Interview with gifted political singer/songwriter Ciaran Murphy


Ciaran Murphy is a political singer songwriter based in Belfast who wrote the bulk of his material while a "dissident republican" prisoner between 2003 - 06. Last month an English music label pulled out of an agreed distribution deal with him due to unease at the political slant of his songs and the perceived sympathies of his small fan base. He describes himself as an 'Irish separatist' with libertarian socialist principles. Here Sean Matthews of the WSM puts questions to him on music, gigging and his political outlook. Ciaran is speaking in a personal capacity.

When did you get the thirst for music and playing the guitar?

I've had a serious obsession with music and politics since I was a child, I was lucky enough to have brothers with good taste and records I could steal. I was getting exposed to bands like the Specials and the Jam when I was around six years old and was falling in love with their songs, even then everyone around our house was talking politics (this was the early eighties) there seemed to be a connection there between music and politics, some of it was probably imagined on my part but either way I picked up on it, so I still associate the two. As for wanting to play guitar that happened when I got into my teens and was listening to completely none 'political' music (the smiths, wedding present, my bloody valentine), music like that made me want to learn the guitar not folk singers.

What are your main music influences?

I couldn’t say that the music I listened to growing up had any influence on what I play now, unless perhaps subconsciously. It probably sounds cheesy but what moulded my songs and the way they sound was my political outlook and the fact that I was locked in a cell for three years and limited to having an acoustic guitar to express my feelings. Though if I had to give a nod to anyone id give it to the clash and the pogues not Dylan or Christy Moore or anyone like that.

What has been your best/challenging moments playing in front of an audience?

The first gig I did was at the new moon showcase in the crescent arts centre in Belfast. I was only out of Maghaberry three months and was put in front a couple of hundred people and my songs offended as many people as they impressed and so I adopted a take it or leave it attitude from then on.

For the first few gigs I just banged through a small set list as quickly as I could then go looking for refuge with anybody who clapped, as I progressed and got more confident I started getting heckled which made things alot more rewarding. I know I'm doing something right if people take the time to be offended.

Most gigs I do now are to 'political' crowds though; fundraisers and the like so it’s not too nerve wracking. I always have to remind myself that most people are out to have a good night though and to interact not necessarily to hear me, you have to remember that or you think people are ignoring you.

What has been the general feedback of your songs from listeners?

It’s been mixed. Thanks to the MySpace thing (hats off to Murdoch) I’m getting radio play and interviews in the states as well as listeners and support from as far away as Australia. I’ve had some people on line tell me I’m "the best songwriter ever", at the same time I’m getting old lads in Belfast shouting at me on stage to "stop talking shite" and the like. Some of the more politicised listeners have split hairs around the lyrics and the stand I take on issues like punishment shootings, when Harry in Belfastwas murdered last year I got some challenging e-mails that were hard to answer.

What is your music about and are your songs aimed at a specific audience?

The songs are in your face political observations and statements. They’re what I felt at the time of writing, times when I was often under serious personal pressure; I think that comes through in them. You get anger, cynicism, republicanism, socialism, Anarchism and a mix of all that. It’s not for the Brian Kennedy fan base. I haven’t really aimed the songs at any audience, as I’m not marketing them, if someone listens great, if they like it that’s a bonus.

Have you faced any obstacles thus far in spreading your music?

Of course but I knew I would, people are always offering me things then having second thoughts. My music is out of step with majority thinking in Ireland, I don’t subscribe to the 'new era' here, immediately that separates you from existing music scenes most of which are built around the temporary 'feel good factor'. Even self perceived radical musicians see resistance as something to refer to in the past tense, so I don’t have people queuing up to help me out.

That said my background opened some doors as well, when I was still in Maghaberry, Tommy Sands (the hippy folk singer) came in and heard my stuff, between him and the Prison Arts Foundation - an independent arts charity headed by Jimmy Boyle - they put me in touch with English record producer Tom Newman who had worked with people like Cat Stevens and Mike Oldfield in the past. Toms a very idealistic and generous lad, he basically made me an album for next to nothing. I then had to weigh that support up with people who resented where I was coming from. A small English music label that I won’t name got to hear my stuff, the guy who runs it told me he had been "blown away" and we had agreed on a distribution deal that was to go ahead in may this year.

It seems they were late learners though, after a very politicised interview on Radio Free Eireann and a thread about my music on "" (an IRA website according to them) they pulled out. On another occasion a quite well known "radical" post punk band from west Belfast who I had been doing a Prison Arts project with asked the PAF behind my back if there was any way they could use my songs while having nothing to do with me.

Also I recently got an English folk band asking me if I would come over to play with them, until their sole Irish member talked them out of it, when she was talking to me she cited "paramilitary elements" posting on my MySpace.

What are your hopes and musical aspirations in the future?

Short term I want to be able to give my music away for free to as many people who want to hear it, I’m sitting on an album here gathering dust. I also wouldn’t mind improving my live sound, learning to control it and do more gigging.

Are you still active politically, what’s your view on today’s political landscape?

I'll always be an activist that comes first. When I first got out I was seriously impressed with the level of organised resistance in Rossport (shell to sea campaign) and the feelings around the country on the issue, I think something significant could still come out of that. I’m impressed by the efficiency of many Anarchist groups particularly in the south where they seem to be rocking the traditional left groups from their commanding horse. Also the Anti-GFA republican groups seem to be finding their voice at last and are avoiding some of the traps that have been laid for them by the state and its supporters, the Raytheon protests in Derry showed a definite progression in those circles, some active cooperation between the remaining radical groups now could throw up a serious challenge to capitalism and the state.

Ciaran Murphy's music can be downloaded free at
He will also be playing live at the Just Books fundraiser in Kellys Cellars in Belfast on Febuary 23rd.


First published on Irish indymedia