Peter Murphy Iconic Front Man Bauhaus
Sunday October 3rd 2010
Singer, song writer
Credited with spearheading and personifying the gothic rock movement, the godfather of the genre, Peter Murphy, was responsible for popularizing the “goth” look with his sharp and angular features, reminiscent of a dark and brooding vampire. His twisted lyrical musings on misanthropy, mythology, and the underworld were to inspire and influence generations of black clad mascara wearers to come. Murphy’s presence was such a powerful and all consuming force that he immediately became identified as the archetype of the goth movement. This misguided typecasting of his image and music has haunted Murphy from his earliest days in the genre defining band Bauhaus and throughout his solo career.
Murphy was born outside of the English midlands city of Northampton on July 11, 1957. He was the youngest of nine children born to working class and staunchly Catholic parents. His father was a chef and a furnace worker, while his mother was a homemaker. Murphy was exposed to music at a very early age. His mother sang to him quite a bit as a small child. “They [his mother’s songs] were great gigs. She hummed melodies to me which sounded quite morose and lullaby-like. I tend to make my own music with mood and atmosphere; I can see a connection.” Although Murphy was an artistically inclined teenager, he turned down the opportunity to go to artcollege because he claimed he was anti-social. Instead, he opted to work as a printer’s assistant and chose to pursue singing, writing and painting in his free time.
Around 1979, an old school friend of Murphy’s, guitarist and fellow artist Daniel Ash, got in touch with him and asked him if he would like to join his new band, Bauhaus. The band, whose name was taken from the famous early 20th century German art school, was comprised of Murphy on vocals, Ash on guitar, David J. on bass, and his brother Kevin Haskins on drums. Their first release, the classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” was released in 1979 on the independent Small Wonder label. With a hypnotically driving bass line and Murphy’s seductively sombre vocalization, the single instantly won them a rabidly loyal cult following, particularly enhanced when the single became a surprise dance club hit. The success of the single highlighted the schism in popular opinion between the band’s loyal fans and the popular press in Britain, which dogged the band and its many spin-offs from then on. Fans across the globe loved Bauhaus, while critics, most notably the ever fickle British press, loathed them.
Undeterred, Bauhaus pressed on and released their first album, In the Flat Field, on 4AD in 1980. With In the Flat Field, Bauhaus launched a rather lucrative career of putting the undead and its associated imagery to music. Part glam rock and part punk, Bauhaus was wholly its own creation and one that spawned legions of imitators and even some innovators. Promotional clips and live concert dates showcased Murphy’s love of theatrics.
Bauhaus signed to Beggars Banquet after the release of In the Flat Field. By then, they had amassed a hardcore following that delighted in dressing as dark and stately as their idols. 1981 marked the release of Mask, the first Bauhaus album for their new record company. Mask, like its predecessor, also featured oddly compelling and hypnotic rhythms courtesy of J. and Haskins. Murphy’s now signature morosely misanthropic and melancholy word play was present as well. A live album, Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape was released the following year as well as Bauhaus’ third studio album, Sky’s Gone Out.
By the time Bauhaus was ready to commence work on their fourth studio album, tensions, and inter-band stress were both on the rise. Neither Ash nor Jay was too thrilled with the idea that, increasingly, the image of the band was becoming rather inextricably tied to that of Murphy and vice versa. Also, since both Jay and Ash either wrote or co-wrote all of the band’s songs, they felt that they should get their share of the limelight for their efforts. The feelings of Jay and Ash combined with
Murphy’s rather sudden illness at the start of the sessions for their last studio album, lead to the early demise of Bauhaus.
When Murphy was well enough to return to the studio he was shocked and a bit hurt to find out that the band had proceeded to record most of the tracks for the album without him. Ash, Jay and Haskins had laid down the music for Bauhaus’ 1983 release Burning From the Inside and had left just a few songs for Murphy to sing. There were a number of tracks on Burning From the Inside that either Ash or Jay sang lead vocals on for the first time. These collaborations between Ash, Haskins, and Jay would eventually lead to the formation of Love and Rockets a few years later.
In 1983 after touring in support of Burning From the Inside, Bauhaus disbanded just as they were on the brink of national success in their native England. Also in 1983, Bauhaus released The Singles 1981–1983. Posthumously in 1985, Beggars Banquet released the Bauhaus retrospective 1979–1983 and in 1989 released Swing the Heartache, the BBC Sessions. Three years after this, Nemo released a recording of the last Bauhaus concert entitled Rest in Peace.
After the demise of Bauhaus, Murphy began collaborations with Mick Karn, who had previously worked as a multi-instrumentalist for the band Japan. Together they formed Dali’s Car. The duo released one album in 1984 entitled Waking Hour before they disbanded. After Dali’s Car broke up, Murphy began to seriously study the fundamentals of dance with his soon to be wife, Beyhan Foulkes, who was a professional choreographer.
Murphy was forced, out of the need to survive, to form another band. He was very reluctant to do this because of the ever looming shadow of Bauhaus. Eventually, in 1986, he hooked up with a number of studio musicians who were later to be known as the Hundred Men and recorded his debut solo record Should the World Fail to Fall Apart. Hardcore Murphy and Bauhaus fans snatched the new album up but it failed to storm up the charts or to excite the general public. He released his second solo album two years later. Love Hysteria faired a little better than its predecessor in terms of sales due in part to its release in America.
Deep, Murphy’s third solo release came out in 1990. It was the breakthrough album he had been hoping. Deep sold 350, 000 copies in America alone and contained the number one modern rock song of 1990, “Cuts You Up.” The surprising success of “Cuts You Up” propelled the sales of the nearly gold album to the number 41 spot on Billboard’s Top 100 Albums chart. Buoyed by the success of Deep, Murphy sought to concentrate his efforts on making it big in America, by touring extensively there.
Two years later saw the release of Holy Smoke, which failed to storm the charts as Deep had done. A move to Turkey and time spent in his new home with his wife and children occupied most of Murphy’s time for the next three years. In 1995, he released Cascade. The complacency of the album helped it to avoid charting in either the United Kingdom or America.
Murphy continued to focus on his live performances as he informed B-Side’s Sandra Garcia, “you don’t really get that much contact with the fans…but I keep myself in complete focus on the creativity end, of making the show happen and being as vital each night as I was last night. It’s the idea of keeping that alive. I think it’s a celebration thing. If I’m transported, then I want them to be a part of what’s happening on stage, and that’s me.”
Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, Beggars Banquet, 1986.
Love Hysteria, Beggars Banquet, 1988.
Deep (includes “Cuts You Up”), Beggars Banquet, 1990.
Holy Smoke, Beggars Banquet, 1992.
Cascade, Beggars Banquet, 1995.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Small Wonder, 1979.
In the Flat Field, 4AD, 1980.
Mask, Beggars Banquet, 1981.
Sky’s Gone Out, Beggars Banquet, 1982.
Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape, Beggars Banquet, 1982.
Burning From the Inside, Beggars Banquet, 1983.
The Singles 1981–1983, Beggars Banquet, 1983.
1979–1983, Beggars Banquet, 1985.
Swing the Heartache, Beggars Banquet, 1989.
Rest in Peace, Nemo, 1992.
With Dali’s Car
Waking Hour, Beggars Banquet, 1984.
Information from the “Rolling Stone Magazine”
Doug Worrall Photographer