Unflinching snapshots of the Troubles are the genesis of these moving, acoustic driven songs from Newry Brothers Brendan and Declan Murphy. In ‘Bird’s Eye View‘, the ‘sky cracks open’ as ‘the blades come hovering down’, Brendan describing the mayhem from his window, knowing the carnage is just a ‘stone’s throw away’. ‘Going South‘ tells of checkpoints, leaving the parades behind and soldiers with ‘their faces painted green, hiding in the trees’; the child’s perspective lends a candour crackling with innocence. There’s no polemic at work here, just a clutch of great songs telling it like it was, performed with an honesty that makes this rather special. Julian Piper
Songs usually mean a whole lot more to the listener if they mean something to the writer to begin with. ‘Sugar Island’, the latest recording from the Murphy Brothers AKA The 4 of Us, is a musical tribute to growing up in the North in the 1970s – specifically growing up in Newry, hometown to Declan and Brendan.
Named after a well-known gathering spot in Newry, ‘Sugar Island’ gives an honest depiction of growing up in the 70s and dealing with all the normal stuff teenagers had to contend with as well as some of the more abnormal stuff.
With twelve songs in all, ‘Sugar Island’ offers a little bit of everything that we have come to love and expect from the band – the soulful voice of Brendan against a backdrop of Declan’s stunning acoustic guitar playing.
There is something very distinctive about Brendan’s voice and similarly with Declan and his guitar playing.
In music, as with art and literature, it is impossible to be all things to all people but I don’t think the Murphys care too much about that.
The 4 of Us have consolidated a strong Irish support over the last 26 years or so and ‘Sugar Island’ will definitely appeal to those fans of a certain vintage, with those many references to life in 1970s Ireland.
Anyone who considers Brexit a good idea should pay close attention to ‘Going South’ – a song which will give a clue as to what life might be like with a hard border. For anyone in their late 40s and over, the song will bring back the horrors of a standard summer holiday trip down to the Republic of Ireland and a vivid reflection of a darker time. ‘Birds Eye View’ almost makes light of the carnage and mayhem which was lived out on a regular basis across much of Northern Ireland. Written from the perspective of a teenager looking out from his bedroom late at night, there was also a touch of magic to it all, in a mad way.
Strange kind of music. A background to a young boys dream.
It brings back memories of a time in the 70s when we got a call from neighbours to evacuate our house. We ended up playing football at 5.00am in the primary school yard, waiting for a bomb in the village to go off.
There’s nothing glamorous in it at all but for a young child at a certain age, there was an incredible drama to life in the north, which is well captured in this song. ‘Sugar Island’ is a very personal collection of songs for the Murphys and whilst it may be easier for some of us to relate to their narrative, nobody should feel excluded.
By Paul McAnallen
It’s a notable achievement that THE 4 OF US have created such a potent-sounding record while keeping it simple and acoustic … John Kearns, Irish News
THE 4 OF US return with a brand new album, Sugar Island, and a series of live dates scheduled in their increasingly busy diary. The band are in fine form musically and creatively, with the new record representing the latest impressive chapter in their illustrious career.
Sugar Island is very much an autobiographical tale of the Murphy brothers’ formative years in Newry and how the surroundings affected their lives and their songwriting. Frontman Brendan tells me that this collection of songs has been steadily brewing for decades.
“The album is mostly about about our lives and experiences growing up – from family life to romances and all the the things we saw and learned along the way. I suppose it’s best to write about what you know and everyone, whether they’re a songwriter or not, carries so many memories that make them the person they are, so these songs and themes have always been in my head. It was just a matter of getting them out and turning them into songs.”
Thematically the material touches on everything from first loves to family holidays, the latter beautifully illustrated by one of the album’s stand-out tracks, Going South, where Brendan sings of crossing through the border checkpoint with the whole family crammed into the Murphy clan’s saloon and how the songs on the radio or his father’s 8 Track stereo system filled him with excitement.
“When I look back at those trips I still laugh and think how times have changed. Five kids on the back seat – there were no seatbelt laws in those days of course and the car was filled with cigarette smoke. There we were loving it and having the time of our lives as the radio blasted Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime. I think that was my first realisation of the power of music.
“We made a video for Going South and we actually found and digitised our parents’ cine camera footage and used it throughout, so it’s a really authentic accompaniment to the track itself.”
Other salient moments on Sugar Island are the title track, 1973, Bird’s Eye View, which tells of watching the Troubles unfold from a child’s perspective and my personal favourite, Just a Drop which although is a sparse acoustic driven song, like all of the album, still manages to swagger and posture as if it was a blues rock stomp.
In fact it’s a notable achievement that The 4 Of Us have created such a potent-sounding record while keeping it simple and acoustic.
“That was the brief we set ourselves,” Brendan reflects, “We put rules in place for ourselves that this record would have no electric guitars and no cymbals, to create the pure sound we wanted but the challenge was that it wouldn’t suffer because of that – it still had to sound energetic and have plenty of groove and rhythm. I think we managed to do that.”
The guys will be putting those songs to the test in their upcoming show.
“The Lyric is a fantastic venue for us to play and it is such an imtimate setting especially for these new songs but we want people to come and have a party. A lot of our fans have grown up with us and maybe have booked babysitters for the night. Let’s hope they don’t waste the chance to dance and sing and go home with a real buzz. It’s our job to make that happen and that’s what we are certainly setting out to do.”
:: The 4 Of Us play Belfast’s Lyric Theatre on November 6. Sugar Island is released today.