As prolific purveyor of 80′s dancefloor jazz and Wire Magazine’s first DJ of the year (circa 1985), Paul Murphy is one of the original London legends. Cited by everybody from Carl Cox to Gilles Peterson as their major influence, Paul was the first DJ to introduce jazz to the dance floor and thus, influenced a generation of young Londoners.
Having traveled the four corners of the earth to spin and being one of the first UK DJ’s to be booked to Japan back in the days, he has seen it all in terms of the music and travel business. As a result, his production credits have spanned across many record labels, as well as hit TV shows and his taste for dangerous DJ’ing has led him to some of the most outlandish and downright unusual gigs during his-20 year career.
From the heady days of playing at London’s Bluenote club, to promoting Nina Simone concerts back in late 70′s, to running London’s Paladin records (the top record shop of the time), to becoming an Eastern European DJ hero, Murphy has well surpassed the careers of the most premier turntablists. Currently based in Budapest, the man with a thousand tales took a minute to talk to us about this n’that.
EM: What neighbourhood do you closely identify with?
I’ve never really identified with a neighbourhood. Neighbours in England watch neighbours in Australia because as it’s on TV, it appears to be more real. Whereas the place I live now is more unreal cos they speak Hungarian and I don’t…
EM: What is your favourite city to visit when you travel abroad? And why?
Kiev was a laugh but I got my worst flu ever. I laid in bed for a week feeling like I wanted to die, but I’ve never had so much as a cold since. Tirana was funny too; the ceiling fell down in the toilet in the night. And they didn’t give me a discount either, on the grounds that I wasn’t using the toilet at the time. In Budapest, I missed my plane home as they sent the taxi to the wrong airport (there are two, airports, not two taxis. As a piece of advice for the unwary traveller to Budapest, there are too many taxi’s in Budapest. Never, Never, Ever use a taxi in Budapest without marrying the son or daughter of a Hungarian owned taxi driving company- you will be ripped off.)
In Belgrade, I heard “Wind of Change” by The Scorpions so many times I thought I would go mad. Sofia, the promoter, collapsed after smoking Bosnian weed. Porto, the promoter, had a nervous breakdown and I had to nurse him for five days. In Vilnius, they put me up in a hookers’ apartment. Thessaloniki, the taxi driver, had a punch up with another driver in the middle of the motorway on the way to the airport. In Athens, I had to go to the train station in what seemed to be the world’s smelliest taxi. In Brussels, my wallet was stolen. There are so many favourites, really. It is hard to choose.
EM: What has been your favourite place to travel while DJ’ing and why was that experience so memorable?
I think DJ’ing at a festival in Ukraine beats the others hands down; it kind of went like this:
I arrive at London Airport. The plane to Kiev is late and when I finally arrive at Kiev Airport, I am rushed through the passport control in order to catch my connecting flight to Crimea, “I’m gonna make it!” But my all important record bags are the last ones on the carousel, so I don’t.
A skinny young man comes up to me and says, “Are you Paul Murphy?”
“I am,” I affirm.
“I am Vovo!! We have missed plane! Very bad! But we will now book next flight. So no proplemm!”
“Ok” I say. “Let’s do it.”
At 2.30am I’m woken by Vovo…“We must go to office, important business.” A quick shower (I insist) and we get into the taxi outside and head off to the office of the festival.Vovo starts to rummage through the drawers in the office and it begins to dawn on me that he is probably looking for the plane tickets for the “musicians.” I sit there willing him to find them and he suddenly looks up with a happy grin. “Now is no proplemm! We get musicians!”
The club is close by and I wait outside while Vovo goes in. After a short while, Vovo and three rather tired looking musicians and their “Manager from Ukraine” (so he informs me) comes out. We make the necessary introductions, exchange stories about our travel experiences, the gig they played and wait for the taxis to take us to the airport. We wait a bit longer than is comfortable and I say to Vovo, “I hate to ask, but are the taxi’s actually booked?”
“Is not proplemm! They were booked by office!”
“I don’t know, maybe yesterday, maybe before.”
“Do you have the number of the taxi?”
“Yes! It’s necessary, in case of proplemm! I will call. You are my friend from London and you know such things!”
After closer to thirty minutes the taxis arrive. We somehow manage to pack all our bags, instruments, amplifiers and five people into two tiny cars as we finally head off to the airport………And that’s when things really started to go wrong.
EM: Tell me briefly how London was back in the heady days of the 80′s dance floor and acid jazz scene.
The Iron Lady was in charge and was busy closing down uneconomical businesses as ruthlessly as possible and without as much as a twinge of conscience. So the place looked as close as it was to some post modernist idea of an industrial wasteland. Jobs were hard to come by so I thought, better to do something enjoyable, like DJ’ing.
I also luckily stumbled into working at a Record Shop-Our Price Records, in Leicester Square. Somehow, I managed to wangle a job in the US imports section so I could stock records I liked, not just Sting’s greatest hits or the very best of Bros (Who, dear reader, you should note have only had one hit each. In the case of Sting “Alien in New York” and “When will I Be Famous,” in the case of Bros. Strange to relate, but I saw a book, yes, a book, of the “Lyrics of Sting” the other day in the English Bookshop around the corner to where I live in Budapest. Did you know the Police song “Roxanne” was inspired by French author Edmond Rostand’s play “Cyrano de Bergerac?” There it was in the book.
I was so fascinated that there was actually a book of Sting’s lyrics. I just couldn’t resist a peek. While the Rolling Stones were busy trashing hotel rooms and others of that ilk were falling like flies to various overdoses, choking on their own vomit etc, Sting and the boys were probably re-enacting scenes from Shakespeare, Guy De Maupassant , Emile Zola and the like, to get tuneful inspiration. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?
I’m also wondering who would actually buy a book of Sting’s lyrics. I’ve been popping into the bookshop every now and then, but, sad to say for Sting, the pile hasn’t gone down. Actually though, The Rolling Stones weren’t trashing hotel rooms at that point, they were investing all their money in them-hotels, real estate, whatever. I’m really digressing here so maybe it’s best to go back to the answer.)
Anyway, this meant I had access to the latest records. And, at that time, Jazz was still quite a big seller so there were always some good albums around. And, not only that, but most of the big jazz stars of the fifties and sixties were still alive and still making records.
One day, a guy came into the shop and asked if I would be interested in DJ’ing at the Horseshoe Pub in Tottenham Court Road. I started doing it and although it wasn’t a resounding success, it worked out well enough to keep doing it (which I have obviously been doing on and off for some time since).
EM: What is jazz dancing?
In those days, there was a lot of what was termed “Colour Prejudice” and not many black kids could get into disco’s meant for white kids. So naturally enough, they tended to just go to places where they weren’t hassled. Our night was one of them. And, at that time, in London especially, there was a big competitive dance scene in the black clubs. Jazz dancing was a natural extension from that. The only thing I really did was play a different kind of music. It was very fast, very jazzy, and was heavily influenced by Latin music. Not the lame salsa dancing scenes we have now.
EM: Being one of the founding fathers of the UK jazz scene, can you describe how you felt at the time everything was taking off?
Well it’s a bit like driving a car. Not that I’ve ever driven a car because I never learned or was even interested in learning. So I’m using my imagination here. Maybe it is better to use piloting a spaceship or riding a horse as an example. I’ve never done those either. Well that’s not quite true because I have ridden a horse and it’s a lot of fun. It was a very old horse, slow too, but still a horse. So I can tell you this, I just got on board, or saddled up or whatever, and went where the jazz horse took me.
EM: What drives youth culture in the U.K.?
When there’s money to be made, age. And, sad to say, the multinationals have totally got it locked down. Is there a product that they haven’t used hip-hop to sell? Is there a Discovery Channel animal documentary that doesn’t have a bit of drum and bass in it?
EM: What is the scariest situation you’ve been in while travelling?
Any airport-it is pitting one’s wits against the check-in guys and girls. Can I get more weight allowance on the plane without paying the cruel and unscrupulous owners of these flying sardine cans? They scrutinise every bag, and then these wage slaves try and screw 7 Euros a kilo for their evil masters out of you. The stewards and stewardesses actually pay to work at Ryanair, 8 Euro an hour, did you know that? They do this so they can get a couple of days at Bydgoszcz and Tampere. I went to Tampere once. The taxis drive at exactly 29 kilometers an hour. It’s an eternity from the airport. Who would want to fly to a place that sounds like an intimate body product anyway? Well, I did. And it looks like what it sounds like.
EM: What was the most interesting artist you’ve had to work with? Why? Any interesting idiosyncrasies?
Without a doubt, it would have to be Sam Gillard. He was a big star (Hollywood and Music!) from the 1940′s who ended up broke and potless in London. Luckily, enough people read On the Road, by Jack Kerouac to want to hang with him. So he got quite a few jobs playing piano in various bands and played at the Wag Club when I DJ’d there. He was 70′ish and he still found a way to leave with the best looking girl in the place. He was a cool-cool dude of the highest order.
EM: Anything you’ve learned from your extensive travels that has opened your eyes and viewed things with a renewed perspective?
EM: What’s your favourite YouTube video?
Well this is pretty funny. If you live where I live now, they are everywhere.
EM: Where are your favourite local spots to eat?
In Budapest for fast food you go to the local butchers-really!
EM: What songs are at the top of your playlist at this very moment?
I’m listening to a lot of old Latin records at the moment-for the horn arrangements.
EM: What is your current bedside read?
Last book I read was Maximum City. It’s about Bombay.
EM: What new projects are you building on right now?
I’m just finishing a version of Loving Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” by Bobby Soul & The Halftones. Then I’m going to do a Latin Jazz version of “Psychotic Reaction.” It’ll work, believe me.
EM: After travelling to so many cities around the world, where could you see yourself living and why?
Who knows? I never thought I’d be living in Budapest in my wildest dreams.
EM: What’s influencing your ears currently, and do you still buy vinyl?
Latin music and 50′s Rhythm and Blues for sure. And yes, I still buy vinyl.
EM: Whats your favourite type of food?
I’m not too fussy about my food. Just make it good and with love.
EM: What gets you up the morning?
EM: Finally, what changes do you see for the music industry in 09 and what sound will dominate?
Who knows? I’m not in the pop biz. I just make what I hope are cool little singles every now and again. As long as I sell enough to live on, I don’t really care what is around.