Arts and Culture

Dutch mural celebrates Vale of Leven author and musician

Artist Eric J Coolen next to his mural in Haarlem featuring Paul Murdoch playing guitar.

Artist Eric J Coolen next to his mural in Haarlem featuring Valeman Paul Murdoch playing guitar. Picture by John Devlin


A Scottish musician and author from Vale of Leven is starring in a mural of famous Dutch figures, created by one of the Netherlands’ leading artists, to honour his contribution to the country’s underground arts scene.

Paul Murdoch is seen playing his guitar in the mural in Haarlem’s De Vijfhoek district, the city’s historical centre, along with high-profile artists and characters from the Netherlands. Scots author and musician Paul Murdoch is a cult figure in Haarlem.

It is the first such artwork by artist Eric J Coolen, who initially turned down the commission from a bar owner for being too much of a deviation from his normal style.

Paul Murdoch, from Alexandria, has become a cult figure in the Netherlands after playing guitar in the band Ampzing, alongside Coolen.

The mural, painted on the outside wall of the Kantoor Café, also features author Godfried Bomans, who helped Jews in Haarlem during the Second World War, writer and poet Bies van Ede, lyricist Lennaert Nijgh, Malle Babbe, a local woman painted by Dutch Golden Age artist Frans Hals around 1663, bass player André Wullems and Coolen himself.  Its civic unveiling was attended by dignitaries and hundreds of local people.

Coolen said it celebrated Murdoch’s contribution to contemporary life in Haarlem playing in Ampzing, as well as Scotland’s historical links with the city.

“I first met Paul 15 years ago and was very impressed by his song-writing and his guitar playing,” Coolen said.

“Before long he was in the band and has become very popular here.  “I wanted to include Paul because of his and the city’s links with Scotland.

 In the 16th century Scottish mercenaries fought alongside the Spanish against us after Haarlem sided with William of Orange.

“While the mercenaries were defeated in 1573 and many were killed and buried here, some remained behind to help their former enemies.”

Murdoch, whose works include the anti-sectarian novel Sunny and who is working with co-director and composer Gordon Wallace of Magnetic North Creations providing original music for film and TV, said he had received a phone call from Coolen saying he wanted to discuss a work of art.

“I was really surprised, but I knew Eric had a real thing for Scotland and I’d gone to one of his exhibitions, which had been held in Glasgow. It was an honour that he considered me at all.”

Murdoch, who publishes children’s books and work by local authors, said his first connection with Haarlem was when he was asked to play in Ampzing.

 “Ampzing is all about the Dutch language. I play guitar, but have to sing some bits and just do my best to cobble something together in Dutch. But I don’t think anyone has noticed.”

Coolen held the Cityscapes exhibition in Glasgow last year, celebrating architectural similarities between the city and Haarlem. 

*Shan Ross is a journalist with The Scotsman. She formerly worked for the Clydebank Post.

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