John – Dwaalspoor -Rotterdam, 1-11-2008 – pic by Dwaalspoor
One year is gone, and I have decided to share some thoughts I wrote just after John left.
It seems like the last time we met in Holland during the last WERTHAM gig ever was yesterday … As it feels like yesterday when John and I could talk after the first of a series of dramatic health complications we hoped could be solved… As it feels like yesterday when our common friend Andrew King confirmed he left for another place…
John and I would have been friends for 20 years now… I like to think we will be forever.
John – Madrid la Blanc
“This is John Murphy speaking…”
Numberless phone calls and messages left on my answering machine started exactly like this, whenever John was either looking for me to organize something or just for a chat filled with anecdotes (his) or complaints (mine). Between 1999 and 2002, I lived in the UK and John was a constant presence, one of the very few friends I trusted – definitely one of the most entertaining ones – and his calls kept me company on weekly basis.
My first meeting with Mr. Murphy
The first time I met John was in 1996 in Neuchatel at “La Case A Chocs”, after a very intense Death in June/Kapo/Strength Through Joy/NON gig. I was sent by the Wolf Age team to attempt to hook up with Douglas for organizing a couple of gigs in Italy. When I presented myself, John simply nodded and kindly introduced himself to then disappear and leave me talking with Doug and Boyd.
Nevertheless, it was until the following year, when the two gigs we had in mind happened, that we broke the ice. The two dates (and everything before and after) was filled with weird happenings: Ken Thomas getting his trousers and wallet stolen in his hotel room while sleeping; the owners of the squat in Turin that got very concerned once they understood that the cpncert they hosted was not going to be the typical safe&PC event they were used to. We had to spend one hour in the nearby square waiting that organizers made up their minds. There John and I started talking. He asked many questions about who I was, about my job and my involvement in sound projects.
After a superb performance where the world around us trembled, just before I left with my friends to return to Como, John asked for my address since he would have liked to send me some postcards (!) and thet he would have enjoyed contributing with some sounds to my projects (!!!).
“Militia Christi” is the first track we ever composed together. This is the second version with our FDF partner Richard Leviathan on vocals.
And this is how everything started
After a few months, John kept his promises and started bombing me with superb material. I still have all tapes he sent from time to time for approximately 4/5 years, nefore switching to CDs.
The material John sent ranged from intense atmospheric drones that were not simple boring minimal “ambient” tracks, to full-blast noise attack. There were many bizarre concrete sounds, scary cut-ups, vocal parts, complete songs. John challenged me to transform these sounds into something different, which I tried to do with a few exception (e.g. FDF’s backing tracks “Militia Christi”, which was just too perfect to touch). He invited me to show him what I was capable of, and you can imagine how a young nobody from Italy moving his first steps could feel with the responsibility of not disappointing one of his “idols”.
John recorded wherever he found himself: Hunter’s Retina Studio in London, on the streets, in hotel rooms while on tour. He used to play a lot with a little sampler and several other instruments he carried around in a big black bag that included different percussion tools, including sound toys like the “thunder maker”.
I remember when once he sent organic sounds recorded in, I believe, his parent’s house in Australia. He unmounted a door, banged on it and slideded it on the floor. All this for very long moments. First time I listened to these I was in “wtf???” state, but once I added a few effects, it turned into something I never heard before.
In the meantime, my correspondence with Richard Leviathan became as intense and we decided to join forces. He also made himself available to help with Foresta di Ferro, and so, once I moved to UK, the Iron Forest became a solid project.
Foresta di Ferro live in Madrid La Blanc.
How we worked.
We only had one rehearsal where we mostly listened some backing tracks we intended to use for the FDF CD and we only had one recording session at the Bunker studio in London. I think it was a two days session where we recorded three tracks and some extra sounds that are still waiting to be used.
Apart from this experience, normally John was sending sounds to me that I mangled in my cheap gear. I still have hundreds of sounds already inserted in unreleased tracks, which means that ,despite the fact John left his body, he will keep being present for quite a while.
However, where we really learnt to work together was on stage. During the years we played in different combinations: Wertham/Krang, him part of Wertham, me part of Shining Vril and of course Foresta di Ferro. It also happened that John represented FDF without neither Richard nor me on stage.
His main love were Knifeladder (very nice lads and definitely one of the 10 best industrial projects of the past years), Last Dominion Lost and his personal project Shining Vril, but he was very serious whenever he was involved in anything I proposed. John always preferred to stay in the background somehow. He was more interested into doing practical activities than waste time with “marketing”, if you know what I mean, but when he was involved, he really left his mark.
His trademark drumming fitted perfectly with FDF and even if we rehearsed very little before gigs, everything always worked just fine. When playing Wertham he was adding weird textures that amplified the sound, boosting the general ambience, which was completely lacking on CD.
John – Dwaalspoor -Rotterdam, 1-11-2008 – pic by Dwaalspoor
What I have learnt from John.
Before knowing John, I was convinced of not having any trace of rhythm in my blood. After observing him in action and asking endless questions, I learnt to – roughly – play percussion. I got so much into banging drums that it helped me replacing John himself one time, playing for Mr. Andrew King – a bizarre experience where I risked compromising the whole performance since I definitely had – and still have – issues with drum rolls, but this is another story.
After playing with some of the toys he carried in his black bag, I started collecting weird ethnic instruments. I have learnt to work with cut-ups and he helped me understanding that everything that makes a sound, potentially any object, could be used to create peculiar atmospheres and if a sound sucks, can become fantastic by using the proper effect. Said like this I may sound amateurish, but trust me, before meeting john I only used one synth, two pedals and a valve mixer.
Last but not least, John taught me several English expressions that enriched my vocabulary, such as “it sounds quite peculiar to me”, “he is quite a peculiar character”, “I am not the ogre you may think I am” and so on. The way he said these sentences was unique as the tone of his voice. Very often we all imitated him, especially when calling common friends on the phone, even in his presence, and he was laughing as well.
Foresta di Ferro – Most sounds and chimes were composed by John.
Our little secret song.
After a few years that we knew each other, when we were alone, John used to act as if he was a crooner or a blues man moving his hands in a strange way and singing a twisted “serenade” to an unreal woman. The lyrics said something like “Beautiful Como, I will take you to the lake, under the moonlight and you’ll love beautiful Como“. (For those who do not know, Como is my hometown and is famous for its lake, its promenade, George Lucas shooting some scenes of Star Wars and George Clooney moving there for his holidays). This could go on for minutes and a couple of times I had the honor of having this song sung also on the phone as well.
Whenever anybody approached us, he returned the John we all knew and became silent.
I regret being unable to record such performances, it would have amused many of you today and show to all those who thought he was somehow threatening (I also did first time I saw him), that John was in fact a really funny guy with a – as he would have said – peculiar sense of humor.
WERTHAM -Born to raise hell – Main droning backing track was recorded with my Korg Sigma, all other noises and backing tracks were John’s contribution.
Why am I so grateful to him
I am grateful to him because of everything I have just written, that should be enough to explain why his passing was a big blow for me.
Apart from this, John introduced me many nice people during the years, some of which became friends for life and are still here with me. We were very different in many extents, but we shared the same curiosity about many aspects of life that kept us awake at night many times.
Although during the past four years we have not been seeing each other and we have not been in touch as much as we used to be, I have always been thinking of him as a big brother who never patronized me, but definitely gave me important suggestions. During at least two of the worst moments of my life, he was there for me, without being judgmental even if I was completely fucked-up and incoherent.
John was a real person, one of a kind, somebody who, despite being apparently shy and more silent than most of the rest of the people we hung around, had a lot to say, and who will keep living with me for the years to come in sounds, words and memories.
See you later John. I just hope that you are where you wanted to be.
Your old pal Marco, from beautiful Como
Autoscatto, John and I in Madrid.
PS: Notes from chaos from Greece just published this:
Check: Notes From Chaos: Page 55 – John Murphy (1959 – 2015)
– Whirlywirld – Signals (Whirlywirld 7″ / Missing Link / 1979)
– Current 93 – A Visit To Dogland (V/A – The Fight Is On LP / L.A.Y.L.A.H. Antirecords / 1985)
– The Associates – Nude Spoons (The Peel Sessions LP/CD / Strange Fruit / 1989)
– Gene Loves Jezebel – Screaming (For Emmalene) (Screaming (For Emmalene) 12″ / Situation Two / 1983)
– John Murphy – Father Of Skins-Panik (V/A – Garbage Sandwich 4CS / Beast 666 Tapes / 1992)
– Lustmord – Comahon Q.Q. Comahon (Paradise Disowned LP / Side Effects / 1986)
– Orchestra Of Skin & Bone – Glory (Untitled LP / Major Records / 1986)
– Krank – Scry (Live) (Chaos CD / Dark Vinyl Records / 1991)
– Gum & John Murphy – Blood On The Floor (20 Years In Blue Movies And Yet To Fake An Orgasm LP / Not On Label / 1988)
– Andrew King & The Oval Legionary Chorale – Legionnaire In Algiers (V/A – Tutti A Casa! Ain Soph Tribute 2CD / Hau Ruck! SPQR / 2003)
– Last Dominion Lost – Ritual In The Dark (Snowdrops From A Curate’s Garden LP / The Epicurean / 2015)
– Espectra Negra & John Murphy – Offering To Sanwa-Dupa (Savage Justice CS / Self-Released (Espectra Negra) / 2013)
– Gerechtigkeits Liga – Justice (Dystopia LP / Zyklus Records / 2011)
– Naevus – Like Arms (Behaviour CD / Operative Records / 2002)
– Browning Mummery – Sutured (Chants Of The Bardo Engine MP3 / Self-Released / 2015)
– Wertham – Man-Ho’-Rexia (Maladolescenza 7″ / Deathangle Absolution Records / 2014)
– Knifeladder – Red Drum (Organic Traces CD / Operative Records / 2002)
– Foresta Di Ferro – Harmony Of Pen And Sword (Bury Me Standing CD / Hau Ruck! / 2003)
– Scorpion Wind – The Cruelty Of The Heavens (Heaven Sent 2LP / Twilight Command/New European Recordings / 1996)
One year passed since John Murphy’s death and Notes From Chaos takes a look at some of his works, associations and collaborations dividing the 2 hour podcast into two sections: First hour focused in the 80’s and the second hour in the 2000’s paying tribute to one of the most active and multifarious musicians in Australia. The episode’s sounds varied from New Wave (The Associates) and industrial (Lustmord) to Neofolk (Death In June & Boyd Rice’s Scorpion Wind) including bands being member like Knifeladder and Last Dominion Lost and less known collaborations with Espectra Negra (which i thank her for her contribution) and Australian experimental band Gum.
R.I.P. John Murphy (1959 – 2015)
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