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27 August 2023

Róisín Murphy’s Q&A: “Mo Mowlam was everything you’d want a politician to be”

The musician on the former secretary of state for Northern Ireland, her love of the Sopranos and being painted by Rubens.

By New Statesman

Róisín Murphy was born in Arklow, Ireland, in 1973. Formerly one half of the pop duo Moloko, she now performs as a solo artist. She is known for merging avant-garde pop and electronica on albums including Róisín Machine (2020).

What’s your earliest memory?

I was crying because my father had to go to work, which I think I did every morning for a while. He obviously loved it. My mum wasn’t crying.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was my father, because he was always singing. He was charismatic and affectionate. But my adult hero is my mother, because as I’ve got older I’ve got my head around how hard it was to be her,  and what a wonderful job she did.

What book last changed your thinking?

On Film-Making by Alexander Mackendrick. It helps you see through the language of film. For example, if you see a close-up of a man’s face, and his eyes are moving across the screen, and you flick back to a wide shot of a woman walking through a crowd, you know immediately that he’s looking at that woman. Your brain makes the jump. You don’t watch things the same way after you learn that. Discovering anything like that gives me a buzz. It’s better than drugs.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Mo Mowlam. She negotiated the peace process in Northern Ireland while she had cancer. She was going through treatment, and was known to pull her wig off during exchanges. She broke down those barriers by just being human, and we all adored her. She was everything you’d want a politician to be and everything that politicians aren’t.

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[See also: Shabana Mahmood: “All I do these days is talk to Tory voters”]

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

At the moment, Succession. I have watched it three times now, and every time it gets better.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I have a hankering to taste the nightlife of New York City in the late 1970s and early 1990s. Or Chicago, or Detroit.

What TV show could you not live without?

I loved The Sopranos. I have to try to get a handle on how that was written. It was just amazing, such brilliant performances.

Who would paint your portrait?

I would like to be at the centre of a fresco by Rubens. Of course I’d have to be nude!

What’s your theme tune?

“She’s Strange” by Cameo. For obvious reasons: “She’s strange, and I like it.” 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t feel too sorry for yourself. When I was growing up, if I got into trouble with other kids (which I did on numerous occasions) I’d go home and tell my mother. She’d often say, “It was probably your fault.” And it was!

[See also: Sarah Lucas: “I didn’t want to spend my life angry”]

What single thing would make your life better?

Being able to stretch time. I’m already doing twice as much as seems humanly possible, but I could quadruple that if I could stretch time.

When were you happiest?

When I had my second child would be the pinnacle. I thought, “Oh God, how could life get any better? I’ve got all of this.”

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

An interior designer. As a child I was always caught moving furniture around our house. It would drive my mum mad.

Are we all doomed?

We’re born doomed, we’re born to die! But you can enjoy it. A lot of my work and the lyrics are about surrender – giving up control and surrendering to that fate. We don’t have free will.

“Hit Parade” is released on Ninja Tune on 8 September

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This article appears in the 30 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Tax Con