John Murry sure picked a fine night to revisit Glasgow. Richard Hawley was playing up the street, it was bonfire night and local team Celtic were playing a European fixture. Never mind, the Murry afficiandos were having none of that and it was gratifying to see a full house turn out for the man whose album, The Graceless Age, is generally considered to be one of the best albums of the last decade.
Currently residing in Ireland, Murry was accompanied by a musician he had met over there, Grum Gallagher. When Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to John a few months back he described Grum as “someone completely on the same wavelength (as me),” something that in an interview set up might be considered to be just PR puffery. Well, anyone who was at this show can attest to the fact that indeed the pair go together like the proverbial horse and carriage, Gallagher a perfect foil for Murry’s wounded tales. On past occasions Murry has been electrifyingly scary, his songs a catharsis of sorts describing past trials and tribulations including a near death experience. Tonight he appeared more comfortable, still spilling out with a passion but with a sense that he is playing the songs rather than reliving the past. He remains however a riveting performer; there’s blood and guts in his Southern Gothic, the songs still sting but tonight he nailed it balancing pain with performance brilliantly.
With Gallagher on guitar, a wonderful beat up Eastwood electric which he’s modified over the years, coaxing and caressing a variety of effects and sympathetic soundscapes Murry effortlessly captured the mesmerising pull of his records. As always the between song banter was a deadpan drawl of dark humour and self deprecation, at one point suggesting he and the audience pack it in and all go to see Hawley instead. There was no chance of that as he opened with a tender and heartfelt version of What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted and then covered The Afghan Whigs’ What Jail Is Like pitching some barbs at Greg Dulli in the introduction before launching into his own songs. While there were magisterial readings of some of The Graceless Age’s gems including California, The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid and Southern Sky, all graced with Gallagher’s sonic grumblings Murry unveiled several new songs that are equally as haunting. The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes (as Murry quipped, He’s shooting at us) was a powerful diatribe with some profane language and vivid imagery, Oscar Wilde celebrated the outsider and The Wrong Man continued his habit of his soul searching positing Murry as the last man to depend on with the delivery tonight challenging Springsteen as the blue collar troubadour; here the audience was rapt, hanging onto every word. Glass Slipper, a song co-written with Chuck Prophet was another show stopper, muddy as the Mississippi and as mesmerising as a death cell confession.
There were more covers, a fine medley of Tracks Of My Tears and Do You Want To Dance given the Murry treatment, Dylan’s contribution to the Wonderboys soundtrack, prefaced by Murry’s comment that anyone who really likes Dylan is diagnosable and, a nod to the location tonight, Abba’s Super Trooper which mentions Glasgow in the lyrics and which had the crowd singing along. Tonight Murry seemed less wounded, more on a roll.
Excellent guitar foil to Murry he may be but Grum Gallagher gave notice of his talent earlier with a short solo set that portrayed him as an excellent writer and performer. Playing guitar with a mellifluous dexterity, keeping bass notes throbbing throughout some jangled melodies, he is a troubadour in the Nick Cave fashion (at least this is one thought, much of the conversation after his set was regarding who exactly he reminded one of with several names, Momus, Tom Waits, Robyn Hitchcock and, yes, Richard Hawley, mentioned). In fact His baritone voice and his dark and strange lyrics (e.g. it’s not safe to steal the lamplight from the defecator’s mouth,” I think I heard this line) can bring to mind many of the above but it’s at least good company to be in. He gave us a grand sea shanty, played with a Brechtian gusto, a fine tale of a drink fuelled apparition of the Virgin Mary in his song Anthracite (along with a fine tale of Ireland being like Mexico, a land where statues move) and finally an excellently absurdist tale about doctors and pills, this song being the one which led to the Hitchcock comparisons. A very talented guy and Blabber’n’Smoke will be looking to return to him in the near future.
First support slot of the night was filled by local singer/songwriter Bobby Deans. Playing a nylon stringed guitar he was at his best on a song about the homeless called No Rest with some nice key changes and a refreshing lack of polemic. An engaging character he was brave enough to sing a song about his own past and his mother whom he never knew which was delivered in a restrained fashion until the end when he was wailing away at the ghosts he had conjured up.