From The Archives: Roisin Murphy Cover Story

With today being her birthday - and ahead of the Wicklow artist's return to Ireland for All Together Now festival next month - here's an earlier cover story interview we did with Roisin Murphy from July 2016, where she talks Sonic Youth, post-Brexit shock, and her fourth album Take Her Up To Monto.

Róisín Murphy packs a serious punch on her new album, which confirms her as the undisputed Queen of Electropop. Maggie T, Brexit, posh frocks, Damascus moments, archenemies and red light districts all feature in her natter with Stuart Clark.

When Róisín Murphy finally gets to make her GRAMMY acceptance speech – it’ll happen! – she’ll have to thank “Mum, Dad, God, Ireland, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo.”

But for catching Sonic Youth in the University of Manchester Students Union on their 1989 Daydream Nation Tour, there’s every chance that Murphy would have settled for 9 to 5 orthodoxy after leaving sixth-form college.

“Seriously, everything stems from me aged 14 buying a Sonic Youth ticket off a tout outside for £10, which was a fortune back then!” recalls the affable 42-year-old in her Arklow meets Coronation Street accent. “I sat on the stage watching in awe as members of Mudhoney, who were supporting, kept throwing Kim Gordon into the crowd. Every time it happened, she clambered her way back looking effortlessly cool in her KISS t-shirt and glam rock platform shoes. I just wanted to be her!”

The following morning she went into the Stockport branch of Record Exchange and swapped all of her U2 records for the Sonic Youth back catalogue.

“I wasn’t one of those girls at school who sat around talking nonsense about each other. Music stopped me having to deal with all that, it was my saviour. It wasn’t a particularly easy time for me. I’m dyslexic and was academically rubbish at school. You could not read my writing if you tried. I was too verbally on the ball to be considered thick, but a lot of people thought I was naughty and I probably became even naughtier because of that. Y’know, give a kid a label… I always got As for drawing and what not in art and was good at saying poems, which didn’t go down well with this other girl in the class who was perfect at everything. We used to read our poems at this festival in Arklow where I’d win the prize one year and she’d get it the next. She was my first archenemy! Being cheeky, I asked this really lovely, creative teacher we had, Mr. Heisey, ‘What have you put on my report card?’ In front of the whole class, he says, ‘Well, Róisín Murphy, I didn’t give you very good marks for Art and Music but she…’ and he pointed at my rival… ‘did brilliantly.’ I was like, ‘Whaaaaat?!?’ and he goes, ‘Only joking!’ That’s my most vivid memory of school, thinking I’d been bettered in the only two subjects I was good at.”

Murphy is back in London and mud-free again after playing a blinder at Glastonbury.

“It was a bit weird this year because you had 180,000 people all in a state of post-Brexit shock. I haven’t really got my head round it yet. Everybody’s shit scared. There’s so much fear around at the moment; it’s unbelievable. It feels like Britain’s sliding back whereas with the Same Sex Marriage referendum being passed, Ireland’s moving forward. Irish people have changed things significantly when they’ve needed to be changed, which we should all be very proud of.

“Anyway, I did the sensible thing and took myself off to Glastonbury’s Block9 recreation of a New York Meatpacking District warehouse with a sauna, gay butchers and fake sides of beef. It was insane in there; I did a couple of songs for them and it was so much fun!”

I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to anyone that Róisín Murphy likes her decadent nightspots.

“I remember watching the sun come up in this rooftop club in Istanbul,” she beams. “We were on one side of the Bosphorus, which is in Europe and on the other side connected by a bridge it’s Asia. It’s five in the morning, they’re playing all these big techno tunes and suddenly over the top of them you have the call to prayer from all the mosques.”

And, boy, do those Turkish imams give it socks when they’re rallying the just woken up faithful!

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite so exotic,” she nods. “That sense of cultures meeting is really exhilarating.”

Pretty damn exhilarating too is Murphy’s genre-bending new album, Take Her Up To Monto, which derives its name from the folk standard popularised by Luke Kelly that her Dad sung to her as a kid.

For those of you who were off school the day they did notorious Dublin red light districts in History, we should explain that Monto was the nickname of the area bounded by Talbot Street, Amiens Street, Gardiner Street and Séan McDermott Street where from the 1860s up to the 1920s as many as 1,600 prostitutes at a time plied their trade. Local lore has it that it’s where the future King Edward VII first got his royal rocks off.

“Jayz, I wouldn’t trust anything you hear in Ireland, love!” she deadpans. “Forget saints and scholars, we’re all fucking liars and exaggerators. I’ve slapped ‘Take Her Up To Monto’ right across that sleeve to say in an irreverent kind of way, ‘Here I am, this is me. I’m an Irish woman. Take Murphy up to Monto or don’t take her up to Monto.’”

Moving home, school and city when your 12 isn’t easy. Did Róisín find settling in Manchester difficult? “It’s a very Irish city, so not really,” she reflects. “The reason why we went is that we already had family connections there. My father’s mother is from Manchester although I’m not really supposed to tell people we’re part English! Lots of our family had relocated there before we arrived. I’d spent whole summers in Manchester so it was really a home away from home. Musically, of course, it was an amazing time to be there with all the Factory stuff going on and Britpop brewing. I stuck my biggest high-heels on and sneaked my way into the Hacienda, which actually wasn’t my favourite club because the sound was so bad. From Manchester where it was: ‘We all love music!’ I went to Sheffield where it was: ‘We all love music and we’re in a band!’ Everybody I met was in a group or working for a label or a venue, which was my cue for going, ‘I can do this too!’”

From the cover artwork right through to the remarkable video for lead single ‘Ten Miles High’ – more of which anon! – everything on the album is 100% down to Murphy’s creative vision. Has she had to fight hard to gain that sort of artistic control?

“There’s a kind of sexist attitude, which assumes that because I’m a girl there must have been intense arguments and battles of will, but that’s never been the case,” she insists. “Going all the way back to Echo, every record company I’ve signed to has known what they’re getting and been supportive. I’ve had to beg record companies to put out songs that subsequently became massive hits – which they always thanked me for! – but otherwise I’ve been allowed to be this creative person without boundaries. It’s fulfilling to make performances, to make images, to make videos.”

Which brings us neatly back to the short film accompaniment to ‘Ten Miles High’. How did the good denizens of London react to Róisín running round their city in typically flamboyant attire?

“I got on the bus dancing and singing at the top of me voice – I had buds in my ears so the other passengers couldn’t hear the music – and everybody looked out the window, which is so the London way! Of course they’re aware that some mad girl in a hi-vis jacket is jigging about in front of them but they couldn’t possibly show it. I even sat down beside a girl who completely ignored me, got her phone and started texting. It was probably along the lines of, ‘Help, there’s a nutter on the bus!’”

As somebody who’s never knowingly seen in the same outfit twice, how does Murphy coordinate her wardrobe?

“I do all my own styling, so every time I leave this house it’s with eight suitcases and a flight-case full of shoes and masks,” she smiles. “I’ve really dug myself into a hole, haven’t? All my royalties go on excess baggage.”

Róisín donned a KLF t-shirt for her main Glasto appearance, which in case you missed it is available on the BBC iPlayer.

“Yeah, I was doing my Thatcher’s-Britain-Is-So-Hot-Right-Now look. Even when it’s very real, it’s very thought about. I wore a t-shirt, dungarees, donkey jacket, white gloves, protective glasses and a beanie hat at Glastonbury because it seemed to capture the Brexit mood, albeit in somewhat ironic fashion!”

The threads were eminently more designer last month when Róisín helped entertain Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kate Moss, Kylie, Erin O’Connor, David Furnish, Joan Collins and the rest of the A-List attendees at the Victoria & Albert Museum Summer Party.

“It was our sole warm-up for Glastonbury, so ‘thank you’ to the people in frocks who sung and danced along and made us feel a bit more confident about playing the biggest music festival in the world!”

Now over 20 years into her music-making career, what have been her “pinch me, am I dreaming moments?”

“Singing ‘Just Like Honey’ with The Jesus & Mary Chain in Australia,” Murphy shoots straight back. “It was a full cycle thing because the boys I hung around with when I was 16 all wanted to be one of the Reid brothers. To be there in a leather cat-suit singing away was the most perfect thing. Being asked to go and sing ‘Forever More’ in New York in Danny Krivit’s club, the 718 Sessions, was pretty special because it became an anthem for a scene that had inspired me to write it. It was the ultimate wish fulfillment. As has been pretty much everything I’ve done in music. Coming to Marlay Park and playing to a home crowd is going to be another special occasion for me. I’ve chosen the Rolls Royce of professions and I’m loving it.”

Róisín Murphy takes to the Longitude stage on Sunday.

 

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