The Tin Hut, Featherston September 2016
Reviewed by David Famularo
I’ve known Dave Murphy since his family lived in Masterton in the mid-1970s. He had just returned to New Zealand from a sorjourn at Nimbin in northern New South Wales, famous for its alternative lifestyle.
Dave was very much a hippy then but a few years later he was well and truly immersed in the Blues, working for a Masterton market gardening Chinese family at the same time as finishing of an horticultural degree, if I remember correctly.
By the mid-1980s he was already a technically accomplished blues musician. I remember him playing upstairs at the Oak Arcade in lower Cuba Street, one of those trendy new arcades that replaced the beautiful old buildings in Wellington that were deemed an earthquake risk, part of a destructive frenzy sparked by the introduction of “Rogernomics”, New Zealand’s version of Monetarism, by the new Labour government.
Dave disappeared off the Wellington music scene after a car crash, the catalyst for a deep depression that saw him give up all music for a significant number of years.
Dave’s journey back to music and his first CD is captured in the film “Yes, That’s Me: Dave Murphy Plays The Blues”. Very much in the classic blues fashion, Dave was rediscovered and appreciated more than ever.
It would be impossible to suppose that such a story lies behind his music, such was the assured performance Dave gave at The Tin Hut – except perhaps in a small number of spirituals he performs on the night that hint at an inner transformation.
I’m not a huge fan of the song Amazing Grace, I have to say, but Dave’s performance had the conviction of a true believer. He chose to play a much more up tempo version than I’ve heard before which worked to excellent effect.
It is literally decades since I last listened to Dave play live, in the intimate setting of his family’s home. After all those years, the foundation of his music remains the same finger picking style of the early blues twentieth century musicians he admired then.
There is always the danger that homage can turn into impersonation but Dave has avoided becoming a slave to his heroes, and has instead become a unique performer in his own right.
There has been a noticeable broadening of his repertoire, with the inclusion of some of his own songs that in no way pale in comparison to the standards that fill most of his set.
Dave is a superb guitarist and it is this musicianship that his performance is founded on, but his singing as well is stronger than ever.
I suspect the character of his music will continue mature with the years, in the tradition of all good blues singers.
A testament to his performance was how much the musical energy lifted to another level in the space of just his first song, with Dave holding my attention to the very end of a set that started a bit later than it needed to.
Dave has never lost his modesty. His engagement with his audience was as unpretentious as ever. It included the story of how he and his dobro were reunited years after it had been stolen. Dave discovered it being played by a friend who had bought it on Trade Me.
Dave pointed out how beautifully the 30 year old dobro had mellowed with age and sounds better than ever. The same could be said of Dave Murphy.