Paul Fitzgerald enchants us with a brief history of American singer-songwriter John Murry ahead of intimate show at the Naked Lunch Cafe.
John Murry knows the knocks and how they hurt only too well.
He’s aware of the darkness of addiction and how it can burn deep into the soul. His has been a rough road travelled. There’s been pain and beauty, love and longing, hope and uncertainty. And loss. Over the years, and down that road, John Murry has lost a lot.
There’s a certain honesty that addiction brings. It is clear and absolute and undeniable to them or anyone else. Outsiders will point out the error of the addict’s ways, explaining where they’re going wrong, the damage done and the hurt caused. What they sometimes find difficult to understand is that the addiction is a place of comfort to that person. It is a refuge, an unsafe safe place. A place where pain meets pleasure, and nobody wins. A place so easy to find, yet so painfully difficult to leave.
John Murry was adopted at birth into the family of American author William Faulkner, and what followed could have come straight from Faulkner’s Southern Gothic pen. Raised, like Presley, in Tupelo, Mississippi, it was something of a troubled childhood.
His undiagnosed autism led him into the usual wayward youth problems, and eventually, inevitably, to prescribed medicine. The wheel began to turn, and the struggle to understand who he was became a theme which would have the perverse effect of leading him away from himself.
From prescription drugs, the road led him to unprescribed, recreational medicine and ultimately, to addiction. Still only young, he was soon institutionalised for treatment for mental health issues, before being cast out onto the cold and unwelcoming streets of Memphis. It was at this point that Murry discovered the one true and constant positive force in his life.
Music became the story, the reason and the only plan he could see. The only way forward. It was music which took him from Memphis to San Francisco. California, however, the land of opportunity for many a musician, was also the land of plenty for anyone with a need for heroin.
The wheel kept turning and the descent continued. The harrowing yet achingly beautiful piano led song Little Colored Ballons, from his 2013 album, The Graceless Age, tells the story of his near fatal overdose on a San Francisco street corner, 16th and Mission.
Once more, music provided the escape, the relief from himself which he sought so much, and a chance meeting with Tim Mooney of American Music Club, as well as the group of musicians who would go on to help him create The Graceless Age. The album was critically acclaimed, with 5 star reviews, and mentions in Album Of The Year lists.
American Songwriter put the album in their top 5 of the year 2013. World tours followed, where audiences were entranced and beguiled by these depictions of a dark life, and his raw, unfiltered performances. For a brief period, music had won, Murry’s demons were silenced, and hope shone its light down, enabling him to gain a footing on his life. A new start, and a way out.
Such is the fragility of these moments, more loss was to come. The sudden and unexpected death of Tim Mooney took away Murry’s footing. His mentor, the man who helped save him, was gone, and with him, the steady base he’d fought so hard to build. Chaos revisited John Murry’s life and over the coming years, it brought yet more pain, yet more struggle. His wife, his daughter, for a short while, his freedom, and eventually his country all became things of his past, no longer part of his present.
Further down the road, and another turn of the wheel. He became close friends with The Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins. Timmins had faith in Murry, and held belief in the raw, visceral intensity of his songs. The painful honesty of addiction. Murry moved to Kilkenny, Ireland where he still lives, and centred himself in the warm welcome of the town’s arts community. Finally finding a place, a base, and that footing again, he began assembling a band to record the songs for A Short History Of Decay, featuring Timmins’ brother Peter (Cowboy Junkies), Cait O’Riordan (The Pogues, Elvis Costello), and Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers/Lee Harvey Oswald).
This five piece decamped to a Toronto studio with only one wish – that spontaneity would be the order of the week, and that the songs themselves would lead them on the journey. John Murry’s road would once again belong to the music.
Michael Timmins explained “I felt that it was important that John got out of his own way and that we set up a situation where he would just play and sing and the rest of us would just react, no second guessing, just react and capture the moment. It was a very inspired and inspiring week of playing and recording. Very intense. And I think we captured the raw essence of John’s writing and playing”
A Short History Of Decay is exactly what they set out to achieve. The honesty and raw emotion of the addict laid bare, his tragic fall from grace, his flaws, and the circumstances which bring him to each new day, keen to move on, to move forward and rebuild. These tales told, in the hope of exorcising those demons. This is John Murry’s attempt to fix himself, and to escape himself. It is an album of real depth, and absolute beauty. It is him attempting to know where he’s going, by understanding where he’s been.
The road brings him to Liverpool on Sunday 17th September, for an intimate performance at the perfect setting of Smithdown Road’s Naked Lunch Cafe. Support on the evening comes from Nadine Khouri and Nick Ellis.