Róisín Murphy: ‘Realising I’d become a gay icon felt like home’

The singer, 45, on sobriety, motherhood, not being cool or famous and blagging it at Irish dancing

We were brought up to think we were amazing. Maybe I was too confident, too full of myself. I found school difficult. I’d get followed home by 20 kids throwing stuff at me. The teachers didn’t like me either. We left Ireland for Manchester when I was 12, and I was happy to go.

My family were wheeler-dealer class. They were their own bosses and very glamorous. We lived in a beautiful, big townhouse in Arklow, in Ireland, that we couldn’t afford to heat. My father had a business fitting bar furniture and my mother is an antiques dealer. One night my father woke me up because he’d come home with a horse. Two days later I asked my mother where it was and she said it had run away. She’d sold it.

The day I turned 16, I moved into my own flat. My parents had just broken up and I didn’t want to go back to Ireland with my mother. I was doing my A-levels and my friends would come over and watch Twin Peaks. I was lucky that happened to me then, because I was looked after by the state [with housing benefit] for three years. When I got a record deal I more than paid it back. A 16-year-old now wouldn’t get that help.

I don’t have the brain capacity to deal with the supermarket. I get there and go blank. But there’s always food in the house because my partner [music producer Sebastiano Properzi] is Italian and a great cook.

Realising I’d become a gay icon felt like home. In the early part of my career I used to play in Paris with Moloko and it would always be this dry, trip-hop audience of mostly music journalists. Then one day I turned up and it was wall-to-wall men with their tops off, hanging from the ceiling, sweat pouring everywhere. I thought: “This is it! I’ve found my niche.”

I can blag it at Irish dancing. But there was no Gaelic, no Irish songs, no Irish dancing in my childhood. My parents were modern Irish. I’m more into it than them. My father’s disgusted at me.

Wit and music both help you see the world differently. On my last album, before I’d go into the studio, I’d listen to Derek and Clive.

I’m not famous. Fame is walking down the street and people that don’t care about what you do want a picture with you. If somebody comes up to me, it’s because they love my music.

I will never marry. Why would I want to contractually sign up to a man? I’m totally committed to Sebastiano, but I also have this worry that once the ring is on the finger, it all goes downhill.

Cool people, cool publications, cool music haven’t actually been cool for a long time. I only ever wanted to be cool if I could pull the idea to pieces and redefine it.

I don’t get as mashed as the old days. We used to work hard to make sure a show was blinding and then get really drunk. It was exhausting, but you’d key into a stamina that pushes you forward. Being a parent has driven me to use time more economically.

I’ve been fighting the system for a long time. I’ve never operated like a so-called “music professional”. I work hard to bring beauty to life, but at the moment the people close to me in this have never been further away. This is my fault and after directing my own videos and campaigns, I’ve realised it’s time to be direct myself; to stop expecting a paternal industry, that never really existed, to step up. I now either take control or get out.

Róisín Murphy is releasing singles on Vinyl Factory in September, with accompanying live European dates


Candice Pires

The GuardianTramp

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