George Murphy, formerly of The High Kings and who made his name on You’re A Star back in 2003, told David Hennessy why he is happy to now be calling the shots rather than any label, TV show or band he is a part of.
“They’re probably the most eagerly anticipated fecking shows of my whole fecking career,” George Murphy says of how much he is looking forward to his forthcoming shows at Whelan’s venues in London. It will be the first London shows for his relatively new band, The Rising Sons.
“Or they’re right up there anyway. I’ve never waited this long to play. It’s 18 months now without playing live shows.
“We’ve done a couple of things online and stuff like that but it’s not the same, you need to feel an audience’s participation.
“And the fact that we’ve never actually played a show in London, and as a band, we’ve never actually played outside of Ireland, I think it’s just the culmination of lots of things coming together, that we’re finally playing our first show in 18 months.
“The anticipation and the excitement is at the maximum.”
George Murphy first came to people’s attention on the 2003 series of You’re A Star.
Audiences were enthralled by his performances of ballads made famous by people such as Luke Kelly and many commented that he delivered them with a maturity beyond his 17 years.
George would capitalise on his successful time on the show by signing to Sony and recording his debut album, Dreamed a Dream which went to number one in the Irish charts.
It was in 2015 that the singer from Beaumont in Dublin joined the successful folk group The High Kings, filling the void after the departure of Martin Furey.
He departed the band in 2018 intending to tour extensively last year with his band The Rising Sons only for the pandemic to ruin all those plans.
His forthcoming gigs at Whelan’s venues in London were originally scheduled for last year.
George says the pandemic arrived just as he and his new band The Rising Sons were gaining momentum.
“We had literally just finished our nationwide tour. We had a very successful first tour.
“And then we were starting to pick up interest in European markets and the UK markets and even the American market. People were reaching out and talking to us about festivals and the diary was just starting to fill up.
“There was a real buzz around this new group, and then the whole floor just fell out from under us. It was the same for an awful lot of other musicians. I’m not gonna try and pretend like we were the only ones.
“But it felt cruel for us was in that we were very excited to see what was going to come next and the whole thing just stopped.”
So how did he and the band get through the difficult and uncertain time? “It would have been very easy to just bury your head in the sand, and kind of feel sorry for yourself.
“I realized that I wasn’t gonna be able to be playing any live shows for the foreseeable and that is my bread and butter. That’s how I was making the money.
“So I started to think outside the box a little bit. What I’m grateful for is the fact that I’ve never written as much material in my life.
“I started to concentrate on the online. I was never really into the likes of Facebook and Instagram and all of these kinds of things.
“But I realized that with the way things were social media was going to be important.
“So I tried to keep myself busy with all of that and I wrote some songs.”
And George is keen to play those to a live audience now to see how an audience receives them.
“It’s all well and good when you’re sitting in a sitting room coming up with ideas but getting those ideas across to an audience in a live setting is what will really test whether or not it’s good. I think it is. Time will tell now we have a big test for us on Friday, Saturday, Sunday,
“Now we get to kick things back off with with our first trip to London. And I know that people are very keen.
“We’ve also got a new single out on Friday as well so it’s a it’s a bit of a double celebration.”
Unlike the passengers in George’s new single, George and the band will not have to sneak aboard when travelling to London.
Darndale to the States is inspired by the true story of two kids who were cunning enough to make it all the way to America back in 1985.
“It’s a true story from 1985 where two young boys from the north side of Dublin City were playing on the streets. They were only 10 and 12 and they were told not to go far.
“They got onto the train, snuck onto a boat the boat took them to Holyhead.
“They got off and they managed to sneak onto another train.
“Long story short, they found themselves in London Heathrow and they managed to sneak onto a flight which brought them to New York. They were apprehended in JFK Airport by NYPD or whatever because they were found with no parents wandering around.
“They were two kids, 10 and 12 years old, and they spent a few days over in New York City until they could arrange to get them flown home. They got brought around to see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and all this kind of stuff.
“I just always thought it was a remarkable story so I’ve written a song about it.”
Did they get a clip around the ear when they did get home? “I think they got a few smacks,” George says laughing.
George describes his time in The High Kings as ‘fantastic’ but that the rigid and scripted nature of the show was not for him.
“I don’t mean any disrespect towards the lads because it was definitely a fantastic experience.
“The problem I found with it was that it was a show and a very polished show. There wasn’t enough creativity or spontaneity or soul in the music.
“For me it was very much a show as opposed to a gig and I think I’m more of a gig man myself, I like to kind of go with the flow.
“I don’t necessarily stick to a setlist. If an idea takes me to do a song that is not on the list or if somebody shouts from the audience to do a song, I’ll do it.
“Again, to tour around the world and play to audiences in different territories that I may never have got to see otherwise was fantastic. Touring all across America, I mean, these are the things that I look forward to telling my grandkids about but musically, it didn’t whet my appetite.
“And that’s why I wanted to go and set up my own thing for what I wanted to do musically. And I believe I’m in the right place now with the Rising Sons because for the first time, I’m going to call the shots and I’m the boss.
“Getting to choose what it is I want to play and how I want to play it and the musical arrangements and all that stuff: These are the things that excite me more than playing as part of a group that was a little bit stricter and a little bit more arranged for you.”
Do people still mention You’re A Star to George after so many years? “It’s definitely still a talking point for people and it is where I started. It brought me to the nation’s TV screens and to people’s minds and hopefully people’s hearts as well.
“Everybody has a beginning point and that was certainly mine.
“I think what I’m trying to prove now, all these years later, is that I can be more than just You’re a Star, more than just the High Kings.
“I want to kind of show people.
“All the time I’ve been in the industry, I don’t think I’ve ever really fully put my own stamp down on things musically because when you’re with a record label like Sony or you’re with a TV show like You’re A Star or you’re with a band like The High Kings, it tends to be an awful lot of other people in the back rooms making the decision.
“I was happy enough to go along with the flow when I was a bit younger but now that I’m getting a bit older and maybe a bit wiser I feel it’s about time now I express myself the way I want to express myself and not just go along with what a TV show, label or manufactured band is trying to get me to do.”
Phil Coulter described George as the ‘most exciting vocal find in Ireland’.
The late Ronnie Drew was quoted as saying he has a ‘voice beyond his years’.
George would get to perform with greats like John Sheahan and Barney McKenna, from The Dubliners, on his third album, The Ballad of Archie Thompson.
“I grew up listening to the Dubliners. Luke was obviously a hero of mine. Well, what a tremendous ballad singer.
“But to think I would get the opportunity to sing some of them great songs that he sang on stage with his fellow members of the Dubliners, like Ronnie drew and john Sheahan- To have met these people and record with these people will always be one of my biggest highlights.”
Luke Kelly is a hero of George’s. What can he say about those who vandalise a statue in honour of one of Ireland’s greatest musical trailblazers? “I would say it’s lack of education.
“I would say that Luke Kelly is to Dublin and Ireland what Bob Marley would probably be to Jamaica.
“If you have any education on who he was, you wouldn’t defacing a statue of Bob Marley in Jamaica. He would be celebrated as a hero.
“I’d like to think that if people knew who Luke Kelly was, they would feel the same way.
“But unfortunately, there’s just too many delinquents out there who aren’t even educated enough to know who Luke was, what he stood for or what he meant to people.
“All they see is the spotlight of getting themselves on the news or into the paper for defacing a statue. It’s sad and it’s pathetic.”
Darndale to the States is out Friday 23 July.
George Murphy and The Rising Sons play Whelan’s in Uxbridge on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 July. He also plays Whelan’s Kingston on Sunday 25 July.
For more information, you can search for George Murphy on Facebook.