You might expect this to be a platform from which the American would have gone on to excel and cement his position in the music industry, but John’s path has never followed what you could call a natural course. Early in his life undiagnosed autism led to Murry being prescribed medication, and then being checked into rehab by his adopted parents after, he told The Guardian, "smoking pot about three times and being drunk maybe four or five".
His bio writes that he was "discarded onto the streets of Memphis", where he found music, his saving grace, and together with Tim Mooney put together The Graceless Age. It was after the sudden death of Mooney, subsequent to a world tour, that Murry’s life once again became a chaotic whirlwind. His wife and child left him, though they are now reconciled, and he overdosed and almost died. He does not now drink or take drugs.
It feels important to detail this before getting to his live performance at Sneaky Pete’s intimate little music hub on Cowgate, because it all comes through in the music. John Murry is an exquisite songwriter, but not one for those looking for tunes to brighten up a dark day.
His latest album, being toured, is called A Short History of Decay, which should be your first clue. Songs include ‘One Day (You’ll Die)’ - set to a surprisingly jaunty dub-style melody - an absolutely sublime reimagining of The Afghan Whigs ‘What Jail is Like’ (which we would say puts the lyrics to far better use than the original) stating "if what you're shovelling is company then I would rather be alone" and the song ‘Miss Magdalene’, asking if Jesus “cried for his old man as he bled out” is unlikely to get John booked for a Christian music festival.
It takes a few songs for the set to get going, or perhaps to get sucked properly into John's world, but once Murry settles in he really is a terrific performer to watch. Watching John’s cutting, poignant lyrics make for an intense watch, but for fans of the poetic style, of lyric-lead journeys into the deep and intimate and dark, of the writing of William Faulkner, who is a cousin of Murry's mother, or of Cohen, it’s exactly what you want from the music.
Swedish folk artist and Murry’s sublime support act for the day Ben Folke Thomas joins on stage after a handful of songs and is a welcome addition to the group.
Watching Murry feels like a window into the soul at its best. His words, like all the best songwriters, have the power to capture the small and big moments of life, from fleeting feelings to pivotal relationships, in a way most struggle to put their finger on. When the lyrics takeover they transport you, cut to the core and trap you in Murry’s flurry of realism, perhaps nihilism, while simple guitar melodies riff in the background and hold you there.
Murry was well worth the watch, and truth be told it’s a surprise not more people turned out to see him at Sneaky's. If you get the chance and want to see a top class writer and musician in an intimate setting, watch the tour dates of the Mississippi man, now based in Kilkenny, Ireland.