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MURRAY COOK: TESTIFIES WITH SOUL

AM’s Greg Phillips chats to the former red Wiggle, Murray Cook about his new band The Soul Movers, who have just released a new album titled Testify

The Wiggles, Radio Birdman and soul music are seemingly three of the most random musical entities you could think of. In reality they constitute a large portion of the ingredients involved in Sydney-based soul rock band The Soul Movers. The Wiggle is Murray Cook, who has long been an active guitarist in numerous bands playing around the Sydney pub scene. Pip Hoyle is the former Radio Birdman member who now plays keyboards with this group and soul music is the starting point for the feel-good brand of pop rock this band plays. However none of the aforementioned Soul Movers components would be complete without the inclusion of group founder and spirited front woman, songwriter Lizzie Mack. It was Mack and another Radio Birdman member, Deniz Tek, who formed the original Soul Movers many years ago. Tek is no longer with the band but Andy Newman on bass and Darren Ryan on drums round out the current five piece version of the band, which has just released a brand new 14 track album titled Testify. While still involved with The Wiggles on a business level, Murray Cook is excited to be concentrating much of his energy these days on The Soul Movers and tells me that we really shouldn’t be so surprised that one of Australia’s seminal punk bands has such close ties to this band and soul music in general.

“When you think about it, Deniz Tek came from Ann Arbour, which is just outside Detroit, the home of Motown,” says Murray. “He’s always had a love of soul as well. He and Lizzie were in a relationship together and I don’t think he was aware of how great a singer she was. Then he heard this great soul voice and said we’ve got to do something, so they did their first album maybe 8 or 9 years ago. Pip was in the live touring band then too. They wrote and recorded the album in about a week, it was done really quickly but they toured Spain, played around Australia and not that long after that their relationship ended and the band was on hold. Then I met Lizzie … well she’s six foot two and goes to gigs so you kind of notice her and so I’d say hello. I didn’t know about the Soul Movers either or that she sang. We became friends and she gave me a copy of the album and I was blown away by it, she’s such an amazing singer. I said to her if she wants a guitar player to do something I’d love to be involved, so we started jamming with Andy who is in the band too. It wasn’t Soul Movers material we were playing and I thought why don’t we just resurrect the Soul Movers and head down that path. So we approached Pip and he was keen to come back, we got a new drummer and we went from there and just started recording. I’m still involved in The Wiggles and have access to their studio when they are not using it. So gradually over an 8 month period we wrote and recorded this new album and here we are.”

Soul music was never really an integral part of Cook’s growing up either but something he came to later. “I guess in Australia we didn’t hear a lot of soul music” he tells me. “There was the odd thing on the radio like Band of Gold by Freda Payne and I was aware of Marvin Gaye and some Motown but it wasn’t on the airwaves like it was in some other countries. I was born in 1960 so when I was a young kid I listened to The Beatles and then when I was about eleven I heard The Stones. Pretty much 60s pop and rock. Then in my teens it was T Rex and Bowie and Deep Purple. In the late 70s I was into The Clash and Elvis Costello but I had fairly broad tastes. It wasn’t until my late teens, early 20s that I heard more soul music.”

The material on the Soul Movers new album was largely co-written by Lizzie and Murray, usually generated by a Cook chord progression with Mack singing over the top of it. The lyrical content was drawn from the many files which reside on Mack’s iPhone. The result is a dance-worthy, feel-good vibe, not dissimilar in spirit to that created by The Wiggles, albeit a lot grittier and more adult-orientated. It’s a theory Murray doesn’t entirely dismiss.
“You’re right … there are similar elements,” he says. “A lot of The Wiggles songs were just pop songs with child-friendly lyrics and a lot of what we do is pop music too. There are some more serious themes too but I think Lizzie is very much about being a strong woman and singing lyrics for woman … men as well … but yes, it is definitely feel-good. It’s hard for me to get too far away from that I think.”

It’s no secret that The Wiggles have been one of Australia’s most successful music imports ever and it would be easy for Cook to rest on those laurels and enjoy the fruits of his success. However for Cook, making music has never been about making money and he finds great excitement in the new journey The Soul Movers has provided him with. Earlier this year the band took part in the SXSW music conference in Texas, duking it out with a thousand other attention-seeking bands from around the world.
“SXSW was great'” he says. “We just did one show and we weren’t part of the official contingent but we were on the Sounds Australia showcase. It was interesting playing on a showcase with mostly young bands, we were much older but I think we showed a lot of them how it’s done. We rocked pretty hard for 11 o’clock in the morning. We went over pretty well. Again, we did it for the adventure of it, we weren’t really chasing deals or anything like that but we did actually get an Australian publishing deal out of it. We also got to play a few other places in Austin and in LA and it was a good bonding thing for the band too, we really got to know each other… It is kind of like starting again. I think we have a similar attitude to The Wiggles. We did have enormous success but when we started we had no inkling that it would go that way and we just did it as an adventure. I guess most things I do I just see as the adventure of the journey as opposed to where you go to. It was exciting for us that we got to play in Melbourne recently too and we’ve had a bit of publicity and got to be on RRR. I’m still a music fan. The greatest thing with The Wiggles was that we never took anything for granted. All of our successes, we really appreciated it and we knew it was coming from the audience. It’s the same thing with this. Honestly I am as happy playing to 90 people at The Retreat Hotel as I was playing to 5 or 6 thousand at Madison Square Garden or wherever. It’s about the creation and the contact with the audience and the music, I just love playing music. I play in a couple of other things and on the weekend, I played a gig and there were eleven people in the audience and I had a great night.”

Ask anyone to name an Australian guitar hero, they’ll shoot back at you immediately with names like Angus Young, Chris Cheney or Tommy Emmanuel but as part of the world’s biggest kids’ band The Wiggles, Murray used to play guitar live on stage and consequently lit the fire of many aspiring young guitarists. “I have met many twenty-somethings who have told me that they are playing guitar because of me and that is pretty rewarding,” Murray proudly tells me. “That’s a pretty amazing thing to have achieved. We came from an educational background, three of us were early childhood teachers, we really wanted children to be exposed to seeing people playing instruments live. We did use a lot of backing tracks because we wanted to free up the others guys to do actions and dances. My first exposure to rock n roll music was through The Monkees on TV and I just found the whole guitar thing so cool when I was a kid. I was hooked from there.”

Due to the success of The Wiggles, Cook has been able to purchase an envious collection vintage guitars but he’s not the kind of collector to stash them away under lock and key. They were purchased to be played.
“Yeah I probably have about 50 vintage guitars from the rock era, Gibsons and Gretschs, a few Martin acoustics, and mandolins and bits and pieces,” Murray says. “About 12 or 13 years ago I talked to my wife about buying vintage guitars. You know, its a pretty big outlay but she was supportive and I always play them. I am not the kind of collector who thinks they should be in a glass case or bank vault. I really like playing them. At various gigs I sometime surprise people who will come up and say, really you’ve brought an early 50s Les Paul Gold Top out to a pub gig? That’s what they are designed for. They are not supposed to sit on a wall or in a bank vault.’

For the Soul Movers gigs, Murray uses a ’64 Strat that he has owned for a decade or so, played through a Vox AC15. “I think the Fenders suit this music better,” he explains. “I’ve got a 1964 Strat that I have had for about ten years and it is kind of my go to guitar, I know it really well. I love old guitars, the finish of the neck is worn in really nicely and I know the pickup sound really well. For quite some time I’ve been using a Vox, it’s an AC15, one that they did in 2007 for their 50th anniversary. It’s hand wired and I really love the way it responds to my playing. I am a Vox kind of guy. I love the warmth of the Vox and the way that they break up. There are quite a few pedals that I use. I guess my favourite is a Crowther Hot Cake, a New Zealand made pedal and that’s my main distortion. When I want to give it a bit of grit, I use that and again it has a really warm sounding distortion. On the record I used a few other things. I have a Fender Vibrolux and an old Fender Deluxe from the late 50s. I have an early 60’s 335 that I used on quite a few things, a couple of Gretschs. In the studio I used a few different things but I just find the Strat really reliable and the range of tones I get out of it suits everything.”

Initially The Soul Movers had intended on touring through Europe in 2018 but the recent successful Australian tour which included some packed houses in Melbourne has the band keen to retrace those steps instead.
“We had been looking at Europe but having been to Melbourne, we kind of think we might spend a bit of time touring in Australia,” he says. “We want to get back to Melbourne and do some more shows there and put Europe off until the following year. I just find that Melbourne has so many small venues and there’s a real sense of community in Melbourne in general but definitively in the music community. We have in Sydney too but not to the same degree.”

Check the Soul Movers website for upcoming gigs and to purchase the album Testify
https://www.soulmoversband.com/

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