French folk band Moriarty got some of their best advice in jail. They’d just done a show for convicts as part of a social programme run by their local theatre in Paris, and the unplugged performance had gone down a treat. “One of the convicts after the show came up, and we had a little talk – obviously with the guards around us,” recalls guitarist Arthur Moriarty (they all take up that surname, but, no, they’re not related). “He gave us advice on the music industry.”
“For some reason, because this is when we were really starting out, he knew all about publishing, he knew about labels, and about marketing… I think that was one of the strangest things to ever happen to us after a show.”
To those used to the reassuring regularity of mainstream pop, Moriarty might seem one of the strangest things to be on stage. They’ve played many a strange location – mental institutions, a ruined castle, and a transatlantic ship also feature on their played list – and though they come from metropolis Paris, they peddle ye olde folk that calls to mind verdant forests and expansive mountainside paddocks. Dressing for the genre in thrift-store-sourced rags, they rely on a couple of acoustic guitars, a harmonica, a double bass, and the tangy vocals of Rosemary Moriarty to bring to life their brand of folk and blues. Until recently, a ‘suitcase drum’ provided percussion, but since they started playing to crowds of 20,000, they thought it wise to add a real drummer to the line-up. Their songs – with such names as Jimmy and Private Lily – are simple tales of imagined lands and people. (They also boast an enchantingly slow, syncopated version of Greensleeves with altered lyrics.)
“We would try to escape Paris and maybe even escape Europe,” says Arthur of the song writing process. “So they’re really escape songs – we would write stories.”
Now firmly established at home and making waves abroad, they’re still stretching their creative wings. They’ve recently recorded a soundtrack for a French animated film in which they cover classical opera songs, and they’re about to work with award-winning English playwright Mark Kenny, producing a soundtrack for a children’s play in which they’ll appear in the play as muppets. Clearly, in real life they are anything but.
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