Interview // Hermitage Green
It’s a far cry from the glitz of a packed Thomond Park or Stade Marcel-Michelin on Heineken Cup night, but the back room of the Curragower pub in Limerick city set the scene for the next big chapter in former Ireland rugby international Barry Murphy’s career.
Murphy is the frontman of Hermitage Green, the five-piece band who in little over a year have risen to prominence as a nationally-renowned act, touring the length and breadth of the country with their playful brand of modern folk rock that calls to mind the likes of Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale.
Murphy was forced to call a premature end to his rugby career last year owing to a persistent foot injury, but speaking to Something for the Weekend he explains that he had already begun to take the band more seriously as their performances attracted ever larger audiences in their hometown and further afield.
Murphy says: “The rugby ended quite abruptly so I did a bit of coaching for a few weeks. It was just over a year ago and the band were picking up a bit of speed even then. We all knew we were on something quite good, so we just decided to do it full time. It’s been close to full-time for the past year and a half or so, playing five or six nights a week.”
There’s a strong family connection in the band as Barry shares lead vocal and guitar duties with his brother Dan, and their older brother Brian is the owner of the Limerick pub where the band first jammed together in earnest and began to perform their own tunes in front of rapidly expanding audiences.
“We arrived there one night, myself and my brother Dan, and we decided to play a few tunes. He brought one of his mates, I brought one of my mates, and the five of us sat around backing each other playing different tunes in the back room.
“A couple of weeks later my brother said why don’t you go play in the front room – there’s was a match on up the road – and we got ten people there, then the next week we had ten more people and the next week there was another ten and it was jam-packed a couple of months later.”
The line-up is rounded out by guitarist Darragh Griffin, banjo player Darragh Graham and bodhrán player Dermot Sheedy. Sheedy is the latest addition to the band following the departure of another Munster rugby star, Felix Jones, who Murphy explains in typically understated fashion is “a bit busy” chasing the oval ball right now to play in a full-time band.
Though comparisons have rightly been made between the band’s harmony-soaked folk pop and that of international superstars Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons, Murphy is keen to emphasise that the band come from a completely different musical tradition, and that their music takes in a wide variety of influences not immediately obvious to the average listener.
He says: “That modern folk style – Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons – has a big scene in London over the last couple of years with Laura Marling etc. For us personally, where we’ve come from, we’ve all had a bit of a trad background and we have our own bit of folk there and we’re all into modern stuff, then the tribal stuff with the bodhrán and djembe gives us our own sound.
“Dan and I always sang growing up. My family all played music and sang, but we didn’t sit around at home and harmonise with each other – we weren’t those type of brothers! He has quite a deep voice – there’s a lot of bass to it – and Darragh, the guitarist, has a higher voice so we’re lucky that we all have different parts to play. Some of our strongest parts are harmonies –the parts I most enjoy anyway.“
The band’s debut EP, The Gathering, was released in September and raced immediately to the top of the iTunes charts before eventually settling in second place behind Mumford & Sons, a band with whom Hermitage Green share more than just a vague association.
Murphy explains: “They were in Limerick a couple of years ago and stayed around. Mick Dolan locked the doors and we stayed around until five in the morning having the craic. It was brilliant being neck and neck with them over the iTunes chart. Obviously they’re on a much bigger scale than us, but it was nice that it was them that were ahead of us.”
Moving forward, plans are already in place to follow up the EP with an album next year, and the band are currently holed up in Kilkee in West Clare, aiming for a release next summer. First things first, though, they’re putting together a six-week run of dates in Australia in response to overwhelming support from the diaspora down under.
“I think that’s the key these days, to tour and play as many gigs as you can, and when you see what those guys have done, travelling the world and playing gigs, we’ve done that around Ireland and we want to keep doing it.
“We’re planning a tour of Australia after Christmas for about six or seven weeks, then we’ll come home for a couple of months then possibly go to the States in May or June. It’s easy enough to travel these days with so many Irish people all over the world – we’ve gotten a lot of support from Australia and America. We’re going to take a chance and go for it.”
Asked if he has any regrets about leaving Munster behind, Murphy is philosophical: “The first year I was out it was kind of difficult to watch, but now I’m just getting back as a supporter and loving watching them. I suppose there’s a little bit of envy but I don’t think that ever leaves you no matter how long you’re out of it.”
Originally published in the Irish Sun on Friday, November 2, 2012.