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 – IRISH NEWS interview & review

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.

John Kearns

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