It's 104 degrees in the shade and, unfortunately, breezes are not on the menu at the Spider House Patio Bar and Cafe. But I could listen to Frank Murray for hours. The interview doesn't end until my shirt is completely soaked in sweat and a 21-year-old mystery is solved.
It's not often you get the chance to meet with an Irish music managing legend in Austin. If the 59-year-old former altar boy from Dublin had only been the tour manager for Thin Lizzy, led by his best friend Phil Lynott, that would've been enough to fill an hour of talk. But Murray also spent seven years, 1984-1991, managing the unmanageable Pogues. Before that he opened London's Electric Ballroom with Bill Fuller, where bands such as Joy Divison and the Sex Pistols played. He's road-managed for Elton John and hired U2 as an opening act.
But when you come to Austin, where Murray visited a friend for nearly a month, during the summer, one topic always dominates. "This heat is beyond miserable," he said, with a mild Irish brogue. "The first few days I was here, my lips cracked like I was a character in an old Clint Eastwood western."
Murray took a three-year break from the music business until last year, when he heard an Irish singer named Stefan Murphy, whose band is called the Mighty Stef. "He's got a great voice and he writes great songs," Murray said of the act that drew him back. "That's always been the key ingredient of any act I've managed, from Kirsty (MacColl) to Glen Hansard (the Frames) to Shane MacGowan (the Pogues)."
So, after spending some time in the States, Murray has moved back to Dublin, where he's often mistaken for Bono's dad. "It's something of an addiction — managing bands," he said.
It was here in Austin that I met Murray 21 years ago. He was on tour with the Pogues, who had a show at Liberty Lunch. As we were introduced backstage, members of the hard-drinking band of Irish Londoners were taking turns throwing up outside a window that was taller than neck high, so the band members took turns hoisting each other and holding their legs horizontal so they could heave downwards.
"I got on with Shane the best," Murray said. "I still do."
At the time, I had received an assignment from Spin magazine to shadow the Pogues, who had just released their last great record "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," on a tour of the South. I met up with them again in New Orleans the next night and was to ride the tour bus with them through Mississippi, Alabama and up to Memphis before flying back to Austin. But I never made it past New Orleans. I wasn't exactly sure why, but when I went to the band's hotel the next afternoon after a night and morning of partying, Murray told me the group wasn't comfortable with the idea of me traveling with them.
I just figured that I'd been an opinionated jerk the night before.
But as Murray recalled that time 21 years later at the Spider House, what he said shocked me. "They thought you were a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan," he told me. "I kept telling them that was rubbish, but they said you kept going on and on about the Klan."
Oh, man. Now I know what was going on. You see, about a month earlier, I had spent a week in Vidor working on a story for Texas Monthly about the Klan. The story was never published, and the idea that they thought I was in the Klan freaked me out, but I was somewhat relieved that I was bounced from the tour because of a misunderstanding.
Something Murray said brought me back to the interview: practical advice to anyone considering a career in artist management. "I could never handle an act I wasn't also a big fan of," said Murray, who's always toured with the bands he's managed. "I don't care how popular they are. You have to ask yourself: Can I stand at the side of the stage, night after night, year after year, and not want to be somewhere else? I've been blessed in that regard." Indeed, Murray's managed a string of terrific acts.
The Pogues, the greatest of them all, return to Austin on Oct. 28 at Stubb's. I aim to be front and center. Wearing the "Obamapalooza" T-shirt I bought in Chicago on Election Night.