This is a very abridged version of the history of the Wild Murphys and the One night in Dublin show.
I left school in the summer of 1996 and went to work on the family farm, I worked in a local pub on weekday evenings and on a weekend I was a mobile DJ, eventually the DJing became full time, I got a job 4 nights a week playing on the river boats in York and the other 3 nights I played for private functions such as birthdays, anniversaries and weddings. It was hard work, I used to get home around 3am and still helped feeding the cows at 7am but I loved it. I was making so good money, rarely went out and lived in a static caravan on the farm so I had very little monetery outgoings, in 1999 I bought my first house for £25,000 and rented it out which gave me another source of income. By the time the millenium rolled around I was very in demand but the DJ world was changing and I was becoming an analogue person in a digital world. DJ's used to specialise in a type of music and got booked because of what they do but now people wanted you to have every song ever recorded on hand and they wanted to give you lists and lists of songs to play, basically a DJ was just a hired in sound guy who jukeboxes their way through the night, the spark was gone.
I wanted to sing, I knew how to play basic guitar and I loved country music so I started playing the clubs and pubs on the North East country music scene, it was a great time, there was country clubs on nearly every night and if you were willing to travel (which I was) you could be very very busy. I carved a niche for playing and singing lesser known country songs with an outlaw theme to them, it was well received for a time but line dancing was slowly starting to takeover and they wanted not just music that I didn't like but they wanted all the acts to sing the same songs so they could use the dances they had learned, the time had come for me to hang up my cowboy hat and mosey on.
My dad always wanted me to sing Irish songs, from an early age he'd taken me to see all the showbands and Irish bands when they came over and I did love that type of music so I put together a show which featured accordion and guitar playing songs by the likes of Brendan Shine, Sean Wilson, Declan Nerney, Joe Dolan, Ann Breen, Susan McCann, etc. and infused it with a lot of stereotypical 'Paddy and Mick' jokes and songs about carrots and potatoes. I'll be honest, it was ok but it didn't work well in its appeal to the general public.
I'd been booked to play the bar in the Tyneside Irish centre in a few months time, I'd played there before and it had gone ok but I really didn't think the current set was working, I really wanted to something more edgy, I was a huge fan of raucous Irish music like the Pogues, The Saw Doctors, Flogging Molly, etc and wanted so much to do those type of songs but apart from the odd cheesy keyboard versions there was no backing tracks for those type of songs. Through the use of very primitive dial up internet I found a company in America who would take any song you sent them and record them played by a full band and send you the backing track for £200 per song, this sounded good but there was a drawback, once the tracks were made hey then sold them on the internet to anyone for £5 per track. I thought it would be a shame to have spent all that money on such a unique show for someone to be able to copy it very inexpensively so I asked them about the option of having exclusive rights to the tracks (as in I would be the only person who got a copy of them). They were happy to do this but it would cost £500 per track, this was going to mean for a 2 hour show I was going to have to lay out £20,000! It was a huge gamble but I did it and when the date rolled around I very nervously set up my backing track player and my instruments in the bar and waited to start. Now, two things happened that day before I went on, Ireland won the rugby match and Newcastle (who played across the road from the venue) won 4-1, it's fair to say people were in high spirits that afternoon when I fired up with the Young Dubliners, The Popes, The Pogues, The Saw Doctors and the Dropkick Murphys, they'd never been hit with such a lively show, they tore the place apart, dancing on tables, beer everywhere, I just stood there thinking 'yep, this is it!' I called in an old pal from a country band who was himself getting disillusioned with the country music scene and asked if he'd like to come on board and make it a duo show with him playing banjo and mandolin, he was well up for it and after a couple of rehearsals "The Wild Murphys" were formed and we were on the road.
From 2005 for 2 years we must have played nearly every Irish theme pub and club in the country, with the exception of a few that wouldn't book us because we weren't Irish, we did pretty much all the O'Neils & Molloys that existed, sometimes multiple times in a month, the date book was chocca block. Then in 2007 I headed out to the Greek island of Zante to do a summer season playing the Irish pub chain out there. They were some of the happiest times of my life, every night was like St. Patricks night and the crowd was so up for it, I ended up playing there from May to October for the following 6 years.
Back in the UK we spent the winter seasons driving up and down the motorways plying our musical trade wherever they would have us then in 2009 we went from duo to trio with the addition of a bass player. the following year the Banjo player left and John MacRae was taken on as lead guitarist.
Over the period of 2011-2013 we did a lot of recording in the Cluny studio with Tony Davis producing, we were still using the USA backing tracks at this point with 3 live instruments over the top. At some point in every session the topic would come up that I'd love to make the songs more original to us, while the versions we were doing we pretty damn good they were still exact copies of the original artists versions, our version of Sally MacLennane was exactly the same as the Pogues version, our version of Galway girl by Steve Earle was exactly the same as Steve Earls version, etc. Tony kept suggesting that we hired in musicians and I could direct them as to how I wanted the songs to sound, as in, 'do it like this but I want it to go a bit different here' or 'I like this song but I wish it was faster or had this kind of beat instead', I liked the sound of this but not the idea of spending so much money, we worked out with studio time and hiring in session musicians it would work out at roughly £650 per song, and we needed 40+ songs at least, this was going to be an investment of nearly £30k!
I took me nearly a year to finally hit the go button on the project but it definitely was the right decision, We hired in a drummer, John and I played multiple instruments, my wife's brother played the bass and did backing vocals while Tony played all the keys. The only thing missing was fiddle. Tony suggested a guy who he'd used before but he wasn't available but that guy knew someone who was available and was very good, her name was Sophy Ball.
Doing our own versions of lively Irish songs was a game changer and it propelled our booking into the stratosphere. It no longer mattered that we weren't Irish, we were doing the right songs with the respect they deserved, we weren't pretending to be anything we were not, we were good at what we did and that's all that mattered now. High end agents were lining up to represent us, we went from playing pubs to clubs to hotels, to village halls, to weddings and then on to playing corporate events, one of which was at Chepstow racecourse, who then booked us for a race day, then word spread and we started playing other ARC owned courses, then the Jockey club courses came calling, we headlined Kempton park! Over the course of 2 years we played all but 6 of the racecourses in the whole of the UK, it was insane.
The bass player left and I convinced Tony to come play Keys for us live, I also managed to rope Sophy in to play live fiddle for us on the odd occasion, things were looking, sounding and going amazing when in late 2017 I finally felt it was time to take the next logical step and try to break into the theatre circuit, that's when things got complicated.
No theatre producer wanted to work with us, we were busy and well respected but we weren't a household name and no-one would flock to the local theatre to see a band they'd never heard of so we couldn't just go out as 'The Wild Murphys' it would need to be packaged, I came up with the idea of 'A night at Murphys Pub' In my head I knew how I wanted the show to look and feel but didn't know how to produce it. We needed to be live, there's no way we could do a theatre show with backing tracks (Although some do!) so we brought in an old friend of ours called Shaun to play drums and made it a five piece lineup with myself, John, Tony Shaun and Sophy. We put together the bare bones of a show but no-one was interested in producing it, the only nibble we got was from one producer who would take us on if we were a tribute to one Irish band, while I understand this is an easy sell as you can lean on the established name of the original artist and it makes the show very simple to market we didn't want to be stuck as a tribute act, we'd spent years getting our own sound and set together and that's what we wanted to put in front of people. I decided if we were going to get anywhere we'd have to do it ourselves so I started to produce the show from scratch, I had drawn out sketches of how it would look with a cartoon pub background and a bar etc and I found an artist in Australia who had done an 'Ozzy pub' marquee liner and asked him to do us an irish pub version. I bought a 5 year old DAF wagon that had been used as a Hovis bread delivery truck, we still had the old Murphy van but it needed a new engine so I had a new engine and 6 extra seats fitted to make it into a crew van, then I bought a load of lighting and sound equipment and spent a few months programming it up to do what we wanted, we rehearsed relentlessly, we had a show, what we didn't have were bookings and we couldn't get them, to get into the theatres you needed a tour booker and despite emails, phone calls and letters we could not get one to yoke up to booking our show.
We had to get a tour booker on board or this was all wasted money and effort so I embarked on an ambitious plan. I hired the Majestic Theatre, a 300 seater in Darlington, We wrote to every tour booker in the country and invited them to the 'premier performance' and to sweeten the deal I offered 1st class rail travel to Darlington, an executive car and driver at their disposal once they got to town, a night in a 5 star hotel, a three course champagne dinner on the evening of the performance, basically a free 5 start weekend if they just came to see the show. Then we filled the theatre with people we knew and who loved the show, we gave them a free bar and primed them to go nuts to help give the show an atmosphere. 10 tour bookers took up the offer, it cost me £5000 to put the night on for them and after the weekend was over 4 of them did not get back to me, another 4 were not interested and 2 were interested but had revisions that they wanted making to the show;
1) More musicians on stage - We took on Will as bass player, Fay on flute, Ruck on Banjo.
2) The name needed to be changed - The show became 'One night in Dublin'
3) The artwork needed changing - We hired DreamFly to do professional green artwork
4) The lighting needed to be better - We spent a further £8000 on lighting
5) The show needed to be shorter and more engaging - We dropped 6 songs and added some script
With the criteria met, Phil and Sue at Book em Danno became our tour bookers and set about getting us some places to play.
It was easier said than done, unfortunately for us another UK based Irish group had taken the aforementioned tribute route and had just booked a years tour in all the venues we were trying for, and with a tribute to an act everyone knows they found it much easier to secure bookings than our unheard of show, the upshot was that the venues didn't want to book 2 Irish shows in the same season, we'd have to wait a full year before our tour could start but it was worth it. At 12pm on Tuesday 4th June 2019, with Trevor now our drummer (Shaun had decided with his health conditions not to carry on with drumming) and Phil Dodsworth now as our full time wagon driver and roadie, we pulled onto the loading dock of the Alban Arena and that night performed to 384 people who clapped, sang, jumped, danced, shouted for more and gave us a standing ovation, that was it, we'd made it! It had cost me nearly every penny I had to get there but we'd damn well done it and it just kept getting better, well, until the shutdown of March 2020 that is!