Music Q&A:
Roisin Murphy

The Irish singer-songwriter is set to perform at Homobloc this November. Here she tells Big Issue North how Manchester shaped her as an artist

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How did your Irish upbringing hone your love of music?
I think it’s crucial. I was brought up around lots of musical people and relatives who were musicians. My first cousin was really into music, he played all sorts of instruments and was obsessed with records. He used to have a tiny little record player when he was about two or three, and that was the only toy he wanted to play with. He had loads of records by the time he was three and I think his first word was “wecords”. I saw him almost every day after school. He’s actually a musician as well now, he’s in an Irish kind of roots band, he does really well. So yeah, I was brought up around people singing songs all the time. My dad used to sing all the time, whenever he’d had a few drinks, which was often. There were lots of parties. It was actually a very exciting childhood with a lot of interesting, colourful adults around.

You moved to Manchester at the age of 12 and spent many of your formative years in the north. Would you say the region has had a role in shaping you as an artist?
Oh yeah, for sure. I moved to Manchester when I was 12 and my mother moved back to Ireland when I was 15 and I stayed in Manchester, and the reason why was music. I was already immersed in going to gigs, I was really into buying records, hanging around with people who were into music, going to the Egerton Arms in Stockport, that was all the weirdos. I was finding my identity in Manchester. I didn’t think I was going to make music but everybody who was my friend was connected to me through music, even at that point. It became so central. Then when I was a bit older and started to get into nightclubs, it was just such a fantastic time in the city for that sort of thing. It was exploding everywhere, all kinds of clubs, all kinds of music, and I was free – free as a bird to roam around it, and I certainly did.

How has your sound evolved over the years, going back to the early days in the 90s?
My singing really has changed, because I was learning to sing as I went along and experimenting and messing about with different voices and mannerisms, it was when I got to the third album that I started to sing closer to how I talked. But, you know, I’m glad I did all that mad experimental thing, it was who I was at the time. It was the truest thing I could be, but I became a singer by accident, so I’ve learned as I go along.

When did you first start using props and how do they aid your performances?
I suppose I started using props right from the beginning. The first Moloko gigs I came out with a lead around my neck, like a dog’s collar, and a lead and a bone in my mouth. We had a Christian drummer at some point and he was absolutely horrified. He had to take me to one side and say: “Look Roisin, I love this gig, I love the music, I love you, but you know, you can’t be doing the dog thing any more.” Also the other thing I was doing was I came out at one point with a stuffed bunny rabbit handcuffed to me, and I just beat it up on the stage and then I stamped on it with my stiletto heels and he was horrified at that too.

What have been your favourite props?
It started getting a bit more changeable towards the end of Moloko – the Statues tour. I remember there was a lovely golden kimono that I wore for Where is the What if the What is in Why, then there was a light change to accommodate the kimono with a red light, and I sort of sailed across, and it was all very dramatic. I started those types of shenanigans around then, really trying to work out a show.

You’ve previously spoken about how social security provided a safety net for you in the years leading up to your first record deal.
Well yeah, this is it. I’m not quite sure what the rules and regulations are now, but I’m not sure if a 16-year-old would be eligible for housing benefit and money every week to live on nowadays and be given that sense of self-respect and responsibility and just the sense of being believed in by the state that’s supposed to be taking care of you. I don’t know if they get that these days, but it really informed me, having those years in Manchester and I became a very strong person for that and I will always be grateful, and I’ve more than paid it back. I do feel for kids nowadays. I really think there should be a burst of energy at that point for kids because if you catch them then and give them a bit of strength and self-responsibility and reliance then they might be in with a chance. And give them a bit of space to find out what they’re good at and what they love to do.

Finally, what can we expect from your set at Homobloc?
I’m gonna go bold, I’m gonna go dark, I’m gonna go sexy. I’m gonna go queer, I’m gonna go deep, I’m gonna go northern. I’m gonna go stylish, I’m gonna go clean, I’m gonna go dirty. What about that?

Roisin Murphy will perform at the first Homobloc event at Mayfield Depot on 9 Nov

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