Small Talk Stinks: An Interview with Peter Murphy
If you haven’t heard about the many feats of Peter Murphy, he’ll be the first to enlighten you. Emerging from the smoldering rubble of punk rock in 1978 as lead vocalist with iconic four-piece Bauhaus, the bombastic baritone has forged a reputation as one of the most unique and challenging songwriters of his own and subsequent generations.
Having spent the better part of this decade honouring the work of Bauhaus with his solo performances, Murphy has recently extended an olive branch to fellow Bauhaus luminary David J. Later this month the pair will set off on a tour of the UK, Europe, and Oceania in celebration of the band’s 40th anniversary - playing their debut album In The Flat Field in its entirety, before launching into an extended encore of Bauhaus classics.
As the tour inches closer to antipodean shores, we phoned Peter to chat about tour prep, fraught band dynamics and Roxy Music.
It's not long now 'til the Ruby Celebration tour kicks off. How are rehearsals going? Well we've finished the main rehearsals and now we’re all separately rehearsing to perform In The Flat Field in its entirety. We leave for South America very soon, where we’ll rehearse for a couple of days and knock it all into shape. I’m making notes to everybody too. This is the first time some of these songs have been performed live since 1979, if at all, right? Some of them we haven’t performed ever - songs like 'Nerves', 'Small Talk Stinks' and 'Dive'. At least two thirds have never been properly performed live. There’s some great songs on there, we just have to get it knitted down as an album. Will you be playing any of the singles released around that time, or the B-sides like 'Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores'? Wow 'Rosegarden...', that might be something. I have that in my head, it’s one of the classics. What was great about Bauhaus is that our B-sides were equal to our A-sides, sometimes better (laughs). Why do you think the press rallied against Bauhaus with such fervour early on? The NME called In The Flat Field “nine meaningless moans”. Brilliant, what a wonderful review (laughs). We didn’t need them and we didn’t need labels; we just formed our own force. By the time Beggars Banquet had signed us we already had a large audience nationwide. We never had a press agent to lick their elbows - the people just came out in force. It was a case of “Who the hell do they think they are?” and that was perfect. There was one piece in Melody Maker back then by Steve… whatever the fuck his name was. I can’t remember. The one who became the NME editor later on. He came on the bus with us, spent two days with us and it was wonderful, very affable and all that. But then the article came out and it was disgusting.
After everything he wanted to come on tour with us again and I said "Yeah, but the only way we’ll do it is if we have him on stage as the opening act in a kind of chat show set up, we strap him up like St Vincent to a pole at the back of the stage and every now and then we just whip the bastard". The band said “No Peter, no! You'll be arrested!". So to answer your question, I think it became a problem of the fashion we had and we were unbearably rubbish in a genius way sometimes. I walked the walk, I came out and said "I’m stronger than any man and more beautiful than any woman". I just owned it. Maybe it was that? We were quiet and didn’t mix with famous people much either.
Peter Murphy performs live with Mark Gemini Thwaite during the Ninth Tour
I was actually wondering why there aren't many photographs of you and your artistic contemporaries floating about. David J said it was because they were all scared shitless. I said "...But why?" (laughs). Would you be interested in penning an autobiography at some point? I don’t know, really. I have so many good anecdotes that I’d like to share, but it would have to be done in the right way. What would you say is the biggest misconception people have about you? Oh, I don't know about the biggest misconception, but one brilliant rumour I heard was that I died of AIDS after contracting it from Daniel Ash (laughs). Somebody called me - they got my number back when no one had my number, it was the pre-internet days - and they reach my house in Turkey...
“Hi Peter, this is Fred from radio blah blah and currently your fans are outside having a wake, memorialising you because you’ve died".
I said “Well, what did I die of?”
“You contracted AIDS from Daniel Ash”
I said “Thank you very much, but no. I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole, darling!”
Were there any songs from later in your solo career that you felt would have worked particularly well for Bauhaus? 'The Line Between The Devil’s Teeth', which is sort of a prologue to In The Flat Field, there’s a lot there... 'Low Room', 'A Strange Kind Of Love' and 'Lion' would have worked well too actually. Your cover of the Dead Can Dance classic 'Severance' has been a mainstay in your sets with Bauhaus and your solo shows for years now. What do you love about that track the most? Well it’s so tribal and it has an ecstatic end to it, which becomes sort of terrifying in a way. I kind of got the feeling that your performance of that song may have also influenced the writing on your last solo album Lion, particularly tracks like 'Loctaine' and 'The Ghost Of Shoken Lake'. It did give me that vehicle to be beautifully melodic and to use my voice in that way. I definitely see what you mean about 'Loctaine' and some of the other songs from Lion. When I first saw the Ruby tour announced, I was wondering if you’d miss playing your solo songs as it’s such a Bauhaus set. I do miss performing them, but it’s Peter Murphy performing Bauhaus, isn’t it? I’m not going to be sucked into the Bauhaus bollocks. Exactly, it’s not going to be Bauhaus. Thank god! ...You’re gonna make me ask aren’t you? Why would it make sense for me to have Daniel and Kevin there, just because they’re the original members? Are you constantly fielding questions about a reunion these days? Oh, it always comes up. There’s a lot of promoters offering us stuff now, big money. But it doesn’t matter. I like to tease them, I say “Maybe... maybe I’ll do it", but then I inevitably tell them to fuck off.
Look it’s all very personal. Bauhaus has fallen apart in a way that’s very private and very traumatic and upsetting. I write “There is no love where there is no love” in the song 'Disappearing on Holy Smoke' and that covers it still. I don’t want to piss on anybody at all. Inviting David was a great olive branch; it’s been an unspoken forgiveness from me and I don’t want to talk about it too much because that would spoil the gesture.
Look, I’m the guy, it’s my tour... it’s not like I’m waving my dick here either. I’ve been working for so long to draw this audience. David is drawing more people now too and it’s great, and I'm giving him great recompense for it, do you understand? It’s all very respectful. I’m not going to go into too many details on the total reformation, but I’m a problem. I know that. I’m expensive, I’m high end! (laughs)
I think we all know that no one is going to say “I’d love to see Bauhaus perform but without Peter Murphy” Of course not (laughs). I’d never want that. We were a great band... or we could have been if we weren't, you know, pissing and moaning about. Be great, shut the fuck up and plug in - that's what works.
There was a great moment during the making of Go Away White when Daniel was just making some noises with the guitar and I said “Ok, now solo!”, and he said “This is the solo!”. That’s Bauhaus, that’s what it’s all about. I've heard you're a big fan of Roxy Music. Did you ever see them live back in the day? Virginia Plain, that’s where it’s at. I went to see them just after Eno left and they brought in a violin player. It was at Wembley Arena, they were playing Siren and there was a long intro but the whole audience started chanting “Eno! Eno!” (laughs) Was Virginia Plain your favourite song? When I first heard it I thought it was amazing. And they all looked fucking brilliant. Ferry looked brilliant. That jacket! This week I’ve completely zoned in on a performance of 'Love Is The Drug' on Top Of The Pops. You should check it out. Never mind Ferry stumbling around at the front, fuck that... he’s got two 'Roxy Girls' at the back, just watch them! Brilliant! That’s Glam Rock, it’s not something like Slade.
Roxy Music perform Love Is The Drug on Top Of The Pops. Brian Ferry wears an full eye patch ensemble to disguise a tennis ball injury. Slade had no art behind them. Roxy was about delivering music and art together. Totally! I’ve covered 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache' and the amazing audience reaction at the end when it explodes... I might have to add that one to some of the new shows. Do you have any plans to collaborate with Trent Reznor again? I’d love to. I think a lot of people wanted him to do my album. I called him and told him a lot of people are saying we should do an album together and he said a lot of people were saying it on his end too. “You don’t have to” I said, typical me. I told him he had already honoured me.
You know what, he’s very careful about what he does. I think he’s a little bit, not intimidated at all, but maybe a little bit shy, you know what I mean? He likes control over everything too. He hasn’t asked me, so who knows, maybe in the future we’ll do something. I'd love to. What’s your favourite Bauhaus album cover? I’d have to say In The Flat Field, it’s so beautiful and erotic, but so art. People think that’s my knob on the cover, you know? I tell them "No way, I’m a lot bigger than that!". Bloody cheek, what you on about? (laughs)
Ruby Celebration Tour Dates
Thursday 18th October – Wellington, Meow
Friday 19th October – Christchurch, Club Tavern
Saturday 20th October – Auckland, Powerstation
Monday 22nd October – Adelaide, The Gov
Thursday 25th October – Brisbane,
The Zoo Friday 26th October – Melbourne, Max Watts
Saturday 27th October – Sydney, Factory Theatre
Sunday 28th October – Perth, The Capitol
Tickets on sale from davidroywilliams.com