With a Celtic Connections gig to look forward to, an exciting new album in the offing and a nearly completed second novel on his laptop, it’s safe to say Colin MacIntyre is a musician facing forwards. But like all musicians of a certain vintage – he turns 52 in April – the man who for the last two decades has recorded as Mull Historical Society is not above taking a peek in the rear-view mirror.

Nor, as he tells me from the depths of the “man cave” where for the first time has been able to bring together an “archive” which for years has existed only in cardboard boxes, is he short of a Mull Historical artefact or two to enliven those backward glances. Item: one bottle of wine, gifted to him by US rock legends REM when he toured with them as a support act in 2003.

“I remember finishing at Brixton Academy and getting this bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape from them,” he says, taking up the story. “I’d forgotten I still had the bottle – it’s long since drunk – but I quite recently found it with a big bit of masking tape coming out of it. It says: ‘To Mull from Michael and REM. Sorry I couldn’t get Buckfast, but this will have to do’.”

If you think digging back through 20 years’ worth of music, memories, collectables and curios sounds like an activity worth of an archaeologist, then give yourself a pat on the back because MacIntyre is also putting the finishing touches to a four CD Mull Historical Society retrospective – and Archaeology is the title he has chosen for it.

Included are the Mull-born musician’s first three albums – his 2001 debut Loss, 2003’s Us, and This Is Hope, from 2004 – plus demos, rarities, live cuts and cover versions, such as his takes on Radiohead’s Motion Picture Soundtrack and Ms Dynamite’s It Takes More. “There’s quite a lot of songs that have never come out, and there’s demos there that I really like which could have been on the albums,” he says of his dig into the archives. “So personally, and creatively, there have been quite a few discoveries.”

A major one has been the appearance of consistent theme emerging as he has listened back to those early albums. “I think what comes to me is how loss and grief has really run through a lot of what I have done musically and through the books,” he says. Then: “Maybe that was bloody obvious to everybody else.”

He’s referring to the death of his father, BBC Scotland political correspondent Kenny Macintyre, who died suddenly in 1999 aged just 54. MacIntyre junior had been on the verge of moving to London to pursue his music career – in fact friends had already moved his belongings south – but with his father’s death the move stalled. A good thing, in a way, as he now sees his remaining in Scotland as “pivotal” to what followed. Creativity has always been MacIntyre’s way of, as he puts it, “making sense of grief and the space vacated by somebody really important to you” and Loss, the album he produced, dealt with that process in the wake of his father’s passing. Meanwhile its follow-up, Us, was “very much about those who are left after loss. It’s almost like a coming together.”

Ultimately, what really unites the Mull Historical Society oeuvre is that spirit of togetherness, he thinks. In fact if he hadn’t chosen Archaeology as a title for the upcoming retrospective he might have fastened on another word entirely.

“It could equally be called Community,” he says. “Being totally honest, with 20 years distance from it, it is probably as much about community. With songs like Barcode Bypass [from Loss], when I struck upon that way of storytelling – putting myself in the shoes of these characters – it just felt real. Suddenly I wasn’t trying to contrive something. Suddenly with this group of songs which became Loss I felt I had found my own voice, and going into the studio in Glasgow I found this sound that I felt did them justice. But it was really just as much about community and that thread has run through everything I do. Coming from an island, I’m interested in how looking at these micro-issues and how focussing on small community reflects bigger, global communities.”

Put like, that it’s no surprise that Celtic Connections has extended the hand of welcome. After all, the idea of community underpins everything it does and stands for.

For his special festival appearance, and to mark the 20th and 22nd anniversary of their original release, MacIntyre is undertaking to play both Loss and Us. He’ll be joined on stage at points by an eight-piece band (as well as a few special guests) but the evening will also feature stripped back versions of the songs.

“I’m going to do a bit of a set on my own without the full band which will be picking up some of the tracks from the albums, just weaving them into each other,” he explains. “I won’t be playing every song in full because that would be too long. But every song will be aired. Initially it just feels like something that I wanted to do, but it has required quite a lot of swatting. There are some songs I’ve enjoyed revisiting and seeing how easily they come back, but there’s some I’ve never really played live, particularly off the Us album. So it’s going to be nice to give those an outing.”

Emerging from a rich late-1990s Glasgow music scene whose stalwarts were bands such as Belle And Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub, encouraged by the success of fellow Scots The Beta Band, and influenced by psych-rockers The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev as well as hip-hop acts such as Wu-Tang Clan and Eminem, MacIntyre had run through a number of names and bands before alighting on Mull Historical Society for his one-man operation. It was a stroke of genius, in a way. “It felt like an identity and something I could play with. There was a bit of time after the third album when I wanted to come out from that, but it feels right,” he says. “It was more interesting. I realised that the landscape of where I come from could become part of the artwork.”

He did release two “solo” albums as Colin MacIntyre – 2008’s The Water and Island, from 2009 – but with 2012’s City Awakenings he returned to the Mull Historical Society name. Two more albums followed, in 2016 and 2018. Instead, Colin MacIntyre became his pen name. In 2015 he published The Letters Of Ivor Punch, a novel set on Mull and featuring a cast of characters loosely based on (variously) Philip Roth, Charles Darwin and Barack Obama. It won him the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award, no small feat.

In 2019 MacIntyre adapted the novel for the stage as The Origins Of Ivor Punch, which featured in Òran Mór’s A Play, A Pie And Pint series. And he returned to Ivor once more during lockdown. “I realise I can’t seem to let go of him,” he laughs. “I can almost shake this guy’s hand. I want to continue this character so, basically, it’s my first crime novel, with Ivor Punch as the lead. I’ve signed a deal for two books and the first one is called When The Needle Drops. I’m just putting the finishing touches to it.”

It’s due in the autumn. Before then comes MacIntyre’s seventh album as Mull Historical Society.

“Basically, it’s a collaboration with some of my favourite authors who have inspired me,” he explains. “I’ve been very curious over the years how Elton [John] works with Bernie [Taupin] – not that I’m comparing myself in any way – but having ploughed my own furrow creatively, I was interested to see what it would be like to work with somebody else’s words and stories.”

Former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler will produce, and the album will be recorded on Mull – in the flat above the bank on Main Street in Tobermory which was once home to MacIntyre’s grandparents. Angus Macintyre, as well as being a bank manager, was a poet known in his day as the Bard of Mull. “I’m going to go home to make an album in the room where my grandfather wrote his poetry, so I’ve asked my authors if they could write words on a room which is significant to them. That’s the theme.”

A storied past, certainly. But by the sound of it, Colin MacIntyre still has both eyes on the future.

Archaeology: Complete Recordings 2000-2004 by Mull Historical Society is released on February 24 (Demon Records); Mull Historical Society perform at St Luke’s, Glasgow on Friday February 3 as part of the Celtic Connections festival