Barry Murphy might, from the outside, appear to have lived a charmed existence. Before starting rock band Hermitage Green, the Limerick native was a professional rugby player with the Munster franchise. He scored against New Zealand in 2008, and was a key member of a Heineken Cup winning squad. Now he’s lead singer with one of the country’s most beloved new groups. Talk about having it all.
“It’s different when you’re in the middle of it, “ says Murphy. “I wasn’t the best rugby player in the world — but I was fortunate to share the dressing room with some of the best players. I wouldn’t have been half as good without them. It’s the same with the band — I’m lucky to have four bandmates with drive, passion and vision.”
He stumbled into music after injury cut his sports career short in 2010. Murphy’s brother owned a bar and, on quiet evenings, the musician and some friends would put on casual performances. It wasn’t a big deal — just a group of pals kicking back. But before they had quite processed what was happening, they were a sensation around Limerick. Soon promoters and record labels were banging on their door. A career beckoned.
“We never planned on being in a band,” says Murphy. “We were thrown together at the start — we really fell into it. We had all come to the end of different careers and were at a bit of a loose end. I feel the recession had something to do with it. Everyone was feeling down - this was nice way to switch off. We’d sit down with a big pot of tea, have a chat, and play a few tunes. It was weird when people started coming to see us: suddenly we realised we’d have to put a setlist together. It snuck up on us.”
It’s an obvious point but there are indeed parallels with professional sport. Your week is about building towards a big performance and, if you don’t prepare properly, things can go awry. “They are quite similar jobs in some ways,” nods Murphy. “It’s about the team — you’re often playing at the weekend and you have to have the discipline to practise. Rugby and music lend quite well to one another: I went seamlessly from one of the other and haven’t looked back. After rugby, I adjusted very quickly to being a fan of the game. My passion is music.”
Though in existence for several years, it was only this spring that Hermitage Green finally released their debut album, Save Your Soul (overseen by Kodaline/Script producer Phillip Magee). They were, says Murphy, a victim of their own success. “We were giving so much — we must have played thousands of gigs across the past few years. We had planned putting out some EPs and then Sony showed interest. So that pushed things back even further. We had never had the time to sit down and write songs — it was always done as we were on the move. It was great to finally have an opportunity to take your time over something.”
The band are proud to come from Limerick and see themselves as ambassadors for the city.
“Limerick gets an awful rap. A lot of it comes down to some violence the media has blown out of proportion. It is difficult — sometimes you have to put on a brave face. You come across insensitive people who say stupid things about Limerick A lot of the time I bite my tongue and try to be as good a representative of the city as possible. A lot of our songs are about Limerick and those are always our best shows. It’s no different from anywhere else — certainly no different from any other town or city an hour or so up the road.”