John Murry’s 2012 album The Graceless Age has gathered an impressive pedigree since its initial release here in the UK. With staggered worldwide licensing and with a limited two disc version available it’s appeared in end of year top lists in the UK for two years in a trot. Recorded during Murry’s “lost years” when he was in the grip of an addiction it remains a startling and powerful listen, redemptive despite the harrowing tales it tells. Murry himself appears to have a love/hate relationship with the album with tales of emotionally wracked live renditions alternately confounding or amazing audiences.
Glasgow had a brief glimpse of the live experience last year when Murry and his band played at Celtic Connections. However the venue selection of Kelvingrove Art Gallery proved to be ill conceived as the cavernous galleries swallowed up the sound and regurgitated it with booming echoes making it almost impossible to listen to. Tonight was a different story. The cramped (and packed) basement bar allowed Murry and his accompanist Will Waghorn the intimacy to directly confront the audience with his psychodramas which proved to be emotionally wrenching, for him and the audience, with several of the songs from the album mesmerising. Murry’s voice ached and broke as he relived his traumas while his guitar playing and foot stamping added a sense of urgency to his need to confess. Waghorn on drums added colour with a delicacy that was very impressive and it’s clear that the pair have a bond that’s been forged on the road. While much of the show maintained Murry’s burning intensity he leavened the night with a wry sense of humour and a fine line in self deprecation that at times had the audience in fits of laughter. Playing to the gallery he regaled a tale of a lost passport then announced that he’d rather play some covers and asked the crowd to vote for their favourites from Neil Young, Neil Finn, John Prine or Bruce Springsteen. Arguing over the result, in the end he played a song by each of them. He also paid tribute with covers of songs to Mark Linkhouse of Sparklehorse and Tim Mooney, the late producer of The Graceless Age.
The set opened with a new song, co-written with Chuck Prophet, called Glass Slippers that continues in the vein of songs like Photograph with Murry totally enveloped in the delivery. Another new song, The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes was a lyrical delight and was propelled by some fine propulsive percussion. The meat of the evening however were the songs at the core of The Graceless Age. Photograph featured some visceral guitar playing while Ballad of The Pajama Kid, stripped of its narcotic fuzz, blazed with Murry’s vocals ragged and powerful. California (introduced as a happy song compared to its predecessors and spelled out as KKKalifornia) built to a powerful climax as did Senor Malverde as Murry delved into his past mistakes and misadventures. Little Colored Balloons, the centre piece of the album and the most naked of his songs ended the show. With Will Waghorn managing percussive rolls while playing a restrained Euphonium Murry poured his all into this cathartic tale of his overdose and resuscitation. In its recorded state it’s an arresting song but live it seems almost as if the mournful horn is a funereal accompaniment to Murry’s death and rebirth as he wrenches the words out riveting the audience. Astonishing and electric in its delivery Murry conspires with the audience in his pain here and it might seem hyperbole to pronounce this as one of the best performances this writer has witnessed but then, you had to be there. Fortunately for us all he’s survived and while able to invite us into his world, his own personal Calvary, hopefully with the new songs he’s able to move on and news that he has an EP in the works will allow us to listen to a great songwriter who has turned his life around.