Majella Murphy: ‘I was told that people like me usually end up in a lock-up ward’
A new song by musician Majella Murphy is based on her emergence from alcoholism into a brighter future
“I was always very creative. I started writing poetry at the age of seven or eight, and I was good at art and one of Ireland’s top three calligraphers at 14. But the first song that made me want to create music was Jimmy MacCarthy’s Adam at the Window. I loved it. Yet it wasn’t until I was 17 I started to play guitar. I couldn’t believe that just six strings and four fingers could give you such a good feeling. Then, at 19, I finally wrote my first song, a version of the Jesus and Mary story.”
Majella is, by her own description, “child-like and childish”, but is at her most girlish and gleeful when talking about her music heroes.
“I just love Barbra Streisand: what a voice! Honey, you have to love Barbra! Songs like A Piece of the Sky or Papa Can You Hear Me, from [the film] Yentl. And I love that ’60s song Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?, which I’m covering. And I love Dylan, Christy Moore, Dolly Parton.”
Even speaking about music seems therapeutic to her. “It is, and singing, writing and playing music live really helps me transcend everything in life.”
She got her musical break by impressing Robert Matthews, who worked with MCD at the time. He became her manager and funded her 2007 debut album, Brave New World. It was the first album to be released globally on Sony Ericsson phones, and was nominated for a Meteor Award. She played Electric Picnic and on The Raw Sessions and The Late Late Show.
However, she now says she was deeply dissatisfied with her debut album, which did not have the kind of sound she had hoped for. “I did the album in Nashville, but I didn’t like at all the way it was produced . . . It felt really cool to be in Nashville but, even though the album did very well, and was polished and mastered to the nth degree, I felt [that style of production] killed a lot of the songs. I wanted a live [concert] feel for the last album, and am getting it on the album I’m recording right now.”
She and Matthews parted company in 2011, and she emphasises the importance for her of getting “the financial backing and a distribution deal” she needs for the next album.
Whatever path Majella’s career takes from here she readily acknowledges that she is a “recovering alcoholic.” She started drinking at 14 and continued to battle booze even after her big musical break in 2007.
She recently turned 40. She has attended Alcoholics Anonymous and jokes that she has been “part of more support groups than most people have hot dinners”, adding, more seriously, “but at least I’m not in a lock-up ward”.
A medical professional once warned her that “people like her” usually ended up in just such a place. “I asked ‘Is there a chance for someone like me?’ and was told no, that people with conditions like mine usually end up in a lock-up ward by 30. As in, so-called abuse victims, alcoholics, people with eating disorders and drug addicts.
“I’m not a drug addict but I used to smoke weed, yet can’t now because I have an addictive personality. Bulimia nearly killed me when I was 27. I lost part of my stomach wall. I was binge-eating, then throwing up. Bulimia was the worst, really. Because people can see a drunk, and say, ‘she’s drunk, we’ll help her’, but they don’t see someone who is bulimic or anorexic. And I’d be binge-drinking, then I’d go binge-eating. I got that under control, though it is still something I have to watch.”