Born on 18 November 1953, Alan Murphy was an English rock session guitarist, best remembered for his collaborations with Go West, Level 42 and Kate Bush. His first musical group was called Blackmass and consisted of Murphy, Roy Phillips, James Hedges, Terry Eden, Steve Paget, and Vincent Duffy. They were named in tribute to Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, an early influence of Murphy’s, and existed for about two years until some of the band’s equipment was stolen and the group disbanded.
Murphy performed with Fusion Orchestra for the better part of 1975. In 1982 he handled onstage guitar duties for London-based New Wave vocalist Zaine Griff (originally from New Zealand), performing music that was in many ways a stylistic precursor to the Go West sound that he would help forge several years later.
In 1984, Murphy worked on the album ‘Cold in a Warm Climate’ with the band Paparazzi, becoming a member in preparation for a major European tour. When Paparazzi unexpectedly dissolved over internal disagreements and managerial problems, Murphy was recruited to play on the debut Go West album in 1985, shortly thereafter becoming an official member and a key component in the band’s sound. In 1988, Murphy was asked to replace Level 42 guitarist Boon Gould, and recorded with the band on their Staring at the Sun album. A live album was recorded during this period, Live at Wembley. This was one of the last major projects that Murphy worked on before his death.
During 1989 Murphy played at the British Music Fair, but it was evident from his appearance that he was not well. On 19 October 1989, weakened by the AIDS virus, Murphy died of pneumonia in Westminster City Hospital, near his old school. He had kept the facts of his illness a secret even from his colleagues and bandmates.
In the music video for Kate Bush’s version of ‘Rocket Man’, released as part of the 1991 Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin tribute album, she performs with her band but there is an empty chair, a guitar and a candle where Murphy would have been and cross-faded footage of him playing in the closing choruses. “This is one of the last tracks that he did with us,” Bush told BBC Radio 1, “and it’s particularly nice for me to feel that it’s not only keeping him alive, but I know he would be really thrilled to know that [the single] was doing so well. And it’s nice for all of us that loved Al to know that he can be a part of this now.”
In 1993, Kate’s song Moments Of Pleasure referenced Murphy and several other people dear to her who had died.
Alan Murphy about Kate Bush
For me, working with Kate was the beginning of everything. It was also different because it wasn’t blues by any standards; in the early days we never did anything that I actually knew how to do, everything I did was sound or colour texture.Guitarist, May 1986