Spotlight Artist: Joe Hurley

Our next spotlight artist is our good friend and a long-time supporter of MurphGuide, Joe Hurley. Joe is the founder, songwriter and lead singer of Rogues March and Joe Hurley & The Gents. Joe took some time from his hectic schedule and preparation for his upcoming show at Joe’s Pub to answer our questions. And despite the busyness and lack of sleep, Joe did not just phone it in. Once he got going, his enthusiasm was apparent, and he went above and beyond, sharing what he could about what he has been up to and what is planned for 2011.

Spotlight Artist: Joe Hurley

photo by Heather Swanson

You toured Europe this fall in support of The House That Horse Built, visiting Belfast, Berlin, Paris, London, Vienna (anywhere else)? What were some of the highlights of the tour.
So many highlights, quite a tour: different band mates in every city, four phones that apparently only worked in Budapest (where I didn’t go), language barriers and musical cultures colliding and crashing and coming together beautifully, creating new canvas. You open a window, and stray violin notes float in your doll-house of a hotel room. Ahh that must be Kirsten – OK, I’m in Berlin – and your band greets you, shuffles in, a brilliant busker guitarist from England, a drummer from Pakistan, a lovely Parisian pianist. You make tea and music in room 509…then you hit Kreuzberg on your bikes, see old friends in the cafes, visit the squat you lived in. Singing ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Amsterdam Mistress’ in the greenroom tent with Israel’s most brilliant poet one night, ‘Eve of Destruction‘ with an Arabic genius novelist on the Berlin zoo grounds of the festival the next. Rabbits hopping everywhere, a full moon above you, you just flow, and these are all just the after-show singalongs.
The shows themselves…the diverse influences at play, what they splatter on the canvas, give the songs new shape, they take flight in ways you’d never dreamed of, and you’re carried away without knowing quite how you got there. It’s incredibly stimulating, and life-affirming, and fantastic when you land. Christ, that felt good. And connected. And then you see the beaming faces. No borders, anywhere. Cos in the end, after all, many hands and hearts have touched the artist’s brush. Cheers, Colum. The Belfast Festival was great, the audiences break down the barriers. They embrace you and join in, they’re your chorus. Just soaking in the warm vibes of Belfast was magical – much glorious happenstance, and the kindness of the people is otherworldly. They’ve been through so much, and there’s still that innate generosity of spirit. To reach Belfast, my cousins drove me from Valentia Island, and with a few detours to relatives farms, ended up a 14 hour drive. Shattered upon arrival, the rehearsal studio was closed but a guardian angel, a total stranger, offered us his space, and I met my Belfast band for the first time, 11pm night before fest, to have our 1 rehearsal – very off the cuff. Two radio shows took up the next day, but sometimes spontaneity is what gives you your edge, and they were great – The Belfast audiences feed off your energy, and playing with Damien Dempsey was a kick. Good man. I met a Belfast cabbie, a man I’ll love til I leave this earth, a sparkle in his eye, an instant rapport. He took next day off, and gave me me a day of divine, perfect moments -a guided tour in his black cab into the heart & soul of George Best‘s life. He said ‘meet me at Hurricane Higgins‘ funeral tomorrow, outside the cathedral, and well go from there- ‘How will we find each other?-there will be 1000s there.” “Dont you worry about that, Joe. I’ll be by your side with a coffee and a bacon sandwich for you. Next morning, I went to the cathedral, was tapped on my shoulder by Robert within a minute of standing in the throngs of mourners. He had the coffee, the sandwich, ‘alright then, Joe’. Introduced me to the Lord mayor of Belfast, and off we went–First to Bestie’s gravesite, then all the murals of him, then to his house. We spent the day with George’s next door neighbor, who regaled us with heartwarming tales, tears in the eyes of this wonderful woman, she was there when he was born. His mother her best friend, and they lived next door their entire lives. And she loved George like a son. I gave her a copy of my NEVER FEAR album, with the song ‘When You Feel Like Crying’, tale of a boy who loves Bestie, and she asked me to sign it for her, using the nickname only George had ever called her. An 86 year old stranger and I hugged. We didn’t want to say goodbye. Her daughter was in shock. “You haven’t hugged me in 20 years!We wandered the east Belfast estate, the fields where he’d play football every day, followed by 20 young ‘uns, mini-Georges, wanting to know who the man in black was, ‘NEW YORK?!’ And I couldn’t help but wonder why Bestie’s house had been on the market for two years at 120,000 euros – so cheap. The home of the Belfast genius who thrilled the world. This is sacred ground. I took photos of all the kids, the little Georgies in front of his house. I love them. Time stood still. At the end of the day, Robert Mcallister, my cabbie mate, dropped me at a Falls Road art exhibition with Gerry Adams, Mairtin O’Mueillor and we all ended up at Merchants House for dinner. Afterwards, I was introduced to Belfast’s street poet, a small man of huge heart, and we took him with us, where he shyly read from tattered copies of his poetry anthologies. He gave me his only copy of ‘The Wee Man’, stunning poetry. Later in Berlin, while I was ‘Musical Artist in Residence’ for the 10 day festival, I was asked to be part of Authors for Peace, on international peace day with the UN, where 75 authors from across the globe read stories for 24 hours straight, setting a new world record. ( Guinness Book of World Records(sept/2011). Two of the poems I read were from the ‘Wee Man”s work, so now he’s in GBWR. I’m writing him with the news, I hope he will be very pleased.

Will you be collaborating with Colum McCann on any more songs?

Absolutely. There’s a shared vision and trust that comes with kindred spirits, being close friends. Always a kettle on the boil, a gorgeous, slab of poetry on the way, a voice from the wilderness to emerge. Often a broken voice. Battered and needing to be heard. We both know when we’re there, captured the essence of the character. Getting inside the soul completely. Inhabiting it.

That’s how it was with Tille, the prostitute, the character in his novel and our CD. We saw her on the street corner, in hot pants, ice cream dripping down her mouth. She was ‘alive’ to us, we loved her. Being honest in the telling, true to the voice, forging a spiritual bond with them. The empathy. That’s what it’s about. And with Colum, there’s no one better to explore these hearts. He’s one of the world’s greatest writers, so it’s been fantastic writing with him, a privelege. We’d always wanted to, and had dabbled some, but when he sent me an advance of ‘Spin’ and said -‘how bout a song for her?’, I was so profoundly moved by her story, that in the end, our work became a mini-album–her tale is too riveting for one song, this woman, a fireball of grit, sassy humour, and a shattering understanding that she will never leave this house. The house that horse built.

We’ve worked on others. There’s already a full album of songs written, inspired by ‘Let the Great world Spin‘. His characters are all in there. ‘The Night they dimmed the lights on NY town”, “This must be Jesus”, “With all respect to Heaven”, “Sherry Netherlands” and Clare’s song – a duet between a mother and her dead son, killed in Vietnam. We toured together across Europe, played everywhere from ships in Hamburg, houseboats in London, palaces and bookshops in Paris, centuries-old theatres in Vienna, Berlin, and the reaction to our songs was visceral and humbling. Audiences everywhere connected deeply, singing the choruses. Colum and I both love to improvise so many of the post gig soirees were really mad surrealist sessions. It was a great release from the intensity of the performances, especially for him, he was working very hard. So we’d take over a bistro in Paris, Les Closeries des Lilas, or Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. We have a fair few late-night inspired songs that stayed with us. ‘When Beckham met Beckett’ was one – Beckham waiting for his stylist, Beckett waiting for god, sitting uncomfortably on a park bench together. It has 56 verses. Another was ‘Clouseau et Cousteau’, 2 of the greatest Frenchmen ever, one falls over, one swims under. ‘Does your fish bite?’ That’s a TV series in the making. But, yeah we plan on writing songs together for a long time to come. Not about Clouseau though. And we do enjoy watering the grass at James Joyce’s grave in Zurich. The poor German tour group didn’t know what to make of it all.

Joe and Colum at Montmartre, Paris

I heard there is plans for a movie version of “Let the Great World Spin”. Will Joe Hurley be going to Hollywood?
Yes Paramount is doing the film, with JJ Abrams directing. Will I be going to Hollywood? I’ve been there a great deal in recent times, and down the years. Haven’t you seen the picture of me by Telly Savalas’s star on Hollywood Boulevard. Me and Kojak. Taken on tour with Flogging Molly. I think Dave King took the photo. I’m not really at liberty to discuss the film. It’s great that JJ Abrams loves the songs, I’ll say that much.

You did some shows opening up for Ian Hunter. What’s it like hearing a 70+ year old singing “All the Young Dudes?”
What an honour. Growing up, I’d watched Ian on Top of the Pops, had all the singles – Always loved his songs. His voice has grown even more expressively poignant and powerful over the years, as has his writing. He’s a classy guy, a really top gent, yknow? We did a charity concert together a few years back, and he liked ‘Amsterdam Mistress’ and has been supportive since. His words on my CD with Colum meant the world to me. James Mastro (Gents guitarist) plays guitar with Ian, so we’d spent a little time together, and then I joined Ian onstage in April for some NYC shows, singing on ‘All the Young Dudes” and ‘Saturday Gigs’. Singing ‘Dudes’ with Ian Hunter? It still chills me, man. Sparked a 1000 childhood memories. So getting the news to do shows together was a gas. And they were great nights.
Ian has more energy than any 21 year old I’ve ever seen perform, believe me! And he has a superb band too!

You provided vocals for the new audio version of Keith Richards’ book “Life”. Did you have much interaction with him before or during the recording?
Recording Keith’s LIFE was a mad, wonderful experience. What a gift, y’know? And to be in such stellar company, Johnny Depp & Keith, the audiobook, fantastic. This is Keith, he IS rock & Roll, pure and simple. I’d flown in from Paris, and with guitars and suitcases in tow, went straight from JFK to the studio to begin taping. Jet lagged, rumpled and ready to tape. We all wore masks. Spoke in tongues. There were swordfights, the usual argy-bargy. Seriously though, I signed a confidentiality agreement. And I have a line I use sometimes…
‘”Never talk out of school about Peter O’Toole”. Good words to live by. And Keith is always lurking about anyway, isn’t he. He’s in Greenwich, London, NYC, Redlands, Jamaica. He’s everywhere man. He’s on your record player right now. Smell a shepherds pie in the oven and you’re getting close. Just dont cut the crust. It’s like songwriting, a few scrawled notes late night in a bar. Just remember-‘leave the cocktail, take the napkin’ or you never get the jewels. In fact for the entire taping, no one knew I was even in NYC, everyone thought I was still in Europe. I just said “I got a job with a bloke from Dartford” and left it at that! We both grew up in south London, our villages 6 miles from each other, our dads both worked in sidcup, bits of happenstance again–we have mutual friends, so reading their tales in this amazing memoir was a kick too. It’s now a 20 CD box set, and it was an exhilarating adventure, a true privelege to be involved. A wild ride, strapped in, and just let his words move the river along. Funny how Tami Lynn, who sings on my CD w McCann, is of course the backing vocalist on Stones ‘Exile’, and she loves Keith dearly. He is the real deal, a ‘salt of the earth’ guy. And of course celebrating the book and Keith, Tami, a true soul-legend, will be singing from EXILE at our show on Tuesday, just as she did all those years ago. Things fall into place sometimes, don’t they?
Read the interview with Joe Hurley on recording Keith’s book in this month’s Audiofile Magazine
A lucky MurphGuide reader will win a copy of the Box-set at our show Tuesday, announced onstage.

Do you have a date/location picked for the next Irish Rock Revue?

We will be making an official announcement next week – you’ll be the first to know. It’s the 12th edition of the All Star Irish Rock Revue so we’ll be disclosing the info in Xmas caroling fashion the 12th day of Christmas, why not? What else is your true love going to say to you on the 12th day of Xmas anyway. She’s up to here with the turtle doves and the partridges in a pear tree?
I’ve never seen one and I’ve been around. Christmas is a good time to announce a Paddy’s Day NYC institution. I sing my xmas ballad ‘Amsterdam Mistress’ in July at outdoor festivals so I’m kind of keeping up with the off kilter seasonal bent. I can tell you there will be some new very special guests at the 12th annual, extraordinary ones – and we’ve had a lot over the years. Pavarotti, well he didn’t exactly take the stage but enjoyed the catering in the dressing room. Convinced it was Columbus Day so we had him ejected. We’ve always been blessed with surprises, R&R hall of famers, film stars, punk legends, Tony winners ,genius novelists, Fountains of Wayne, Ronnie Spector, Ireland’s The High Kings, local heroes, everyone’s popped in at some point. The Irish Ambassador was onstage this year, Niall Burgess reading gaelic poetry-and the place fell silent. In a packed NYC Rock venue. That’s respect for the arts, for Ireland, and for the man.

Your annual birthday show is always full of surprises, whether it’s a Dickensian finale or David Lee Roth singing back up vocals on a Mott the Hoople cover. I don’t expect you to reveal any of the surprises you may have planned this year, but do you deliberately try to plan these surprises? or are they surprises to you, too?
Everything is a surprise to me, Murph. I leave it to the gods, the madmen, the gravediggers, Yeats-lovers, Julie Andrews and the psychics, I just show up. If you told me a year ago that I’d be involved in some way with the two biggest books of the year, I’d have taken you for a closer look at that partridge in the tree…and the pears would have come tumbling down, gone forth and multiplied. I’m very grateful for these opportunities, but you can’t predict them. Westham 4 Man United 0 last week. I share a birthday with The Marquis De Sade and Britney Spears. She came down one year and wanted to do our power-trio hit “Oops I Whipped Him Again” I said ‘no, not that old chestnut please Britney’. So instead we did a metal version of a Ricky Martin song “in a gadda da vida loco baby’- that was the night she shaved her head. Me too. Got us both in the Whitney. Someone did a painting and suddenly Britney’s at the Whitney. You can’t make this stuff up!~ I’m very blessed to have had a ‘a very good year’ as Sinatra sang – So this annual gig (Mastro & my birthday) is a way to count my blessings. But also to reflect on some of the sadness around, we’ve had a lot of losses lately, some deaths and tragic events happening to those close to me–and that’s made me heavy of heart. So the ballads will be harder to sing, but I will be singing for them. It can all disappear in a second-and I’m acutely aware of that, now and always, so it’s a show where joy and melancholy can co-exist simultaneously, an Irish trait perhaps-wish they were here, yknow? JF will be, my dear old comrade in arms and the NYC icons Tish & Snooky, my big sisters. So there will be friends, love, happiness too of course. Yeah, the special guests are always fantastic – Denis Dunaway (of vintage Alice Cooper Band) jumped up and we did “I’m 18”, great fun, especially because it was my 18th, even more apros-pos, Ireland’s The Screaming Orphans did a few gorgeous songs from OLIVER, Tony Winning actor Michael Cerveris was in on that one too-“Mr. Percy Snodgrass would often have the odd glass”…The more Dickensian, the better, frankly. Mr McCann joined us last year days after winning the national book award-and we had our CD of songs on his novel ‘Let the Great World Spin’ come in that day. So to perform it live for the 1st time with him onstage with us was a beautiful humbling experience. Course later, to get Colum to join in on Slade’s ‘Merry xmas Everybody’ took some cajoling, a bit of cuddling. Well, basically I dragged him by the scarf kicking and screaming to the mike. Which is exactly what Noddy Holder does on the song, so it was perfect. Colum will tell you he can’t sing, but it’s not true. He’s very melodic, the rhythms, the musicality of his words and phrasing are a joy to work with. As he says literature is a form of music and vice versa, so a story should sing and a good song tells a great story. The Crystals Lala Brooks joined in last year, ferocious energy-spellbinding – did her 1st hit from when she was 16 “Da Doo Run Run” and sang some old cockney music-hall. Now that surprised me, and her! Frank Sinatra’s favourite singer, he called her ‘the Queen of cabaret’, my dear friend, the wonderful Andrea Marcovicci joined me for some duets . My dad had always had a secret crush on her, we used to watch her play a luminous gypsy on Kojak (right before ‘Match of the Day’ Saturday nights BBC1) and I told her that story, and how he always wanted to see her sing–so she shares this tale on mike with the audience, and then kisses me, and says ‘that kiss was for your dad Joe ‘. Jesus, that was an emotional moment. We rehearsed the songs at The Oak Room at Algonquin (where she is right now, go see her) so that was a bit special, The Oak Room. Me, Andrea and Spurney. The bedsheets of Lili Marlene. My dad watching, smiling. I never really know who will be there, life is full of a 1000 natural shocks, as Shakespeare said. And I’ve been fortunate, a lucky guy to sing and record with so many great talents in my career. So your guess is as good as mine Marianne Faithfull, Sam Shepard, The Chieftains, Judy Collins, Jimmy Webb, Shane MacGowan, PJ Harvey, Maude Maggart,The Waco Bros, The Gypsy Kings, Amy Rigby, Ian Hunter, Laura Cantrell, Steve Wynn so many,now…Tami Lynn, Antonique Smith….Do you see a common thread there? No , neither do I. And that’s what I love about it all…What’s the point in ever repeating yourself? Never limit yourself!…Read Yeats ‘when you are old’ and then you’ll know what I mean . A lost chance is just that. Lost. Drive to the Cliffs of Moher in pouring rain listening to Astral Weeks, Madame George, your cousin at the wheel, and the silence and heavens will open up to you—take risks. U gotta take the steep slope up Skellig Island and then climb higher. Fall. Fail. Get up, fail better. Always strive for perfection, but if cheekbones are slightly off-kilter, or the nose is crooked, out of whack, all the better. iMPERFECTIONS are what we are all made of.

Joe Hurley on facebook: joehurleymusic
Joe Hurley on myspace: roguesmarch
Joe Hurley’s Audio Portrait (

Joe performs Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010 at Joe’s Pub. As a special gift from Joe to MurphGuide readers (you!), advance ticket buyers for this show will have a chance to win copies of Keith Richards’ “LIFE”. The lucky winner win be drawn on stage at the show.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Joe Hurley & the Gents
(annual Mastro-Hurley birthday splash of Xmas show)
James Mastro – guitar (Ian Hunter)
Tony Shanahan – bass (Patti Smith Band)
Kenny Margolis – piano (Cracker)
Denny McDermott – drums (Rosanne Cash)
with guest vocalists Tish & Snooky (Blondie, Ramones, Manic Panic, Hurley’s Irish Rock Revue) and guitarist extraordinaire J-F (Hurley’s old comrade/ partner in Rogue’s March).

Legendary soul-singer Tami Lynn (Stones’ “Exile On Main Street,” Dr John ) is a divinely appropriate star guest this year, burning up a little ‘Exile’ and more. Tami recently sang on Hurley/McCann’s CD “The House That Horse Built (Let The Great World Spin).”
The surprise guests could be anyone… (that’s why they’re called surprises).
$17 admission
Purchase tickets on-line at
7pm – 8:30pm
Joe’s Pub
425 Lafayette St. (Astor Pl.)
New York, NY

We conclude with a video of Joe Hurley & The Gents (featuring Tony Shanahan, James Mastro, Kenny Margolis, Jon Spurney, Megan Weeder and Denny McDermott) performing “On My Way Home”, shot at The Highline Ballroom by Eric Marciano’s American Montage Productions.

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