Feature

Meet Dirty Murph & The Kerbside Sorters: The UK consultants turning trash into tunes

The itinerant life of a consultant often provides unique perspectives on the waste industry that may not always fit into the latest report. Now, a group of consultants from the U.K. have started writing songs to share their observations. 

What started as a fun project between coworkers at the U.K. firm Eunomia in 2015 has since evolved into a band called Dirty Murph & The Kerbside Sorters. The group takes a "recycled" approach to familiar classics, riffing on everything from the procurement process to the organic waste hierarchy. Thanks to financial assistance from Eunomia for studio time and a growing cult following, the group has officially become the hottest act in the U.K. waste industry.

Following their debut album “The Missed Collection” and subsequent B-sides on “Quality Protocol Exceptions,” they are back with a brand new EP. Featuring tracks on marine pollution (“The Nurdle and the Damage Done”), the daily grind of collection routes (“RCV Driver”) and much more, “Dark Side of the Bin” revels in the spirit of waste reduction.

Clockwise from top left: Peter Jones, Pete Bennett, Ian Cessford, Steve Watson, Mark Corbin, Ann Ballinger.
 

Waste Dive caught up with four of the group’s members — Peter Jones, Steve Watson, Mark Corbin and Ian Cessford — ahead of the album’s premiere last week to learn more.

WASTE DIVE: How many people are involved in the band overall? Does this shift from album to album?

PETER JONES: We’re pretty flexible really. Because it's a company social activity, we like to try and involve as many people as we can from within the company. So anybody who's willing to pick up a musical instrument and take part we're keen to get them involved in whatever way they can be.

How did it all get started back in 2015?

STEVE WATSON: Dirty Murph started with me chatting to Ann [Ballinger] who plays flute and does a bit of singing in the band. For a couple of years we'd talked about possibly doing some music together ... I think the first thing I had an idea for was the song "Invitation to Tenderness."

MARK CORBIN: We sort of launched officially at one of our company events in the summer to probably quite a level of astounded surprise at what we'd been working away at. There was a fair bit of alcohol and enthusiasm going around at that event and I think that kind of kicked off quite a bit of support for the project from the company directors in particular, and quite a lot of keenness to hear us again.

Then that led to your wider debut at a conference last year?

JONES: We had a high spot last year of playing the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee's annual conference, which is one hell of a gig. All the greats have played the East Midlands Conference Centre. So it was great to follow in the footsteps of the Stones and Hendrix and so on at that renowned venue. For a waste sector gig that's a pretty good one. You've got 400 very enthusiastic waste collection local authority officials who get together each year. We were something a bit different from the usual affair.

 

I can imagine. Well congratulations on having your third release within the past year. What made you want to come back and what was the thinking when you sat down for the new record?

WATSON: I would say that it's hard to stop thinking of the puns. Once you start thinking of jokes, waste-themed titles, they don't stop coming … [Also] just the ongoing support of the company and that people are keen to have us keep doing this.

JONES: We just had so much material that it seemed a shame not to use it. We didn't record everything we had in fact at that point, so there's still material that we would like to do but haven't yet had the studio time to get down.

I know the intended audience is mainly waste industry professionals and some of your lyrics cover source separation and other policies. Is the goal to take a stand at all on various waste-related issues?

JONES: I think it's more sort of commentary rather than looking to be associated with a particular viewpoint. Each song has a narrator, who probably does have a viewpoint.

CORBIN: I think there's certainly broad support for the waste hierarchy [laughs] ... We've got a couple of ones that are perhaps more evangelistic and a couple that perhaps take a slightly cynical perspective. I think kind of reflecting the various different modes we find ourselves in our work.

Would you like the general public to hear these songs as well from an educational standpoint? Could it help them think about recycling in a new way?

WATSON: There are some that probably would have wider appeal. I'm thinking of one of Peter's songs on the new record, "Ixion Binned." It's a very straightforward pro-recycling song. There aren't that many in-jokes in it.

JONES: I think if we can reach out further we will, but we're conscious of our core audience being a waste sector audience. Steve and I edit the Isonomia blog, so we have come to up with between the two of us four or five waste related gags or puns a week. So there's a pretty crushing schedule of humor that we have to maintain.

IAN CESSFORD: There's a viewpoint from consultancy. The life of a consultant, that's pretty generic for a lot of people. Not just waste specific.

You mentioned that “Invitation to Tenderness” was inspired by your consulting work and multiple songs make reference to it. How does that viewpoint affect the songs?

JONES: If you take a song like "The Consultants," that was supposed to be a parody of how I think Eunomia is perceived within the industry ... There's always a grain of truth in there about how a consultant has to conduct themselves. We're white collar workers and yet we provide advice on really blue collar jobs. So it's quite an interesting position to put yourself in where the decisions that we help to inform are ones that do affect the way that people's services and work and the way that people's jobs work, and it's something we have to be pretty conscious of.

CESSFORD: There's always a mixed sort of reception to somebody coming in and not being the doer or the provider of services, but the people that come in and basically tell other people what to do and how to do [it] better. It's not always a popular role to have.

Does that add another layer to your performances, especially at conferences, because people in the industry follow your work?

JONES: It means we have to probably think more carefully about how we prepare our music than a lot of people do. We've got to think about messaging as we write our songs in a way that not a lot of songwriters maybe have to.

How do you decide between writing new songs versus parody songs?

WATSON: I think the new record is entirely recycled ... The first couple of ideas I had were original songs and then the parody thing started up. It's almost easier in a way and it kind lends itself to the kinds of humor that Pete was talking about earlier, the kind of puns that we do on a weekly basis.

JONES: They're like earworms now for me. I hear a song and then I will hear the waste phrase that starts it off and next thing you know you've got minutes of waste-inspired parody songs and it's hard to help yourself ... I don't think we've ruled out fresh compositions but so as long as we've got good recycled material to work with we'll carry on doing some of that.

Well I can tell you that my coworkers enjoyed it so you have a few fans here in the U.S. at least.

JONES: We're aiming to go in the footsteps of The Beatles in many ways and breaking America is just one of those.

Do you hope to start playing more shows eventually or is this more of a work hobby?

JONES: We are available for weddings, bar mitzvahs and waste-related conferences of any kind.

CORBIN: We’d like to play where it’s appreciated.

JONES: If there are any major waste-related events coming up in the U.S. that you're aware of just give them our details and we'll be right there.

Stay tuned for the band’s new Christmas single, an original composition, later in the year.
 

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Filed Under: Recycling
Top image credit: © Ray Georgeson