Centre on stage

Barry Murphy of Hermitage Green told David Hennessy about the band’s current single and upcoming drive-in concerts as well as the premature end to his career with Munster rugby.

“I’m a big believer in following your dreams,” singer/guitarist Barry Murphy tells The Irish World.

Many youngsters all over the world dream of playing professional rugby or touring the world with a band. Not many have lived both dreams though. 

Barry was part of the Munster rugby squad that stormed to Heineken Cup success in 2006. However, after playing 73 times for the province and also representing Ireland, Barry announced his rugby retirement in 2011 after struggling with a series of serious injuries. 

Barry was only 28 but rather than feel sorry for himself over what he had lost, he threw himself into the band that he had been playing with, Hermitage Green. 

Sharing vocal and guitar duties with his brother Dan, Barry and the lads have built up a reputation for their live shows that have taken them as far afield as Australia. 

Known for their blend of traditional folk with catchy contemporary numbers, Hermitage Green’s debut album Save Your Soul was released in 2016 with singalong hits like Not Your Lover, Make it Better and Quicksand becoming radio hits at home. The band were set to release their second album this summer only for Covid-19 to scupper those plans.

“We were supposed to release it on 5 June. We were very excited to get it out but obviously we wanted to tour with it so we just thought there’s no point in releasing it when this was all going down but at the same time it felt like the right time to release (the single)  Lake Winnipesaukee. 

“It’s an emotional song, I felt it might resonate with people at this time who have been away from their loved ones because it has a bit of nostalgia to it.

“Even when I wrote the song, I hadn’t sat down specifically to write about a particular thing. My aunt and uncle lived on the lake. It’s a lake in New Hampshire and I had spent a lot of time there as a child. 

“We went back as a band, I brought the lads up and it reminded me of my childhood. 

“I remember speaking to my uncle about growing up there and he was a really interesting, peaceful man. I got a great perspective from his life. 

“There’s a few lines in it like, ‘Too warm to sleep, we lay in the moonlight’. That was something he told me about: When he was a kid, he couldn’t sleep at night. It was too hot so he would go out and lie on the deck and look at the stars. I thought that was a pretty beautiful vision. 

“It’s about thinking about that place that we all have that maybe brings us that bit of peace. I think during lockdown a lot of people would have missed those places that they would spend time with their family and friends. That’s what I hoped would be the response and that’s exactly what I’ve been blown away by: People getting in touch with me saying how much it reminds them of either a place or a person or a time of their life they were very happy or at peace. It’s very humbling.” 

The band were in Dubai and were due to fly to Australia when the pandemic’s seriousness really became apparent. With their Australian shows cancelled, they returned home.

“We kind of pretty much took it as a holiday, for want of a better word, from the band because we’ve been pretty full on for ten years and the way I look at it is we would have naturally taken a break in the next couple of years anyway. 

“I think we just decided, ‘You know what? Let’s cool the jets and take the time to spend it with our own families’. It’s been really enjoyable to get a break from it and I think we’re raring to go now.”

The band will bring live entertainment back to Ireland when they start playing drive-in gigs later this month: “We jumped at the opportunity to do it. We looked at it closely when it was presented to us. We couldn’t see any risk in terms of spreading the virus and we just thought, ‘Look, this is the closest anyone is going to get to live music in front of them for a while. 

“It felt like a really exciting thing to do and tickets flew out the door. It’s brilliant to be just going to work. We haven’t worked literally in four months and we probably will be the last industry to get back properly. It’s really nice to be able to get back and do some sort of work. It’s very exciting just to get in front of an audience whether it’s in their cars or not. It’s going to be a bit weird but I can’t wait.”

What sort of reaction does Barry want from the crowd, clapping out their windows or beeping the horns? “I hope it becomes a bit mental: Flashing lights, beeping horns, turn on the window wipers, whatever. 

“It’s going to be such a novelty that everyone’s just going to take the p*ss a little bit and have the craic, maybe not overdoing it honking the horns during songs. 

“When you think about it, you imagine people in pick up trucks and convertibles like maybe in the states but we obviously don’t have much of that in Limerick. Hopefully it’s not raining, people have a good view of it. 

“Dan has a habit of wandering around offstage quite often with his wireless microphone. I’m hoping that he maybe starts walking across bonnets of cars and gets kicked out.”

Barry describes Irish Women in Harmony’s cover of Dreams as ‘absolutely breathtaking’. This is a song that Hermitage Green have also covered to pay tribute to the late Cranberries singer. The band were playing King John Castle in Limerick when their home city was still grieving and played a poignant tribute to Dolores with her bandmates Noel and Mike Hogan there to see and hear it.

“We played Dreams and Zombie in King John Castle shortly after Dolores passed away. I think it’s probably the one thing people will stop you and say to you. That’s just testament to how much of an incredible song it was. 

“It felt right. It was our first gig in Limerick since she passed away. We were obviously massively influenced by the Cranberries growing up. It’s inspirational what they achieved coming from Limerick. 

“We know the Hogans quite well, the two lads in the band. They’ve always been very good to us and given us advice. They were there that night in the crowd. It added meaning that we were singing to them and we had all Limerick artists on stage with us. 

“She was just such an unbelievable songwriter and talent and so honest. She wrote that as probably a 17/18 year-old and for me to think someone would have that ability at that age to reach so many people of different generations right across the world is just mindblowing. 

“We still do it. We play it as often as we can. It just transcends and people get lost in the first note and first words of the song.”

Barry has been co-hosting Joe.ie’s rugby podcast House of Rugby since 2017 and this is something he hasn’t taken a holiday from during lockdown.

“It’s picked up a gear to be honest with you. That’s been the only creative output I’ve had. I think because of lockdown, we’ve been very fortunate to get some of the biggest names in rugby as guests. They’ve been very forthcoming with their time and their stories. I’ve just loved it. Even thought there’s no rugby going on, we still manage to talk some amount of sh*te for the last four months.”

Of course, when the band got together in earnest, Barry was still plying his trade with Munster rugby where he had an admirable sports career before taking music seriously. Playing as either a centre or a winger, Barry scored a try against the All Blacks when they toured Ireland in 2008, the only try the Kiwis conceded on a victorious tour. He also played for Ireland four times.

Did having his new venture, the band help Barry get over such a career and boyhood dream being ended prematurely? “I think so. At the time it was a very difficult transition, because it happened so quickly. 

“You feel like you’re going to be a rugby player for at least the rest of your career anyway and then it’s just gone, it’s over. I hadn’t really planned on anything outside my career in rugby. 

“It’s a tough thing. The first few years are very difficult. I struggled majorly with that, I wasn’t really prepared for it. 

“Rugby was all I was ever good at. I was never good academically or anything like that growing up. I had all my eggs in that basket. 

“The band was just something we started as a hobby because there’s only so many days of the week you can train. 

“Music was always there for me and it was something that helped me switch off, turn my brain off from just focusing on rugby all time. It was there and I never took it too seriously but then when my career ended, it was like, ‘what’s next?’ 

“I really did just throw myself into the band. I knew I would never really want a regular job. I’ve followed my dreams. I dreamed about being a rugby player. I had dreamt of being a musician.”

Could it really have been that easy? “It was daunting because I wasn’t confident enough. I had to build myself back up. I took a massive hit psychologically and mentally from the retirement. I had to get over that. I don’t think you realise that until a few years afterwards, what I went through. 

“I was very fortunate to have family and friends who were very supportive and the support we got as a band early doors- I knew this was something special. I knew I wasn’t moving on from rugby into a job I wasn’t that into, just to put food on the table. It was going into something that was very special and magic in its own right. 

“I didn’t really have time to think of the rugby career and how it was taken away so quickly. I just moved on fairly quickly and  became a fan again. I’ve always been like that: Easy come, easy go. The rugby thing came out of nowhere, I never imagined I would make it as a professional player. I was very happy with what I achieved and experienced. The same thing with the music, I never thought I would be a professional musician. Now that it’s happened, I will enjoy it while I’m doing it.

“I was very fortunate to have bandmates that were very talented and I kind of rode their coat tails for a while. I don’t think anything will ever replace sport in my life. When you can’t play anymore, there’s a massive void left. I’m just so grateful I got to play for an incredible team and have some unbelievable memories on the pitch. “

Does he still  miss playing? “I’m ten years retired now. I think I would break in two if I was trying to play now the level of physicality rugby has gotten to at this point.”

It was special for Barry when the Limerick band played at half-time at his former stomping ground and the home of Munster rugby, Thomond Park: “It’s weird. If you had told me when I was playing rugby there, I would be back to play music on the field there, I would have laughed at you. It’s funny how life works out.”

Barry had wanted to play music at Thomond ever since he saw a ‘phenomenal’ Cranberries play for just 20 minutes there once.

“Ever since that day, I have been like, ‘I would love to play a gig here at some point and pack out Thomond Park’.”

Barry says it is a dream to play a headline gig at the biggest venue in his home city of Limerick. He has a pretty good record with achieving his dreams. 

Lake Winnipesaukee is out now.

Hermitage Green play The GreenPark Site, Limerick on 25 July, Cork Showgrounds on 1 August and Gowran Racecourse, Kilkenny on 12 August. 

For more information, click here.

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