Tag Archives: biography

Michael Cullen Murphy – Singer Songwriter


An introduction of sorts..

So, birth is a pretty good place to start and the place where I was born, Nashville Tenn. a good place to start songwriting.

I was born to a musically inclined father who had left England in the early 60s to pursue a love of American traditional music. He settled in Nashville’s burbs and had two children with an Alabamian Southern Belle. As a family we mixed with interesting people and I can recall Bill Keith (Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys) and Jim Rooney turning up at our front door when they were on a black and white T.V. we were watching at exactly the same time. That’s when I realised something interesting was going on. It continued to… and there is standard 8 Kodachrome footage of me playing harp (at 3) with Peter Rowan a family friend to prove it. You get the picture.

Anyway, that was then and this is now.

FullSizeRender 5We moved to the UK in ’76, I was almost 10. At about 14 I bought an electric guitar, played it without an amp for a year, finally afforded the amp and then annoyed the shit out of everyone with it, (the Police even came around with complaints), and I continue to, sort of.
It worked like this, as soon as I had the guitar I had a mic, and a knackered old NAD tape deck with a mic input and I started recording my ‘song-writing’ talents. In the 36 years since I assure you, I have improved somewhat. Well a bit.

Actually, this is still then.. I’ll get to now, in a bit.

R-9211750-1476735281-3058.jpegI formed the band the Purple Frisbees in the late 80s / early 90s with brother Chris and friend Harv Malthouse and wrote the songs, stamped my foot petulantly at rehearsals and over time developed a band that unknown to me had a reputation hundreds of miles further out than we ever played. We released a tape cassette and cd of awful music, that Des Day recorded and people loved and still love to this day. Then I folded the band. Then I wrote songs and recorded instrumental music in a small home studio. Released 3 or 4 playful albums only to local support and friends, all the time working, all the time being the best songwriter in the world, but only really, truth be told, in my own head and own bedroom. Then I got married, then I didn’t do that sort of thing anymore. Then my Dad passed away and the marriage broke down. Then I had something to write about again.

Then is now Now.

So, I started again, writing because I had to, needed to, really trying to write, working on it, trying as hard as I could, or working on it as time allowed, to put something down that was a step above what I had put together before, .. you know and people had always said I was good, you know, admired the band, been complimentary, you get the picture.

IMG_4555

I like to think my music is personal and original, but I do have particular (and peculiar)  influences that affect the way I write and play and record, Nick Drake, Roy Harper, Fairport Convention, Karen Dalton, Daniel Romano, Bonnie Prince Billy, John Martyn, The Band, Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller, Sandy Denny, The Handsome Family, Gothic Americana, Folk Horror, murder ballads, early flat picking styles, Folk Psych, Rockabilly, Leadbelly, George Jones, Ron Sexsmith, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Percy Sledge, Big Joe Turner, there is a long list. It’s my opinion that if you don’t listen to lots of music, you probably aren’t going to write very well, you’ve got to love others, and their music.

But . . .  Seriously.

The moment I took it seriously was when family friend Gabe Kelly had a London dateIMG_4557 cancelled on his UK tour and came to visit my Mum, I was staying there after the messy divorce and played him rough demos of the tunes I’d been toying with, he told me to write, ‘get on with your writing’, ‘you can write’; and when a songwriter who makes his living from doing that tells you to take your work seriously, . .  you do.

Martin-Simpson-by-Elly-Lucas-sml_web-billboard-2000x1125Then . .

Martin Simpson the Folk singer songwriter and world renowned acoustic and slide guitarist came to stay overnight while on a local tour. He and his tour manager Terry almost always did when they were in the area, even after my Dad, who made Banjos for Martin, died, he has kept in touch with my Mum, which is so lovely. I was there still leeching off of my lovely Mother after parting from family ways.

I was downstairs the morning after Martin’s gig with my son, playing around on my guitar. I heard Martin stirring, footsteps on the creaking stairs, I was playing a tune I’d written, shit I thought, fucking Martin Simpson is listening to me play one of my songs. (And I didn’t know at the time he’d won loads of, including BBC R2 songwriter of the year,(twice!) awards and even teaches songwriting at residential courses). So, it’s like this. I can tell that now he’s standing right behind me, I stumble to some sort of embarrassed finish and Martin says ‘That’s a fucking hit song’ and asked for the lyrics. We talked, and he too said, ‘write!, write!, you’re good’; and when a second songwriter who makes his living from doing that tells you to take your work seriously, . .  you do. And you get writing.

Later I played my songs to one of my musical friends of long ago, Sadie Jemmett who also makes her way through life via musical steam.. and she said, ‘you were always good, I don’t say this often to many people, but your songs are really good’. That’s good enough for me. It’s all well and good your Mum and Granny telling you you’re good lookin’ (or that your songs are good) but a stranger, or a professional, well that’s Encouragement Gold my friends, ‘Encouragement Gold’.

So I write and continue to. Actually, know what, I always have, and always will, whether it’s a mic plugged into some shitty NAD tape deck or the multitrack in the box productions I’m into now, where other people are getting involved with the project.

And now recording has improved over the NAD tape deck or Tascam Portastudio.

IMG_4554So, I’ve always loved recording and production almost as much as I love the song-writing, and so a few years ago with some extra ££s I bought the iMac I’d always wanted and the ‘in the box’ software I needed, the best A to D conversion I could, some monitors, and Neumann mics (a recording can never get better than it’s microphones). I’ve been recording what is at the moment, nothing more than a vanity project, I’ve got loads of possible names for the Lp (and yes it will be issued on vinyl), you’ll have to wait and see what I call it. I get no time at all to do it, struggle against all odds to get as far as I have, and I still seem to be writing songs for it. I have to create, leave something significant behind me, share my thoughts on what it is to exist on this spinning rock with you all.

The quality of production I have created is quite amazing given that all of it is created in my little living room, and the advice of people like friend and Soundman Des Day has been invaluable over all the long years of doing this.

IMG_4556While I’m working on it I publish the demos, ideas, and songs that are works in progress in shitty MP3 format via Reverbnation, an artist platform, and the links to that stuff are below. Don’t judge the final product, these are just the sketches. Please check them and the YouTube videos out. Christ only knows when I’ll finish the project, so much to do on it, I’m 50 fucking 2 and there isn’t that much time left for this sort of thing, but you know, and I am my harshest critic, there are one or two really good songs on this thing, this Lp. This thing to come, in process, like life, is yet to come. (P.s. there more stuff below this pinned post)

I hope you are there to hear it.

And when it’s finished I hope you like it.

Murphy © 2019

 

 

Folkways Records: Moses Asch and His Encyclopedia of Sound – A review


Folkways Records: Moses Asch and Tony Olmsted’s yawningly un-brilliant book

It’s hard being honest, risky, troubling and you can’t help but be disappointed with yourself for being such a negative old bitch, but there you have it, there’s nothing quite like the ‘truth’ subjective though it will I hope be.

If you are interested in Folk music, then Folkways records is a name you will know and be interested to know more of. With its distinctive unforgiving Lps, bound beautifully, with odd yet engaging cover art, illustrating the musical brilliance of everything and everyone from Native American Indians to New York Jews and Woody Guthrie to Bahamian Gospel groups. All the brainchild of Moses Asch; a name as much part of the American Folk revival as Lomax or Dylan.

It follows that if you are interested in Folkways then you will be interested in an account of the man who created the label and the label itself. It follows that you might buy this book in that case. Unfortunately it doesn’t follow that you will get enjoyment, knowledge, or anything remotely at all worthwhile from this missed opportunity of a book.

Frankly it reads like a poorly proof read thesis by a second-rate musicology student.

Tony Olmsted with access to the Smithsonian’s archive on Asch has done little more than present the end of year accounts of Folkways, there are few stories to enjoy, little of interest to anyone but a bank manager. Someone wishing to go back in time having learnt from Asch’s business mistakes might use the information contained to start a Folk label in 40s and 50s New York; but seriously this book would be of more use to an accountant than someone interested in music.

Olmsted hasn’t got a clue how to write, how to engage or how to tell a story. I expect that 10 or so years after writing this book he’s changed professions and is now a health and safety officer with ‘special understanding of the risk of paper cuts in the workplace’ and has published an in-depth study of this risk and it’s ‘relationship to the stationary cupboard of mid-west America’.

Missed Opportunity

There are 8 typographical errors before the 40th page, and that will no doubt be as many as I find in this book, because it’s going to be where I stop reading it.

Yawn . . . .

Folkways Records: Moses Asch and His Encyclopedia of Sound

Alan Lomax Biography – Reviewed – The Man Who Recorded The World


The Man Who Recorded The World

Anyone interested in the history of American music should probably read this book.

Alan Lomax if you don’t know anything of him, was a music collector an ethnomusicologist and a lover of ‘Folk and Folksong’. His influence on American popular culture through his collecting of the ‘people’s’ music is unfathomable.

He virtually discovered Huddie Ledbetter, ‘Leadbelly’, in a Texas State Prison, he was key in the career and life of Woody Guthrie, and in so much as that is the case, Bob Dylan’s career too.

He recorded, archived, wrote about, translated, studied, transposed, annotated and spent his life creating a repository of knowledge about Folk Culture, mainly through that culture’s production of a musical history and heritage. Hence he was to be seen in the early days dragging heavy batteries and early recording equipment through the Appalachians, the Kentucky mining districts and the streets of New Orleans.

The book reveals his life’s history, through letters and first person accounts. The author John Szwed counted Alan Lomax as his friend and so we are treated to a knowing study of Lomax, not written in the first person, but edited so.

I learnt a great deal I didn’t know about the man, such as his difficult relationship with his father, the quality and depth of his education, the incredible level of collecting he did for the Library of Congress and the politically difficult negotiations and posturing required to be successful in a government department and to be able to continue the obsessive work of your life. I learnt of his doubts and worries, his whining and whingeing, his poor health and the singularity both of his character and of his purpose.

I learnt how involved he was with the early development of Radio as a creative and artistic genre in the 30s and 40s of pre, present and post war America, of his staunch defence of ‘the negro’ and of his political leanings and investigation by the USA’s federal forces. This included one scary moment when he is being frisked unknowingly by both the US and UK special forces at a concert he performed at for the English monarch!

The book can be somewhat dry at times and perhaps a little plodding, but given a basic knowledge of American Folk history you will find almost every step in the book exciting enough and certainly page turning.

His key involvement in the ‘movement’ towards an appreciation of America’s working people and their Folk music as Art of highest order makes this essential reading, and though you will wince at the innocence of early folk music posturing and middle class patronization of the working classes in America, you can forgive all that, because Alan Lomax virtually invented the terms we have now come to accept, albeit with some trepidation and turning of the collective stomach. He had to define styles, to grapple with the very nomenclature that we all require to describe something in order to begin to codify his subject of research and we therefore owe him a debt, if only for drawing the starting line in the sand, and once playing in a band with Jackson Pollock.