Filling it up
Bartender and impresario Jason Waddleton has turned Matt Murphy's Pub into a music hot spot
BROOKLINE -- It's 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, and the tidy neighborhood enclave known as Brookline Village feels deserted. The traffic lights at the intersection of Washington and Harvard streets blink for nobody. But inside Matt Murphy's Pub, only steps from darkened windows of primly arranged antique stores and jewelry repair shops, a humming world of light and sound buzzes like an open secret.
People are jammed inside the shoebox-shaped pub, craning their necks to glimpse the magic being conjured on the makeshift stage area -- just a sliver of floor space, really -- at the end of the bar. Patrons gingerly slip by the band to get to the closet-size bathroom, careful to avoid the army of effects pedals stationed at the feet of Johnny Trama, who's coaxing psychedelic pinwheels of sound from his electric guitar.
London-born, Glasgow-raised barkeep Jason Waddleton is the man behind this music, and the chief catalyst for what has exploded into one of the hottest live-music locales around. Most nights, when he's not cheerfully pouring pints, the onetime rock singer-guitarist can be seen darting to a laptop-size console tucked behind the bar, checking recording levels.
A packed pub means it's a typical Tuesday here, where Geoff Scott, who performs with local outfits Miracle Orchestra and Club d'Elf, is leading his weekly ''Public House" jam session, featuring a rotating ensemble of players who share a thirst for sonic high-wire adventure. The success of these jams has led to a six-nights-a-week schedule of eclectic and free live music. Sunday nights, it's reggae; Mondays, hip-hop. Jazz takes the stage on Thursdays, while occasional indie-rock, pop, and blues acts round out the offerings.
Waddleton began booking gigs at Murphy's in 2001. Two years later, compelled to document what he describes as ''amazing" moments of musical daring, Waddleton began to record the shows. At the same time, he took it upon himself to design the pub's website to promote its burgeoning music schedule. ''It just grew and grew and grew," Waddleton says.
Now, Waddleton is taking the next step. He's just launched a new label called Pub Records, whose first release, ''Live@eleven Vol. 1," is slated for early May. The CD features a gumbo of local performers who've been pub staples, including the funk-minded Toussaint and the China Band, the reggae-flavored Mang Dub, and hip-hop outfit C. Money and the Players Inc., among others. Waddleton believes the recordings, cherry-picked from an assortment of sizzling live sets over the past two years, will make a thrilling document of the pub's fast-emerging live scene.
The barkeep-turned-impresario is no stranger to performing. Back in Britain, Waddleton, who changed his major in college from music to economics, once led a modestly successful '90s britpop outfit dubbed Blackstar. The band once shared a festival stage with David Bowie and the briefly reunited Sex Pistols and had a manager who dumped Waddleton's band to work with Elton John.
''I always thought it would be nice to have the means to be able to put out people's music," Waddleton says. ''I've been through that process of trying to get a major-label deal -- that's what everyone did 10 years ago when you didn't have distribution and production at your fingertips. There's no point anymore. Why would you want to do that when you can do it all yourself?"
Scott is thrilled with the prospect of Pub Records. A lot of his enthusiasm, he says, has to do with Waddleton's.
''He's such a stand-up guy, and his heart is so in the right place," Scott says. ''I know personally that all the musicians are dedicated to Jason, and I think we'd go anywhere he went. Because what he provides for us is more than the bar. He provides that this-is-the-church-and-you-can-have-your-ceremony-any-way-you-want-it vibe. [Matt Murphy's has] become a place to really grow as a musician, and Jason is the guy that lets that happen."
''It's such an obvious next step, to put out a record and spread the word," says Waddleton, who initially moved to the United States in the late '90s with the idea of being a solo artist. He has yet to find the time.
''It's a learning process, and we don't know where it will take us, but this could eventually open up doors to studio releases," he says. ''The talent is there, the wherewithal is there, the energy is there, so the label's a no-brainer. It's me putting out records for my mates in the end, isn't it?"
He's not doing it alone. Justin Stone, a Murphy's regular, is assisting Waddleton with the logistics of promoting shows and launching the label.
''It's definitely very risky," Stone says about the challenge of running a successful independent label. ''But the recordings are already in place right now, and that's key." Stone believes that just as Matt Murphy's live scene has flourished through word of mouth, Pub Records can build on that momentum, capitalizing on what's become a loyal audience.
''I used to live in Brookline, and if this bar [which opened in 1995] had been here, I would have been here every night," says audience member Jonathan LaMaster. A Cambridge musician who leads his own local bands, Saturnalia and Cul de Sac, LaMaster came on the recommendation of a friend who raved about the place.
LaMaster, who operates his own avant-garde jazz and rock label, Sublingual Records, sounds optimistic as he surveys the packed house. ''Someone at tonight's show might have the best night of their life," LaMaster says. ''Having that live document might be very special."
Murphy's owner Siobhan Carew says she never doubted live music would flourish at her establishment.
''Everything here has happened organically -- we opened and the place took off," says Carew.''We've had people come in here and, while waiting for food to go, hear the band and wind up singing with it."