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“Every street holds a story for me” Murkage Dave talks Manchester and how the city has shaped his music career

Written by John O'Hara.
Posted May 16, 2024.
Murkage Dave performing at the Union launch party

Murkage Dave is different to a lot of musicians, especially soulful singer-songwriters like himself. He even admits that if he was just starting out it’s not the name he would pick, but he’s glad of the name and the history that ‘Murkage’ holds for him. At the Union launch party, we spoke to the man himself, who started his career off in Manchester after being kicked out of uni, about how he’s ended up where he is and what the city means to him.

“I wanted to get out of where I was from and do music, it’s funny because at the time I didn’t know a lot of the history, like the Madchester era and Factory Records, but I knew for some reason that Manchester had a reputation and it had a vibe, and so I was attracted to it from that point. I’d come from London, and it was a different time, social media was just starting, and I didn’t know anyone in music in London. It was a hard thing to access, and it just felt like this insurmountable thing, whereas when I came to Manchester people were a lot friendlier and it felt like there was stuff I could get involved in.”

Murkage Dave gained his reputation, and even his name, from his Monday Murkage nights that he ran at the now closed SOUTH nightclub. He tells us how starting out in this city was for him.

“I always had one foot in the uni scene and one foot in the proper Manchester world, which was good because when I was putting stuff on I ended up building a crowd that was inclusive for everybody, whatever walk of life you were from you could feel comfortable there. I met people all over town, students would come because they always want to go out, but I knew people who I’d just met out and people who worked jobs. I worked a few jobs here, I was in JD Sports in Ancoats, where it’s all shut down now, I worked in USC in town, the big ZARA in town and I worked at Ticketmaster. I got sacked from Ticketmaster though because they always had me down early on Sundays and I would always come in late.”

“I think I got a little bit distracted by club nights, but I never regret it because it gave me so much understanding and it gave me my story. There’s elements of my identity as an artist that are because of the parties and raves, but even then, what I really wanted to do was music. I’m glad though, because a lot of other singer-songwriters that I’d see at open mics back in the day would be trying to sound like the singers they were into, whereas I think for me I could start coming at the music with a slightly different angle because of the raves.”

Speaking of Manchester, we wanted to know what Murkage Dave’s favourite venues were back in the day.

“There was a venue called Bier Keller that I liked in Piccadilly, and they had a night called tramp which I loved, it shut down ages ago though. Also, MOJO, on the edge of town, I used to like going in there on a weekend. It was a bit of an older crowd, they used to have a jukebox playing rock and roll and Prince, people would be standing on the bar, I don’t know what it’s saying now but back in the day it was a lot of fun. There were so many venues I used to love but unfortunately a lot of them are closed now.”

His debut solo album, released in 2018 and entitled Murkage Dave Changed My Life was inspired through his time here, Dave tells us.

“Murkage Dave changed my life was a thing a lot of people used to say because I would be booking people and often I’d be giving people their first DJ set, or I would introduce someone to someone at a radio station, so it was like a joke, oh Murkage Dave changed my life. So, we had the Murkage Cartel, which was essentially a group of creatives from all fields, and a DJ with us, Madame X, made a T-shirt saying that and turned up to the rave with it on and everyone thought it was hilarious and was trying to buy it.”

“So, when I was writing my first solo album, I remembered that and it had always stuck with me, but by that point it had taken on a different meaning to me. In a way, clubland could’ve ruined my music career and I was thinking did I waste too much time doing that when I should’ve just been concentrating on music?”

“I was thinking, well, I could’ve been way further along in my music career had I just focused on that, but at the same time the raves gave me all these other stories and all this other madness and energy to bring to the music. So that was a question, Murkage Dave changed my life? If I became an artist today, I wouldn’t pick the name Murkage Dave, I only got that name through the parties like Monday Murkage. When indie was dying off and dubstep was coming through, all the club owners would be like, our club’s empty, somebody call Dave Murkage and get him to do a party here, so then I flipped it and became Murkage Dave.”

“So, the whole thing for me was the idea of Murkage Dave, that character and being that person, it did change my life, there’s no question about it, but its whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. That was the question the album was dealing with, but I never really explained it at the time because I just wanted people to take it how they wanted to take it.”

“I was going to change my name to D.A.V.E. but I’m glad I didn’t, at that point Dave the rapper hadn’t properly blown up yet, but now obviously he’s massive so that would’ve been a big problem. It was actually Mike Skinner who said not to, he said there’s a lot in your name, if you want to do this music, just people have to follow you a bit and it will all begin to make sense. Some other people were telling me to change my name, but he told me not to and I’m glad I listened to him.”

“That name sometimes creates problems for me because it doesn’t sound right for my music, but I also think that’s interesting, it has a backstory. I see a lot of artists coming through who look good and sound good, but they don’t have a story, it can just be music for music’s sake. I guess I came from an era where if people wanted to start a music project they would come out with a brand new name and grow it out of nothing, but for me that’s a bit fake, I didn’t choose this name, it got given to me.”

“Like Monday Murkage was just funny to me, the idea of calling a night Monday Murkage was just really funny, that’s the only reason I did it, and it’s ended up defining a lot of my career. But sometimes you’ve got to have a laugh.”

Murkage Dave has been described as an outsider, when asked about whether he would describe himself this way, he agreed.

“I think a hundred percent, I think it’s my biggest strength and I don’t see it as a negative at all. Like I come from Leytonstone which was and still is quite a low-income area, and then went to school in Essex with a load of kids who were a lot more well off than me. I went there on a government scholarship, so I was the poor kid. Them kids thought I was a bit rough, and then coming home all the kids round there thought I was a bit posh, so it kind of went from there. My parents were immigrants as well, so already being an ethnic minority, I already felt slightly out of society.”

“Theres not really a name for my scene, but I think that’s a good thing, I didn’t react to it by going inside myself, I never needed to try and fit in with a particular scene, I would just always know what was going on in all the different music scenes. I learnt how different people are, and that’s definitely helped me in life, in terms of music too, but also just in life I can chat to anybody, which is definitely a good thing.”

Dave also shared one lesson he has learnt from his career.

“I think the key of it, and it’s a massive cliché, but it’s to be yourself. Trust yourself and know yourself and go with that thing, rather than trying to find a cheat code or another way through, because even if it does work you’re going to invariably end up in a cul-de-sac where you can’t be yourself as an artist.”

“I’ve tried a lot of different projects, when I was a kid I used to do auditions, I’m so glad that didn’t work out, I could’ve been in a boyband or something! Over time you get more understanding in yourself and trust your own instinct more. When I clicked with myself, that was when I started having an actual music career, at the time of my first solo album, I didn’t care what was going to happen and what people were going to think, because I’d made something that I could one hundred percent stand by, and that was the first thing I made that I was proud of really.”

We asked Murkage Dave what we can expect from him music-wise coming up.

“I’m working on a couple of different projects; I don’t want to say more than that at the moment. I’m working on a lot of music, with a lot of my friends from different scenes and different worlds, some super-massive established artists, and also some that nobody’s heard of. I’m going on tour with Yard Act in the short term, but apart from that just working on music.”

Murkage Dave is currently living down in East London but regularly visits the city that gave him his name.

“I come up Manchester a lot, it’s crazy to see the way it’s changing the way it looks and stuff, but I hold Manchester so dearly, every street holds a story for me, I walk down some and get emotional.”

If you didn’t get the chance to see him at the Union launch party, you may have to wait a short while to see him again performing in Manchester, but keep your eyes peeled as you may just see Murkage Dave knocking about the Northern Quarter or Ancoats.

Check out our other interviews with the line-up from the Union launch party here.