Dumb Instrument’s Tom Murray on Scottishness, Doubt... and Shirley Bassey

Nowadays, it seems you can’t hear a record on the radio without it being sung in a Scottish accent. Not the case over 10 years ago when Dumb Instrument started out, so it seems the world is catching up with Tom Murray, who with Mikey Grant, formed the act in the mid-noughties.

‘Doubt’ is just the third long-player from the pair, but the gaps between releases doesn’t mean the pair have been idle.

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“We are always up to something,” says Murray from his Ayrshire base. “We do a lot of jamming and writing. To be honest it’s more fun than bringing out an album, which is a pain in the backside.” How so? “Press releases, sending emails to blogs in Australia that know you in your water won’t click on your links… so you put it off and put it off.

“It’s laziness pure and simple,” he confesses, “but we are getting the finger out – hopefully album 4 will be released in 2020.”

The band may be best known for ‘Suffering from Scottishness’, not just because it appears on debut ‘No-One Knows What It’s Like To Be Me’ as well as their sophomore effort ‘The Silent Beard’.

However, despite a few decidedly Scots-themed tunes like ‘Oor Wullie’s Baldy’, the majority of their songs work with any audience. However, no matter the stories, they’re all delivered in Murray’s rich brogue.

The singer confesses that he was once accused of aping the Proclaimers, an accusation probably levelled at many an act then. “I was hearing voices in my head and they spoke with a Scottish accent,” he insists.

“I think ‘Scottishness’ is definitely the best song about being Scottish that I could come up with, but there are other things to write about, I hope.”

“I’ve just finished one about how some supermarket plums just won’t ripen, even on the windowsill,” Murray reveals. “I think it’s the best song that I could come up with on that subject, and that’s all you can hope for.”

Comparisons from journalists, as well as similarly Scots-accented bands, always cite Brecht as a possible influence. However, Murray’s musical education came from a more unexpected source.

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“When I was wee we had this album by Shirley Bassey my folks would put on at drunken parties and the place would go wild ‘Light My Fire’, it was really powerful.

“I thought ‘when I grow up I want to have a band with a brass section’,” he continues, “and I must say it’s amazing to have the trombones in Dumb Instrument. We’re an eight-piece now and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate these people giving their time to my wee made up songs. Hopefully they enjoy it as much as I do.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” he smiles, “but Shirley is also a big influence on my stagecraft.”

But not on the lyrics to be fair, which do seem to translate almost anywhere.

“We played at Dougie MacLean’s Pitlochry festival and the locals seemed to have a problem with us,” he recalls, ”but some Dutch folk came up afterwards and tried to stuff money in our pockets, saying ‘you must play in Amsterdam!’ Maybe it was a tourist thing.”

These ‘local issues ‘are surprising as Murray’s distinct tones are crystal clear, each song a story set to music. I ask if the new album, with its high production values, is more ‘sung’ than narrated.

“I always thought I was singing, thanks very much,” he replies, with mock indignation.

He mentions an email from Argentina asking for the lyrics for ‘Missing Grannies', showing that the Dumb Instrument sound is spreading far and wide. Meaning, perhaps, moreadministration eating into their music-making time? Murray pauses.

“I think on the next LP there will be a lyric sheet!”

‘Doubt’ is out now on Bad Tool Records. More at dumbinstrument.com.

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