Michael John McCarthy is a 33-year-old musician from Ireland who, when not composing for theatre, filling out the ranks of various Glasgow indie bands or looking after his baby son, likes to play records. Big deal, you say. But what gives his vinyl-spinning an added dimension, what makes it different from yours or mine, is where he does it, why he does it and who he does it for.

The where and the who are easy: at pop-up events, where he coaxes and cajoles bystanders to choose a record from his box and then talk to him about what the music means to them. Afterwards they'll initial the track they picked and write their name on the album cover. He's given the project a simple but effective moniker – Turntable – and cast himself in a role which is part-DJ, part-therapist. Most people, he finds, respond to one or the other.

As for the why, I'll get to that bit. Likewise what may or may not happen after the final chords of a song have died away, because that's important too. But first I have to choose a track for myself. I have to have what McCarthy calls “the Turntable experience”.

Spread across the table between us are just some of the vinyl albums he uses when he's out and about. Already there's quite a choice. It ranges from Paul Robeson to REM, from Kylie to Sinatra. I pick up a Pogues album – Rum, Sodomy And The Lash, if you're interested – and am about to choose it when I spot a Best Of collection by 1980s indie band Echo And The Bunnymen. A quick scan of the back and there is it: A Promise, one of my favourites. I used to fall asleep to this every night when I was 16.

McCarthy places the record reverentially on the turntable and we both sit back to listen. A verse and a chorus go by and then he starts to talk. Or, more specifically, he asks questions that make me start to talk. And how I talk: about the memories I have of the song. About the associations I can still make between it and my teenage self. About other things I didn't even think I would have remembered. About a few more I wish I hadn't. And about old schoolfriends I haven't thought of for a while. Where are they? More importantly, how are they?

Turntable began as “an inter-generational project” McCarthy tells me as the song fades out. “It was to use music and the way we feel about music to encourage people who were maybe separated by as much as two generations to talk to each other. The reasons I thought music might make those conversations happen was because of my own relationship with my great-aunt.”

Her name is Kathleen McCarthy, though she was always known in the family as Auntie Kitty. Like many women of her generation, she left Ireland for London and never went back, finding work in an office and also spending some time in Africa.

It struck McCarthy that Kitty was doing all this around the same time and at the same age as the character of Joan in 1960s-set American drama Mad Men. It was also the same age at which he had left Ireland and moved to Glasgow. And it made him curious about his great-aunt and her interior life. What was going on in her world at the time and how did music play a part?

She had once told him she loved a song called Are You Mine? by George Jones and Margie Singleton but had never been able to track it down in the version she knew. With a little bit of poking around on the web, McCarthy downloaded it, asked her if there were other songs she wanted hear – Nights In White Satin by The Moody Blues was one of the more unlikely requests – and burned her a CD. Simple.

Or so he thought. “The torrent of stories that emerged from the two of us listening to that music and talking about it was phenomenal,” he says. “But then it spun out from there and it stopped being about the music and it started to become about the life and the memories. That's one of the main things about Turntable: although it's about music, music is not all that it's about. It's about memory and recollection and connection.”

McCarthy took that notion – and Kitty's maroon-coloured record box – and from it created Turntable. These days it isn't just about the music either: LPs and 45s have an intrinsic nostalgia as objects in their own right so sometimes even the cover art on a particular album can set people talking and remembering.

He calls Turntable “a combination of a creative impulse and a social impulse”. “A huge part of why I want to do it is to make space for people who want to talk and who maybe don't get the chance to do that very often. Why I thought that could be done in tandem with a creative project is maybe to do with the idea of surprising people. I want it to be something which is a little bit out of the everyday.”

To give the project shape, he enlisted the help of a handful of people he refers to as “co-conspirators”, among them a producer, a choreographer, a writer and a designer. To give it funds he approached Creative Scotland, who obliged. To give it further life he plans to create a theatrical performance based around the idea.

It has a working title of Turntable C and he's aiming to make it happen in 2016. Before that, however, McCarthy takes what he calls Turntable A and B on the road this month as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts And Film Festival, a three-week, nationwide festival aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues and featuring over 300 events from Selkirk to Skye. McCarthy will visit Aberfeldy and Blairgowrie with Turntable A – basically a series of workshops – and then take Turntable B, the pop-up event, to Paisley, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The capital venue is the Scottish Storytelling Centre and in Paisley he'll be setting up at the Sunshine Recovery Cafe, which caters for people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. For the Glasgow event he'll be at the Platform arts space in Easterhouse, ironically the site of his first ever Turntable B set. It took place at the Sunday Social, also a drop-in event for recovering addicts.

“It was extremely successful and extremely busy,” he recalls. “We had an enormous range of participants and stories. People pulled all kinds of things out of the box from The Ramones to Kylie. What was really nice about it was that even as we were having these quite personalised conversations, the music was being sent out into the rest of the cafe so there were a cluster of other conversations spilling out from where the turntable was.”

The sorts of stories he hears vary greatly. Many people choose music which reminds them of a deceased friend of relative, several have picked songs they listened to while in prison or which they associated with their release. One man talked about ordering Hank Williams records from Cuthbertson's record shop just off Sauchiehall Street, waiting six weeks for them to be shipped from America (by boat) then taking them home so he could learn the words and try to work out the guitar chords.

So McCarthy and his records certainly set people talking. But what happens after they've had their “Turntable experience” is just as important. For a start he wants them to dig out those old Hank Williams records and listen again. But there's more.

“I would like to think that once you've had a Turntable experience you might go away and think 'You know, I've haven't spoken to so-and-so for a while, I might give them a call'. I want to encourage people to get in touch or stay connected. Or if they have connections that might have lapsed, that music could be a good way into it.”

It's easy to see, then, why McCarthy's Turntable project is such a good fit with a festival devoted to issues of mental health. Making people talk to him and each other, providing a focus for conversation, engendering or re-igniting what he calls “a thirst for music” and doing it all in a welcoming and communal environment can only be good for people who feel lonely or isolated.

Turntable, then, is about music as it used to be, not as it is now – an atomised activity streamed from who knows what website and experienced through earbuds that cut off the listener from their surroundings.

“It's slightly cheesy, but one of the things Turntable is about is taking music back from the cloud and putting it back into people's hands,” he says. “I do think technology has made it easier for us to insulate ourselves from each other… So we're all having these individually tailored musical experiences and my concern is that music technology doesn't make it easy for those of us who are vulnerable to loneliness and isolation to break out of it. If anything it can encourage us to go deeper into that zone and that's not necessarily healthy. The potential is there for people to get lost.”

It would be trite to say that through the Turntable project they can be found again. But as the needle drops and the record plays, it will at least light a path of sorts.

The Scottish Mental Health Arts And Film Festival run from October 10-31 at venues across Scotland, www.mhfestival.com