Murray A. Lightburn
Old St Pancras Church, London
Words & Pics by Captain Stavros
Old St Pancras Church is hugely unassuming, situated rather than nestled, by Kings Cross St Pancras station. In fact, our plus one had to send several texts (two of which included pictures) to confirm it was the right place, citing trepidation about crossing the threshold of a church. Making our way to our seats in the front row, we swung by the merch table where a mild-mannered Ramona Flowers type was swallowed up inside a book. Standing politely and answering our questions as we loitered, we couldn’t help but feel a familiarity with someone we’d never met before. Shrugging off the spookies, we ventured deeper within. The Church, a structure with a small exterior once inside, opened up its hidden depths to us. So would, momentarily, Murray A. Lightburn.
23 years ago, nearly to the day, yours truly arrived home quite inebriated around two in the morning and put on the TV at the end of their bed. During that time, in Canada, MuchMusic would bury its tax funded countrymen’s music to hit its Canadian Music Quotas. Oh, Canada. The block was called The Wedge and, in the early ‘00s, it was playing some of the best up-and-coming national artists who would later explode internationally. It was a very proud and memorable moment in this music fan’s tiny existence, but we digress. On this particular occasion, one miserable fuck unknown to us at the time as Murray A. Lightburn, walked swigging liquor from a 26’r alongside a motorway in Montreal, mumbling “I hate this miserable fucking video already”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALA8bszA0L0 One man’s trash is another man’s ‘Dumpster Gold’ and in this case we felt we’d hit a musical goldmine. End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story, both album and title track blew us away completely. We had to special-order the album and pay import CD prices, but it was completely warranted in our opinion. Two lukewarm albums would follow, each with a few solid tacks, but what we remember as sticking out the most during that time was a) the live performances which were nothing short of stellar, and b) meeting Murray and him being consistently introverted and grouchy with a massive chip on his shoulder. Never meet your heroes, kids!
With that, let’s time travel back to the present. We’d long ago lost touch, to our deep regret, with the founding members of The Dears. We’d somehow grown inexplicably close with them and their music both. Having left Canada and spent the better part of the last decade floating around the globe aimlessly, tethers soon loosened and were ultimately lost. Then, as carelessly as we’d drifted away, into our inbox floated Once Upon A Time In Montreal. Unbeknownst to us, Murray had developed a whole solo career over the last 10 years with three releases in tow. This evening, Lightburn is flanked by five session musicians and backed by a pointed dress shoe that taps loudly as it keeps the beat. If you’re familiar with Murray, you’ll know he’s a massive perfectionist. It is only then that you can hear the strain in each toe tap like the beating of the Tell-tale Heart. Standing before us in a three-piece suit, with all but the coat tails of a bygone era bandmaster, he tosses strained aural and visual musical cues to the players surrounding him. It feels strained and a bit uncomfortable to witness, but then, something happens.
Lightburn lightens up. It sent a ripple of goose pimples across our tender flesh. To put it bluntly, it was a fucked up and surreal experience, rolled up into a church. Jesus Christ!
“The subtext of the album is definitely about making your case for your own personal growth.” It’s a complex and vulnerable release involving, at various points, communication breakdowns, admitting one’s faults, making amends, and understanding true devotion. While Lightburn notes that Hear Me Out is not wholly autobiographical, it is an ultimately inward-looking experiment that has him contemplating how we treat the people in our lives.”
If you didn’t believe in a God beforehand, you’d be hard pressed not to after this event. A welcome change nonetheless though. The chilled Murray made his first appearance struggling with clamping a capo, in Chaplinesque fashion, on the fretboard. “Don’t worry, I’m a professional!”, he cracks. He went through most of his latest album nailing every track. Later still, he’d crack a few anecdotes like meeting a proper Londoner in Montreal for the first time, who introduced himself as “London, born and bred”. Born, and bred, “he said it twice! I think about that often, it gets me every time”. Before singing a Dears classic, ‘You And I Are A Gang Of Losers’, Lightburn tells us this was the song he’d sooth his wailing newborn in the car with, who’s now all grown up and selling merch by the entrance. Unreal! We’d never met Neptune Lightburn but they were instantly recognizable as equal parts Natalia (founding Dears member) and Murray’s partner.
After each track followed an applause louder than the last, drawn out in the hopes of distracting the musician as one does from their set’s end. We’re soon put at ease when Murray comes back with, “I think I’ve got a few more in the tank”, which was followed by Dears classics ‘Pinned Together, Falling Apart’ and ‘Lights Off’. Mrs Lightburn is in the audience, and we hear the story of how his parents met, “and if you were born in the ‘60s in London, my mother might’ve delivered you. True story”. He closes his set with ‘Belleville Blues’ from Hear Me Out; “This song, I sing in the voice of my father”. Lightburn holds the line, “save me from myself” after dismissing the musicians making up the travelling band, the last word, in the final line before the outro. The duration of which, the strain on his jawbone and voice is both visibly and sensibly painful to endure, is felt. It holds unbearable sorrow and peace in equal measure. That being said, Mr Limelight, was certainly lapping it up like a cat at a saucer of warm milk. To add to the drama, halfway through the final song the church bells struck the hour, resonating like phantom backup singers.
After the performance, to our shock, Murray all but dove into the crowd and engaged with the audience, greeting his mother, son Apollo, and partner Natalia, before signing autographs and exchanging pleasantries. His latest work is a masterpiece. His voice, even after 25+ years of singing professionally, sounds fortified instead of weakened. We were impressed. There were two unexpected titbits we neglected to mention earlier but will do so before signing off. The first was of a heartfelt appreciation of the moment Lightburn found himself in and the pure joy he gets from performing, “This job is a grind, really grinding, but this moment makes it all worthwhile.” We’d never heard him, but also found it completely refreshing, sounding so appreciative. Perhaps the most insightful was a moment of enlightenment for all music when Murray explained that, “all of these songs aren’t biographical, they’re sung in the voice of the character. What can I say, I’m a writer, I like to embellish”.