Various Artists - All My Sins Remembered - The Sonic Worlds of John MurphyAll My Sins Remembered - The Sonic Worlds of John Murphy is both a compilation and tribute to the Australian musician John Murphy, who died on the 11th of October 2015. Compiled by the label The Epicurean it was originally conceived to raise funds to help pay for John's medical treatment but following his death all proceeds now go to his widow.
John Murphy's stake in musical history is assured, at least in post-industrial circles. For over 45 years he was a drummer/percussionist, songwriter and composer, and a veteran session musician. Arriving in London from Melbourne in the early eighties he became part of the original industrial milieu. As Krank he performed at the infamous Equinox Event in London in 1983, where he also performed with David Tibet in Dogs Blood Order, going on to record with Current 93 on their first few albums including Dogs Blood Rising and Nature Unveiled. The appearance of Whitehouse at the Equinox Event was cancelled but Murphy was by then a regular fixture in their early live actions during 1982-83. He then joined Billy Mackenzie and Alan Rankine in the Associates providing the powerfully subtle drumming on their revered album Sulk which hit the charts. This wasn't his lone brush with fame. Back in Australia during the mid eighties he contributed to the soundtrack to Richard Lowenstein's Dogs In Space film which starred Michael Hutchence, and a few years later he was part of Max Q, Hutchence's post INXS electronic group he formed with Ollie Olsen.
He also drummed for The The (though I haven't managed to identify on what), Shriekback, Nico, Gene Loves Jezebel before providing percussive duties for all manner of acts. But his heart was in harsh sounds and post-industrial music, even if it meant a lifetime of near poverty, a lack of regular income and irregular sustenance. His own projects included Krang, Krank, Orchestra of Skin and Bone, Shining Vril, as well as the groups Foresta Di Ferro, Naevus, KnifeLadder and Last Dominion Lost.
All My Sins Remembered covers all the phases of John's "musical career" from his formative years in Australia and his itinerant years spent living in London, and return visits to Australia, before finally settling in Berlin. Throughout it all he remained an inveterate and prolific collaborator. A fully comprehensive documentation would be much larger than this 3CD tribute, which features an additional number of specially recorded tracks using raw source material including Of The Wand And The Moon, Die Weisse Rose, Genocide Organ, Andrew King And David E. Williams. The following review will be based on geography, even though his collaborations crossed genres and crossed oceans (often via tapes sent through the mail) making a complete biographical sketch nigh-on impossible.
All My Sins Remembered offers an insight into John Murphy's formative years with a live cut from Mandrix, a school band showing a blatant Hawkwind space-rock influence, with an explosive drum passage amply illustrating the dexterity of the young drummer. Drawn to the emerging punk scene of Melbourne John Smith from the Suburbs, as he was then known, drummed on the direct assault of 'Dirty Lies' from News one of many local Melbourne punk bands Murphy was involved with. By the end of the seventies he formed an electronic project WhirlyWirld with Ollie Olsen, a recurring figure in John Murphy's early career. The hesitant electronics of 'Big Gun Action' recall the sterile tones of Clock DVA, with Olsen's Bowie influenced vocal tones. Even at this point his instruments varied from electronics and drums to kitchenware - which is ironic as by all accounts he was never that domesticated.
At the start of the eighties he had relocated to London, England where he was enlisted as a session drummer by Billy Mackenzie and Alan Rankine in The Associates, who were assembling a live group to promote their debut album The Affectionate Punch. Described in The Glamour Chase, Tom Doyle's biography of Billy Mackenzie, by those who knew him at the time as "a scrawny Pigpen type character", Murphy would mooch around Morgan studios in a dirty old raincoat with a Burroughs paperback poking out the pocket. Live shows and radio sessions followed with Murphy going on to record his featherlight skittery drumming that propelled Rankine's spindly guitar textures and Mackenzie's operatic vocal that pushed The Associates into the charts. Murphy's work with the Associates is captured on an instrumental take of 'Skipping' from the highly regarded album Sulk. According to Doyle, Murphy was often embarrassed by his presence in a pop band and would often be ribbed by his friends. It's perhaps not surprising when listening to the contemporaneous synth heavy recordings of Krank and the live action recording of Whitehouse. Krank was his first solo industrial noise project and the previously unreleased track whips up something of a storm with its searing flow of brutal electronic noise distortion and textures. It was a project he would continue over the years under a shape-shifting series of names including Krang, Kraang, Krang Music. Murphy's synth work, using his cherished EMS AKS synth, with Whitehouse is captured on 'Live Action 4', an early improvisational noise performance with William Bennett and Glen Michael Wallis at the Centro Ibérico, a disused primary school taken over by Spanish Anarchist squatters, which featured on the Come Organisation released LP Psychopathia Sexualis. A year later he was banging percussion with fellow Australians SPK, featured here with a live cut of 'The Sandstorm Method' from 1983 when Graeme Revell's metal bashers were moving to a more electronic sound fronted by vocalist Sinan. There's some wonderful footage of SPK on UK's teatime anarchic pop TV programme The Tube performing a pyrotechnic 'Metal Dance' from this period, with John on drums and percussion - which resulted in him missing some early recording sessions for Current 93's Nature Unveiled. The final piece from his placement within London's early industrial milieu comes from Lustmord's Paradise Disowned, with a track that is more confrontational than the dark ambient drone they are now synonymous with. Plummeting to subterranean depths the dark scraping drones of 'Pure' are pierced with sinister noise electronics and voices including John's torn and shredded vocal tones. John kept in touch with Brian Williams aka Lustmord and never ruled out the chance of the two of them working together again at some point. Before he was ousted for continually breaking drum pedals John Murphy drummed for Gene Loves Jezebel on their early releases and some tracks on their debut album Promise, but even at this point he never forgot Australia, tapes and sound samples would be spirited through the mail to Ollie Olsen's project Hugo Klang, which on the basis of 'Beat Up The Old Shack' sounds like punk-funk filtered via The Birthday Party.
Somewhere around 1984 and 1985 suffering from exhaustion, John Murphy returned to Australia to get his head and health together. Regrouping with Ollie Olsen, they formed Orchestra of Skin and Bone, an experimental post-industrial outfit, with Marie Hoy. 'Flame', infused with John Murphy's rolling ritual drumming, is taken from their 1986 Australian album is a Harry Partch influenced soundtrack styled song with tribal elements, sounding like a cross between Jim Thirlwell's Steroid Maximus and John's later UK based outfit KnifeLadder. It's a great track but the project dissolved never receiving the recognition it deserved, though Unclean Production issued a subsequent CD featuring a subsequent soundtrack and full band live performance. Various members of Orchestra of Skin and Bone went on to score and co-ordinate the Dogs In Space soundtrack for Richard Lowenstein's film set in a punk squat in Melbourne starring Michael Hutchence and featuring small roles for Murphy and Orchestra of Skin and Bone members Ollie Olsen and Marie Hoy.
Never one to rest, John Murphy continued to record with acts associated with Australia's industrial scene. Following an introduction by Ollie Olsen in 1998, Troy Norfolk and John Murphy embarked on sporadic performances as Sooterkin Flesh, a project Troy Norfolk continues to this day. 'Untitled' - yes, that's its name, is an improvised live performance of blissful industrial ambience, using John's EMS AKS synth, shot through with playful casio keyboards. Another enduring name in John Murphy's discography is Ulex Xane, who inaugurated the Extreme and Zero Cabal labels, releasing much of John Murphy's material. As Vhril, often regarded as a precursor to Murphy's own Shining Vril project, the duo create an amorphous blackened aura shaken by Murphy's distinctive percussive elements. Its ritual atmosphere is carried over onto a combined live performance of My Father Of Serpents & Disciples Of None, where Xane and Murphy share responsibility for the deep heaving electronics, tapes and vocals, while Disciples of Noise supply rhythms in a night organised by Xane's Extreme label who also documented the night on a cassette release to celebrate a visit by Club Moral to Melbourne in 1987. It does sound like its taken from an audience recording, however.
John's return to Australia wasn't solely spent on post-industrial and experimental musics. One of the most surprising and one I've waited a long time to hear is Slub, the noise rock group Murphy formed as a musical joke in 1985. It's great though with Murphy's wailing cracked rasp drenched in his sludgey atonal guitar abuse. In their 4 year tenure Slub released an album and a couple of singles some of which surfaced on Long Gone John's Sympathy For The Record Industry which is saying something. Dumb and the Ugly, another guitar noise outfit, edges towards a more Chrome etched and no-wave Sonic Youth sound, with Murphy this time back on the drums. Again, it's pretty out there and good solid stuff. Interestingly Dumb and the Ugly had a track written by Ollie Olsen called 'Knife Ladder'.
Blood & Iron, a project with Bain Wolfkind, provides an early insight to the martial drums that would become de rigueur amongst the more martial elements of the neo-folk world but they were never performed with such aplomb and finesse unless John Murphy was behind the kit. An incendiary example of John's live work, is captured here with Blood Axis on 'Lord of Ages', a track which originally appeared on Cthulhu's Lamp of the Invisible Light compilation (where John appeared as part of Ulex Xane's Zone) in a more synthesised form but this live formation is propelled by John's snare drum beats and rolls. Listen to the crowd roar as John raises the stakes with martial drum rolls over violin sweeps, rising Mithras from his slumber. 'Hymn To The Satanic Empire', Blood & Iron's cover of Anton LaVey's contribution to the infernal Sacred War compilation features a rapturous John Murphy vocal over grand synths stabs and programmed drum rolls and beats. There's an irony to this track in its use of synthesised drums and even more so the choice of song as both Zeena, Anton's daughter, and her husband Nikolas Schreck - with whom Murphy would collaborate with many years later - relinquished all ties with LaVey and his Church of Satan. Around this point John began working with Death In June as live percussionist and together as Scorpion Wind with Douglas P., Boyd Rice and fellow Antipodeans members of Strength Through Joy (and later Ostara) they recorded the album Heaven Sent in Adelaide during 1995-96 none of which is included on All My Sins Remembered. The last Australian recordings from John Murphy features on the experimental electronics, sound treatments and bowed instrumentation of 'Infernal Medicine' by Browning Mummery, a long-running project of Andrew Lonsdale.
By this point John Murphy was back in London, and like his stays in Australia and later in Berlin it proved to be a fertile period where he became something of a go-to percussionist for the underground. Revolving around Gaya Donadio's Hinouema events at the Red Rose Club in North London and elsewhere I caught John Murphy supplying live percussion to Sorrow, Ostara, Naevus, Boyd Rice -and countless others. At a World Serpent event he would perform before and after a performance from David Tibet and Michael Cashmore, and with Whitehouse at the Red Rose Club he would revive Kraang, aided by Marco Deplano, for a rarer-than-rare live outing. But it was with Andrew King, Naevus and his group KnifeLadder that I best remember John Murphy during this period. Naevus, the angular dark pop band lead by Lloyd James, are a band I hold in high regard and on the live take of 'Like Arms' John's beats are clean and pristine over poised guitars and pensive vocal tones. John would eventually join Naevus, as well as contributing to offshoot projects such as Lark Blames, as well as recording with Lark Blames' Marc Blackie's Sleeping Pictures.
He continued to collaborate with acts spanning the globe, varying from the echoing shudders of Marco Deplano's power noise project Wertham, here featured with 'Born To Raise Hell (Original Mix)' to the lounge industrialists of fellow Australians Bordel Militaire. Together with Marco Deplano and Ostara's Richard Leviathan they formed Foresta Di Ferro releasing material on Albin Julius' Hau Ruck label including the much over-looked album Bury Me Standing billed as a "soundtrack for an imaginary docu-drama about faith, misfortune and fanaticism". 'Kalagni - False Lying Dawn', a previously unreleased track, unfurls to John's laconic spoken tones over Andrew King's arching harmonium drone and Deplano's subtle percussive vibes.
Another of John's ongoing projects Shining Vril mapped his own personal journey in the realms of of spiritualism and esotericism. It was as he described "a form of self-initiatory gnosis perhaps using musical and other sounds in a ritualistic and a subconscious way, to aid the process of self discovery and awareness along somehow." Although earlier releases tended towards the more ritual ends of dark ambient the project was designed to be free of genres and to be whatever it wanted to be. All My Sins Remembered includes a surprising version of Scott Walker's 'Bouncer See Bouncer' from Tilt transposing the heavy industrial scraping of the original into a ritual industrial take with John's high-pitched wavering tones over keening synths and ricocheting rhythms. Shining Vril also featured on The Appeal Of Discarded Orthodoxy: A Tribute To David E. Williams, with a cover of David E. Williams' Sandra Lindsey'. For All My Sins Remembered David E. Williams has snagged John's vocal from the remix adding a brand new arrangement of his original version.
Andrew King's inclusion is by far the most emotive track on All My Sins Remembered. His contribution is a studio version of a Kirlian Camera song which Shining Vril had previously recorded for the remix album Kalte Container. King performed it live in Leipzig at the same time John was passing over to his next life. The following day he travelled to Berlin and recorded outside the hospital mortuary where John's physical body was contained. Those field recordings mixed with a choir form the basis of 'Schmerz (For John)', where he has crafted a moving eerie rendition with a pained stricken vocal over harmonium drones, bells, percussion - some supplied by John - and knocks; its poignancy furthered by the involvement of John's widow Annie Stubbs.
In 2008 John Murphy was refused entry to the UK, where he had been living. Offered sanctuary by the kindness of Aki Cederberg, John Murphy moved into his home in Helsinki, Finland. Inevitably his stay led to collaboration resulting in John's contribution to MAA and the track 'Toive' which is a measured representation of his subtleness, placing the voice of Marlene Dietrich amidst drones, layers of noise drenched synths and distorted eastern stylings.
John Murphy moved to Berlin in 2008 reacquainting with fellow ex-pat Jon Evans (from DOM, Merge and Last Dominion Lost) who invited him so share his Berlin apartment. Berlin marked what was to become the final chapter in his musical odyssey. Resurrecting his Krank project with Till Brüggemann (a mainstay of the industrial scene from the early eighties who would later add vocals to Lost Dominion Lost recordings) 'Drain Sounds In The Well (Insanity Remix)' completed after John's passing is a chaotic splicing of ritual and industrial percussion and electronics, featuring the wailing tones of John Murphy. And yet it is 'Dystopian Dream' a track from Till Brüggemann's group Gerechtigkeits Liga which really show the drumming prowess of John Murphy with an impressive slice of thunderous beats and percussion and rattle of the cane toad device which elevates this instrumental version of a track from their Dystopia album.
Outside of his own projects John Murphy would continue to collaborate. He no doubt found a spiritual kinship with both Nikolas and Zeena Schreck resulting in some of his most ritual infused work seeping into his live accompaniment to separate performances by Nikolas and Zeena Schreck. 'O, A Weird Flower' is selected from a live sonic ritual dedicated to female singers who influenced Schreck, with Murphy providing glinting electronics and percussion to Nikolas's strained intonations. On 'Sethian Dream Oracle' from one of his final live performances, he surrounds Zeena's ritual chants with chimes and zither, in what was billed as a Typhonian Tantric Ritual Soundscape.
But his Berlin years are best represented by his work with the members of Last Dominion Lost. Backing up to 2011 with Julian Percy and the Boy True as The Walking Korpses they loop a piano against industrial scrapings and screechiness, while The Grimsel Path with Jon Evans from March 2015, feature with another live version of a track that appeared on their live performance side on the Verdant Hum tape release where layers of industrial hiss and machine rumbles merge with disembodied voices.
It is the twin outfits of KnifeLadder and Last Dominion Lost, that supply some of the most apt and moving material. "I wander alone on the long march" Murphy drawls in his distinctive laconic style over brooding electronics furnished with loping bass, keening rhythms and zurna wails. This unreleased track from KnifeLadder shows just how under-rated they were. Many saw a lineage from SPK in the music and personnel of Last Dominion Lost, as both Jon Evans and John Murphy had been members, along with Dominic Guerin who appeared on The Tyranny of Distance, the first Last Dominion Lost LP culled from tapes recorded in Australia in 1982. Where KnifeLadder tend to rhythmic industrial, 'Hexatom Recrudesce' from a 2015 recording from Last Dominion Lost, which close All My Sins Remembered is much darker; a crepuscular outing of mangled electronics and slow cello movements with John's vocal summoning witches and, almost as a portent of the inevitability of his illness, dead men.
All My Sins Remembered - The Sonic Worlds of John Murphy, is both a compilation and tribute spanning over 40 years of John's eclectic and ecstatic drumming and those harsh sounds that characterised his own musical output. He often blithely regarded himself as an "anonymous backing musician" but the term legendary is much more apt. Laconic and of a dry wit John Murphy was one of a kind, who let his music and percussive duties do the talking. He rose above the petty squabbles and schisms that characterise industrial and post-industrial musics. Although I do remember a smile of satisfaction coming over his face when he told me how when both Gene Loves Jezebel and Death In June were touring Australia it was Death In June with whom he was performing with at the time who were playing the larger venue. Music flowed through him and now he is gone. I can't help thinking of his words on the Sword Volcano Complex Phosphorescent album: "So if I don't speak to you before then, I'll speak to you when I'm over that way, the other side of the world."
All My Sins Remembered is as an excellent tribute and compilation of The Sonic Worlds of John Murphy. All My Sins Remembered - The Sonic Worlds of John Murphy is available as a lavish 3CD boxset in an edition of 750 copies, with insightful liner essays by Alan Bamford, Andrew King and Jon Evans who provide biographical details and personal recollections of their friendship with John Murphy spanning his life in Australia, London and Berlin, complete with an introduction from Stefan Hanser of The Epicurean label. For more information go to The Epicurean