Wild Murphys’ founder, frontman and accordionist, Middi, wanted a show that marries one of those great nights of music down at the pub with the spirit of the old variety shows – so for One Night in Dublin he put a pub in a theatre.
Forty-year old Mark Murphy Middlemiss, aka ‘Middi’, is the leader of the band The Wild Murphys. He was given his middle name by his late, lamented dad, Jimmy, who worked for the Murphy construction firm. Jimmy also gave him a life-long love of the music he has been playing since he was just 15 years old.
Next month he will bring his popular touring show One Night in Dublin to The Broadway in Barking, part of a strategy that has seen the band circling London, playing bigger venues like the Watford Colosseum as favourable word of mouth about them travels ever wider and further.
Their ‘go-to’ is the music of The Pogues and The Saw Doctors but the show covers the gamut of old favourites including favourites by The Dubliners, Steve Earle, Flogging Molly, Daniel O’Donnell, Nathan Carter, foster and Allen, the Dropkick Murphys, Van Morrison, the Furey Brothers and many others.
He told us how he got started.
“I’ve been doing Irish stuff for 22 years, first by myself then as The Murphys because we didn’t know there was already a band of that name, so we changed it to The Wild Murphys, mainly in recognition of some of the really rough places we played in.
“When we first started, we played some dives for the first couple of years, it’s amazing that we even survived. There were three of us on the road, sharing guest house rooms that cost £20 a night. It took a long while for us to get noticed but we were eventually noticed by places that wanted us, good pubs, then clubs.
“Our first big break was when we were in Carlisle and we got a call that someone had dropped out of a gig at Chepstow Racecourse and could we fill in – in four hours times. It’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive even if you break every speed limit – but, somehow, we made it and after that we’ve been booked for every racecourse in the country.
“With this show, One Night in Dublin, it’s not just a Wild Murphys concert because I didn’t want anything too slick or overproduced with choreography or fancy lighting – which is why we’ve taken a pub into a theatre, we want to make it feel like one of those fantastic music nights that happen and last the night.
“We don’t have the band in shadow behind the lead or looking down at the audience, they’re part of it, I wanted to get that old Variety theatre feel.”
IW: So why Irish music performed by English musicians?
“I’ve wanted to do Irish music for 25 years. My dad, Jimmy Middlemiss, who worked for Murphy, used to fly over to Ireland to see the Irish bands and when they came here (to the UK) he would take me to see them here. He died four years ago, that was a rough time for us.
“I’ve never actually wanted to just do that Brendan Shine-Declan Nerney Irish and country thing, they’re very good and very popular, but I’ve always loved The Pogues and The Saw Doctors. Even in the 1990s while bands like The Pogues were popular they were never massive, so we wanted to do it.
“The problem back then was if you wanted to do any of their material you needed a nine-piece band which none of the venues could afford. At first there was me and a banjo player.
“So, I hired musicians and got them to record individual backing tracks, banjo, fiddle, and so on which we’d use in the shows. Whenever we got a guitarist or fiddler, we would drop that backing track and use the live sound.
“Then guitarist John McCrea, from Glasgow, joined me, he had experience of the club circuit, we had a bass player who stayed 4-5 years before he left, a bit of a revolving door for a while.
“Today we’re earning good money so there’s seven of us and we get to stay in our own rooms in nicer hotels.”
IW: What’s the musical breakdown of the band these days?
“I play the accordion, guitar and other parts, John is on guitar and vocals, Tony Davies is on piano, Sophie Ball is a fantastic fiddle player, our drummer Trevor Brewis played on Jimmy Nail’s records such as Crocodile Shoes, bassist Will Stockbridge used to play with The Magna Cartas and Faye Donaldson is on sax and flute.
“People thought I was made when I brought in a saxophone, but it gives it that huge Joe Dolan sound – and she’s brilliant on flute.”
IW: And the whole not being Irish thing?
“We’re not Irish, we’ve never pretended to be Irish or cod-Irish, and it was hard at first we did get some stick for not being Irish for the first five years – hey, people go to see Elvis acts who aren’t from Memphis – but we now have massive Irish audiences because we really like the music and we ARE pretty good at it. Ninety per cent of the people who shake our hands after a show are usually Irish.”
IW: Which Irish artist(s) living or dead would be your dream gig to see?
“My dream gig would be to see The Saw Doctors, I first saw them when I was 17, they were just so brilliant but don’t perform so much these days. If they did, I would go and see them every day if I could.”
IW: Next month’s show in Barking will be a chance for London audiences to see you as the band is beginning to play bigger and bigger venues, is that right?
“We’ve been circling London, we’ve played pubs, but we’ve also filled three-quarters of the Watford Colosseum, of which we’re pretty proud – that’s a big venue, we filled the Beck Theatre in Hayes and sold out Epsom Racecourse.
“The band all have their own dream venues and we’re starting to get to play them. For John it would have been the Glasgow Empire but they tore that down so we’ll be playing the Glasgow Pavilion in May of next year, for me it’d the Darlington Hippodrome because I’ve passed it every day near my home which we will be playing and for Sophie it would be the Whitley Bay Playhouse which we’ll be playing at the back end of next year.”
IW: How can Irish World readers hear you?
“Our music is available from Spotify, iTunes and Amazon and all that, but we do CDs because we find, like me, a lot of our fans prefer a physical copy of a recording. We’re going to go one further and we’re releasing One Night in Dublin on vinyl, because I love records.”
IW: You’ve been doing this most of your life, any regrets?
“I’ve been doing this since I was 15, since I left school, and I could not think of any better way to make (a little bit of) money, I just love it.”
– See The Wild Murphys’ One Night In Dublin at The Broadway in Barking on Saturday 12 October at 7.30 pm