(Originally published here)
INTERVIEW: THE GOTH FATHER, PETER MURPHY – A FAST PACED RAP ON FORTY YEARS OF BAUHAUS
There’s always a little trepidation before you have to speak over the phone with rock musicians you have been listening to for decades.
Peter Murphy, once of British goth pioneers, Bauhaus, fame was one of these people. The image he has projected for years is one of a dark, brooding, mysterious man. He has been associated with the ‘dark side’ since Bauhaus first recorded Bela Lugosi’s Dead way back in 1979, and his appearances in vampire films such as Tony Scott’s The Hunger which starred David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, and a cameo in one of the Twilightfranchise blockbusters, only added to this projected mystique.
But it is not every day you get to speak to the man largely heralded as being responsible for a completely new genre of music – ‘goth rock’ – so I summoned up all my powers of fortitude and made the call…
Peter Murphy picked up immediately, and it became quickly evident he was in a contrarily mischievous and talkative mood…
I nearly asked all of my first question, and then he was off and running!
What follows is an attempt at trying to capture the effervescent enthusiasm of a man who is incredibly proud of his work and who, in his own inimitable way, seemed only too keen to tell me the full Bauhaus story…
The Upside News: I now you must be tired of talking about the early days of…
Peter Murphy: No, no, that’s OK. No, no,no…I don’t let it become boring. I just make it up as I go along and make something else up for the next person! [Laughs]
TUN: This will be fun then! So, can you tell us…
PM: I’m a storyteller, so it’s OK…
No, that’s not true! I mean, everybody makes it up really.
What do you say about being an icon and going on stage? It’s in the doing of it, isn’t it?
It’s kind of like asking an artist to tell you what kind of paint he uses and why he does that kind of stroke on that bit, and why did you put that knob in there? I mean it shouldn’t be allowed really.
[Raising his voice…] IT SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED! TERRIBLE!
TUN: And then you sit back and let the questioner do the interpretations for you then, don’t you? [Laughs]
If we can go back in time then, and let’s accept that nothing ever exists in a vacuum. Can you tell us what the factors were that converged in Northampton in 1978 to bring Bauhaus into existence?
PM: Yeah! I think it burgeons, starts to seed, [individually] when you’re very young, doesn’t it?
I think, in short, I come from a market town, Weighboro, which is nine miles away from the big Northampton, which you would hardly ever go to – you know what I’m saying?
In a British context, we all tend to live within our own little radar, don’t we…?
TUN: I know exactly what you mean there, because when I was in Britain, in 1977, in Cardiff, I was offered free tickets to a gig in Newport, which was barely ten miles away. The group of British friends I was with said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! That’s ten miles away! I’m not going there…!’
PM: That’s right! That’s exactly it! [Laughs]
‘What you talkin’ about? Newport?! That’s like going to China!’ [adopting a Lancastrian accent…] ‘Newportians! You’ve got to be careful of those Newportians…!’
Yeah, totally! But I was Catholic, so I went to primary school, and then had to go to the nearest senior [Catholic] school, which was in Northampton. And that was where Daniel Ash [went to] school, and we met there when we were 11.
I do remember, on a personal level, I was very intelligent and internal – not shy – and not anti-social, but just not social. For good reason, you know. I mean, not joining the rabble tends to create you as a rebel and its then like living in a microcosmic, very violent society, isn’t it?
Especially in Northampton! [Laughs]
So. There we were, and that was the first ‘class lesson’ that I ever had.
I think it was probably on the third day, in that school, and it was raining…I’m sorry this might be boring…
PM: …and the kids in our class were playing ‘Hot Roy’, which is where you roll up a pair of leather gloves and [wet them] and the person who is Roy throws them – and if he hits a person that person becomes Roy. It’s just that…
I remember joining in, because I’m like one of those…I’ve forgotten what they’re called now…what do you call those dogs? Whippets! Yeah! I’m kind of, like, quick and everything else… so, I joined in and picked it up.
Then I saw this kid, and I thought…well, I was fascinated. It wasn’t a gay thing, by the way. It was just, ‘Who is he?’
I wanted, really wanted, to know him! I’m not that kind of person, I don’t go up [to people uninvited], but I just wanted to know him. Do you know what I mean? It’s interesting…
Anyway, I observed him and I thought, ‘I’m really fucking fast at that sort of stuff’, so I thought, ‘I’m going to whack him with this – on the back. I’m going to get him!’
I made myself ‘Roy’, and I whacked him. Really hard. Just to get his attention.
So, he turned around, and he got pissy, and he wanted to attack me.
I laughed, and said, ‘Whoa! Woo hoo hoo..’ And he controlled himself, and I thought, ‘I really like you!’
It was really like that. And then we became very close, very quickly.
Daniel had hung with the rabble because he had been brought up amongst them. I mean, he had! These people were like prison bloody inmates, I mean some of them…Jesus!
They swore – and they said things, like ‘cock’ and, you know, ‘wank’!
It was like, ‘Whaat?? God, these people – don’t they know Our Lady??’
So [Daniel] would come over to me in some situations, like we would be in the same class – like a French class here and there, blah, blah, blah – and he really liked me and we became very close.
Daniel was a leader – he was an enactor – so he kind of did things, he made things happen. And I thought that was marvellous because I didn’t need to. Why would I have to, you know? [Laughs]
So that developed through those years and we even got to a point where Danny was learning and playing the guitar and taking me to his house. And people were saying ’You’ve got to make a band with him, Pete’, and all this stuff, because we were into Bolan, Velvets, and all that stuff. You know? We were in our own little world.
That was that aspect of it.
David and Kevin – you know, the group twins – were over at the posh, white Protestant school, the Church of England school. They were kind of hanging out there. They were kind of opposite, interestingly.
Later on, we leave school – dah, dah, dah – and I get into art college, but I say, ‘No, I’m not going to [go there]. So, I go off and become a book-binding master and everything…no use to nobody…
They [the rest of the guys who will become Bauhaus] all go to art school…
Danny then calls me – ‘You’ve got to come to art school, Pete.’
Four years later, Daniel comes to visit me at my house and he looks sort of interesting, as always, and says, ‘I’m in a band!’
‘Yeah, I’ll play you their music. It happens to be a band called Jack Plug & The Sockets…’
And he says, ‘Pete! You’ve got to come and sing! Do you want to come and sing?’
I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely!’, because I was living in my own musical world, and I always had, internally.
So, he said, ‘Pick a song and we’ll learn it.’ So, I went over to Northampton, on the bus… you know it was, ‘Oh God, here we go – over there again…!’
I turned up and they had just started. It was David J, Kevin Haskins, this singer, and Daniel. And It was really bad!
I mean, honestly, I’m not being…like, but it was, ‘Nah…!!’
I looked at Daniel. Again, I said to myself, ‘Danny’s got it. Danny’s got it! What a shame, there’s something wrong here.’
So, he comes over, and says, ‘I’m sorry Pete. The other guys didn’t want you to sing.’
I said, ‘Typical. Tell me about it…’
Isn’t that ironic? I mean, I made them who they [eventually] were, five months later!
Anyway…that’s how I met David and all of them. So, then Danny called me and said, ‘I can’t stand this bloody band. I want to start up my own thing. You’ve got to come and work with me. Can you sing and write lyrics?’
I said, ‘Yep, of course I can!’ So, I went over to his place.
Now, this was at the point, where, in this desert, in this dearth, in this non-culture – this awful British Northamptonian [world] …where, honestly, nothing happens…
Are you still there??
TUN: Yep, I’m fascinated…
PM: This is answering your question now.
…you have to create something. I’m an artist. I was creating my own world at home anyway. You know what I mean?
I’m one of those renaissance kids, I’m a great painter, a great drawer…I was singing every day. I was great at literature at school…da be do, do be da…I was good at sport, I was a sports champion. I’m kind of good at everything and anything. I’m just a bit of a loner, a bit of a…not lonely…just a loner.
And I was garnering myself, wanting to be as beautiful as Bowie. Do you know what I mean? That was when I was twelve, or thirteen. A creature not a person. It wasn’t [to be] a rock star, it was something esoteric, you know?
All of that, and then Danny comes along…and we meet next day.
He brings an amp and a vocal reverb mike, and his 100 watt PA. And he says, ‘There you are. You just plug that in, put whatever reverb you want on it, and let’s just start. We’ve got to write eight songs over the weekend!’
‘OK! Great!’ And we started writing…
We wrote half of [the first Bauhaus album] In The Flat Field alone – just him and I – in its skeletal form. Do you know what I mean? Amazing.
TUN: It is amazing…
PM: It was amazing. I knew immediately that this is what I do! Thank you! I’ve found my place, and I’m doing it now. Do you understand?
TUN: I do. And I…
PM: …Then David Haskins came in and begged to be in the band. Begged!
And he said I’ll have to go and learn this, and Danny went over to him and asked him, ‘What do you think of Pete?’
I overheard him. And I thought, ‘What the fuck did he have to ask him for?’
And he said, ‘He’s a solid diamond…’
And I said, ‘Yeah, I fucking am!’ [Laughs]
We came together, and it was clearly a band.
It was a work house. It was an arthouse. You know what I mean? It was a collective.
Of course, there were these hierarchies, but I established immediately that we would all get a quarter cut of everything, even if Kevin only plays one cymbal on an album, because that takes away the pecking order and ego. It was such intelligent, self-created arthouse. It really was!
TUN: Hence, you took the name Bauhaus? It was an ‘art movement’?
PM: Well, we called ourselves something else first, then Bauhaus 1919, and then we just cut [to Bauhaus].
Within three weeks, we were headlining the local Art School Christmas Ball in front of, well, it seemed like loads to me, maybe like five hundred people. And I just couldn’t wait!
I just took over. I took over! This was what I [was born to] do! I had already arrived. No development necessary…
TUN: Well, you have actually pre-empted my second and third questions…
My second question was about how most debut albums usually take years in their genesis, but yours just seemed to arrive [immediately], and you’ve already covered that, and…
PM: Well, I would say that this was an album that we loved. It was great. It had nothing to do with ‘we have to compete’, or that notion that, ‘we’re going to have to work at this…’, you know?
‘We’re doing it! Do-ing-It.’
The belief itself creates the result. Even if nobody likes it, we do.
It’s not selfish…well, it certainly is in a way…It’s ownership.
And that element of Bauhaus just spoke every time we played. People would just go, ‘What??!”
The press hated us, of course! The British press…because they didn’t make us. They didn’t know where we came from. It was, ‘Who the fuck are they??’
John Peel said, ‘What’s this song? It’s nine minutes long! This is the first and the last time I’ll play it!’
That’s what he said to us when we walked into his show and said, ‘Here’s our single…’ Isn’t that great!
TUN: Didn’t the NME [British music weekly, New Musical Express] call you a poor man’s Black Sabbath, or something?
PM: Oh…well, that’s not an insult…
We have to be very polite about Birmingham people here. [Laughs]
I think the nice answer here is – ‘No. We’re not from Birmingham…Thank god!’ [Laughs]
Anyway, the NME called us ‘as gothic as a brick’ and that was the first time the term was used.
You know we’ve got a book out with all the cuttings from A to Z? It’s just so marvellous.
Actually, not all of it is bad. I’m very much lauded in it. It’s an extraordinary thing…!
So [back to the story – after two weeks we’d written the material and then…] we were in Beck Studios four weeks later and we recorded four songs – Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Some Faces, Bite My Hip and Boys. Which we are actually releasing now – that whole demo…
Anyway, the irony is that it all turns around in a circle – I mean, [the fact] that nothing happens in Northampton is one thing, but nothing ever happens like that!
I mean, ‘There’s no recording studio in Weighboro is there?’
Well, yes! We were suddenly recording in my home town – at Beck Studios – the first song that we started to play, and we recorded it in one take – and it’s the first vocal that I ever sang over a microphone – was Bela. And it was magical.
It was magical! It was just like, ‘Fuck yeah!’
TUN: And it still sounds great now. It’s like it is timeless…
PM: I don’t know. It [may] sound like hamsters [?] scratching on a tin roof, but I don’t know…
TUN: I was playing it in the car the other day, and I was struck by how it hadn’t aged at all. It transports you back to that time…
PM: Yeah, it’s a beautiful idea because it’s not unlike an aria, or a Gregorian paced hymn, in a certain way.
Then the vocal only comes in about nine hours after the intro, does two verses and then he’s the character. He is it. Do you understand? That voice is who its talking about. It’s not talking about Bela Lugosi. It is him. It’s beautiful. And those notes at the end are modal. I don’t know where that came from…
But that was one take! Isn’t that amazing?
TUN: It is.
And that one take – with you singing about an actor who played a vampire – has set you onto a path that you have followed your whole career. You ended up singing that song in [modern vampire thriller] The Hunger, and you actually turned up in one of the Twilight movies a few years ago, didn’t you?
PM: That’s right. It’s kind of like that my eyes have started it all, really. Basically, that’s what they all say – even the directors.
It is of course, part of my energy as well.
I was always Peter Murphy in Bauhaus, as was David J, Kevin Haskins, and everybody else…but I have been Peter Murphy [solo artist] since ’83, you know, and my work has got those things in it as well.
But that [the first song] hit a certain moment, and that had a certain hook because it came from no-one [else] and that was the spirit of the post-punk period, because anybody could get up and do anything.
You could get a label, some label [to release your record], and John Peel would play it – which was fantastic! I mean, John Peel – God rest his soul – he would play anything once…
So suddenly – we are all over the world!
That was like – ‘Yup! What other bands?? Are there any other bands?? What other bands are around? Are there any? Really? Poor things! Really? Oh, the poor things – they’re just inbands, aren’t they? They just like making music. Oh, the poor things! That’s alright – let them do that. Very nice! Fuck off!’
Then four years later…you know what I’m talking about?
It’s like this strange Oscar Wildean…not arrogance…but certainty! [Laughs]
TUN: But you have to have that confidence don’t you? Or you may as well just stay playing in your front room…
PM: Well, some people have it – and they’re dorks, really. They can’t do it…do you know what I mean?
They can affect it. Look at America – everybody’s tweaked up. All these superstar girls, you know, all tweaked up and they’re produced to…beyond tweak! It’s kind of whacked out. It’s like Beyonce and her bloke, their recent single where all the lyrics are is ‘Yap, yap, yap, oh, el, ah, eh, ah…’
Oh, come on!
TUN: It’s lazy…
PM: I don’t know what it is! It’s royalty…
TUN: And wrong, I reckon!
PM: She’s wonderful! She’s bloody brilliant whenever she does that song. And so is he.
They’re lovely people. Brilliant people in the community, but it’s like, you know, whatever…you know what I’m talking about. They’re all Madonna – post-Madonna sourced, I think. Madonna is the archetype. You know, she was very brilliant. Smart as hell. Very cool!
TUN: You’re similar aren’t you, as an archetype? I mean you started an entire movement…
PM: Thank you very much! But I can’t say yes to that…!
TUN: …and so many people…
PM: …I can’t, can I? Especially not to Brits and Australians – ‘You’re blowing your own horn mate!’ [Laughs] Yes darling, of course!
TUN: But my point was…has it been a burden that you’ve been happy to carry as a creator of an entirely new genre?
PM: If you’ve got a limp, you’ve got a limp.
Other people then say, ‘He’s got a limp!’ But I don’t know it’s a limp – I’ve just got a limp! Do you know what I’m talking about?
TUN: I think I do…
PM: If I have to think about what other people might say…
You know, I think it’s a great compliment. It’s absolutely an affirmation, it really is. And I’m very complimented that you even revoiced it in the way that you did, that you don’t ask me if I think I am [an archetype], but you actually state it!
Thank you very much! I mean that…
TUN: A pleasure…!
PM: But there is no laurel – I mean, it is wonderful to just be kicking and sparking, and I’m just about to go on tour for a while and I’m just sparking now…I’m just sparking up, do you know what I mean?
Oh, I’ve done lots to prep for it and then I’ll break it down and I’ll scare the band while I’m on stage! I’ll make them shift some…you know what I’m talking about?
You turn it round. You do, you do it to the audience and then you do it to the band! You are part of the band and they’re part of you. It’s wonderful. It’s just something else!
It’s a great privilege – but god! Hell!
And I’m still doing it forty years later? Come on – that’s something else!
TUN: It is incredible to think that something that started so quickly, so fully and so completely is still – forty years on – is still a successfully functioning thing…
PM: I’ve got am album half made – and I’ve done it with…I can’t announce it yet, because I’m doing this…but it’s like the band that I’ve got, the people in it…Oh, man! I just can’t wait to get it out!
It’s like, they went, ‘Have you got any…?’
‘Well, here’s some songs!’
And they go, ‘What the fuck??’
TUN: Talking about your songs, I think there are many criminally under-rated songs in your catalogue from the solo era of your career…
PM: Thank you very much! That’s been one thing that’s been kind of…painful. Because I work hard, and it’s kind of like…
No, I don’t want to get cynical about it, you know. But it’s good to have them out there. And just like you’ve just reflected the point – there is a lot of great stuff that I’ve done that isn’t necessarily as widely known as you would think.
TUN: And in such a diversity too…
PM: To be expected. I mean, I think I was awkward during the [Lion tour] because I’d just done the ’35 Years of Bauhaus’ tour and went straight into it, which was great, and I had all this press stuff that I was just not doing. Like [sighs]…I get blown out just by talking about it…
But I said, ‘Just get me on David Letterman!’ You know what I’m talking about? ‘And then I”ll do it!’
I didn’t want to do, you know, like twenty interviews with pissy little – I don’t know – four thousand [circulation] outfits. You know what I’m talking about?
They’re like, ‘Peter Murphy – the King of Goth!’ and that’s great. But I like to keep quiet about it – keep the mystery!
TUN: But it’s hard to ‘keep the mystery’ and have your songs appreciated though, isn’t it?
PM: But that’s part of what I’m talking about. I have to remember that even twenty interviews doesn’t cover the world. You know what I’m saying?
That’s why I’m doing this. And this is great! I’m not unhappy to do it. I’ve found that I can talk, and that I’m a good rattler!
I’ve got to be careful because my wife will go, ‘Shut up! Don’t say it…!’ I can be very cheeky!
TUN: So, can we talk about what we are going to see when you hit Adelaide?
You are going to play the first album in its entirety, but the albums that have followed this have been so sophisticated – how hard will it be to go back and play that relatively simplistic sound of the first album?
PM: Oh, you’re so smart! [Laughs] You’re right!
The first album – the band never played half of it [live]. I’ve played like, Double Dare, In The Flat Field, God In An Alcove…The Spy In The Cab, I think I’ve played…over the years.
And I’m listening to it now and it’s got such great energy. It’s about plugging into that raw line drawing. There’s no big major thing going on, it’s all in the energy of it.
The guitarist, John Andrews, and the drummer, Marc Slutsky, [will] have their stuff nailed down.
And if not, what I tend to do is to musically direct and shift and shunt. You know, ‘No – make that a cheaper sound! Make that a real cheaper sound!’ And it works very well.
But I’ve never played it [live]. I don’t know what it will sound like.
I’m going to rehearse it tomorrow, on my own. We’ve got rehearsals starting in a about a week, down in South America, as a band. But we’re all doing it remotely first.
So, I’m just listening to [me doing] my boy thing, and it comes [back] to me immediately, it just came out…like muscle memory.
The only thing I have to make sure of is that John, the guitarist, really gets that…like you say…that almost monophonic type of energy to it…
TUN: Things like Dive, St Vitus Dance, Stigmata Martyr, they’re going to be raw…
PM: Yeah – Dive! They’re you go! Isn’t that interesting? Exactly! I love that! Thanks for being so aware! That’s very cool! No, really!
Do you want to fucking fight? You’re Australian!
TUN: No, we never fight. We’re too laid back…
PM: I know…you are! You’re nice really. You’re hard as fucking nails, but you’ll never fight!
TUN: We just glare…
PM: [Laughs] Yeah, and that’s scary enough…
Get along To The Gov on Monday October 22 and give Peter Murphy a good, old fashioned Australian ‘glare’ when he hits town and plays through some of the greatest goth rock classics of all time!
Peter Murphy with his band – including original Bauhaus member, David J – will bring the 40 Years Of Bauhaus show to The Gov on Monday 22 October.
Tickets are available from all usual outlets.