segunda-feira, 31 de outubro de 2011

Paul Murphy: A beatnik in the Midlands

Photos: Simone Ribeiro and The Destroyers site

Before meeting Paul Murphy I had a list of possible words to describe his work: composer, storyteller,  folk musician, lead singer of the band The Destroyers and so on. 

Since I have met him, on the last Friday of September at the Kings Norton station, to make this interview at his house, the list has grown considerably, but I prefer to describe him in just one sentence: a beatnik, in the best sense of the word, in the Midlands.

Beatnik because in each year of his career, which are not few ones, Paul Murphy knows  exactly how to use and abuse of  the words to get his message across, whether as  teacher, musician, poet or storyteller Always on the road!

The nice Irish from Belfast, who came to Birmingham in the early 70s, is one of the most respected musicians in the city. In this exclusive interview to Midiativa, Paul talks about his childhood and early career in Ireland;  family;  travelling;  influences; his remarkable career as a teacher in Birmingham and of course, about life on the road with his band, The Destroyers.
The first part of this chat, which lasted 1 hour and 16 minutes, you can check here now.  Are you ready? So here we go!

Ma: What does inspire you as songwriter, poet and storyteller?

Paul Murphy: I am inspired by many things. At the heart of it I suppose the inspiration is the need to express myself. I started writing songs when I was 14 years old. So I have been writing songs for almost 50 years. (laugh ). I find it really hard to say that, do you know (laugh). I was always interested to music when I was a kid. I love performing, you know. I love to entertain people to be honest and I love the spontaneity, you know, making stuff up on the spot, which I still love.

And then when I was 14, just turned 15, the Beatles came to Belfast (it was 1964). I hitchhiked up to the airport with a couple of friends to see the Beatles arrive. It was very early in the Beatles career because it was in 1964 but they have already started the phenomenon. We ran out and we broke from the police, then we got a couple of autographs and went to the concert that night.

So I love all that kind of thing that music has in term of youth seemed to me. It was different of the music my father was listening to. My father said “this is not music, yeah yeah yeah", you know. That kind of thing of melody, songs we just could walk around and sing songs, you know. Then it was about 1965 I got my acoustic guitar, before it I have been in a small band playing bass guitar, not very well...

Ma: Not in a Paul MacCartney style? (laugh)

Paul Murphy: No...(laugh) So by the time I was 16 I bought myself a 6 strings guitar and started writing songs and that coincided with the emerge of the new folk tradition. So people like Donovan, Joan Baez, Dylan and so forth and that really captured my imagination because it was about the songs seemed to deal with the real subjects, like for example Bob Dylan's song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.

I grew up in a society that was a white society. I knew something about racism. However I grew up in a sectarian society in Ireland the only black people I saw were the sailors around the docks. We had our police station were covered of bombs, guns and etc...So I heard The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and it really fired me because it told a really fine story in a very interesting way.

(Then Paul declaims the lyrics of the Bob Dylan's song, in a truly storyteller way, of course)...

The poet Allan Ginsberg said "Bob Dylan has all his best when he is telling the news". This is the sense of obviously our culture has changed enormously in terms of communication. We were just in the threshold of a global village. That is what inspires me, you know. The kind of notion of being able to write songs but that way people think, may people reevaluate stuff but by doing in the way that is was a storyteller way. Kind of telling the story that make people thing if it is right or no. So that kind of notion inspires me and I said it when I was 16. I kind of really fired me up on that.

For example, when I have met Joan Baez, in Ireland, I was really on fire. I wanted to write songs and be part of all that stuff.

(Read the story about Paul meeting Joan Baez here)

I have met her again 30 years later, and it was very interesting. I have met Donovan and people like that and I love that notion of being like a travelling minister with the guitar and sleeping bag over my shoulder. So I set off from Belfast, I got expelled from the school , it was in January 15th 1966,  I was 16 years old and I had just the guitar, sleeping bag and the songs I have written, so I came to England and I travelled around the world for almost three years.

And in this time I have met a lot of interesting people, quite famous ones like Lemmy, from Motorhead who I shared a place and I came to live with him, Van Morrison put me up in London and took me to my first publish deal sort of music and I played at the Marquee Club at theWardoor street.

I found this quotation 30 years later and it was from March 1966, from a newspaper called City Beat and the London correspondent had written a bit who said: is this true that Paul Murphy is working in the Salford Laundry? (It was up to Manchester) because John Lee Rocker saw his performance at the Marquee Club and pleased “that is high praise indeed!!”

Once I had sold songs, I sold three songs. Van took me too Denmark Street sort of music. They published Donovan, they listened some of my songs and said they would buy these three songs and gave me contract and some money. Once I had published those songs I kind of felt like “I am a songwriter” I felt I was a songwriter anyway but it was like an endorsement.

After that I never really sold publication. I got really inspired about just travelling and meeting people living on the road. By the mid 66 and 67 I was in London in the song of Love and group and all in the underground stuff and I kind of went in completely direction. I left London, I worked for this port for a while, and I went to the remote west of Ireland and end up living in a Monastery.

That was a really important part of my journey and as a result of that I have decided that I wanted to be a teacher and I kept the guitar and kept writing songs and performing sometimes but I chose to study in a big way and I ended up studying Theology and took a degree in Theology. That changed my sort of direction. I came to Birmingham, in fact, to study.

Ma: It is interesting because I was about to ask how Birmingham happened to your life…

Paul Murphy: I never have been to Birmingham I was in England before and I passed by Birmingham in a motorway but I never have been to Birmingham. I came to Birmingham to study and to become a teacher and that was 40 years ago (this month, in September 1971). My girlfriend came to join me and we got married here in 1972 and we had our first child, Mark, in 1973. And by the time I have qualified as a teacher in 1974 and I took a job here.

I taught 3 years and then we moved to Ireland during the troubles and I came back here. I temporally I went to Ireland because my wife was in Ireland because her mother was really ill and I came back here and I worked in previous school for 1 year. And someone told me to I started in this new school and said “it is the inner city; it is really challenging and really perfect for you why don’t you come and work with us?” (laugh).

So I did. I went to 1976 and the first thing I did was write a musical called “Rats” and I got the inspiration because this area was derelict and there were rats everywhere and like they said in the war “bring back the cat get rid of the rats” so became the inspiration from this musical and I developed it with the group of the kids and we performance, the first one was in 1979 and we took either a bit of tour and stuff a couple of people have produced it.

Ma: So you never left the music…

Paul Murphy: I never left the music. Music was central. Music was a really fundamental part of my Pedagogy and drama and story obviously. It was a great way of Friday afternoon, you know, kids love to sing songs by them. I can make up songs on the spot it just hold that kind of skill of being able to be spontaneous.

Ma: Were you teaching English?

Paul Murphy: No, I started off by setting up the drama department. They asked if I could be involved in drama music. I developed drama music, performance, arts and these kind of things and I took the responsibility of the R.E. across the school which was not a great idea because it was about the authorities, about what you can do or not. But once you started to apply it to the mainstream and challenge the way things were done so then things became a bit dangerous.

I had a bit of the battle about ideology about the way in which you can have religious education in schools and in order to make insure that it isn’t indoctrination. And then I decided to get out of mainstream education. By the stage, it was 1983 and our first child was about to be born so I had to work. I tried to do work that was compatible with I wanted to do and believed.

I ended up working until 1989, with the National Anti Racist Movement Education, an organization called Name and I was the community education officer so it gave me freedom to work in the different level so my first project, three months after I took the job, was to take a group of 22 artist from Birmingham to Belfast.

It was a multiethnic group and we went to Belfast, and this was in 1983 when you had all strikes and stuff out there and our thing were to look at the similarities and differences between sectarianisms and racism using music, poetry, photograph and drama to explore those things.

And we set up a twin link with a Polk music workshop in Northern Ireland. So our kids exchange and came across and so forth. A Nobel Peace Prize that time called Mairead Carrigan came to work with us for a week and we developed a peace festival in the community and that was the kind of way that I saw education wasn’t about schooling.

I was informed by people about a Brazilian writer called Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And that was hugely influential on my work and the way he can see education and also another writer called Ivan Illich which was also connected with Freire. That Pedagogy of the Opressed and their analysis of education and so forth informed what I did and also in my additional study I had a specialised in philosophy of Laboration  So that let me be in contact with a lot of  Latin American writers  like Sabrino, Gutierrez and etc.

I had gone to Grammar school as a kid I was a working class kid, my father was a postman and I was the only one person of my family to get the exam and go to the grammar school but when I got to the grammar school it was so oppressive I couldn’t wait to get out of it, I knew that in a way I feared the education but my journeys and travels taught me that education is more that schooling.

So I know that it is a really long way of try to explain what my influences are but you know my influences are about the use of music, but also to provoke thought. That kind of notion that it is not about to tell the people what to think but it’s about to get them to think!

I wrote a musical and I wrote a lot of thing when I was a teacher, I encourage kids to write and built up new bands at school. I always written songs which were also personal songs and the album I am working in this moment called The Glen, it is a series of ten songs. They are really a reflexion, you know,  my wife died 12 years ago, and it is an exploration of love, loss, memory, experience, light, shadow so I always written songs that were close to me as a person but I also write songs like Out of Babel which is at the destroyers and that song I wrote before met The Destroyers, 15 years ago, and it is a song about the notion of unity and diversity, about cities and a place like Birmingham, about music as a kind of universal language something which crosses the frontiers. So, I obvious, written a lot of the things about my hometown…

To be continued...

(Portuguese version of this interview here)


Paul Murphy website

Paul Murphy at Myspace

Vídeo: Out of Babel, The Destroyers

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