Róisín Murphy: music is community

Wherever you are in the world, lockdown delivered a unique set of challenges for us all. And, despite success and celebrity, lauded veteran musician Róisín Murphy is no different. From facing a string of cancelled gigs and festivals, to home-schooling her children, there’s been a lot to navigate. For the 46-year-old, celebrating creativity in times of adversity (as well as an unwavering commitment to the party) seem to be what has helped her through.

‘I always get creative when the [proverbial] hits the fan,’ she cackles down the phone from her Cricklewood home, where she’s finishing an album and adapting to a life of live-stream performances (for which she’s gaining a lot of attention). Born in County Wicklow in Ireland, Murphy moved to Manchester with her family aged 12. When her mother moved back a few years later, she chose to live in the city alone. She quickly found solace in music and a chosen family of ‘weirdos’ in Manchester’s ever-evolving club scene.

After forming the dance duo Moloko in the early 90s, Murphy went on to release four albums, as well as multiple EPs as a solo artist. Constantly finding new collaborators and effortlessly moving from trip hop to house, disco and funk, the singer-songwriter has been soundtracking dance floors for decades. And although right now the dance floor might also be the living room, Murphy says she has no plans for the party to pause.
A woman singing in a dark room holding a microphone and wearing a zigzag patterned hat.
A woman dancing in a living room with psychedelic effects.
A woman singing with psychedelic effects around her.
‘It hasn’t been easy, but lockdown has been a really interesting time. It’s given me an opportunity to be very creative, and that’s kind of my go-to anyway. My reset position has always been to disappear into making things, it’s what I’ve done since I was a kid. One day, I could redecorate my bedroom and the next I might cover an old piece of furniture in shards of mirror; I’m a bit of a hobbyist that way. My son Tadhg has an acoustic guitar and just can’t leave it alone. Time goes by so slowly when you’re a child.

‘I’ve been live-streaming since before the lockdown. You still experience everybody being in it together, you know your mate in the East End is listening and there’s still that sense of connection. A few weeks ago, I played a set for [queer club collective] Homoelectric. My lighting engineer was sorting the lights and effects live, while I was doing the performance in my living room. It was difficult, but it was fun to dress up and sing. Pulling all the clothes out; the mess I made. Sometimes I wish I could be more minimal. 

‘That said, I’ve also been sitting down in front of my phone and singing into it without a scrap of make-up on, and it’s been very liberating. For someone who plays with all these costumes and masks, who gets all glammed up in drag or whatever I get into, it means you know there’s a real person there. It’s relaxing to know I can do that, and that I’m also allowed to stomp around in disco lights dressed up as an Italian pop star from the 1980s, too. Mina is my number one, I adore her. She was the queen of it all, an Italian sweetheart, but also a totally ballsy diva. There’s just something about the divas from that era, they were just so in control. There’s a real matriarchal power in Italian culture; I’ve taken a lot from looking at those performances.
A woman with a wide round head piece and polka dots behind her.
‘Work for my new album actually started many, many years ago. The first thing that came from it was “Simulation” in 2012. I’d started talking in 2010 about how I wanted to make house music, and I wanted to make club music. Ironically, it was always meant to be functional and there is no function right now without any nightclubs. But hopefully, people will keep on dancing and streaming, and it will get a few spins.

‘I think once things are back up and running, people will gobble up live music – but how long is it going to take? With travelling being difficult for a while, I hope local scenes will become more powerful again. Rather than flying to Barcelona every five minutes to go to Sónar, support a local DJ creating a local night. In my memory, those are the best nights ever. There’s this sense of community and you lose the pressure of only being there for one night, or needing to see DJ whatever and put it on Instagram. It was better when we were going to our own clubs and making our own scenes. There’s no clubbing without a sense of community and power within the crowd. Without sounding like a total softy, by god, it’s been my everything. 

‘I started going out when I was 14 and living in Manchester on my own. I met a load of weirdos and started going to see loads of bands. Our lives revolved around music, so clubbing was a natural step. It’s where I met [former partner and other half of Moloko] Mark Brydon: in a club. When we were making the first album, every new day was like, “Wow. Are we actually doing this? Is this actually coming out of us?” That was even before we made the record. It all just snapped together so beautifully in the very beginning. And it was a love affair as well; there was me finding a thing to do in this world with the person that I loved the most. 

‘Creativity has kept me going through lockdown. And I know that once we can have access to it again, there will never not be live music. A performer has to perform, it’s just what we do.’
Five album covers.
Murphy’s tracklist for Soho House: 

Sharon Brown – ‘I Specialize In Love’ 
‘This is a phenomenal boogie. Perfectly balanced groove and the hookiest vocal hook ever.’

Chas & Dave – ‘Mustn’t Grumble’
‘A constant when we tour, we could be anywhere… Budapest, Lisbon, Istanbul, Moscow, LA. So, if you hear this blaring and a bunch of lovely English lads with one crazy Irish lady singing along, you know we’re in town.’

Van Morrison – ‘You Don’t Pull No Punches
‘One of my all-time favourites. The arrangement is flawless and his vocal delivery floats across the top like a stream of consciousness. It gives me immense joy. Van always touches my Celtic soul.’

Vaughan Mason – ‘You Can Do It’
‘I use this track to get in the mood right before stage. Incredible vocal arrangement (I know every word. There is something joyful about music that just fits together so perfectly; there is space for everything.’

Miriam Makeba – ‘Strawberries!’
‘My darling [partner] Sebastiano loves this song and played it to me when we began our love affair. It invokes a very happy time for me.’
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