Remembering Kevin Morpurgo

JR Moores speaks to friends and collaborators of Kevin Morpurgo, aka Philly Kev, who pay tribute to the much-loved musician following news of his death this week

Photo with thanks to Jonny Halifax

Tributes have been paid to Kevin Morpurgo, also known as "Philly Kev", who has died following a short illness. Morpurgo grew up in Philadelphia, which he later described as being like — at that time — "a wasteland". Based in a warehouse dubbed The Milkbar (after A Clockwork Orange‘s notorious haunt), he played in various bands and booked shows for many others.

From 1989 to 1996 he performed, with his brother Mike, in the grungy Dandelion. They released two albums through the principally rap-oriented Ruffhouse Records (distributed by Columbia), with the cockroach-starring video for ‘Under My Skin’ gaining the approval of MTV’s Beavis & Butt-Head.

In the year 2000, Morpurgo moved to London where he formed a garage rock band, The Hells. He later joined the unhinged noise rock project Dethscalator. Their cult classic, Racial Golf Course No Bitches, was one of tQ’s favourite albums of 2013. "In just 34 minutes," wrote reviewer Nancy Bennie, "the listener is trampled by a seal-clubbing rhythm section, doom-dusted slop-riffs and the unhinged vocal delivery of a crunked-up Oliver Reed suffering from a serious case of catarrh."

Rich Millman of Zen Guerilla and Carlton Melton remembers visiting London with the latter outfit to play a gig with Dethscalator in 2011. "We stayed with Kev and [his wife] Aldene at their flat for two days. I remember Kev taking me for a walk in the afternoon in their neighbourhood, which was the Jamaican part of town, and Kev was high-fiving everyone. All the locals. All the Rastas. it was like Kev was Keith Richards! He and Aldene were the best hosts for a touring band that had travelled all night from Berlin. He was completely ‘Philly Kev’ in London. He was awesome. We are stunned and heartbroken, to say the least [following news of his death]. He loved all kinds of people and music, and will always be remembered as a generous, giving friend."

After Dethscalator’s split, Morpurgo was a founding member of the noise punk band Casual Sect, whose material would be released by distinguished DIY labels Box Records and Hominid Sounds. Alongside his band activities, which also included stints in Moon Ra and others, Morpurgo worked on documentary films for Vice and co-founded Black Impulse, which had its own NTS Radio. As its presenter put it himself, the eclectic show’s mission was to "dip in and out of anything that’s leftfield, fuzzy, fucked, fun or frightening."

Describing Kevin as a real "tour de force", Matt Ridout of Dethscalator remembers the way his bandmate approached their various schemes. "There was always a plan. Always the next thing coming. Never a moment to hesitate and sit back. Any doubt of ‘Will this work?’ was confronted with a chuckle and a ‘Trust me’. Usually he was right. When he wasn’t, it was always a story to add to the long list of funny anecdotes."

Kevin Morpurgo with Carlton Melton outside his London flat in 2011. Photo courtesy of Andrew Duvall

"His enthusiasm for music, for fun, and doing mad things was certainly refreshing," says Anthony Chalmers of Baba Yaga’s Hut. He cites Rat Salad’s performance at Raw Power — a Black Sabbath tribute set with Morpurgo inhabiting the near-inimitable role of the mighty Ozzy — as one of the most enjoyable after-hours acts that ever played the festival.

In 2017, Morpurgo’s family moved out of London, fed up with being continuously priced out of its different once-affordable areas. Morpurgo was drawn to Margate, having found the seaside town to be "a fantastic shithole" when first visiting. He rapidly established himself as a fearsome promoter of underground music, putting on shows featuring the cream of New Weird Britain and beyond. This involvement with cutting edge music in their new hometown led to the couple opening Bar Nothing, a cool art-filled venue with DJ booth on the seafront in Cliftonville, but modelled on Dalston’s Cafe Oto.

In the whole time he knew him, Ridout recalls Morpurgo only twice appearing nervous. "Once, in his hotel room on his wedding day, when he was getting set to marry the love of his life, Aldene. He invited me in to discuss the music playlist I had created for the reception, but I think really he just wanted to hang out and talk. He wanted it to be the best, most amazingly perfect event. The second was when he announced to me that he was going to be a dad for the first time. Of all his many accomplishments, building a family, being an incredibly present and attentive dad to his two boys, and a devoted husband, was clearly the pinnacle for him."

Dethscalator singer Dan Chandler has fond memories of ZZ Top covers sets and botched guitar solos, among countless other antics, but one amusing anecdote about this "raconteur extraordinaire" concerned his dog, Bix: a pet that matched the exuberance of its owner. "There was a party/barbeque on Walthamstow Marshes," he says. "Bix came out of the trees carrying a stick. Well, really it was a log. This giant Labrador could barely drag it. Kev did a sort-of rotating hammer toss to launch this thing for Bix to fetch. He managed to get it really far, knocking a passerby squarely on the skull! I hope this lady made a full recovery, as it was spectacularly unintended accuracy and very funny."

Joe Thompson of Hey Colossus and Wrong Speed Records said: "From my point of view I saw him as a fellow doer, a fellow enthusiast, and as someone who had relentless plans and ideas and was happy to run through a wall to make them happen. The sort of person the underground requires. The kind of person that is needed to keep the pot boiling. And he was one of the many excellent folk that makes up this weird musical soup we find ourselves sloshing about in. A massive loss."

Morpurgo is survived by wife, Aldene, and sons, Darby and Buddy.

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