Former Moloko frontwoman Róisín Murphy, ahead of playing at the 6 Music Festival next month, talks disco lights, dancing in the park, and a music-filled childhood
13 February, 2020 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Róisín Murphy will headline the Roundhouse on March 7
IF you spot a woman dancing alone in a park in Willesden, Cricklewood or Kilburn in the early morning, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably not Kate Bush or Julie Andrews, but quite possibly the iconic Róisín Murphy getting her moves on before she starts songwriting.
“I’m a bit of a sort of mad dancercise power walker, so I go across to the local park and prance around like a ballerina for an hour,” says the former Moloko frontwoman.
“It’s comedic, obviously, completely inept, in me own world.
“This morning was amazing because it was all foggy. I’m trying to finish quite a big one (song) so it’ll be nice to get that one done and move on to the next.
“It’s got about five personalities so just trying to bring those aspects of my character together in some kind of cohesive… it really travels, this one.”
It seems the process isn’t always easy as Murphy admits that, while she has quit smoking a couple of times, she has taken it up again while working on new material.
“It’s a struggle because the struggle is real. It’s a chipping away, it’s like a big piece of rock and you’ve got a little chisel. But then sometimes you just bang into it and a massive big piece comes out really easily and you weren’t expecting it and you stand back and look at it and it looks great.
“It’s like sculpture.”
Murphy was previously part of popular trip-hop duo Moloko, formed in Sheffield in 1994 with her former partner, producer Mark Brydon, which had hits such as Fun For Me, Sing It Back and The Time Is Now – a student favourite.
She has since become a dancefloor success in her own right, releasing a number of solo albums, including six-track EP Mi Senti. Her high-energy live shows combine her artistry with glam disco and her striking style selections.
Murphy will appear at the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival next month (March 6-8), a four-day series of gigs from established and new acts, taking over Camden.
The line-up includes panel discussions with Madness, Gilles Peterson and Robert Glasper, Steve Lamacq’s pub quiz with Kate Puckrik and Dave Rowntree, plus performances from Michael Kiwanuka, Kate Tempest, Ghostpoet, Bombay Bicycle Club, Brittany Howard and Mike Skinner (DJ set), and many others.
Murphy headlines the Roundhouse on March 7, alongside Kojey Radical, EOB (Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien) and The Selecter.
But what can we expect from the singer, originally known for her slower, groove-laden trip-hop beats with Moloko before breaking out into full arthouse disco diva fashionista?
“A gig with some bands, some disco lights going,” she says.
“It’s an hour set, so it’s bish, bosh, it’s bing, bang, thank you mam, it’s bosh, bosh, bosh.
“We try to keep it up and focused. This is all in the best of days, anything can happen, it’s a live band. But I would say that we’re givers. It’s handy, it’s a hop, skip and jump for me.”
But back to park dancing. It seems this is not much of a departure from a music-filled childhood in Ireland.
“I don’t know what kind of family you come from,” Murphy says, “but mine was like growing up in an MGM musical because we could break into song at any time, anyone around me growing up, they threw a lot of parties.
“My uncle was quite a famous musician, a band leader and singer, a jazz player, and I was around lots of live music when I was a kid and so it all went in by osmosis.”
Influence also came from her parents – “me da singing”.
“He always sang, he still does, in pubs, in the car, we used to have a game where he says ‘say anything, I bet I know a song about it’. He’s a beautiful voice and my mother has a record collection and she played it loudly when she was drinking, scratched it and didn’t treat it with any respect, but it was there and everyone sang.”
Murphy’s sense of self-sufficiency also stems from this background.
“Everyone around me growing up was their own boss, right from my grandmother who had the big diner at the top of the town and the snooker hall, to my da who had this bar furniture company, me uncle Mickey had the furniture shop, me auntie Linda had the bookshop and worked it with me grandmother. Me ma was an antique dealer so I didn’t really ever see anyone do anything but get up and do it themselves, so I think that’s really important as well, that’s a very important attribute to have a life being creative.
“It gave me an independence, I suppose, and then knowing I started to live alone at the age of 15 and found my way through Manchester, through music and people and friendships and exploring. It kept me out of trouble, you know, in a way. It was not a career choice when it’s like that, that was just where life led me.”
While art was her outlet of choice from the age of seven, Murphy fell into music after moving to Manchester – a choice she struggled with, later forming Moloko in Sheffield in the ’90s.
While the band is no more, her solo career – aided by her work with long-term collaborator DJ Parrott (aka Sheffield’s Richard Barratt) – is flourishing, but her long past memories show she has earned her stripes.
“In Las Vegas we were on tour with Moloko, very early days, I think it was the first album, and they booked us into a rave.
“We turned up and people were dribbling. It must have been ’95, a few years after rave, that had been the big thing in England.
“They were all there wearing the white gloves and really overdoing it like, sucking soothers (dummies) and all that, more or less wearing nappies, completely dribbling out of their heads, like happy hardcore basically, and on we went with the f***ing funk basically that our first record was, den den den de, de de deun, killed it, the whole f***ing place vanished in front of our very eyes and the promoter was crying, begging for us to come off. So we came off but he still paid us.
“At the time I felt like I wanted the world to open up and suck me down into its very core and to just dissolve me in the very core of the earth, but now I look back, it was quite fun times.
“You can imagine how long it took to get there in the most shit bus you could ever be on in your life with an alcoholic driver who has driven for 48 hours already. I’ve paid me dues.”
• For tickets and information about the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival, visit https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e2hp8g