Interview: Friday on my mind – IMRO magazine 2005

From mQ – The IMRO magazine

by Jackie Hayden – 26.10.05

IMRO-interview.jpgThese are busy times for Gavin Friday, what with his heavy involvement in overseeing the re-release of the Virgin Prunes back catalogue, his first substantial film role as a showband singer in Neil Jordan’s version of Pat McCabe’s Breakfast On Pluto, writing songs for his own next album and a daily starring role as one of Bono’s best and highest-profile mates. Jackie Hayden managed to interrupt the busy schedule of the artist formerly known as Fionan Hanvey for long enough for a quick chat.

The Virgin Prunes were a band of Dublin eccentrics who adopted bizarre, sometimes androgynous, names, and with a predilection for songs, records and stage performances that challenged the conventions of 1980s Ireland. So does Gavin see a different Ireland today?

“Well there’s the greed,” he says, “we’ve gone from poverty to what I call the pierced beer-belly, x-factor greed, but hopefully that’ll calm down in a while. It got a bit manic because we had such an inferiority complex for so long. But most of the changes since the eighties are for the good. The mass-emigration is gone. It’s better for music too. Back then there were hardly any places bands like the Prunes could play. We’ve also become much more multi-cultural. But I’m not a fan of the corporatism that plays such a dominant role in the music industry as well as the movie business today.”

Gavin admits that the main impetus for him to get into a band originally was to get out of what was then “the nowheresville of Ballymun, as well as a love of music and a desire to express myself, including the anger I felt. But nowadays there’s so little spontaneity in music. Bands agonise over every detail of what they’re going to do and it’s all so contrived that the music suffers accordingly. Kids are forming bands because they want to be stars, not because they have something to communicate or any real need to express something. Since the arrival of Whitney Houston twenty years ago, everybody seems to thing there’s a certain way you have to sing, so instead of a singer sounding like him or herself they all sound like second-hand versions of somebody else. At the same time there’s some truly great music out there.”

He expresses some surprise that nobody ever took over the Virgin Prunes’ mantle, although many see the influences of the band in acts like Marilyn Manson, Bjork and maybe indirectly in Eminem. “Sonically, probably the closest would be My Bloody Valentine, or maybe the Nun Attax or Five Go Down To The Sea. But I was re-listening to our stuff recently and I was surprised to find how much more melodic and musical it was compared to how it seemed at the time. We even had Keith Donald on an album. But there were reasons for us being that angry at that time and maybe there aren’t so many reasons these days. I don’t think there’ll be another Virgin Prunes any more than I think there’ll be another punk rock or any more than there’ll be a Virgin Prunes re-union.”

It was while touring with the Prunes that Friday came under the spell of classic chanson and was exposed to the works of Brel, Brecht, Weill and others which underpinned much of his later work as a solo artist and in collaboration with Maurice Seezer. “Growing up a bit I realised there was more to music than just David Bowie who was huge initial inspiration and still is. When your heroes like Johnny Lydon start letting you down and you realise they’re like bubble-gum you tend to look for something more substantial. If you look at the works of Brecht and Weill, and even Brel, you’ll find they all have a bit of attitude and that always appeals to me. They went for the gut as well as for the romance. I believe you become more open to other music as you mature. I remember, Jackie, when your colleague, the late Bill Graham introduced me to the music of fiddler Martin Hayes and then Martin played at Bill’s funeral and we struck it off so well that we later recorded together. That ignited my obsession with Sean O Riada and the Irish tradition. O Riada was a genius. He was our Miles Davis.”

Now 45, Gavin’s movie role in Breakfast On Pluto sees him doing cover versions of Sweet’s cheesy glam-pop hit ‘Wig-Wam Bam’ and ‘Sugar Baby Love’ by The Rubettes, songs several planets away from both the continental cabaret scene and the orbit of the VPs. “I find the discipline you need for acting is much harder than performing music. It can be a long slow process. Two minutes on screen could take eighteen hours to do, whereas as a musician you could do a whole show of your own songs in two hours. But I love acting. It’s a different craft, like putting on a mask, but we all put on masks, even if it’s only The Undertones wearing anoraks”, he reckons.

Speaking of masks, then, was changing his name from Fionan Hanvey a putting on of a mask? “Absolutely”, he admits, “but I’ve been Gavin for longer than I was Fionan. Only people like me ma call me Fionan. But it’s like if you called Bono Paul, you might get a head-butt! Most people call me Gavin or Gav. Maybe it creates a barrier for me. I’m quite a private man. I’d never let somebody into the house to do a VIP-style thing with my family. But there’s a lot of Fionan in me still. Maybe in a few years you’ll see me doing Mise Eire as Gaeilge!”

With his work on the Jordan film now winding down, Gavin has also written two ballads with Sinead Lohan and has recorded a 40-minute show in Dingle for Philip King’s tv series Other Voices for which he’s accompanied by Maurice Seezer and a banjo-player. He’s re-started work on his next solo album, about which he says “who knows, maybe it’ll bring out the showband, glam-rock side of me.”

Such is the musical eclecticism of the man, and the sense of adventure he brings to all he tackles, I’m not quite sure if he was joking.

The Virgin Prunes albums A New Form Of Beauty, If I Die, I Die, Hérésie, The Moon Looked Down And Laughed and Over The Rainbow are now available on CD from Mute Records.