Man Friday, Northside Dublin

August 1998
It’s not every young man that has the balls to walk around Ballymun rigged out in a dress and a pair of Doc Martins but then again Gavin Friday was never one for adhering to conformities.
Gavin was one of a group of pioneering artists from Finglas East who had a massive impact on the Dublin music scene during the punk explosion that hit the city during the mid to late 70s. This select band of Bohemians included U2’s Bono and spawned The Virgin Prunes, a band that musically swung from complete and utter incomprehensible self-indulgence to sheer musical delight – often during the same number.
These days Gavin sticks to the more melodic side of music and has contributed to several film soundtracks including In The Name of the Father, The Boxer and Romeo and Juliet as well as releasing three albums with partner, Maurice Roycroft.
Although he now makes a few bob from his talent Gavin hasn’t sold out and is still a unique and likeable individual. But back in the 70s his individuality was not appreciated by everyone and he was often attacked, verbally and physically, for daring to be different. However, he still describes his Northside childhood as “mostly a happy one.”
“I lived in Cabra when I was a baby but I grew up on Cederwood Road,” Gavin told us. “Some people said Cederwood was Finglas and some said it was Ballymun. I never called it Glasnevin North or any of that bullshit. All that name thing was just snobbery. My mother-in-law lives on what is now officially called Glasnevin Avenue but when I write to her I still use Ballymun Avenue as the address.
“I was quite shy when I was young and Cederwood was a lot rougher that it is now. It was a sort of a laddish area but I didn’t want to be a cider-drinking boot boy going out robbing horses which was the big thing at the time. I didn’t like football or GAA and as I went around trying to look like Marc Bolan I used to get the crap kicked out of me a lot. I was well able for it though ‘cos mentally I was quite a strong kid.
“I went to the Sacred Heart School and St Kevin’s CBS in Ballygall. The only subject I was into was art but the Christian Brothers thought that was ridiculous. You were supposed get a job as a civil servant, a carpenter or a footballer.”
When Gavin was in his early teens he began to hang around with Bono and the Rowan family who also came from the area and as teenagers do, the lads found their identity through a shared love of music.
“Punk hit Dublin when we were about 15 and it allowed us to express ourselves in the way that we looked which is really important to a teenager,” recalled Gavin. “It also showed us you didn’t have to know how play guitar or have loads of fancy equipment to form a band. It was a lifeline to us. It was a way out of the shite that we were being fed at school. I don’t want to get into knocking the education system but further education was not even discussed at the time.”
When Gavin left school he got a job working with animals – dead ones! “I was the weirdest purchasing and stock control clerk they’d ever seen at the Dublin Meat Packers in Cloghran,” laughed Gavin. “I got on very well with the farmers. They used to ask for the young fellah with the make-up and earrings. It helped me save money for equipment for the band.”
Gavin formed The Virgin Prunes – whom he describes as a cross between The Sex Pistols and David Bowie – when he was 17. The band shocked audiences, confused critics and attracted trouble because of their habit of cross-dressing in public.
“It was very androgynous but it was never a drag thing,” explained Gavin. “I looked more like Rasputin on acid. It was like, ‘don’t you dare try and categorise me.’ We were just expressing ourselves. You have to come to terms with your sexuality but instead of hiding in our bedrooms and crying about it we were out there boxing people in the head with it.”
The Virgin Prunes gigged extensively throughout the world during the late 70s and early 80s and attracted a loyal following on the continent. However, a combination of burn-out, over familiarity and lack of management eventually led to a split.
“We were a lot different than U2 with whom we used to share equipment,” said Gavin. “There was six of us who all knew each other extremely well. In U2 they got to know each other over time. We were off our heads as well and when we toured Europe we just went mad. A lot of rock ‘n roll is just manufactured but behind all the leathers lurks little accountants counting up the CD sales. Our idiom wasn’t about trying to make popular music but like anything that’s wild and fiery we burnt out. The spontaneity went and we individually began to grow up. Our tastes became quite different and it sort of died a very natural death.”
Not financially motivated, Gavin took up painting for a year after the split but the itch to get back on stage was still there. In 1987 he started The Blue Jaysus club on the quays where he met his present musical partner, Maurice Roycroft.
While their musical backgrounds are startlingly different the duo have successfully combined to produce a formula that has had film producers queuing up to hire them.
Although their music has proved more popular on the continent that at home Gavin is still extremely proud of his Northside background and often drags Bono from his Killiney home back over to this side of the Liffey for a pint.
“I tried living on the Southside for about six months but it didn’t work,” said Gavin. “Northsiders are the salt of the earth. I think we’re condescended on an awful lot by the likes of the Brendan O’Carroll and Roddy Doyle idioms. I think it’s really ignorant. Northsiders are far more sophisticated than that. They’re generally very smart and have a sort of Scorcese coolness about them.
“The Northside is so beautiful. Look at the North Circular Road going up to Phoenix Park – one of the biggest parks in Europe. A lot of Southsiders don’t even know where the park is!”
This interview appears courtesy of Jack Gleeson/ ‘The Northside People’