Murray's spiritual element

Daily Telegraph, September 10 1993, by Kathy McCabe.

Neil Murray's life has been spent waiting for people to catch up. The former Warumpi Band founder and now singer-songwriter released his first solo outing, the sorely under-rated Calm and Crystal Clear more than four years ago. Frenetic gigging has built him a solid following, opening for Hunters and Collectors, the Black Sorrows, Hoodoo Gurus, Hothouse Flowers and Midnight Oil.

Two years ago, with no album deal, Neil re-entered the studio with Midnight Oil's Jim Moginie and producer Mark Moffat to begin work on These Hands, his second solo album. The first single, the hook laden Holy Road, which features Marcia Hines on backing vocals, should have been a huge hit.

But like fellow singer-songwriters, whose music is continually critically acclaimed but stops short of reaching a wider audience, Neil missed out on solid radio support.

Frustrated that such a radio-friendly tune as Holy Road didn't set the airwaves on fire, after battling for two years to record and release These Hands, Neil is hoping someone catches up. "People tell me that about being ahead of my time and I'm sick of it. I just want people to have a bit of vision and get on board. I'm continually having to explain things from the past but this is where I'm going now," he said. "White Australians especially are still finding what I've done totally incomprehensible and don't understand it at all. Someone's gotta go out there and blaze a bit of a trail."

Murray headed north from his rural Victorian home in the late 70s to find "myself and my country" and ended up at Papunya, a remote western desert Aboriginal community, where the Warumpi Band was formed. While the band's music addressed many of the relevant issues, Neil's solo efforts tended to chronicle a more personal outlook on the land and it's people.

These Hands, however, has less of a sense of place and more of the person. "On Calm and Crystal Clear the songs reflected where I've lived and where a particular vision came to me through being with Aboriginal people, of where I thought this country could go and how I felt the contemporary cultural identity of this country could be forged," he said. "That's the flag I've been waving for a while. But when I sit down and write a song it doesn't necessarily have a location to it. I think most of the songs on These Hands are contemplative of the biggest questions to do with love, life and death. There's more of a spiritual element there and those things can come to you anywhere. Besides I've been living in Sydney pretty much for the last five years."

Jim MoginieThese Hands features a Who's Who of Australian talent, including the Oil's Rob Hirst and Bones Hillman, former Midnight Oil bassist Peter Gifford and drummer John Watson. Murray is quick to point out that Jim Moginie's contributions were invaluable. "Getting Jim on side was the biggest asset. He was reluctant at first but after he heard the demos he was in boots and all," he said. "Even though we had no budget and it was a bit of a scramble, we were faithful to the songs and just did it."

During the scramble for cash and studio time, Murray also explored other talents and wrote the semi-autobiographical novel Sing For Me, Countryman, which will be released next month. "It's basically about a young man going into the outback in search of himself and his country and he feels the secret to that is held by Aboriginal people," Murray said. "It was pretty therapeutic to write because it put those years in perspective. I'm a bit apprehensive about it coming out because I'm not sure how it will be received. I've seen with my own eyes how sometimes people just don't get it."