In April this year Julie Murphy launched her new solo album, “A quiet house”, her first since “Lilac tree” ten years ago. The album is stunningly beautiful; it embodies a very independent spirit that is easy to lose yourself in. The album was recorded in Julie’s front room from where the album launch party also took place which we featured via a live link up.
We caught up with Julie to talk in more depth about “A Quiet House”. We also have an exclusive live video performance which was recorded on her launch night.
Although the release of ‘A Quiet House’ doesn’t represent the end of a ten year musical hiatus, what triggered the decision to release a solo album at this stage in your career?
To be honest I’ve never really thought in terms of career, I think that probably stems from having had an art school education. To me it’s more of an artistic journey in which everything you do and experience is relevant and affects the work you make. Quiet times are as important as frenetic ones in the overall scheme of things and the work comes when it’s ready to come. I released these songs now because I had something to say and had been moved to write them. And in that spirit it’s important to say that my work with Fernhill runs parallel to my solo efforts, they continually feed and flow in and out of each other.
The focus of home seems to be an important element in this release; it was recorded at home, launched from your home as well as being self-released.
Well the home has been a focus for a long time, finishing the job of bringing up the children. They need you to be around through their teens as much as when they’re little, even if it’s just to have someone to kick against. It felt like a privilege to have that time with them as they were becoming adults I must say. It took a lot of focus and when they had both gone the house was very quiet, weirdly so at first. And then I began to enjoy the quietness, the time to get lost in music and books again, and I started to play the piano for the first time. Early mornings, up with the birds sometimes, exploring the instrument in a playful way, like a child. Always with the loud pedal down so all the notes were ringing against each other and making a soundworld not unlike a harp or dulcimer, bell like.
When the time came to record I wanted to play my piano, with its slightly eccentric, very atmospheric sound and stuck keys. It felt comfortable and familiar, so following on from that the decision to do the launch from the same room seemed a totally natural one, an honest anti show business statement.
Was it a liberating experience to have released this in such an independent way?
It’s always liberating to make something yourself from start to finish and take responsibilty for it.
I’ve only ever recorded for two small independent labels in the past, both of whom I have a lot of respect for, Fflach Tradd and Beautiful Jo. They both allowed for artistic freedom and both labels grew out of out of a love of music. But the economic landscape has changed, labels are struggling and it was time to move on. So fernhill’s last album ‘Canu Rhydd‘ was self-funded and released through Bandcamp only. I’ve taken the same route with this solo album and it’s enabling me to sell my own work directly to people without having to give a large slice to amazon or itunes. A cottage industry in fact, very satisfying.
I found the whole live album launch a very moving experience, what was the experience like for you?
I think it was a very emotional experience for everyone involved and I’m glad that you felt that too because it means other people watching the live stream would have picked up on it. I wanted friends around me in the room, they had all contributed in some way to the album and it was a way of saying thank you. It was very much a team effort, from Jacob Whittaker filming, Jens Schroeder recording the sound as he had so beautifully on the album to my partner Ceri Matthews helping with everything else and carrying on filming on his iphone when the main computer went down. And of course all the people watching and sending messages, both during and after. All the technical glitches were part of it being an experiment and a real event happening in real time, it certainly wasn’t without humour! I’m glad we had a film camera rolling too so we have a record of the whole thing. I have to tell you I collapsed in an exhausted heap afterwards.
The album has a lovely aura of tranquillity, what would you like this album to convey to a listener when they hear it for the first time?
It is a calm and reflective album I think, made by someone who was feeling that way at the time. Having said that there are some angry moments on there. I hope it’s uplifting to a listener, in the way that poignant things can be sometimes. Cathartic maybe, it has certainly come from the heart so I hope it’s an emotional experience for someone listening.
I’d like to think that it would be listened to in one go, at least once, because it was put together in that way, one thing flowing into another. But ultimately people will bring their own story to it and that’s how it should be.
I should mention Ceri Owen Jones at this point, whose beautiful trombone and harp playing contributed so much to the sound and feel of the album. His musical background is improvisation, ska, jazz, funk (an excellent mix) and his new love is folk music. He had recently moved from Canada, where he grew up, to West Wales where his father grew up and was spending a lot of time at our house just playing music and socialising. It was a very natural thing, not like rehearsing, just experimenting and trying things out. That ease of communication is there on the recording.
A Quiet House: Track by Track
Piano abstract came out in one go one morning, I just sat down at the piano and played it basically. The day before I’d done a radio interview which had left me feeling a bit uneasy, let’s just say I’d had to work quite hard to protect the muse so that little piece of music is me sort of exorcising something and re focusing.
I had been listening to a lot of Steve Reich’s music at that point, so perhaps there’s a little of that in there.
The fountain is based on something I saw once in a square in Padova, Northern Italy, called Prato della Valle. It sparked a reverie on lovers through time, Chagall’s paintings of flying lovers holding flowers, lovers before dawn in folk song and so on. The skeleton of the song I wrote on guitar a few years ago but I was never really happy with it. Then I revisited it on the piano having listened a lot to Joanna Newsom’s harp playing. I love her work, listening to her gave me a lot of confidence to make longer pieces, just letting things be as long as they need to be. I wanted to include a poem by the 14th century poet Petrarca ( probably the same poet in Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled up in blue’ ) because he invented the sonnet, so they say, and lived very close to Padova at the end of his life.
You are flown from me is an attempt to express some of the conflicting emotions I felt when our youngest son left home. At first there was definately a sort of grief, you spend the whole of their growing up years protecting them but in the end you have to let them go. And they have to make their own mistakes, it’s hard but actually liberating for both in the end. So grief changes to joy in seeing them all grown up and flowering and it has triggered a new creative focus for me which is continuing. The line ‘ You are flown from me’ is based on the first line of a poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt called ‘They flee from me ‘, I just liked the rhythm of it. It’s a complex love poem that was perhaps written for Ann Boleyn.
The sugarspell is the closest thing to a political song on there. Written as allegory, it owes a little to Damon Albarn’s song ‘Kingdom of doom’ and a lot to Robert Wyatt, one of my all time musical heroes. I suppose it also echoes the sentiment of ‘Comfortably numb’ by Pink Floyd, that we have been become trapped by materialism and a sedated population is a disempowered one. Musically I thought I was writing a blues song, but I don’t think that’s how it came out.
Kathleen was written by the great american songwriter Townes Van Zandt, I heard this song through a posting on facebook. Sometimes you hear a song and immediately you know you have to sing it. This was one of those moments.
Convoy grew out of a riff that Ceri Owen Jones played on the harp one day, he’d been out for a walk in the countryside above the house and simply came back in, sat down and played it. I started improvising a melody over it and then the words to a Charles Causley poem which had been in my head were suddenly in my mouth. I discovered Causley’s poetry through my friend the folk singer Jim Causley, who is distantly related to him. Also around the same time I found out that my dad had kept a diary in 1945 as a 20 year old onboard convoys in the merchant navy.
Charles Causley was also on atlantic convoys during the war and the poem is an elegy to a dead sailor, someone he knew from his hometown of Launceston in Cornwall. I think the heightened poetic language and the everyday language of the diary sit well together.
Essex song is where it all started really, the first thing I started to play around with on the piano. Musically it’s starting point is the english folk song Bushes and briars, a melody that had been obsessing me and the one that was an epiphany for the composer Vaughan Williams. When I read that he first heard it sung in Essex I did actually burst into tears because I realised that the county I grew up in had this other story, completely hidden under the concrete and hidden from me all through my youth. But then there’s something universal about that, it’s not that you should pickle things in aspic, far from it, it’s just that as human beings we need those little pointers and small signs of what went before so we don’t get disorientated. Looking at old maps of where I grew up before the massive building programmes that took place between the wars and post war was a poignant moment for me. But then again we did have front gardens and back gardens and funny little back lanes between gardens you could get lost in, children will always find those places and they become magical.
Piano lyrical is influenced by Debussey and Satie. The enjoyment of letting notes ring, the space around notes, cadences. If it was in a sketch book it would be a little line drawing.
JULIE MURPHY with CERI OWEN JONES except *
30.06.12 : BEYOND THE BORDER FESTIVAL * with fernhill
01.07.12 : BEYOND THE BORDER FESTIVAL
07.07.12 : CARMARTHEN : PARROT MUSIC BAR
13.09.12 : HEREFORD : COURTYARD THEATRE
17.09.12 : ST IVES FESTIVAL CORNWALL
19.09.12 : HALSWAY MANOR SOMERSET
21.09.12 : PONTARDAWE : VALLEY FOLK CLUB * with fernhill
23.09.12 : CARDIGAN : SMALLWORLD THEATRE * with fernhill
06.10.12 : WHITBY MUSICPORT FESTIVAL
20.10.12 : BASINGSTOKE : THE FORGE@THE ANVIL
03.11.12 : SWANSEA : DO NOT GO GENTLE FESTIVAL