Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Parka Avenue meets ska great Chris Murray

The good thing about being a blogger and not a bona fide journalist is that you get to interview only people you really like. And I don't just like Chris Murray, ska musician extraordinaire, I also admire him. So when I learned that he was making his second stop of the year in Montreal, I jumped on the occasion to interview him.

When you meet an artist that you have been listening to for 15 years, you hope he is as nice in person as you imagine. So let's get this out of the way right now. Chris Murray is not only a talented musician and songwriter but he is also a very down to earth and warm guy. The type you would want as a friend. He was generous and answered all my questions. It felt more like two buddies talking about stuff they are passionate about then a formal interview. Although I did mostly just listen...

What you sense from spending just over half an hour with him is how he respects the people that came before him. You can tell by his music and his message that it's imperative for him to give homage to what he calls "the roots". In fact, he made a point to call his music "roots ska" instead of "traditional ska". The difference being that traditional ska was a term in vogue a while back, associated with groups that dressed a certain way, played covers note for note, instead of focusing on learning from the musicians from that era. But when you do, music can only go through a natural evolution.

Since we are roughly the same age and we were both brought up with 2-Tone being a huge influence, I think it's only natural to seek out the originators and give them the credit they are due. So when I asked him if he felt like he was having an influence on the new generation of ska musicians, he said he felt a certain responsibility to pass on what he had learned from the older generation. This is really how a tradition is born.

Parka Avenue: You did a few collaborations with some famous people. Any memorable ones?

Chris Murray: I've been really fortunate. On the most recent release Yard Sale, they are two tracks with Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett and Cedric Brooks from The Skatalites. I had acted as road manager for a week and a half for The Skatalites in 1994, in California. I had seen them a few times before but that's when I met them. I got to know them, working with them as support crew. Then there was this opportunity where I basically hired Lloyd Knibb and Lloyd Brevett to do this session with me. We did two tracks and maybe a year later, the tracks were still not finished and I brought Cedric Brooks in to play on hooks. [...] That was really a great experience.

Parka Avenue: Were they people you looked up to?

Chris Murray: Oh! Of course. Of course. They're the icons of ska. For me, I really love when I hear that music now, now that I got to know the people. So when I hear someone playing, I know their personality and sometimes the clash of personalities within the group and little stories I heard that inform me of the overall vibe of it.

You can’t fault the guy for not practicing what he preaches because later that evening, a great upcoming ska band called The Beatdown joined him on stage for a good part of his act. I found myself having chills listening to a few of the tunes. That’s a dead giveaway of how music moves me.

Some of you might have missed a great Montreal show but it's not to late to grab his latest release Yard Sale. It certainly has the Parka Avenue stamp of approval. His new song Shades of the Same Color has been playing in my head in a continuous loop for the last few days.

For more information on Chris, visit his website:

For a glimpse of last Thursday's performance in Montreal, have a look at one of my favorite songs, Ex Darlin'.

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