By: Simone Ribeiro
Photos: Simone Ribeiro
In this last part of the interview, Paul Murphy talks about his childhood in Belfast and the family’s influence in his career. Tell us how the meeting with The Destroyers has happened; as well as talks about the music scene in Birmingham and his first album solo, The Glen, that was released in early December.
Ma: Was it difficult for you to make music in your early days in Belfast?
Paul Murphy: In the time I was growing up Belfast was very interesting and a kind of grey city and that time it was very much dominated. We have on part in power for fifty years unbroken. They sustain their power by things like the special powers which meant that they could constitute as illegal any meeting of more than three people. That was that kind of notion that folk music was associated as sedition and rebellion.
I grew up in a very much working class rising state. My father, who was a Scotchman, when he came to Belfast, he was at the R.E.F. He ended up in Belfast, met my mom, they got married and stayed in there. He was determined that that we would grow up in a sectarian ghetto and he opted that we would live a kind of mixing of Catholics and protests place. That was very important for me in terms of seeing the people beyond their ideologies; beyond political divides, building alliances with the people and seeing things from other points of view.
But music wise it was really pop music. That was the stuff came through the radio. I remember having to do an archaeological strip back in terms of media. Because we had no television until we were 12 years old and we had the radio and it usually played BBC and I remember my older brother John tuning the radio in Luxembourg to get some pop music, do you know what I mean?
Plus my dad was a whistler I supposed because he was a postman. He was always whistling those lovely melodies, most of them were beautiful scotch melodies and he played a bit of harmonica as well, he liked a bit of entertainment. Evenmy father and I ended up like as loggerheads, I realized that actually he was a big influence in term of music.
And my mom loved poetry. Even she was out of school because many catholic people didn’t have the opportunity to go on and have education but she loved poetry and she could recycle poetry.
My auntie who was a little crippled woman, who never grow up too more than this size, she was a fantastic story teller. So we used to go and visit here. And she was also very liberal. She told us ghost stories, fairy stories and history things. That really influenced me. That was a mishmash of influence.
But it is really about life. Written songs about when children were born, songs in sorrow and etc. With The Destroyers it is different because has to be a big sort of panorama. With the guitar it is much more gentle and intimacy. I like having those two dimensions of the thing and I still love writing songs. In a way songs get harder to be written because you don’t want to repeat yourself, you know.
Ma: Do you think your music changed too much?
Paul Murphy: No, I think my music hasn’t changed. The only thing that I think that is different, for example, have you heard Out of Babel? When I wrote it was like this…
(To listen to Paul playing Out of Babel at this interview click here)
…But the essence of the song is the same. One of the songs we do “Glass Coffin Burial of Professor Zurinack” I wrote that song when I was seventeen. I wrote that in 1967 in London. The way of doing it with the Destroyers is a bit of magic. I wasn’t in a band it was much easier for me to be a solo musician, especially with kids and stuff, because I only had one calendar and in a band it is 15 people to trying coordinating all. It was always easier not to being in a band because it got me a bit of freedom.
But I also think nice being in a band in my age because I am free to do what I want to do and being on the road again. It is lovely. People in the band are half of my age, except for our hurdy-gurdy player Mick. (Laugh) But it is wonderful. We have great musicians and that allows room for collaboration. So Leighton Hargreaves our fiddle player is also fabulous composer and he and I had worked in a lot of track together like Where has the money gone?
Gaz Jones, our clarinet player, is a fabulous composer and he has written a number of symphonies. We have in the Destroyers people who unlike me are school musicians. I am a folk musician I do at all by my ear. They are able to write music. It is a beautiful combination, has a great energy and keeps me on my toes. I have to swim regularly to keep in shape (laugh).
Ma: How did this meeting happen?
Paul Murphy: My nephew Joe who came to Birmingham as a guitar student to the conservatory so many of the destroyers went to the conservatory and they hired this house at Speedwell Road down in the city centre.
It was one of the UB 40’s houses. It is a fabulous big house and they turned the basement into a club and it is a melting pot for musician.
They called the band The Destroyers because it was the name of an old balkan tune and that time it was the kind of music they listened to, the eastern European music .
About that time I run a company which was called C21 Vox, I set it up in 1996 with my wife Honora. It was part of the Songwriter’s Café which was established that time. We also worked with the interface of arts and education across all media, so we devised and delivered projects with filmmakers, musicians, dramatis, poetries and etc working with young people often in quite challenging situations. I employed people from at the music college at the summer to work in projects.
Joe gathered few musicians together to go out with me and play in few festivals some of my old stuff. So some they are part of The Destroyers. And then one day the Destroyers said to me: “Would you fancy doing something with us?”. I said “what we are going to do?” and they said I don’t know we just made it up. So I just went and we just made it up. And it kind of worked. So they said to me: Let do it again. I did the festival with them. They loved the song Out of Babel and made some arrangements of it and just grew like that and it is just five years now since then.
We have done a lot of gigs and obviously it is hard to make it sustainable but it is a great experience being in a band and it is s great collection of musicians. Lovely, I love human beings. We have our disagreement, of course, but all it is set down. It is very exciting.
I like to keep the other side of life for myself. I like to take the guitar and go out and do stuff because it is deadly easy and it allows me to do songs that wouldn’t be suitable to The Destroyers. Plus I never have to think about the order, do you know what I mean. But with the band you have to have it all written down, have a set list and that stuff. I like those contracts.
For the first time we took August (which is summer holidays in the U.k.) off. We haven’t done any gigs since July. We usually have loads of gigs in August but one of our members is getting married so we have decided to have a break.
(But the band is already on the road again on tour in the U.K )
Ma: Can you feel the difference between playing in the small venues and big stages like in big festivals like Glastonbury?
Paul Murphy: The only advantage of being in a big stage is that we don’t fall over each other; do you know what I mean? When we were in Glastonbury, we have played four gigs there. One of the gigs on Sunday afternoon was like a warm up before our final gig at Club Dada, which was a big stage.
It seems like one of those old traditional bands, 15 of us hanging off the edge and it was fantastic. So from my point of view, it doesn’t matter. There is something great about the really tight and packed spaces. We played in spaces where I have been worried about it. We could hear the stacks to fall, you know. But I love the kind of collective catharsis that the Destroyer can engender.
Ma: I saw you in the audience at the gig of the Birmingham band Goodnight Lenin at Espirito Brum Festival. How are you involved to the new music of Birmingham?
Paul Muprhy: Yes, Songwriter’s café was that kind of philosophy and when we first started it was in city centre. I supposed it is parts of being a teacher but I love kind of encouraging talent particularly, obviously, because I am a songwriter. I had Goodnight Lenin here for Songwriter’s café with only 40 people in the audience, a little stage and fire burning. It was beautiful.
We had Simon (Fowler), from Ocean Colour Scene. He used to came and play at Songwriters. So on Sunday afternoon we had 12 artists, every Sunday afternoon with an audience up to 200 people listening to the song, loads of young song writers came through.
So, that was part of the philosophy of thing to shining a light at the new talent. You know, it is a nice big space and it was every Sunday afternoon and it is a free event. I love encourage song writers like Goodnight Lenin that are an inspiring young band.
Simon, obviously, was already kind of famous; the Ocean Colour Scene were already in the charts so it was fantastic that Simon used to come and brought really interesting other musicians. So the young musicians had the feeling of “oh, we are playing at the same stage that Simon, from Ocean Colour Scene” so everybody got fucking mad to get their songs right. Do you know what I mean? It raises the aspiration and encourages people to write.
You know, I keep in contact with some writers and musicians. They always have been my community. Do you know what I mean? Much more than few audiences or anything else my community is like musicians.
Ma: I think Birmingham is an inspiring place to make music and culture, isn’t it?
Paul Murphy: I think so and Birmingham has changed enormously over the last decades. This is the most multicultural city in the country and that has really added to the flavor of the city in a wonderful way. Initially the Irish communities that came here during the farm years and the afro Caribbean’s community came here in the fifties.
You think like The UB 40 as a world famous band and they are kids from Birmingham. Some of them, like the Campbell brothers, their dad, Ian Campbell, were a famous Scottish folk musician. They were working class kids, who brought together that kind of songs, things from their father tradition and the reggae influence. And it shaped the thing.
Ever since, the things had grown. We had some people like Luiz Gabriel Lopes came here (to the Songwriter Café) and played with Mendi Singhi, who is a tabla player, and they never met before that collaboration. That is a great enrichment of Birmingham.
Ma: So being in a Festival such as Espirito Brum was a great experience. How was it for you?
Paul Murphy: It was lovely. It was lovely to meet Gilberto Mauro and chat with him, he played some music and we are going to be in contact. It was lovely to meet Wanderson Lopez as well, lovely man and great player. It was lovely to have the opportunity to have Aline (Yasmim) and Sâmya (Lievore) here for a dinner and a nice kind of hearing about their overview of the festival and what they are doing in Europe and so forth.
So it was a lovely evening to get the essence of what was happing in Brazil, both in terms of culture and politics.
Because you know, I had been to a meeting in London about four years ago with a guy from the Brazilian Culture Ministry who was responsible for the digital culture he was called Claudio Prada. He was a long term associated to Gilberto Gil and the fact he had said he came to England with Gilberto Gil in 1971 when Claudio Prada arranged a concert to Gilberto to play at the Isle of Wright festival.
So it was very interesting having heard Claudio talking about the way how the Cultural ministry was using digital technology and the way it was organized and its priority. It was very interesting to get more inside in the discussion with Aline about it.
Tessa (Burwood) and I talked about this collaboration maybe 8 months ago so it was wonderful to see it. She represents something really important in the Birmingham music scene. When you look to Birmingham, like as you describe this city “God, look this city with so much music and stuff” and yet you think “why there weren’t more record companies, publishers, managers and etc” in Birmingham. You know, the bands have to go to London in order to get to the next level.
So, having people like Tessa, who come as a facilitator of the arts, that is what we need more in Birmingham. I keep saying it to people, we must encourage that kind of people who are not musician but they are the sympathizers, really organisers. PR’s people, graphics people. Songwriters Café try to do it, we have graphics, artists and filmmakers involved. We try to kind of do the art interacts. It is great to see that and it is what Birmingham needs.
Ma: Did you know something about Brazilian music before the festival?
Paul Murphy: Not really. The thing that I was aware about Brazilian music, like Irish music or British music was more diverse. That wasn’t one Brazilian music, there were folkers, jazzers, rockers and so forth. There was the specific ingredient of the Portuguese culture coming with the indigena’s culture that unique sort of things that would come out with that in all the art forms.
I wasn’t particularly knowlegible, but to be honest, even I have been writing music for lot of years, I never had a record player.
Most of the music I have listened to is live and always has been. I love live music. I love silence, so when I am working I don’t want music playing or TV on (Laugh). So you know what I mean? So when music really impresses me is when I am in the company or able to hear it alive. The people in The destroyers are real musicologists, they are fantastic knowlegible about music and all these influences and so forth. I am more like just kind of get through it. I love all kind of music, I love hearing it live, small venues, seeing the expression of other person playing stuff.
Ma: To finish, I would like you to talk about your gig “Folk for Free” at Birmingham Symphony Hall (The gig was on November 30th).
Paul Murphy: It is part of the series of gigs I am doing in Symphony Hall on Friday evenings. It is really nice because catches people who finishes work before they go home. Again, it’s the contrast. I do love the opportunity of just go, sit and sing the songs.
At The Destroyers I go and come off the stage, I jump around a lot and it is complete different experience. They asked me if I would like to do it. I thought I would love to do it. It is also good to be just near when my album (The Glen) is going to be finished now and to be released in the start of December.( The album was release on December 1st). It is going to be very acoustic, very much in contract with the Destroyers and it will be useful to go out and play some of the songs from it.
Ma: So the next step is now just working on your solo album, The Glen, and obviously, being with the Destroyers on tour…
Paul Murphy: Yes, I have been in the studio recently mixing the Destroyers stuff, all the vocals and everything has done, we are just tweaking it. But we decided that it just will be release it (the second album: Hole in the Universe) in the spring. So I thought it would be an opportunity for me. I started doing this album six years ago. I recorded song for song with all the musicians, I had some beautiful musicians playing on it, and for a variety of reasons maybe because where I was in relation to the material.
But I kind of decided start everything again ad also there were few more songs that I wanna to write and some other few songs that I recorded at that time that I didn’t feel that would fit on it. I am taking it back and I am doing a very simple treatment to it.
I am working in the same studio where The Destroyers recorded and with the same producer. I always fear studios, do you know what I mean, studios that I have never been. Studios always seemed to me dead places. (Laugh) I was in record studios when I was 16 in London when I first went there, with bands to record stuff so I am not a strange to this but in terms of my essential inspiration it take me years to record stuff. But the time is definitely now.
A little bit more of Paul Murphy solo project: