Feature: Paul Murphy
Interview by Tom BreslinPlaying an explosive mix of Jazz, Latin, Soul and contemporary dance music to discerning crowds across the planet, Paul Murphy has been deejaying since the late ‘70s. His musical journey has wound its way through residencies at celebrated London clubs The Wag, The Electric Ballroom (where he founded the now famous Jazz Room), The 100 Club and Hoxton Square’s Blue Note, via performances alongside the likes of Tito Puente & Celia Cruz, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Jimmy McGriff and Lonnie Smith. He was the first WIRE Magazine DJ of the year in 1985 and, rather interestingly, the DJ at the first London concert by those renowned sons of Manchester, The Smiths.
Somehow, amidst all of this, Paul also found the time to run a successful Clerkenwell record shop and manage Palladin Records (1984 - 1986), overseeing the release of the politically inspired Venceremos, by London based Jazz-Dance collective Working Week.
These days, Paul finds himself once again at the forefront of the music scene, both as the manager of Afro Art Records and as a producer/remixer in his own right. Following the huge success of his wonderful 2004 single Jazz Room, Paul ventured back into the studio and emerged with his debut album in 2006. Beautifully crafted and with a perfectly fitting title, The Trip is a reflection of the man’s many influences and experiences, both musical and otherwise, and needless to say, it was greeted with universal approval. It is a ‘must listen’, not to mention a ‘must read’, with Paul’s sleeve notes helpfully guiding us through the inspirations and processes behind every track.
Paul very kindly took the time to share some thoughts on his past and give us a little insight into what the future may yet have in store for him.
These days, many Jazz, Latin and Soul music enthusiasts would point to the likes of Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge as major influences on their early introductions to the music. When, however, such prominent figures are themselves asked to identify their own key influences and inspirations, they never hesitate, it seems, to mention your name or that of Palladin Records, the shop that you ran between 1984 and 1986. Were you conscious, at the time, of this positive effect that you were having on a generation of London’s record buyers and club-goers?
No, I wasn't at the time. It was just stuff I wanted to do to relieve the tedious monotony of life in a very dull country at one of its rather duller times. Britain, at that time, was a mind-numbingly boring place, coloured in shades of brown, green and “russet”, with Avocado bathroom suites and the like. The Mike Yarwood show was the most popular programme on the telly and Terry Wogan was the top Radio One DJ. At the cinema, it was always films like Confessions of a Dustman - “You will split your sides when you see what he's 'Bin' up to!” etc. The Tomorrow’s World show on the BBC promised us our “Own Personal Communicator”, but the first ones were the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
There was a woman in charge, true, but she was like one of those awful Deputy Headmistresses in charge of the girls’ bit of the school. Prospects weren't looking too good. So everyone young and in command of more than one brain cell was trying to do something different.
And, to put you on the spot, who or what were the key forces of inspiration behind your own love affair with Jazz (and music generally), and how did you first catch the DJ bug?
I was working at United Artists music. They threw out a load of LPs from the library. I took some home and it was stuff like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Art Pepper and the like. All LPs which had never been available in the UK. I was also really into Soul music, strictly American of course.
And, I listened religiously to Charlie Gillet’s programme on ‘wonderful’ Radio London called Honky Tonk. It was mostly Blues and R & B (not the Puff Daddy kind - that hadn't been invented yet). He used the JB's as a background and ‘Big Chief’ Professor Longhair too. I really loved that show and his taste at that time had a profound influence on me. It wasn't just Jazz Funk for the Ford Cortina crowd (‘Darren and Cath 4ever’ type of thing).
At that time, Jazz on BBC Radio was Acker Bilk. There was a lot of other very boring ‘Jazz’ type music around as well. When I worked for Music Publishers, these middle-aged ‘real ale’ types used to come into the studio there and make it; background and library stuff. Dreadful! They used to play it on the telly all day, during the time they showed what was called a ‘test card’, which had a picture of a 12 year old girl holding a teddy bear. All a bit pervy when you think about it.
Also, in my young days, we had ‘Youth’ clubs to stop us from hanging around on the streets. Not that we really wanted to hang around on the streets, because the ‘Teds’ would beat us up. After the Rockers had done their worst and the Mod remnants had put the boot in, the ‘hairies’ were a bit vicious after a couple of Light and Bitters. Every Friday they had a DJ who played the top singles, but this guy also played what was then quite unusual music; Soul 45s, instrumental Funk 45s, etc. I was always asking him “What's this? Where do I get it?” etc. He told me and off I went with the money I got from my Saturday job at Tesco. I think it would have started from there.
Following on from the first question really, what was it like to be resident DJ at the Electric Ballroom and the Wag Club - two of ‘80s London’s most famous and well-respected Jazz-Dance clubs? What particular ingredients made those parties so special, and how does deejaying in today’s clubs compare?
The Electric Ballroom nights were run by a Greek guy, named George Power, who was so tight that he wouldn't spend on Christmas. So, I didn't do it for the money. He was always holding up the night too much by having these dance contests. However, Paul Anderson (the other DJ) and I would have our little jokes at his expense (what devils we were!) by getting him to announce things like “Mike Hunt come to the dance floor! Anybody seen Mike Hunt?”. Well it was the '80s... The WAG was the trendiest club IN THE WORLD at the time, so I had to do it. It was a lot of fun too. Very interesting people there always.
You're now running Afro Art Records, the London based label founded by X-Press2's Ashley Beedle. How did you hook up with Ashley and what led to you taking the reins at the label?
Well, it had actually always been Simone Beedle, his ex wife, who ran the label. I was living in Ireland throughout the ‘90s, running a clothing business, and I went on a jaunt to Las Vegas, to a Skate-wear clothing convention. While there, I not only saw The Roots (Great!) and Method Man (Terrible!), but I went into a record shop and bought a load of singles, and when I got back to Ireland I thought “I'll make a record!”, like you do. I made the record, which was a version of one of the records I had bought (‘Cream Of Beats’), pressed up 25 copies and passed them around. No reaction. Damn! But, Ashley heard it when he was playing at a gig in Glasgow and liked it and called me the next day. “Do you want a release? On Afro Art?” Thank God! Because I'd nearly given up. I subsequently split with my partner and ended up living in the office of Afro Art (Simone Beedle took pity on me). Then I ended up running it. I was given a free reign when Ashley departed for fame with Xpress2.
Without Simone Beedle, however, the Afro Art label would never have come into being, and she has always supported me in the choice of releases and is really the brains behind the operation. Her being the Ertegun to my Wexler, if you like. There is no way the label would have survived or prospered without her.
2006 saw the release - through Afro-Art - of your full length album The Trip, which was greeted with much acclaim and was voted into the top 5 albums of the year in Gilles Peterson's BBC Radio 1 Worldwide Awards. Can you tell us a bit about that project?
Well, it’s all in the sleeve notes, but I always wanted to make a full length album. I did go to India and it did blow me away a bit; very different. Not in a hippy way, I hasten to add. Just different. It gets the brain cells moving around. It smells different even. It made me realise how lucky I am to live where I live (Western Europe - oh, happy fortunate place!). I used two word song titles, because why not? And, no ‘foreign’ words, because I think it’s a bit lazy and slack. There was a good bit of biography in that record too, encapsulating various things, people and places that meant something to me.
Sticking with last year's Worldwide Awards, didn’t you also win the John Peel 'Play More Jazz' Award?
They gave me a glass trophy with ‘John Peel’ on it. But, he is dead and that ethos is no more.
And on the theme of playing more Jazz, what musicians, bands, or albums have been catching your ear of late? What should we be listening out for - aside from the latest Afro Art releases, of course?
Gosh, a hard one. No idea! Listen to whatever you want.
Now that you’ve got that first album under your belt, what projects are you now focusing on (both as a producer yourself and for Afro Art more generally)?
I've taken a good bit of time off this year, for various reasons, but I’m glad I did now. So, I don't know. I would like to make another album, but I think more covers next time. A kind of ‘where I'm coming from’ project. I've worked on a few ideas and now just have to find the time to get down to finishing things off.
And where can we expect to hear you deejaying in the near future?
Well, I moved from London to live in the North of Italy, so I DJ quite a bit here.
I am loving trolling around the East of Europe at the moment; very funny places and experiences. The people have a very dark sense of humour too, which I love. They make a good time out of very little. Who knows what the future holds? I've done a lot of mad things in my life, and I'm hoping there's more to come.
Tom Breslin, Feb 2008
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