Murray Cook, original red Wiggle, still moving and shaking souls
By ALEC SMART
Screen shot from Soul Movers "Fool I Am" video.
Murray ‘Muzz’ Cook, co-founder of internationally successful children’s TV program, musical band and entertainment spectacle The Wiggles, is still writing music and playing concerts, a decade after retiring from performing live with the popular phenomenon.
As well as participating in the occasional reunion event with the original quartet – affectionately called the OG Wiggles – in 2015 Cook joined R&B band The Soul Movers, founded by Radio Birdman legend Deniz Tek and singer Lizzie Mack. The Soul Movers have released four albums, three with Cook’s involvement: Testify! (2017), Bona Fide (2019) and Evolution (2021), which are musically diverse, embracing a range of styles from blues to soul, via rock and disco.
Known for wearing iconic red polo-neck skivvies in the four-coloured quartet with whom he played guitar for 21 years (1991-2012, alongside Anthony Field in blue, Greg Page in yellow and Jeff Fatt in purple), Cook is based in Sydney’s Inner-West.
He is often seen at local music venues or performing onstage with major bands like YouAmI and DZ Deathrays, many of whom credit him as an influence on their songwriting.
Guitar Magazine once speculated that Cook was perhaps the most influential guitarist in the world due to his being the first that young children are exposed to during their formative years watching The Wiggles on TV.
Screen shot from the hilarious DZ Deathrays' music video in which Murray features.
Neighbourhood Media exchanged words with the Order of Australia Medal recipient about where he’s headed next.
Murray is often seen attending shows at venues around Marrickville and Newtown; the locals often point him out and say how much they respect his supporting the inner-west live music scene. Does he have any favourite local venues and bands he particularly enjoys seeing?
“I am a long time resident of the Inner West. I first moved here in 1983. I can’t imagine moving anywhere else.
There are so many great venues in the Inner West. It really is the epicentre of live music at the moment. There’s such a range of sizes and styles from the Enmore Theatre to The Factory to Camelot. I love the atmosphere at The Gasoline Pony. It’s run by musicians and has a real variety of bands and genres.
"The Marrickville Bowlo is a gem too. Too many good ones to pick a fave! There are many great acts too. Bernie Hayes is someone I love to see in his various incarnations, from solo to his band to The Dead Marines.”
The Soul Movers have collaborated with a range of talented artists. These include: Garth Porter and Tony Mitchell from Sherbet; the trio from DZ Deathrays on their Like People music video (and they in turn appeared in The Soul Movers’ video You Better Believe It!); with the legendary Jeremy Oxley of Sunnyboys on the Nov 2021 released song Not Putting it Down; and, latterly, Little Quirks on Soul Movers’ Feb 2022 cover of The Carpenters’ Superstar.
There’s even been a collaboration between The Wiggles and The Soul Movers! In July 2020, Cook reunited the original members of The Wiggles on an amusing exercise-themed music video to accompany The Soul Movers' uplifting, post-Covid disco song Circles Baby.
The original Wiggles join The Soul Movers in a post-Covid work-out video.
Is Murray able to reveal if there other artists that The Soul Movers are currently working with on new material, or lined up for future collaborations?
“We also had my great friend, Dan Sultan on a song on Evolution [The Soul Movers’ most recent album].
“We have some thoughts on future collabs but nothing I can reveal just now. We love collaborating as it keeps everything fresh and you can always learn from others. And it’s fun!”
Congratulations on The Wiggles’ winning Triple J’s distinguished and hotly-contested Like A Version tribute competition with a cover of Tame Impala’s Elephant. Did The Wiggles’ record that song initially for their comeback compilation album Rewiggled, and then decide to enter it in the Like A Version competition as an amusing prank, or was the song specifically recorded for Like A Version and then later included on the Rewiggled album?
“We were approached by Triple J to record for Like a Version. Anthony and Nick Webb who works with The Wiggles had the idea to do Elephant. The idea for ReWiggled came later.
“Our Like a Version was very popular and people told us it could do well on the Hottest 100 but we never imagined it would take out the top spot. A massive thrill!”
How did The Wiggles’ go about choosing the cover songs for the Rewiggled? It’s an interesting, albeit eclectic selection; for example Umbrella by Rihanna, Pub Feed by The Chats and Shipping up to Boston by Dropkick Murphy’s were unusual choices to sit side by side on an album, especially by a band dedicated to entertaining children.
“I wasn’t closely involved in choosing the songs. The tastes in the wider group is very diverse. Anthony, in particular, loves lots of genres and music from other cultures. So, various members suggested songs. Some were by people we have met along the way. We like to mix it up.”
The Wiggles (with yellow Wiggle Emma Watkins, on drums) reunited in 2021 for a cover of Tame Impala’s Elephant for TripleJ's Like A Version, and won the annual competition.
Did the experience of recording Rewiggled and the Like A Version cover of Elephant inspire Murray to consider working together musically with The Wiggles again, perhaps in future covering a classic children’s pop song like The Beatles’ Octopus’ Garden or Yellow Submarine?
“We have been working together again for ReWiggled and the OG tour. I don’t think we’d necessarily record those particular songs (although I am a massive Beatles fan). This whole concept was aimed more at adults who grew up with The Wiggles. And we like the more left-of-centre approach.”
It’s been 20 years since Murray announced his impending retirement from The Wiggles, and almost 20 years since his actual retirement from live shows, along with Greg Page and Jeff Fatt (co-founder Anthony Field continues wearing the blue with new recruits in the yellow, red and purple skivvies). Will the three of you retirees mark the anniversary with something significant? Do you miss wearing the red top and being a Wiggle?
“It’s more about celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Wiggles, which was last year. We had plans that were derailed by Covid so we are doing it this year. Yes, the Original Wiggles completed a National arena tour a few months ago; again for our adult fans. We are touring NZ in August and performing at the Falls Festival in Victoria, WA and NSW at the end of the year. The touring won’t be as hectic as we used to do which is the main reason I retired from The Wiggles. It’s been great being on stage with my ‘brothers’ again.”
Soul Movers at the 2017 Rock n Roll Markets at The Factory, Marrickville. Photo: Alec Smart
What's next on The Soul Movers' horizon: gigging, recording or taking a break?
“After the forced break of [Covid-19] lockdowns, I think we are like most performers, out there playing as much as possible, making up for lost time. We have shows booked into the next year in NSW, Victoria, WA and Queensland. We hope to get to SA in the next year. We love playing in front of audiences. We are excited to be playing in the ‘hood on 18th August outside the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre for their Winter Vibes program on Thursday 18 August. Then on Saturday 20 August at Sydenham Green as part of Inner West Council’s Edge Festival.
“We love playing festivals. A big one for us, which we’ve been waiting for two years to finally happen, is this year’s Splendour in The Grass, as part of an amazing line-up.
“We are in the process of writing songs for a new album, to be released next year. We have lots of great ideas for that one. We always try to make each album special, from recording Bona Fide in a number of amazing and famous studios in the US (FAME, Muscle Shoals Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and Sun and Royal Studios in Memphis Tennessee) to Evolution with Garth Porter and Tony Mitchell [ex-Sherbet, 80s Australian rock royalty]. I’m sure this one will be special too.”
Screen shot from The Soul Movers "Testify" video.
Anything he’d like to add?
“I’m very fortunate to be able to keep a connection to my old audience with The OG Wiggles and my new audience with The Soul Movers. Very often these audiences intersect. We are always getting people to The Soul Movers’ shows who come out of curiosity to see what Murray Wiggle is up to; stay because they enjoy the music; and leave as fans. We have an amazingly diverse audience, from late teen to 60-somethings, which I am very proud of.”
Lizzie Mack, dynamic singer of The Soul Movers, adds: “Also we are doing two REALLY IMPORTANT shows in Newtown - the HEART of Newtown you could say - that really need to be spotlighted!”
Where: Winter Vibes, Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, 1 Bedford St Newtown
When: Thurs 18 Aug, two x 20-30 minute sets between 5.30 – 7pm
Where: Edge Sydenham 2022, Sydenham Green, 53 Railway Rd Sydenham
When: Sat 20 Aug, 10-11am (instead of 8pm as originally advertised)
“We are offering a Wiggles character show too, as Muz has to fly to NZ to do a OG Wiggles show.”
The Soul Movers