First Published October 2019
MORE HIS OWN MAN THAN ANYONE’S KING
George Murphy is a man who has already been famous in so many ways. But more than anything, he’s always been his own man. And that’s why he’s now more his own man once again, than anyone’s king.
As George, now an ex-High King, prepares to bring his new project, The Rising Sons, to the Tullamore Court Hotel in December, I had the pleasure of spending some time in his company recently for a bit of a chat. Joining George and The Rising Sons on December 28th will be The Wrafter Family Band, and it was with a memory of the Wrafters that our conversation began…
“Amazing family, so much talent there in those young children. I remember them opening for us a few times in Tullamore when I was with The High Kings, and they were just so impressive. The children, obviously, being so young, but also the way the whole family, all five of them, connect so well together on-stage. I’m delighted to have them coming back to open for us when the Rising Sons come down to Tullamore.”
Moving onto The Rising Sons themselves, George told me how the band came to be…
“Well basically, while I was playing with The High Kings I was kind of missing the music in a sense. It was the same show every night, and it was the same four or five songs that I was singing. It became very momentous and very repetitive. I was missing just havin’ a jam and playin’ with players who wanted to just play off the cuff, play raw, and play whatever kind of curve-ball is thrown their way, ya know. So I put the word out to start a session in my local bar and just said any musicians around the area who want to come and join, are more than welcome to. So soon we had loads on vocals, and a whistle player, and a banjo player, and a mandolin player, and a bodhran player. Then after that, a guy came down with an electric guitar and a bass guitar. And I was kinda thinkin’, jeez, I don’t know if I want electric and bass. That’s kinda takin’ it in a new direction! [laughs]. But I said, look, let’s see how they play and if they’re any good. And it just so happened that they were! So there ended up being about fifteen of us. But I mean, look, I’m not going to be taking fifteen people out on the road! [laughs]. It’s just that about fifteen people make up the session. So I’ve kind of hand-picked the musicians out of the group; so the fiddle player, the whistle player, the banjo player, the mandolin player, the bodhran player, the electric and bass guitarists, and they’re ALL comin’ out on the road with me. So it’s still gonna be a big, kind of eight-piece band.”
George continued, “Now I don’t know, some of the venues down the country mightn’t warrant having all eight of us, we might even have to tighten that down again. But in an ideal world, I’m lookin’ to hit people with a wall of sound, and all of these people who helped me create this band. We were just calling ourselves the Thursday Night Sessions, but one of the songs we were asked to play was House of The Rising Sun. And we were in the middle of playing that when one of the lads turned around and said to me that would be a good name for the group, just change sun to sons. It was a great idea and a great concept, and the rest is kinda history now. The lads have been getting great attention from it already. One of the lads that’s involved in the session wrote a song called The Drive For Five, for the Dubs goin’ for five-in-a-row. And RTE came out and filmed us doin’ it and everything, we got loads of exposure online, too. And that didn’t even really have anything to do with me. I was involved, I was playin’ in the background, but that was all. It was just that the session itself started growin’ legs, and people were askin’ who are the Rising Sons? Where did they come from? How did it all start? So I’ve just been using some of the attention and the profile we’ve been gettin’ from it to bring it on from strength to strength, ya know.”
Just briefly touching on George’s time with The High Kings, even though he was missing the music as he said, and it was the same set and same songs he was singing every night, was it still an experience that he can look back on and say he enjoyed?
“Ah yeah, I did enjoy it. I mean, for me, it wasn’t ticking a lot of boxes that I would consider myself to be musically. It was too polished, too prim and proper. And look, maybe that is necessary when you’re taking things to a bigger stage, that everything is perfected. But I just prefer the idea of things being raw. I like that I could be at a show and somebody will shout up a song, and regardless of whether it’s on the set-list or not, if I know it, I’ll play it! I like being spontaneous on stage. I like playing with musicians who are spontaneous. And the show [with The High Kings] just wasn’t that. In fact, that’s the best way to describe it. It wasn’t a gig, it was a show. With it being so polished, and prim and proper and all the rest of it, it just wasn’t what I wanted. I mean, the experience of travelling around and seeing big audiences and everything, that’s always something that I will hold in high regard and look back on fondly. But I’m in a happier place now, musically, playing with the Rising Sons than I ever was with The High Kings.”
George began his career as a solo-artist, then became part of a band with The High Kings, and now is back to being a solo-artist again…although also kind of still being in a band with the Rising Sons! Does he feel a little bit like things have come full circle, or more so that he’s now entering a brand new phase in his career?
“It’s kind of…well it’s a little bit of both. It does feel like it’s come full-circle, because I am going back out on my own. But I also feel like, with these new lads, well look, I wouldn’t be takin’ them out with me if I didn’t think they were good enough. They’re more than good enough. People have told me – management, friends, family, the rest of it – to just go and hire session musicians, ones that play professionally for a living. And it would be very easy for me to do that. But that’s not what I want to do. Because the lads who helped put this together are school-teachers, electricians, carpenters, some of them are even retired. The bass player is older than my father! So it’s not your typical line-up of people. They’re not professional musicians. But in my opinion, they’re good enough to be professional musicians, they just never went down that route. They stuck to their day-jobs. I want to shine a light on these people and let people see that just because you don’t take music up as a full-time musician, doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough to be standing on some of the best stages around the country.”
Now George isn’t just back in the spotlight for music lately. He’s also been threading the boards as well, with a part in Dermot Bolger’s Last Orders. In fact, on the day we spoke, George was about to head back on-stage for a matinee performance as soon as we finished our chat…
“Well acting, believe it or not, has always been something that I wanted to do, in some ways even before singing. When I finished school, I was only seventeen. I was in college studying theatre, and from there I was hoping a career in acting might take off for me. But then all of a sudden the audition for You’re A Star came around and I ended up getting offered a record deal. And I never really went back to the acting. But it was always something that…it was an itch that went unscratched, if you will. So from time to time I would audition for certain plays and certain movies and things like that, and a couple of times I was offered roles. But I had to turn them down because it clashed with a music tour or a gig that I was doin’. So thankfully, having finished with The High Kings, my schedule was empty, I didn’t have anything booked in, I didn’t have anything ready to go. This play was on the horizon so I auditioned for it and I got the part. And in a lovely way, it’s acting as a nice platform to promote my music. Because I’d be pulling in a different kind of audience from the Abbey stage that will get to see me sing a few songs and do a bit of acting. So when this finishes I’m straight into the thick of it with the music tour. The timing all worked out well this time. If it was a thing that I had gigs while this was on, I would have had to turn it down. But thankfully I didn’t, and it was a nice situation that allowed me to take the part.”
I wondered if he gets the same buzz from acting as he does from music?
“It’s different. I mean, I don’t have a very big part in this play. I’m the barman, and most of the acting is going on in front of me. But the action is happening in the bar, so I’m in the background pulling pints. But every now and then they turn around and say something to me, and I say something back or whatever. A lot of it is acting in the background, but it’s made me hungry for more. It’s made me want to be more in the thick of it, to be more in the conversations. But because it’s a musical as well, they turn around and they ask me to sing a couple of songs. And there’s a full ‘live’ band on-stage, and I get to get up and sing with them. So it’s a little bit the best of both worlds. But it’s different in terms of when you’re acting you’re showcasing a different side of your skill-set.”
George released a new single back in September, Universal Soldier. I asked him to tell us a little bit about the song…
“Myself and my manager, Pat Egan, we sat down and we said look, if we’re going to have a tour coming up, we should hang it on the back of a song. We should put something new out. So I toyed with the idea of releasing one of my own songs. And some of them were good, and Pat was thinking yeah, maybe we’d go with one of them. But then we got onto the subject of war, and how some great war songs were written back in the sixties that are still every bit as relevant today. And a whole new generation of people that wouldn’t have heard these songs yet, should maybe have an opportunity to hear them. Especially with what’s going on with Trump, and Brexit, and in Syria, I just think that politics and war is something that’s very much on the tip of everybody’s tongue at the moment. So I wanted to bring out a song that would display that. And I think ‘Universal Soldier’, even though it’s fifty years old, is as relevant today as the day it was written.”