Sunday, 31 January 2016

Thank you, Paul Murphy

We've lost one of the greats. We've lost a friend.

Photo Richard Shakespeare     
Paul Murphy passed away last week. His family announced his passing on Friday. It was a difficult day. The news was met with an explosion, a passionate outpouring of grief which rippled out across the world. Rightly.  

Paul was a wonderful, open, extravagantly talented man with a razor-sharp mind,   boundless optimism, and lively curiosity about anything and everything. There didn't seem to be anything he could not do.

And he told stories. Oh, how he told his stories...

Paul's voice was a wonder. His use of language was inspirational and creative. His sense of timing when reading or talking was and is an object lesson. He wrote songs that could tear you apart. His stage presence was exceptional. He cared about the people he worked with. 

I spent four years working with Paul as part of his team at the wonderful Songwriters Cafe evenings, held at his house in Cotteridge in South Birmingham. Paul and Valeria Rispo had, together, crafted a supportive environment for songwriters both new and experienced, who could perform to a sympathetic and welcoming audience.

It was more than a venue. You had to access the Songwriters Cafe by passing through an archway and crossing a bridge. You arrived in a wholly different place. There were friends to talk with before you were ushered in to settle down in the Tree House. Strictly speaking, the performance area was underneath the real Tree House which Paul had built years earlier, but no matter. Wood fires burned for warmth – we did get kippered a couple of times. There was a tiny, tiny stage, built around a real tree, to perform from. 

Paul was the heart and soul of the evening, welcoming everyone, looking after the artists – we all gathered beforehand to share a meal together – and the audience who came later that night. Valeria manned the mixing desk and the online chat, with regular listeners logging in from around the world. 

The whole thing was put together with their sweat and imagination. Equipment was salvaged and donated, and funded on a desperately stretched shoestring. But with that equipment, and in that wonderful venue, magic was created, weekly, on Thursday summer nights as the sun went down.

Paul's brief to me was to collect interviews with all the artists about their approach to writing songs. I must have talked to over a hundred people, and I got different answers from every one. I was also the stream continuity man. Once Valeria had set the stream up, I went online from the back of the tree house half an hour before the event got underway. I DJ'd recordings of artists from previous weeks, and covered the interval, ideally linking back to Paul at exactly the point where he took to the stage.

It was magical. I was extraordinarily happy and privileged to be able to play a small part in something so inventive, so real and so different. 

The night wound to an end with Paul doing a couple of songs, or maybe telling some stories. Marvellous, inventive fantasies, or magical adventures, they sent the audience out in the night while the team wrapped the venue up – and sometimes settled down in Paul's kitchen for hours and hours of more music and talk. 

                                          Paul at Moseley Folk 2012

There was so much more to Paul than Songwriters Cafe. Paul had a fine sense of the dramatic, and the tools to deploy that sense. His stint with the Destroyers was breathtaking. I was always impressed with his ability to unerringly name-check the entire band on stage, despite a pretty brisk turnover of fine players.

And if you can, you must see the film he worked on: Numbskull. This is an independent production, a fable of ne'er-do-wells who steal... ah, but that would be telling. But speaking of stealing, Paul steals the whole damn film with his turn.

I owe Paul a great deal. This blog would not have gone in new directions had I not seen The Destroyers with Paul on Christmas at the Prince of Wales in Moseley. Were it not for the fantastically fulfilling Songwriters Cafe streaming work, I probably would not have returned to one of my first loves - making programmes. Were it not for his friendship...

Paul made things possible. He had belief in people. He was a fountain of creativity. He inspired and supported us all. And we miss him.

I did this on Brum Radio on the day we learned of Paul's passing


Mon 1st, 10pm: In The Studio - Steve Gibbons + John Caswell
Tue 2nd
, 4pm: Big Wheels: Adam Regan pt 2 
Wed 3rd
, 11pm: Live and Local: Chris Cleverly at Ort Cafe.
Sat 6, 11am. 
 5th, 4 pm: Muso Takeover - ViX

After airing, these shows can be found on Brum Radio's Mixcloud page.

All Radio To Go shows on Brum Radio are listed here on the blog 


I'd love you to sign up to the mailing list 

The Radio To Mailing list is the best way I can keep in touch with you, and you with me. You get a short email, usually on Mondays, with big recent topics, and, once in a while, a special offer or a mailing list exclusive freebie. And I won't pass your address on, promise.

Put your email address in the box below, and you're all set. 



Pudding said...

A lovely piece Robin, thank you.

Paul was an inspiration to countless musicians, an unsung hero that sang beautifully and with such passion and emotion in his voice such as all vocalists should aspire to.

The Songwriter's Cafe should be perpetuated, for the memory of Paul as much as the music.

Spaghetti Editor said...

That's a lovely lovely piece Robin. Well done and thank you. Pete

simone ribeiro said...

Lovely words. I met Paul Murphy in 2012. One day before my wedding and I thought he was one of the most pleasant person I ever met here, since I moved from Brazil to this country. A couple of months later, that same year, he opened his house to give me an interview about his extraordinary life. He was a truly inspiration. And always will be.