Interview – Freedom of Expression

From the Irish Times:

Gavin Friday has formulated his lifelong passion for German music, art, literature and film into a personal tribute show – with the help of a German beer, he tells Brian Boyd

In a typically idiosyncratic reaction to the rise of punk rock, David Bowie moved to Berlin and recorded three albums that were, by his own standards, simple and stripped down. One half of one of the albums, Low, was entirely instrumental. One other gave birth to the song about two lovers meeting by the Berlin wall – Heroes. Musically, all Bowie’s work from this period was overtly influenced by German electronic band Kraftwerk and when he toured these albums he would use clips from classic German films as a stage backdrop.

In Dublin, Bowie fanatic Gavin Friday, still in his pre-Virgin Prunes days, was noting all these new developments and having his eyes opened to a whole new set of cultural influences.

“Bowie introduced me to Germany, there’s no doubt about it,” says Friday. “It’s not just the albums he recorded in Berlin but also the ones he worked on with Iggy Pop at the time – The Idiot and Lust For Life. I couldn’t get enough of this stuff. I even remember finding out that the pose Iggy Pop uses on the cover of The Idiot was inspired by a German painter called Erich Heckel. And Bowie was getting into Fritz Lang and German Expressionism. At about the same time, the film Cabaret came out and I started to learn about Christopher Isherwood. I found so much there”.

FRIDAY’S CAREER-LONG INTEREST in the music, film, literature and art of Germany has now been shaped into a theatrical show called Tomorrow Belongs To Me”. “It’s my own personal tribute to the art of the country” he says. “It’s going to be a musical and visual journey into a remarkable period of creativity. It’s me with a live band and the show will be divided into themes: “The Gothic”, “Electronica” and “German Expressionism”. It will be everything from [ the groundbreaking 1920 silent film] The Cabinet of Dr Caligari” up to [ Kraftwerk founding member] Florian Schneider”.

Friday has previous form with German music. Five years ago, he had a theatre show called Ich Liebe Dich based on the work of Kurt Weill commissioned by the Dublin Theatre Festival. Back in 1989, and working with Maurice Seezer, he released an album called Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves which was, in part, a musical exploration of Bertolt Brecht.

“I had been asked to do another show based on Brecht and Weill but I said no,” he says. “I had done that before and in this show there is nothing by Brecht or Weill. What turned this around for me was being approached by Beck’s [ the beer company that is sponsoring the show]. I was interested because I knew they had been behind works by the artists Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin, so I thought I could do something different with them.

“I WANTED A different take on the German angle and the idea for the show first came to me when I realised how many books on German Expressionism I had, how many albums of German music I had and how many films by German film-makers I had. People such as Warner Herzog, Fritz Lang, George Grosz and Kraftwerk still fascinate me and I wanted a show that expressed that fascination.”

Born Fionan Hanvey, Friday has always been an experimental figure on the music/theatre scene. A founder member of the Dublin avant-garde, post-punk group the Virgin Prunes, he was known back then for his uncompromising approach to how music should be composed and presented in a live setting.

“It was with the Virgin Prunes that I first got to Berlin,” he says. “We always had a good following in Europe and I remember taking the “corridor” to Berlin in the days before the wall came down. It was an exciting time in the city – there were bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten around at the time, but it was nothing like what it used to be”.

What struck Friday most about Berlin was how its once very rich and vibrant culture had come to a shuddering halt due to the second World War. “If you look at what happened there before the war, it was incredible. It really was more important artistically, in a sense, than New York. It’s remarkable how it stopped so quickly but also how much was there originally. And the stuff from this time still influences – whether it be in art or film or music,” he says.

It’s been a busy few years for Friday. He collaborated with noted producer Quincy Jones on the soundtrack to Jim Sheridan’s 50 Cent biopic, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ and he also had an acting role in Neil Jordan’s Breakfast On Pluto.

“When I was working with Quincy Jones, I spent a lot of time trying to convince him that the origins of hip-hop music can be traced back to German electronic music. The whole “Krautrock” movement really impressed me – not just Kraftwerk but bands such as Can and Neu,” he says. “With German film, what I’m doing is cutting up some classics to use as visuals in the show. There was so much there to look at – “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu among others but there were some copyright problems with some of the directors. Fassbinder is one director I really wanted to use but couldn’t”.

HE’S HAPPY THAT neither Brecht nor Weill feature in this particular show. “There’s been a lot done on them,” he says. “The idea here is to look into different areas. And it’s not just songs by German musicians. There’s the Randy Newman song In Germany Before The War for example”.

He feels that this slew of artistic activity in Germany in these years was helped, not hindered, by the fact that a lot of the names he features in the show were denounced as “degenerates” by the Nazi regime. “To be so outside of official sanction must really have been something for these people” he says.

The show runs for only two nights in Dublin, but he hasn’t ruled out touring it to different countries. Because it’s such a personal venture for him, he thinks the performance will be of the all-or-nothing variety. “When I do this stuff, I really bleed it . . .”

Tomorrow Belongs To Me is at the Liberty Hall Theatre, Eden Quay, Dublin, on

July 27 and 28.

© 2006 The Irish Times