The cosmopolitan flavour of Double Bay’s Knox Street is captured perfectly by the charming Dee Bees café. A red Mustang is parked out the front and plumes of cigarette smoke emanate from a figure dressed in all black.
Les Murray is perusing the daily papers, accompanied by more than the odd cigarette and a few piccolo lattes.
Formerly head of sport at SBS, Murray is an iconic figure in Australia’s sporting landscape. He is a member of FIFA’s ethics committee and a member of the Australian Football Federation’s Hall of Fame. Along with his friend the late Johnny Warren, Murray is a pioneer of football in this country and is revered so
His other passion, though, is music. A lead singer in the moderately successful cover band The Rubber Band in the ’60s and ’70s, Murray comes to life at the prospect of talking about music, rather than football.
“I’ve never done an interview about music before!” He smiles, relishing the opportunity.
As the locals pass by, Murray pauses only for long drags on his cigarette, as if to gather his thoughts.
“To me, enjoying the music was far more important than the ambition of being a star,” he says of a musical career that gave way to the need to pay the bills. “It is important that the desire to become famous does not detract from making good music.”
When bookings for The Rubber Band were low, Murray worked as a copy boy at the ABC – an avenue that led to a hugely successful and influential media career. That “back-up career” ended his long-term ambitions as a musician but it cemented his place in the Australian sporting fabric.
The 60s and 70s were a glorious era for music, especially rock ’n’ roll, and Murray is genuinely enthused as he waxes lyrical about those halcyon days.
“This was the era of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Eagles. It was, in my opinion, the golden era of music.
“Some of the music I hear today; sometimes I can’t believe people actually listen to it!” he added, with an impassioned wave of the right hand. “Rock and roll is like football. It’s the football of music!
“It’s the people’s music, the music of the masses. It has a tremendous energy, romance and emotion. That’s why I like it so much.”
Murray is the proud father of two daughters, Natalie and Tania. Natalie, like her father, is an accomplished television presenter; Tania is a successful singer and songwriter.
Her desire to get involved in music reignited Murray’s passion, after a long hiatus.
“I have fulfilled a long-held dream of singing with my daughter on stage. She’s a far better singer than I ever was, a long more gifted. But it’s a nice feeling to be up there singing with your daughter,” he says, proudly.
Before SBS, Murray was a record reviewer for a metropolitan newspaper. That allowed him access to some of the great bands and performers of the era, including Rod Stewart, 10cc and The Rolling Stones.
Asking Murray to name the best performance that he has heard is like asking Diego Maradona to nominate his favourite goal, but after much consternation Murray settles on a choice: “Santana, at the Hammersmith Odeon.”
“Sometimes you get to a gig and you just know that these guys are really firing in a way that they’ve never fired before. That was the way with Santana that night,” Murray says.
The tape has long stopped rolling as Murray and I continue to reminisce about the glory days.
That hour in his company was a compelling, riveting journey down memory lane, filled with wonderful anecdotes and captivating stories. His zest for rock and roll is infectious and his thoughts fascinating. Les Murray’s passion for football is world renowned, but music remains his first true love. – Matthew Connellan