Interview by Phil Sutcliffe
The survival of Pauline Murray.
By PHIL SUTCLIFFE. Pix by VIGINIA TURBETT
So you're learning to write music music, Pauline - how's it done then?
"It's easy. You just put your fingers on."
Eh? Ah, put your fingers on the guitar!
"And then you look for good notes." Yes, I see that, but I've sometimes
heard people, including musicians, speak about chords. "I'm afraid I
don't know what they are, I'm really into it though. I just had a go. It's
great when you hear a tune you've written recorded."
Pauline Murray is discovering composition; also fun and freedom she'd
forgotten about back in '78 when Penetration became a serious enterprise,
instead of something different to do with your youth in Ferryhill, County
Durham. She doesn't quite rate herself as an Elvis Costello or Sting yet,
but in collaboration and competition with her partner Robert Blamire, she
means to progress.
And all because... they got dropped by their record company. More or
less. "It was the biggest favour Virgin could have done us," Pauline
You may remember that when Penetration announced their formal demise at
Newcastle City Hall late last year all had seemed rosy between them and
Of course it was a logical move to follow through with Pauline and
whichever of the lads might remain with her after the sorting-out phase,
no problem old bean. Before Christmas hands were shaken on a two-album
deal with Pauline and Robert to be signed as individual artists working
After Christmas they went back to finalise things only to find that the
directors, on a split decision, had reduced the offer to one single "and
see what happens". A bit of a stunner, that. Not exactly the bum's rush
but only a coat of paint more polite.
Movement. They left Virgin the "official bootleg" to clear their debts.
At about the same time their manager John Arnison left Quarry, Status
Quo's business end who had signed Penetration on a production deal a
couple of years earlier, and he took Pauline and Robert with him (though
the details of that severance are still being processed).
And there they were, cut loose from two powerful music biz operators at
a stroke. Independent and lonely. Free! It was a position which they had
always seemed well suited to with their insistence on living back home
away from all the London brouhaha. And yet they felt they had previously
lacked the confidence to go quite that far and now the reality was on them
it was hardly by choice.
Still, after the initial shock there was every reason to look on the
bright side. Penetration's two Virgin albums each sold well over 30,000
copies. The 'bootleg' quickly did 20,000 without advertising. Pauline was
featuring in all the papers' reader polls in the top ten female vocalists
and even, in this sober journal, as No.9 Sex Object Of The Year.
They had 'background', a 'track record'. they would doubtless be able to
flog a share of that independence of theirs to a high bidder and pronto.
Yes. And no. From record compay A) "Yes, we love it, of course we want
albums, we're all right behind you" and then again "No, sorry, the boss
just heard the demos and he doesn't like Pauline's voice."
B) "Yes, great, the very thing we've been looking for, let's get down to
the details" except that "No, couldn't possibly sign you without seeing a
live gig. There's no band? You won't consider doing a Nashville special
just for us? Ah well..."
C) "Yes, wonderful, we must get together on this, 1980 is the Year Of
The Woman In Rock", the only thing is "No, we can't offer you albums, we'd
have to do a couple of singles with options first - and see what happens."
So goodbye to all that. There's nothing like being messed about for
stiffening the resolve. The team became more and more committed to making
a virtue out of necessity. Pauline and Robert are both 22 now.
Circumstances were instructing them pretty clearly that it was time to be
They decided to record their debut album as 'Pauline Murray' in May and
they are determined now that it will be an own-label venture, though they
wouldn't reject the possibility of an I-Spy/2-Tone type of arrangement
with a major company if they got the right offer.
But they now appreciate that their future will be about making things
happen themselves. It's surely no coincidence that while they've been
adjusting to all this they've been forcing breakthroughs on the musical
We sat in a cafe adjacent to Sounds, I bought the coffees (you see the
money Virgin's saving?), and they told me about this collaborative
competition. Pauline: "Towards the end of Penetration I felt so restricted
by everyone. I couldn't have seen me picking up a guitar then."
Robert: "We'd packed up writing altogether. I just couldn't picture
what a third Penetration album would be like."
Pauline: "But now we're writing a load of songs together. We've got four
on demos and about another eight more than half written. The thing is I
wrote two of them all myself which I've never done before. Now I'm trying
to get Robert to start writing words as well as music."
Robert: "I've made loads of attempts in the past but I always frustrate
meself. I've never shown them to anybody at all."
Pauline: "So we've got this competition. We've got to write four songs
each solo - melody, lyrics, do the vocals and play guitar and bass on the
demo. One song out of the four has got to be written wholly with one chord
just to make it harder."
Closing date is Christmas and the judge is Alan Rawlings who is playing
guitar with them in their present non-permanent quartet which will be
recording and gigging during the summer according to the present
blueprint. Alan was in the first line-up of Cowboys International while
drummer Peter Howells is a former Drone who also worked on Jean-Jacques
Burnel's 'Euroman' LP.
The stress on the impermanence of
this set-up and their reluctance to
use the word 'band' at all stems from
a bit of self-discovery Penetration
thrust upon them: they are not
artistic democrats, especially Pauline.
"The last album meant hell to me,"
she said. "I didn't have room to
breathe. 'Shout Above The Noise' is
about all that. I wrote it in the
studio and it was just saying how I
felt I had to get my bit in when
everybody else was going off in
"If you've got ideas it should be
your decision to have them done the
way you want them. I don't know
whether it's selfish or not but that's
the way I like it. I know that in the
early days of Penetration I'd use
different tactics to talk people around."
She seemed a little embarrassed speaking these home truths which might
read rather aggressive, even nasty, but it's irrelevant to even think of
it in terms of 'fault'. Pauline and Robert, forming a band when they were
18 and becoming nearly-famous shortly after, learnt by trial and error
how they need to work in order to release the creative talents within
For now the duo are surviving on record and publishing royalties. Since
our interview I've heard a rough tape of their first six songs. My initial
impression is that the outcome of their switchback ride between commerce
and their desire to make music is sure to be worthwhile. They are slowing
down, they are not making so much noise so they don't need to shout.
My love for Penetration, the six musicians who contributed to the band's
achievements, is undiminished, but I think Murray/Blamire will be
different and good. Stay with them.
We closed with one last weighty matter. I'd heard that Pauline was
getting into frocks.
"I did buy a dress but I won't be wearing it on stage. I wouldn't be
comfortable. No gowns, no wardrobe mistresses."
She's got a neat answer to that Sex Object rating too: "There's no harm
in it. You don't have to be all tits and suspenders. People can like your
character you know."