Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hell or High Water – the determination of Andrew Murray

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2005

‘If it's for you it won’t pass you’ says singer Andrew Murray philosophically, about his musical talent and the opportunities that lie ahead for him following the release of his first album. Having recorded previously with the well known traditional band DeDannan, singer Mary Staunton and box player Dave Munnelly, Andrew has at last succumbed to the wishes of friends and admirers and recorded a solo album of his own. ‘Hell or High Water’ might sound a bit like it was a desperate struggle, but the reference is really to the sea which on many occasions gave Andrew and his fellow islanders a rough crossing to their beloved island of Inishbofin. “That and the fact that I was determined when I put my mind down to it to get it done and to do it the way I wanted to and not have anyone tell me what I should be doing” says Andrew. “So, when the title came to mind I stuck with it.”

Growing up in the tight knit island community surrounded by the sea and so much music naturally had its influence. “Inishbofin is a very special place without a doubt” says Andrew. “There’s a large percentage of native Inishbofin people who sing and play music, and for a place with a couple of hundred people, that’s quite phenomenal. The island is renowned amongst the musical fraternity as a place where egos don’t live long. You just go and play and do your thing but don’t expect anyone to be bowing down shining your shoes for you because it won’t happen!”

For Andrew, whose home now is in Co. Wicklow, it was the most natural thing in the world to start playing music growing up on Inishbofin. “It was easy to fall in with it, we all played music as kids” he remembers. “Our big day was St. Stephen’s Day, going around with the wren. All our instruments would be dusted off and we’d give it wellie for the day and make a few bob.”

Andrew’s family ran the Doonmore Hotel on the island and it was in the bar that Andrew heard most of his music. “I worked in the bar as a kid and spent a lot of time listening to the older musicians. Once the summer season was over, that was the entertainment, there wasn’t any TV in the bar, so you played music and sang and everybody took a turn doing something. I remember one night when fourteen people picked up the box and played it. There was maybe forty people in the bar and fourteen different individuals were able to pick up the accordion and play. Then there was ten or twelve singers as well. It was as natural for us to sing and play as to go to sea fishing. Its still like that today.”

Andrew was about 19 when he sang first in public, “The first thing I did in public was probably a Rolling Stones’ song or a Doors’ song or something like that” he says laughing at the memory. Arty McGlynn was one of the first musicians he performed with. “He had heard me sing out on ‘bofin and he invited me to sing a few songs with himself and Nollaig at the Clifden Arts Festival. That was probably the first time I got up on stage with anyone in that line of music. Ever since then Arty has been a great friend.”

Arty is one of a relatively small cast of musicians who feature on Andrew’s album ‘Hell or High Water’. He accompanies on ‘I wish my Love was a Red Red Rose’, a song Andrew’s been singing for years. The other musicians are in essence the band who travel with Andrew when he performs. ‘Hell or High Water’ was recorded in Gavin Ralston’s studio in Wicklow and Gavin plays guitars on the album. Jeff Woods who plays piano is probably better known in the world of popular music for his work with the band Picturehouse. Joe Chibi plays double bass and Des Lacey plays drums and percussion. The renowned composer and arranger Fiachra Trench arranged the string section featured on some tracks.

Another friend for years, Tim O’Brien from Nashville came over and played mandolin, fiddle and did vocal backing on the song ‘Green grows the Laurel’. “We tried to keep it simple and not overdo the instrumentation,” explains Andrew about the recording. “It’s a vocal album of twelve songs. I wanted to keep the voice and the songs to the front. I just got tired listening to albums of singers where there is so much happening it’s taking away from the person’s voice. Personally, I didn’t like that so I tried to keep away from it myself.”

In this, his first solo album, Andrew also wanted it to reflect in as far as possible the material he has been performing over the years which is fairly diverse. ‘Castle Garden is a traditional song, the melody of which is reminiscent of another song Andrew is very fond of ‘The Lakes of Ponchartrain’. Like many traditional songs, ‘Castle Garden’ has many versions and this one Andrew heard originally sung by Len Graham. ‘Black Muddy River’ is a song composed by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead – an unusual choice you might think but again Andrew was inspired to try this one having heard it sung by the great Norma Waterson. Thom Moore sent a number of new songs to Andrew when he was recording and ‘Little Miss Kelly’ is one of those. “Its up tempo and lively” says Andrew, “Its light hearted and I just liked the bit of humour in it.” The last song on the album is Ewan McColl’s ‘The Father’s Song’ “I remember when I heard it first” says Andrew, “I couldn’t shake it. It’s a fabulous song – you have to listen carefully to the lyrics.”

Most people will remember Andrew for his time spent with DeDannan around 1997. The songs he sang at that time were traditional and traditionally styled songs, and while Andrew has always been drawn to traditional and folk music, his interests are much broader than just that. “I have a particularly deep voice, and I’ve found that singing blues songs seems to work well. I’m particularly drawn to folk in a broader sense, American writers, Irish writers, English folk singers as well as Scottish folk singers – just the whole thing really” he says. “It depends on the song. It doesn’t really matter to me where it comes from or what genre it originated as, if I get a song I like the sound of, I just take it in and do what I can with it myself.”

It’s not surprising to hear that Luke Kelly is one of Andrew’s heroes. “His was the first voice that made me sit up” remembers Andrew. “I was about 17 at the time, into all sorts of things and music wasn’t high on my agenda. I remember quite clearly being at home in the bar early one evening and I stuck on a tape of Luke Kelly. I remember thinking, ‘That’s something, that’s really out of the ordinary’. To this day I feel Luke Kelly had something special, something coming from deeper inside.”

“I’ve always felt the singer is only a conduit for the song to get through to the listener, and the more true you are, then the better it comes through. The song itself is a carrier of other emotional and deeper things going on between the melody and the lyrics. The singer is really just a carrier of that, you pass it on to the ears of the listeners. You are the messenger. That’s what I try to do, to be as honest as I can with myself, not allow myself to get in the way of the song and pass it on the best I can.”

Click here to buy Andrew Murray's 'Come Hell or High Water' from the .tradnet store on Amazon.

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