This article is from 2007.
Murray Lachlan Young went from being a poet with a huge record deal to playing imaginary gigs in a barn. Julian Hall discovers how he got his mojo back
Even after a ten-year break from performing at the Fringe, the name Murray Lachlan Young needs little introduction. But his story requires plenty of context. A decade ago, the then 26-year-old performance poet was splashed across the front page of the Daily Telegraph for signing an unprecedented £1m deal with EMI. Some critics were incensed. Michael Horowitz, founder of the Poetry Olympics, said, among other things, ‘his work sucks’ while the Observer’s Barbara Ellen suggested Young wasn’t fit to be burnt with BSE-ridden cattle. Even Norman Tebbit weighed in to offer that his poetry was ‘some sort of half bastard verse’.
These are all quotes that he wears like trophies now and, even though his Edinburgh show that year was marred by some people spitting at him, he has the tumult in some perspective. ‘I look at it now and it makes me laugh, I think “good on you Murray” for having the balls to go out and trying to make a mark on the world. That said, when the story became the story, it started a personal hell-ride.’
Despite the publicity, both good and bad, and supporting the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and Julian Cope, Murray’s stanzas on sex, drugs and rock’n’roll did not shoot up the charts. A new broom swept clean at EMI and the era of the ‘pop poet’ never came. Murray literally took the money and ran through a five-year period that he muses was ‘all a bit sketchy because I was drinking quite a lot’. His route was a circuitous one that took him from padding around in a dressing gown trying to avoid his own infamy, to Paris to film Roland Joffe’s Vatel with Gérard Depardieu and then to Sicily to perform in ‘old orange factories converted into groovy arts centres.’
Journey’s end, at least for a while, was a return to his cottage in Sussex where he bought a woodland holding. ‘I went into some kind of weird bucolic meltdown and built a make-believe country pub in a barn. I put on entertainments where I would get on stage and be unable to speak. I had no real interest in anyone coming, I just used to stand behind the bar.’ When time at the bar was called, Young’s performing days duly re-opened. His first comeback gig came in 2004 with a run at London’s Old Red Lion and then a ‘rehabilitation tour’ with punk poet and circuit stalwart Atilla the Stockbrocker.
‘I’d forgotten that people really liked what I did,’ he notes. ‘When I went on stage people responded and I developed a new style, relaxed, mature, and making genuine contact with the audience as opposed to thundering it out like a Wesleyan preacher.’ Ironically it’s immaturity that is a factor in helping Young get the focus, consistency and connection he is seeking in Edinburgh. As well as his ‘adult show’ he will be performing a children’s show at the Fringe. ‘It was a result of watching the way my own children [now aged three and seven] respond to rhyme and words. Having an audience of children is a great grounder; if you don’t connect, they start talking.’
Audiences at Young’s ‘adult’ show can expect themes such as Americanisation and junk culture, a folk pastiche called ‘A-Dogging I Will Go’ and poems like ‘Hey You with the Samurai Sword’.
‘Edinburgh is deeply interwoven in my life and identity. My father was born there and I’ve been up regularly since I was a baby, including eight Fringe appearances.’ Whether the city takes him to its heart this time remains to be seen, but at least there’s likely to be no spitting at his gigs.
Murray Lachlan Young: Cautionary Tales for Children, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 668 1633, 5–27 Aug (not 13, 20), noon, £6–£7 (£5–£6), family ticket £16. Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £4; Murray Lachlan Young, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 668 1633, 5–27 Aug (not 13, 20), 9pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £5.