Musical Awakenings with Stephen Murtagh | Vinyl Hours July 2021

26 July 2021

What do Arcade Fire, Dionne Warwick, and 'Stacy's Mom' by Fountains of Wayne all have in common? They're part of the soundtrack of Irish musician Stephen Murtagh's life.

This month on the Vinyl Hours podcast series, host Tiernan Henry was joined by The Academic bassist to discuss the songs which have defined his life.

Festival audiences will know Stephen from The Academic's show-stopping Heineken Big Top performances in recent years. The Academic first headlined the festival's marquee venue in July 2019, one year after opening for The Stunning at GIAF 2018. (Listen to Vinyl Hours with Steve Wall of The Stunning here.)

Next year, both The Academic and The Stunning will be back at the Heineken Big Top for Galway International Arts Festival in July 2022.

Without further ado, enjoy Vinyl Hours with Stephen Murtagh!

Listen to Stephen's Vinyl Hours Interview

A '90s Kid's Musical Awakening

In the episode, Stephen reminisces about the lost art of burning CDs, YouTube rabbit holes, and a starstruck encounter with David Byrne. His playlist spans decades, genres, and specific moments in his own life and musical development.

"My childhood and my early teenage years can be distinctly defined by two musical phases, one of them I still love and am very fond of, and one of them not so much," he said, intro-ing 'We Used to Wait' by Arcade Fire as a musical awakening he'll never forget.

From there, he moves backwards in time to an undeniable classic: 'Penny Lane' by The Beatles.

"It would be fundamentally dishonest of me to not include a Beatles track," Stephen said. "I grew up in a Beatles house. The only reason I can and the only reason I do play guitar is because of the Little Black of Beatles. I'm looking at it right now, and it's in bits."

Coincidentally, the third song on Stephen's playlist was penned by his fellow 2019 Heineken Big Top headliner, the legendary Burt Bacharach. "If you put a gun to my head right now and you said, 'what's the greatest song ever written?' I would say 'I Say A Little Prayer' by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. That is my favourite song ever, so that's why I wanted to sneak it in."

"I could have done this entire podcast with only Bacharach songs," he added.

If Arcade Fire was Stephen's first musical awakening, he said, Talking Heads was the second and most important awakening in his later teenage years. "Massive influence on me as a musician, songwriter, human being," he said. "Where do you even start with 'This Must Be the Place?'"

On choosing his next pick, power pop anthem 'Stacy's Mom' by Fountains of Wayne, Stephen said: "I wanted to include a song that would represent a time in my life where, the more I look back on it, I realise how influential it was. I was born in '95 so when all music channels were on TV, they were hugely influential in terms of learning instruments, and falling in love with different types of music. I remember so, so clearly being at my neighbour's house in 2003, 2004 and the 'Hey Ya' music video was playing, or 'Crazy in Love' by Beyoncé, or Busted, or Green Day's 'American Idiot' was starting to blow up. But the one I wanted to pick that's the most unique and most personal to me was 'Stacy's Mom'."

Stephen first encountered his next chosen song, Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love' through The Futureheads' 2004 cover. When he watched the original music video on YouTube, he was blown away from the first moments. "Every so often you just strike a relationship with a piece of art that is so intimate, and you know 'oh, this is for me. You've found who you were looking to find when you released the music'" he said.

Stephen's Vinyl Hours playlist closes out with 'Falling' by Julee Cruise, which he first encountered during a Twin Peaks obsession in his Leaving Cert year. "All of my favourite pieces of art are very evocative and have this very signature sense of place and time," he said. It's a fitting throughline uniting every track on Stephen's excellent soundtrack.

The complete playlist is available to listen to on Galway International Arts Festival's Spotify page.

Listen to Stephen Murtagh's Vinyl Hours Playlist on Spotify

How to Listen to Vinyl Hours on the First Thought Podcast

Vinyl Hours with Stephen Murtagh is available now on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and all major podcast platforms. If you enjoy the episode, please leave us a five-star rating and a review on iTunes. Be sure to subscribe to First Thought to get future Vinyl Hours episodes straight to your feed.

The summer 2021 Vinyl Hours podcast series continues next month with an interview with CaitrĂ­ona McLaughlin, the newly appointed artistic director of the Abbey Theatre. Tickets to in person Vinyl Hours events at GIAF 2021 are now sold out, but the conversations will be recorded and released on the podcast this autumn.

Find out more about the Vinyl Hours podcast series here.