THE things you need to know. Claire Martha Ffion McKay grew up in Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland but now lives in Glasgow’s “glamorous Battlefield” in a tiny one-bed flat with her partner. She works with young people who have had experience of homelessness for the charity Ensemble, and with the charity Vox Liminis, which links up musicians with people who have gone through the criminal justice system. She is 30 years old and, oh yes, under her stage name Martha Ffion she has just released one of the albums of this strange summer.

Nights to Forget is a quiet, bubbling delight; the sound of sunny afternoons ticking down, of heat haze and regrets. From its opening line - “What the world needs now is more deadbeats with guitars” – to its last song, Don’t Let Me Go, a 21st-century take on a 1950s ballad, one that wouldn’t sound out of place in a David Lynch movie (or even a Doris Day film for that matter), it is a swooning embrace of a thing that was written in the summer of 2018 and is now lighting up this one.

And that was always the goal. “That summer [2018] I was in Berlin with some friends,” McKay explains when I phone her. “We were in a park and it was really sunny and we were listening to things like Blood Orange, Anderson .Paak and Grimes, and I felt really convinced at that point that I wanted to make something that had a similar summery feel.”

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It’s also, she is happy to confirm, a pop album. “I had this kind of stupid snobbery about pop music for a few years that I realised was because I just wasn’t looking in the right places for all the great pop music that was happening. I was doing song-writing projects with young people who were all showing me things like Billie Eilish and it just inspired me,” she says.

Throw in repeat listens to Saint Vincent, Blood Orange and William Orbit-era Madonna and you get a sense of what fed into Nights to Forget. And yet it is very much its own thing. Produced by Dave Frazer, it’s a record that belies the modesty of its budget and resources (the album began with McKay working up demos on GarageBand) by majoring in texture, wry humour and intelligence.

That could be a description of McKay herself, of course.

Nights to Forget is the follow-up to her 2018 debut, Sunday Best. Having an album come out in the middle of a pandemic can’t be ideal when all the normal ways of promoting it have disappeared, I suggest. “They have and they haven’t,” McKay counters. “It’s weird. The only thing that feels particularly different is the lack of live sessions or gigs. I wonder if it’s different for artists who are based somewhere like London where it is such a hub of networking, whereas I think in Scotland, because we are sort of self-contained, a lot of it hasn’t felt that different. But obviously the live element is something you can’t do in the same way.”

Does she miss it? “Yeah, definitely. I really miss my band and it’s funny all the things you take for granted when you’re on a tour of the UK, stopping in motorway services eating terrible food.”

Ah, you can be nostalgic for anything. Even Costa Coffee. But as she notes on the track Want You to Know, nostalgia is the reason politically that things are in such a mess.

“Definitely. Brexit is the big example. Boris Johnson and Donald Trump trying to convince people that things were better before such and such came along. It’s a bit of a dangerous trend.”

That everything was better before, say, 1753, I say, plucking a random year from the air. “That will be the next concept album. A Day in 1753,” she says, laughing.

“I was reading a lot of Zadie Smith and she absolutely switched a light on in my mind when she said, ‘I wouldn’t go a day back in time. We need progress.’ It’s a very privileged position to be nostalgic in a way.

“So, it just really made me reassess that thinking and I felt a bit embarrassed. I had a very shallow love of nostalgia, but when I actually questioned it …

“It doesn’t mean you can’t take elements that were good, but I think that we all need to be looking forward.”

McKay certainly is. “I’ve had a lot of personal change in recent years. Accepting things in your life, addressing them and taking control as well, rather than letting other people make decisions for you. I think just a lot of this album was me growing up a bit. Because a lot of my early output was when I was in my twenties and I’m now 30. I feel a lot better in my thirties so far. There’s a lot to be said for growing up and becoming an adult. It gets a bad rep.”

Time to rewind. Before moving to Glasgow in 2008, McKay grew up playing music in Warrenpoint in the bottom-right hand corner of Northern Ireland. She learnt violin and harp at school. She didn’t spend her teens in bands, but she did spend them watching them. “We were really lucky that there was a vibrant music scene in Warrenpoint even though it’s a tiny little town.

“We just went to gigs all the time and once a year made the pilgrimage to Oxegen Festival down in Punchestown.

“I was surrounded by a lot of music, but I was definitely too shy for the limelight for a long time.”

What changed? “I think moving to Glasgow and feeling a bit more independent. When you grow up in small places everybody knows you. And I just felt so mortified at the thought of putting myself out there in front of people who had known me for so long.

“That said, I still get extreme stage fright. It does not come naturally at all. It’s an effort every time. But then you love it once you’re up there.”

I wonder how her charity work has fed into her musical output?

“It’s funny. I don’t think it’s fed into my own music too much other than doubling down on my loopy lefty views of how the system screws people over.

“I’m very conscious of never taking somebody’s story away from them. It probably influences my music more stylistically because the young people I was writing with … We were writing R&B songs together. That was such a learning curve for me. Or if somebody says I want to write a full-on country song or something. It has probably made me a more versatile songwriter.”

Perhaps the more interesting question might be, has it changed her idea of what music is for?

“Definitely. It’s taken a bit of the perfectionist out of me, I think, because you see music in a really raw form having a huge impact on people. And just the act of writing a song, even If it’s never going to be heard, can be cathartic for everybody involved. And fun. It serves its own purpose.”

Nights to Forget, by Martha Ffion, is out now on the Lost Map Records label