The backstory to John Murry’s life is one that has been told many, many times before. It features all those core elements of rejection, anger, loss, and betrayal; self-destruction, recovery, relapse, displacement and redemption. Were the narrative to be turned into a screenplay and then become a movie it would be set in Mississippi (the early years), California (the middle period) and Kilkenny in Ireland (the present day).
Had the film been released in the ‘50s, the leading man would surely have been either Robert Mitchum or Frank Sinatra who could reprise parts of their respective roles in Night Of The Hunter and The Man With The Golden Arm. It would be a dramatic existential noir thriller. It would be gripping, complex, and a cautionary tale for our times.
Now Nick Cave could be a more contemporary reference point. There is much of the Bad Seeds’ frontman in John Murry’s wonderfully mannered baritone, his angular poise, unbridled intensity and the sheer fire and brimstone of his demonic delivery. And with Cave-like sleight of hand, Murry immediately wrong foots us all by opening up with ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ before letting the Tamla Motown classic slowly bleed into ‘One Day (You’ll Die)’. Taken from A Short History of Decay, his second album proper and released just a couple of months back, the song‘s very title tells us much about Murry’s fear of mortality.
Yet to view John Murry purely within the context of death and disintegration would be a mistake. He does not buy into those hackneyed rock’n’roll myths and nor is his music just about human misery. Backed by the impeccable Dark Matter – Pat Kenneally, Tali Trow, Dave Hart, and Stephen Barlow, four polymaths who seamlessly rotate guitars, drums, and keyboards throughout the evening and who undoubtedly ‘get’ Murry – his songs also speak positively of love and forgiveness.
Spending almost two hours in John Murry’s musical company is a brutally intense, occasionally uncomfortable experience. At times it dares you to look away. ‘Wrong Man’ bristles with the dichotomy of self-doubt and defiance; his interpretation of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Intruder’ relocates the undetected thrill of the original incursion into something that is altogether more sinister. You do get the sense that Murry really does know something about opening windows and doors. ‘California’ stings with Murry’s clear disdain for the land of his birth, while ‘Oscar Wilde’ – wherein he is accompanied solely by piano – is quite undeniably moving and almost far too much to bear.
John Murry ends with ‘Little Colored Balloons’. A tortured, harrowing account of when he very nearly died in San Francisco from an overdose of heroin, the song stretches to over 10 minutes during which time Murry convulses, sweats and eventually emerges out of the other side of what was once no tomorrow. That he then has sufficient energy and passion to return for an absolutely cracking rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Cortez The Killer’ is testament to the man’s incredible personal resolve. It is a really quite extraordinary performance and one that will linger long in the memory for those of us who were fortunate enough to be there.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE
John Murry’s new single ‘Come Five and Twenty’ – taken from A Short History of Decay – is released on 22nd September 2017