Interview with anarchist political singer/songwriter Ciaran Murphy


An interview with anarchist singer/songwriter and former republican prisoner Ciaran Murphy concerning the release of his new album, how he became interested in anarchism and other matters.Could you tell me about your new album and when it was released?

Actually it’s only an E.P basically meaning it’s shorter and not of album quality. I’ve put it out for a number of reasons mainly to try and get the money together to do a proper album. I had always said I wanted to give the music away for free - which I did do for a long time with MySpace downloads and free CDs at gigs - but the fact is you need money if you ever want to do more recording and to publish material. I was able to put the verbal hand grenade out because a generous fan put up 200 quid for covers etc, that a ridiculous state of affairs when I’m getting radio play and people asking about CDs from all over the place.

Apart from that I needed to move on and work on new songs, but I wanted to get a physical copy of that "school" of songs if you like (Airstrip, sadam, etc) out and available for people before I took them off line. It went on sale on July 1st, important date for me.

So far has there been a positive feedback regarding your new release?

I’m not sure, in one week I sold about 30 online and then the same at a gig down in Cork last week. So far it’s only been pushed on the likes of IR Net and so only the politicos know about it. I am getting certain DJ's praising it though and I have a couple of newspaper / radio interviews lined up, with a bit of luck ill get a bit of a backlash and then shamrock promotions will be pushing it after that, so we will see how it goes then.

I’m worried because many of the people buying have probably heard most of it before on MySpace, they might be bored with the same songs (I am) so I’m starting to regret not putting more on it, but if I had then it wouldn’t have been an EP. That said there are three unheard of tracks on it and they are all better recorded, I also put a good bit of work into the sleeve work so it’s not just about the music.

In the current climate, in which 'scaremongering' from sections of the media over 'anti-social behaviour' is demonising whole working-class communities and young people contributing to an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. Your song called 'anti-social' talks about many of these issues and might be quite 'unpopular' in some quarters; could you elaborate more on the origins of the song and its impact?

I’m glad to get a chance to address that actually, some people got deeply upset at that song which I can understand. I received abusive messages on line after I put it out and even ended up arguing with people after gigs about it. The first time youhear it you think it’s a hoods anthem but you only need to listen to it again and you get it. The problem with writing songs about deep issues is you’re trying to say as much as possible using only a few words then hoping it will fit into a melody; it’s not always possible to put across exactly what you mean. When I wrote that song I had just been queuing in a shop and had watched a quite well off republican laughing at a newspaper headline about a fell getting hit in the knees with a shotgun, but the shop was across the road from a bookies which was right beside an off licence. I just thought if bookmakers and other parasitic business men are doing massive damage to our most vulnerable (which they are), well why don’t the same people push to punish them for anti social behaviour?

Lets get something straight, the roots of ‘anti social crime’ lie in economic inequality there no doubt about that, that said however, if your someone who gets off on torturing vulnerable working class people to get money or kicks then you’re a scumbag, the cops either can’t or won’t sufficiently protect communities from the likes of that and so its stupid to expect people just to wait for a revolution, perfect equality and social equilibrium and just do nothing. I’m not opposed to punishing somebody who would put screwdriver into my head or would torture my granny for her chapel money, I’ve no problem with people executing heroin dealers. That said I have no problem with working class people grabbing a piece of the pie, if a kid from Divis does a runner with a new pair of trainers from a high store then fair play to him, if working class lads rob thousands from a Securicor van then ill be laughing my head off, this is capitalism and its pennies to the rich.

One close republican friend suggested that maybe the song itself was just a bit farfetched, that people weren’t getting kneecapped just for robbing bookies and that I was just stereo-typing republicans as the big bad terrorists of 1980s BBC Belfast set dramas . I’m not sure; maybe he was right, I don’t play it in west Belfast any more, not since Harry Holland and Bap McGreevy were murdered.

Regarding the media response, I don’t know if I would call what’s happening scaremongering, alot of people are genuinely scared, I get scared here in west Belfast, good people are being slaughtered by fuckers who are very confident and have no sense of community, that’s a crises. The overall media spin on it is pathetic though, it’s designed to make communities feel powerless, the press and all the political parties are using this to garner support for the PSNI, that’s wrong and needs to be challenged.

Anybody who believes the cops can deal with this need a reality check. Going on their past form here they could well be behind half of it. We need more community solidarity to defend the vulnerable, and that doesn’t mean calling the cops it means physically defending our vulnerable, only we can do that.

Do you have any favourite songs?

Loads, depending on what mood I’m in. I always come back to "All the young punks" by the clash, it’s an epic song that never lets you down, Moving Hearts doing "no time for love" always does it for me too, when I’m drunk (as I am now) I shout for "sick bed of Cu Chulann" by the Pogues or McGowan doing "snake with eyes of garnet". I love old Motown stuff too, the best anti war song ever is "I should be proud" by Martha Reeves who lost her brother in Vietnam, "up the ladder to the roof" by the Supremes is a special too. I have guilty favourites too like "love lobster" by Lulu and loads of hardcore punk and Oi stuff, but I won’t get into that.

Turning to political matters, when and how did you become conscious as an 'anarchist'?

Hem! It was probably a personal progression not entirely political; I was always a socialist and a republican and had been active within several groups that were strongly leadership led. Without going into details, things hadn’t gone the way I had imagined they would and I got disillusioned with everything I had been doing. When I was a prisoner I always tried to keep close friendships within every political tendency on the republican wings, because of this I was hearing every imaginable analysis and opinion on "the way forward", I was getting copies of Saoirse, An Phoblacht, starry plough, sovereign nation etc even the socialist worker and other red banner stuff.

At around the same time as I could see the other side of the fence and gate fever was setting in, something weird happened. I began to realise that on hearing peoples arguments I was automatically agreeing with them, I was agreeing with purist nationalists, purist Marxists, loyal Sinn Fein activists. I was even debating and agreeing with one of the prison chaplains, an English man who had lived in Columbia serving one of the smaller leftist militias there and was a liberation theologist , my head was done in and I realised I didn’t really know what I believed anymore.

Looking at it all a bit deeper I reasoned that I had forgotten how to think for myself, I spent all my life trusting other peoples judgments (as you must do in leadership led groups), I was able to identify how always trusting others to come up with solutions weakens your own confidence, even makes you lazy, all around I saw evidence of it, large meetings where nobody but a few spoke, loads of untapped potential and talent, all wasted, all because people automatically think hierarchy is natural and so go to sleep.

There had been a documentary on the sailors of kronstadt in 1921 who had been described by Lenin as the "flower of the revolution" before the Bolsheviks massacred them for practising too much autonomy. Some of us were walking the yard the next night discussing it, the general opinion was 'they should have stayed within the party structure' when I voiced my opinion that only sailors knew how sailors should operate in a revolution and that you shouldn’t wait for the party to catch up I was accused of being "an anarchist", that’s when I got interested.

Still I wouldn’t claim to be an accomplished anarchist or anything like that; I am not intellectually advanced about it at all, and a terrible reader. All I know is that hierarchy does not provide for a healthy environment for revolutionaries to operate within, it stifles personal confidence and sees loads of potential go untapped. I think you can apply that principle to society in general, apparently organising without hierarchy is the beginning of Anarchism, if that’s true then I agree with that.

What do you think are limits of Irish Republicanism? Surely its weaknesses cannot solely put down to 'bad leadership'?

Republicanism saved Ireland from complete and absolute psychological submission to the British Empire (which is what was planned for us). The empire and their native capitalist allies envisaged us all eternally slaving away for them in whatever form they deemed suitable, republicanism even when it focused only on the national question kept a flame of self respect alive in the people, it was always there below the surface (self determination) and still is.

I firmly believe that the stubbornness of even small bands of Irish people and their organising into fighting units kept a flicker of confidence alive in the Irish mindset that we all benefit from today, the left should understand this even though they might not find it in their books. The limits lie in what I mentioned before, hierarchy! hierarchy does not lend itself well to mass efficiency, and although small gestures (like the 50s campaign) are better than total submission to Britain, we need mass mobilisation and participation if we are to have a revolution in Ireland. Connolly fully understood this.

It seems that you have a growing fan base, is it confined to a certain age group and based in Ireland?

Don’t know about the age groups at all, but it seems to be growing alright over fifteen thousand MySpace hits, ten thousand of them in the last six months, Again I need to thank union breaker Rupert Murdoch for giving us MySpace.

Finally, what are your hopes for the future in terms of your music career if I can put it that way, and why do you do hardly any gigs?

I have loads of new tunes ready to go, better than what’s come so far in my opinion. The fast angry emphasis is still there, probably more so but vie also slowed down in some of them. I have experimented with different tunings like DADGAD and have moved into other areas of interest with songs dealing with everything from the invasion of privacy and biometrics to the existence of God and evolution. To get it out as an album will require good EP sales though so there will probably be another couple of EPs before an album see's the light of day. I am exploring how to put emotions across through music and that requires bringing new instruments in. I have just put a new song on the MySpace called 'Once upon a time in Ireland' which I dedicated it to the late Brendan Hughes whose final arrangements (I’m led to believe) involved having some of his ashes spread on the Cooley mountains, I was touched by that sentiment and understand it totally, so I tried to capture in music what I think his emotions would have been in making those arrangements.

At the moment I don’t have any plans as such, to be brutally honest I don’t think there will be a "career" in it for me, you need to go looking for a career in music to get one, if you’re lucky you will get a break, but I don’t even know where to look. As long as I can get the tunes in my head down into a format people can listen to, and as long as a handful of people say its good then I’m happy enough. I have an album ready to go out but I want to do it properly, this EP is a trial run. As for gigs ill play anywhere but I don’t get asked much, I’m not sure where my music would fit into in the live circuits here, I might need to wait for this recession to get more of a grip before people want to listen to me on a night out. It’s mostly benefits and the like I play at, I played for the protestors down in Tara which was an absolute honour, I did a gig in Wolverhampton back in May which was a blast apart from the special branch pulling me in at Aldergrove and wrecking my head.

I think there is a Belfast gig in August during the feile, I played in Cork last week at an award ceremony for the family of a young Volunteer who was murdered by the Tans in 1919, and meet his nephew 'Master Sprigs' which was a great honour. Also I have just been asked to play up in Donegal for Radio na Gaelteacht, I wouldn’t mind running a bus up to that from Belfast if anyone is interested.

For information on Ciaran's EP and downloads of his songs see