Interview: Gavin Friday – ‘I’m beginning to like myself’

From by Una

GAVIN Friday saunters up his steep driveway on Vico Road to the green metal sheets covering the entrance to his Dalkey home. “Bloody Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown planning permission . . . I’ve been waiting a year for new gates, ” he mutters from the other side. He turns a key in a padlock and pulls through a chain before poking his head around. “Heeeeeyyyyyyyy, ” he drawls. His dark hair is pulled back into a messy pony tail.

There’s a few days worth of stubble on his chin and his eyes hide behind purple-tinted glasses. He is dressed in back . . . jeans and a hoodie . . . a couple of earrings in each ear, a silver crucifix on a chain around his neck. As we walk back into his house we discuss his new show in Liberty Hall and how he is “mad busy” at the moment in pre-production. He explains the many levels of the upcoming performance . . .music, theatre, visuals . . . and how he feels that people are getting cheated at gigs when it’s just a bloke with a guitar standing there.

Inside, a “computer man” is showing Friday how to use a printer. “And what if I want copies?” “And does it turn off?” “And how do you put the paper in?” he questions, Ozzy-like. There’s a bit of concern in Friday’s voice over what would happen were he to plug the printer cable out of his laptop. “I can’t even turn on the kettle, ” he despairs. “I’ve noticed, ” deadpans ‘computer man’. Herb . . . a musician, working on parts of Friday’s new show Tomorrow Belongs To Me in the next room . . . and Friday then debate whether they have cigarettes upstairs “in the room”, or whether Herb will walk to Killiney to get some. “Do you smoke rollies?” Herb asks hopefully. I shake my head and he disappears into the hall. Friday asks what I want to drink: “Tea, or water or something?” I settle for the latter. “This is still water, ” he mutters absentmindedly, placing two glasses on top of coasters at the small circular marble table we sit at in a little lounge at the end of the kitchen. “Alright there Herb?” he hollers, a question repeated five or six times within the hour. On a shelf above his laptop, there are books by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Banville, Brendan Behan and an illustrated copy of the bible. Above the shelf there’s a poster of Oscar Wilde, and underneath, a limited edition red and black U2branded iPod resting in its speaker dock. On the window sill next to our table a Jesus clock and a crystal ball sit next to a vase of orchids and some cactii.

Friday is nothing if not avant garde . . . and his house shows it, with its various shades of purple walls and a kitchen with shiny blue presses. It is through his music that we know him best; first with post-punks The Virgin Prunes, then with a series of solo albums, along with various other projects including film scores and soundtracks (Romeo & Juliet, Disco Pigs, In America, Get Rich Or Die Trying), a part in the acclaimed Breakfast On Pluto and finally his own theatrical extravaganzas.

The previous Ich Liebe Dich, which focused on Kurt Weill, has given way to a new show that will run for two nights at Liberty Hall in Dublin on 27 and 28 July. Tomorrow Belongs To Me is Friday’s tribute to 20th-century German culture. “It just became an obsession, ” he explains of his love of German art.

As a child, he was “in love with” Bowie, TRex, glam rock and Iggy Pop. When he was 13, the police were called when Friday, who was staying at his aunt’s house in upstate New York, had gone missing. He had actually hopped on a train into Manhattan for a day because the local record store didn’t have the new Bowie album in stock.

When The Virgin Prunes began touring in 1978, Berlin was the centre of innovative music. “I’d never heard anything like it. It was synthesized, electronic, avant garde and pointing references again to German expressionists. Suddenly, I started buying these books and buying other records.” Enthusiasm flows from Friday. Often, his sentences are 10 minutes long, caught up in explanations and tangents. The Virgin Prunes lived in Germany for a while, where they were extremely popular. This, coupled with his love of the literature of Weil, Brecht, Isherwood, the films of Fritz Lang and the music of Kraftwerk, explains why Germany has become “this love of mine and this touchstone of mine”.

He was in Berlin last in February promoting Breakfast On Pluto. “It was part of the Golden Bear thing. It was being premiered there, and I had a mad weekend with Cillian Murphy and Liamo . . . Liam Cunningham, ” he giggles to himself in secret remembrance. “And it is a f**king great city. And wow is it cheap. Like, six of yiz can go out for a meal. You have a panini here and you’re broke.”

He moved to this house last year from Phibsboro and is “doing the place up bit by bit”.

There are planning permission notices up and the bathroom recently flooded, water cascading down the walls. “It was like a scene from The Shining, ” he says, before adding in a serious tone, “but not blood. Water.” Friday is a reluctant southsider. In Phibsboro, he voted for Tony Gregory, “a man of the people”. He doesn’t know who he’ll vote for now. Friday describes Dublin now as a “a European, cosmopolitan, hip city” much different to the environment he grew up in. “Jesus Christ, it was f**king woeful in the ’70s and ’80s and we are very lucky now. . . There was like a grey cloud over the country for 40 f**king years. So that’s lifted. I always think, like, something optimistic is happening. Maybe it’s the silver of the spire and the Luas sparkling through the city when it’s a nice day in July, ” he laughs sarcastically. “There’s a little lard on the arse of the Paddy at the moment that needs a good smack. I’m also very frightened of the ‘Oh. My. God’ thing that’s kicking in, especially the young girls. And that’s basically too many episodes of Friends and WKD vodka. And ‘Momma I want a Chanel handbag for my holidays’. There’s too much of that going on. There’s people on the northside of Dublin going ‘Oh. My. Gawd’. I mean, come on!”

When Friday was growing up, he and his two best friends, Bono and Guggi, who all grew up on the same street, had “mad dreams to do this that and the other . . . form bands, make music, paint”. “It’s sad isn’t it?” he states uncertainly when I ask if he still hangs around with the same people. “I’ve lots of other friends, but there is a little bit of a Sopranos mafioso holy trinity. It’s just like old times.” He whistles and gestures to nextdoor where Bono lives. “‘Gav, djwanna come over for a bottle of wine.’ ‘Hey, I got the new Roxy Music album.’ As any woman knows, men never grow up. Isn’t it great to keep the child in you. I love old people. I saw Ulick O’Connor in Lilies Bordello a few months ago. I went over and sat with him and started talking about old Dublin . . . it’s the same because I’m good friends with Louis Le Brocquy, surrogate grandad buddah. And I go ‘What was Francis Bacon like, and tell us this, did you ever meet Brendan Behan, and was Kavanagh a bollox?'” We chat about Bono’s view of the world. I make the mistake of using the phrase ‘World Order’. “World Order? It sounds like a neoNazi thing, ” he cracks up and goes into the kitchen, screaming his manifesto in a German accent and returning with a bottle of sparkling San Pellegrino water. “Ven Bono iz leader ov ze vorld he vill give Ireland to Herr Friday, and Herr Friday vill put Ireland in ze proper order. He vill ban football, ban radio, all you vill listen to is classical and jazz. The New World Order, ” he booms, before taking a seat.

“Sorry, that was a joke. If Ireland ran out of energy and you put a plug up Bono’s arse, we’d have no problems. I do not understand the drive in that man, it’s phenomenal. He’s the hardest-working person I’ve ever met in my life. I love him. He’s my brother. Me, him and Guggi are inseparable. Somebody said, ‘Do you know what your f**king problem is?’ . . . it was one of the wives actually . . . ‘Youse love each other too much’. What he’s doing for Africa is phenomenal. When history books are written in 50 years time they are just going to say, ‘Look, millions, millions of people were dying’. And this is a man that can go out and tour with the passion that he does and put on a show in his mid-40s that f**kin’ blows all of the 20-year-olds off the planet. You’re not going to get any bad Bono quotes out of me.”

Friday admits he has chilled out since hitting the big four-oh. “I was a very angry young man. Since I hit my 40s I am more relaxed in myself. I quite like the last few years, and now. You wouldn’t want to meet me 20 years ago. I was a pretty psycho guy and I frightened most people. I’m a late developer. I’m beginning to like myself, but I still have a bee in my bonnet and that’s why I’m doing these shows.

“A lot of people don’t live. They don’t follow what they’re interested in, they get frightened and stop at a certain age, ” I say that’s easy for him to say, being an artist. “Yeah, and I don’t have kids. I don’t mean to sound ignorant. I’m not a snob, I’m not out of touch, I do shop in Tescos.” (He’s not lying . . . the air freshener in the bathroom is Tesco-brand ‘Serenity’. ) “I don’t mean to be condescending. I’m blessed to be happy to do things I love, but I’ve worked for that. I’ve worked my arse off. I’ve been on the dole, been called the biggest arsehole in the world . . . still am called that. I fall on my face. You give up a lot to get what you want. But that’s my choice, I want to do that.” And then, deciding that his perfect vision of the afterlife would be a glorious, never-ending dinner party with friends and loved ones, he has to get back to work.

“I’ll walk you up, ” he says. Outside, I comment on the beautiful location of his house, which looks out on to a panoramic view of Killiney Bay, with Dalkey Island to the left. He grins, almost disbelieving of his luck: “I know. I’ve got the best view in Killiney!” As we venture up the steep, winding hill, Friday again expresses his distaste at unenthusiastic live bands, although he hears Republic of Loose are good. “You know, people should be given more. There needs to be some energy, ” he sighs, before extending an invitation to his Liberty Hall gig and locking the chained entrance behind me