Sunday, 18 March 2018

Paul Murphy with Ragman Jones - a last recording

It's been two years now, two years and some weeks,  since we lost Paul Murphy. 

Nick James - you may know him as Ragman Jones - has been putting out songs since I don't know when; I've been listening for maybe ten years. Just recently, he did something very special, putting up a MixCloud file of a session recorded with Paul Murphy, shortly before he died. These songs - and the chat, never forget the Murphy chat - must be one of the last things Paul committed to tape: rare, and very precious. 

The songs are typical Murphy: clear, direct melodies to carry complex subject matter, with beautiful lyrical invention. Just Paul's voice, his guitar and some judicious augmentation with banjo and xylophone. Then there's the stories and chit chat to enrich the experience. It sounds like it was done in Paul's kitchen, with a bit of reverb off the flagstones, and the hiss of the kettle. 

I got that prickle in my eyes...

All credit to Nick: it's magnificent listening. Sure and the levels from song to chat are a bit uneven, but it captures Paul in a way that I tried many a time to do, and never quite succeeded. Nick caught the stories on his phone:
"My involvement was firstly being around and allowing Paul to feel comfortable. I did take a lot of time thinking about how to turn the recordings into something that began to capture the essence of Paul's intent. And the stories - well, for that, I left my phone recording. We were recording conventionally anyway. The phone remained in record mode for almost the whole time. It was initially to create a reverb/echo room mic sound, but when I realised it had been on while we were chatting between songs, I left it running. I thought it would be good to capture 'story telling Paul' and it worked well because he didn't know... So that was part luck and part knowing it would be forgotten about."
Well, what a great thing to do. It also eclipses my botched attempts to do the same sort of thing. Paul and I spent hours and hours plotting and exploring, sometimes with the recorders running, more often not. But I never got anything like Nick's recording. I am so impressed, and so pleased that it's seen the light of day.

Paul Murphy's magic was his positivity and endless enthusiasm, and that combination of evocative songs and fountains of fantastical story-telling. This is how he worked best: relaxed, happy, expansive and hugely, poetically, articulate. He always had the ability to expand and improvise, to work the most unlikely material into something special. That, too, was what made his Songwriters Cafe sessions of a warm summer's evening so magical. Almost up to his death he was exploring, questing, encouraging, writing and planning.

There was always so much to talk about. Paul and I asked 'what if...?', over and over again, across a vast range of possibilities. Possibilities is the key word here. Nothing was impossible round Paul.

Thank you, Nick! The plan is to get this material out as widely as possible, to those who would appreciate listening to Paul one more time. I'm pleased and honoured to lend a hand. So check these links...

Links and Credits

Listen in full to Ragman Jones' recording

There's lots more Ragman Jones on his website, including a download of the above.
In 2016, I did a Paul Murphy audio tribute when I heard the news. It's Brum Radio's most-listened to item.

Photos: Richard Shakespeare (top, bottom); Ragman Jones (middle).
And check out this Songwriters Cafe blog post from 2012. Behind the scenes with Paul and the Aubergines.... 

See more music posts on Radio To Go


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