into The Clash. I always seemed to grasp on to one group that I’d get really, really obsessed about – and it was The Clash at that time.


    Mulcahy: I drummed in school. I was in the school band. At some point, I got a drum set, and I couldn’t do too much with it. There really wasn’t a big opportunity to start a band where I lived. So I moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and lived there for a really long time. There I met a couple of guys who had notions of trying to do something, and I answered a drummer ad. It was probably pretty ballsy of me because I really wasn’t good … but it was okay because the band wasn’t particularly great. I talked about Yes and Fragile before, and that was not the sort of thing we were playing. They had the band already cooking and thought I’d be okay as the drummer. That went on for a little while, and once you do it, the mystery goes away a little bit. So once I did drumming in the band and got into other bands by drumming, I just figured that’s what I could do. And here I am.

    Neal: I played guitar in high school – lessons. That was a time when you had to be Jimmy Page or somebody. I was like, “I can’t do this,” so I gave up. A bit later, I was working in a record store and really into the whole punk/new wave thing and began to think, I can probably play guitar. So I played in a few groups, and it eventually led to Mark and I playing together.


    Mark was a drummer in The Saucers. When I discovered the punk rock (for lack of a better word) scene in New Haven, they were one of the main bands. Also, the bass player was Craig Bell, who was in Rocket from the Tombs back in the day and came out of that whole Dead Boys/Pere Ubu thing in Cleveland. This was a guy who had done it already and was written up in magazines and stuff, so The Saucers were really cool. So I would go down and see them play, and eventually I became their roadie – working my way in. And that’s how I met Mark. And over time, we began spending time together and became a duo out in the world.

    saucers Me and Mr. Ray: An Oral History of Miracle Legion

    The Saucers

    Mulcahy: I don’t know if I remember first meeting Ray so much as I remember him as a fan of the scene at the time. When we lived in New Haven, there was a really good, connected scene of people. So, I knew him from around the scene, and the band I was playing drums in [The Saucers] – he became the roadie. We had like 10 roadies, and he became the main roadie. We kinda modeled ourselves after The Clash a little bit. We had spokesmen and a lot of things that were ridiculous. He looked real slick, had nice clothes, and good hair, so he elevated to the top of the roadie list, I think. But that’s how I met him. And that band kinda disappeared. And we just kinda stayed friends from that.


    Neal: We immediately realized that we worked really well together – even before we were going to make music together. We were really good at things like scamming to get into shows for free. We complemented each other and had fun. We just went out and had adventures – like weird reggae clubs until two in the morning where we were the only two white guys. The Basement Reggae Club in New Haven was very interesting. Third-World George in his basement with serious Rasta dudes. He eventually had to close it down because I think someone got shot. Those were heady times for a middle-class suburban kid who didn’t know anything. And then all of a sudden I was experiencing this other world with Mark.

    From about ’78 to mid-’80, there was an incredibly strong scene in New Haven. There was a place called Ron’s Place. It was really great for a suburban kid, because it was a complete prostitute, heroin kind of bar. It was really scary, but I loved it because bands played there.

    Mulcahy: I was the guy in New Haven who, if a band needed a drummer, I would get the call. Which was great. I wish I was still a drummer in a band. I only got out of drumming because … I’m not sure how I got out of it. I think I started singing. Ray and I were in a band or two together eventually, and we were both kind of the sidemen. I was the drummer, and he was the keyboard and guitar player. If you don’t write the songs, you don’t have much control over the destiny of the band or yourself. So we figured that out as time passed. And we figured if maybe we wrote the right songs, maybe we could control what happens.

    stray divides

    Stray Divides


    Neal: The first band I was in, The Obvious, was definitely punky, a sort of Clash kind of group. And Mark played drums with us because we couldn’t find a drummer. And then we had a band called Stray Divides, which was Mark on drums, Kirk Swan who went on to Dumptruck, and Spike Priggen who’s played with a lot of people. And from Stray Divides, Mark and I decided that it sucks when the guy who writes the songs leaves. We decided to make our own group, so we couldn’t be dumped.

    Mulcahy: Because one day you’re in a band, and the other guys quits, and now you’re not in a band. So, we just tried to write some songs, and really I didn’t even imagine myself, particularly, as the singer. But Ray was the guitar player. You know, I don’t even really know how I became a singer, but I did. It was definitely more of a necessary thing, rather than a need to express myself more. The whole thing is a case of really nothing starting how it ended up, which I hope is a good thing in most ways. We weren’t out to become anything other than musicians who could play when we wanted to.

    Neal: So, we decided that we’d try to write songs. And we were like, “Well, who’s gonna sing?” Mark had sung a bit. So I said, “Well, you sing because I can’t.” We just did it with no intention of ever putting out a record. Mark lived in a loft space, so we had a place we could play, and we had access to a four-track reel-to-reel, and we just started writing songs without any expectations.


    Mulcahy: It turned into something completely different than we expected. We were really surprised. We went on to make some different recordings, and people really liked them, and we were just completely shocked. Shocked.

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