John Murry | Interview
John Murry plays: Sandinos, Derry – 04 May 2017 • Sunflower Bar – Saturday 06 & Sunday 07 May.
By Cara Gibney
John Murry Returns To Belfast: The New Album, the New Label, and the Old Memories.
“That Green Room show was magic to me,” Tupelo, Mississippi native John Murry was explaining over the phone. “It was my first show in Ireland and the grace, the kindness and generosity that I was shown … it was the first time I felt that amazing magical quality that exists on this island. It was embodied by those people who came to that show. And I love them for that, for what they gave me. They gave me an idea that Ireland could be my home.”
That’s how the singer songwriter remembers his 2013 gig in Belfast’s Black Box. He was touring his deeply affecting album, The Graceless Age, a collection of songs lamenting and recounting the causes and the costs of his fall into drug addiction, culminating ultimately in his revival from a near-fatal overdose. Described as a masterpiece and a work of genius, the guitar, keyboard and fuzz laden album is beautiful, resounding, and largely pitiless; both for himself and for us as listeners. However, it was written by a survivor. John Murry won that moment and he came back.
Ireland became his home in the end. He is now based in Kilkenny and in May he returns to Belfast to headline a long awaited show as part of the 2017 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. More are on the burner, it’s been too long. He will come armed with songs from his EPs Califorlornia, Perfume & Decay and John Murry is Dead, as well as A Short History of Decay, the soon to be released follow-up album to The Graceless Age.
A Short History of Decay was recorded in the Toronto studio of Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins. He invited John over to spend five days recording bedtracks and overdubs, with the remit that “spontaneity was the order of the week.” There were five of them in the band in total, including Cait O’Riordan (The Pogues and Elvis Costello), whom john had met in Ireland.
“I had tried to make a record three or four different ways. Five different ways actually” John was explaining as we talked about his time in Toronto. “But I didn’t have Mike Timmins there, and what he did for me is just incredible.”
John is sitting on a large collection of songs that hark back years. “The time it took between The Graceless Age, and now, has left me with this ridiculous back catalogue of songs. I’ve been writing since then and wanting to do another record.” Needless to say, not all songs were used on the album, but those that were selected needed careful consideration. “Mike said ‘you need to think about the order of the songs that are left, and you know when we started talking about the order it was then I really started to see it coming together over the course of the week.”
With Timmins’ guiding hand the work was completed. “It is the first one that I can say I feel happy with because I feel removed enough from it to see it as something that I can be proud of in a way.” However there is another side to the album that cannot be overlooked: Why those songs were written. “It is probably about the dissolution of a marriage, I think that’s the horror of it. It is an angry record in some ways. It’s probably a more appropriate way of dealing with anger than other ways I guess. But it’s probably not even that angry, it’s resigned, it’s a lot of things.”
A friendship has developed between Michael Timmins and John Murry over time. Timmins has been able to help Murry publicly acknowledge his autism by suggesting that it was written into the biography on his website. “He said it would free me,” Murry told me, “[he said] that I would not be confined by my fear of the way that I may be judged.” It was sound advice, and a short stark recognition of the impact of John’s undiagnosed autism can now be read in his biography.
However, there was another quiet inspiration for Murry to stand tall – our own Bap Kennedy, who spoke for the first time about living with Asperger Syndrome shortly before he sadly died last year. “I love that Bap could live in Belfast and in a way be like I am,” said John as we discussed the impact of Kennedy’s blog post entitled The engine of my creativity (Asperger Syndrome), which he posted on 09 October 2016. “He was so loved, such an integral part of the community.” The post was like an arm round Murry’s shoulders. A hand up when he needed it. He hasn’t looked back.
John Murry plays the Sunflower Bar on Saturday 06 and Sunday 07 May, and Sandinos, Derry on 04 May. Tickets www.cqaf.com