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A Conversation with Gavin Friday – Part 1

After the work on the re-releases had been completed, Virginprunes.com caught up with Gavin in late August to find out how the project had progressed from initial idea to final execution.

Keen to explain the process, in this first installment of the interview Gavin takes us through the building of the relationship with Mute Records and explains the detailed thinking behind the sleeve re-designs.

Virginprunes.com: Mute Records has struck me as the ideal home for the Virgin Prunes’ back catalogue for many years. In fact, in 1986 I heard through the grapevine that they had been interested in releasing The Moon Looked Down And Laughed, though this never came to fruition – is this true?

Gavin: Mute are the perfect resting place for Virgin Prunes. In 1986 as far as I can remember there was interest from Beggars Banquet, but they only wanted to release an EP. I rejected the idea and foolishly went with New Rose.

How did the 2004 re-releases come about? For example, who contacted who, when did contact begin, what were the stages of the process from initial contact to final versions of the CDs in your hands?

It was about four years ago I discovered that the band had very slowly over the years got back the masters of most of our recordings. I contacted Daniel Miller at Mute Records, who said he was very interested, but Mute was far too busy at that time. About a year later Daniel contacted me saying he wanted to go ahead with the re-release of the back catalog, so roughly over the last three years.

Why so long? Many reasons. Mute went to EMI [via acquisition] which held things up at bit. Then legal affairs, missing artwork, re-mastering and digital restoration took a long while. Then my illness [Gavin underwent back surgery in February 2002] and my own work held things up. So, it took about three to four years.

Did you experience any major problems or delays while bringing everything together?

The case of missing artwork and tapes that I was told we had, but then could not be found??? The most distressing thing was that ALL THE ORIGINAL ARTWORK FROM ALL THE SLEEVES HAS GONE MISSING, along with many many pictures, not to mention some multi-tracks. I am still searching. Who mislaid them? Somewhere between Mary, Strongman and New Rose? I tried so hard, it held up things for close to a year. I finally decided to go to my own ‘small’ stash of VP images and work from them.

Tape transfer was complex. A lot of the tapes had to be ‘baked’. Don’t want to go all serious on ya, you would be better off asking an engineer. In short, the getting together of this took a lot of time – it was at times like shitting a football. But then all good things take time… isn’t that right?

What is the expected audience for the An Exhibition promotional compilation – is it for the press, or will it also be released for fans to buy? Who chose the tracks and how were the choices made?

Press/promo at the moment. Yes, I understand it will be ‘available’ to fans and not at £250. We decided on two tracks off each album. I couldn’t choose, so Olivier, Our Blessed Curator, did the deed.

Mute is calling these re-releases the first “official” releases on CD. Does this mean that the Rough Trade and New Rose CDs were released without your permission?

Rough Trade released only …If I Die, I Die and it disappeared almost as quickly as it was released. It never was distributed as far as I could see, so a half-hearted effort is not an official release in my mind. New Rose… these re-releases had nothing to do with most of the band except for Mary and Strongman. Once again they almost disappeared as soon as they came out. Were they actually released? No distribution as far as I can tell, a total joke. Then within a month or so New Rose went bankrupt and the back catalog disappeared up the arse of God knows who…? As for the artwork and sound quality on the New Rose effort, don’t get me going… shameful. So yes, I see this as the first ‘official’ re-release of Virgin Prunes.

The most initially striking aspect of these re-releases is the new sleeve designs. Only “… If I Die, I Die” is faithful to the original release and the others have changed quite radically. For some long-term fans it has been disorientating to see “the Pagan Lovesong cover” used for A New Form Of Beauty and “the Baby Turns Blue cover” used for Over The Rainbow. Of course there’s a logic to this – the picture used on A New Form Of Beauty is of Guggi in the Pig Children performance, for example, which is clearly relevant to A New Form Of Beauty – but why redesign in the first place rather than just use the original covers?

All the original A New Form Of Beauty artwork is gone/mislaid/stolen/destroyed – who knows? I have seriously spent the last two years searching. It breaks me heart. I had to resort to a small collection of photos I had kept. My hands were tied – the original drawing by Guggi was badly damaged and sadly, as we say here, ‘fucked’. So where could I go? ‘Pig Children’ was my first thought, which lead on to the Guggi shot a la Pagan Lovesong. The original shot looked too glossy for the feel/sound/vibe of the music, so it was treated.

Why orange??? Maybe it has got something to do with the Catholic in me, I don’t know. It just felt right and we did tend to over-do the Blue vibe. Believe me, I am a purist at heart… The inner shot was taken at Futurama 1981, the only time we ever performed Beast (well, what we were allowed to, as they pulled the plugs after five minutes, etc.) So that shot was in context. Also, I wanted all the sleeves to have their own unique look.

Pagan Lovesong ended up on the …If I Die, I Die CD, so I felt the picture of Guggi was too strong to be completely lost. The only other option was a plain white cover – we tried that and it felt all wrong. I am talking weeks of trying out covers – I broke Slim [the sleeve designer] Smith’s heart. What we ended up with is GREAT in my mind and so far it has blown a few minds. Sorry if it offends…

We never felt the 12″ ANFOB sleeve which was used by Strongman and Mary for the New Rose CD looked right, it just didn’t transfer down to CD size very well. That’s not to mention the unbearable quality of the transfer from 12″ cover to CD cover that New Rose did. Jesus, talk about bad artwork… Anyway, this the first time the complete musical side of ANFOB has all been released on CD. So it is ANFOB. The typeface was hand done, and rather beautifully I must say, by Slim Smith

For …If I Die, I Die, once again the original went missing, this was the closest image I could find. The blue border may have worked on the original, but we decided it was stronger without the border on CD format. I tried to re-create the Brown/Blue vibe within the booklet using many never before used photos. Slim did a wonderful job on the booklet. Thanks man!

On Heresie, the photo of me and the photo of Guggi walking up the stairs, these photos we had originally planned to use on the cover, but the French label L’Invitation au Suicide went with the still from a Gothic 20’s movie. We never liked it and when it came about to re-use it – even way back when it was released on vinyl in the late 80’s by New Rose – we were not allowed the rights to use the image. We had no ownership of the copyright of the writings in the original boxed set, so we had to re-invent. I used photos in the booklet that tried to capture the mood/intensity of the music and the image of the Kettle Woman [in the centrefold of the CD insert booklet] sits perfectly along side the vibe of Deirdre and Memory Lane. Most are photos never before used.

As for The Moon Looked Down And Laughed, this was ALWAYS from day one the cover for the album, originally to be called Sons Find Devils. When Guggi left, followed by Dik, chaos and confusion followed. We had such legal and money problems way back then. A nightmare… The album was released in 1986. My spirit was broken… We did a photo shoot with four remaining members – The Butlins Session, I now call it – a mistake, but I wanted the album released and the struggle to finish it was murderous. The end was nigh!!! As with some of the mixes and the running order, I tried to make the visuals into what the original line up had originally planned. Now, tell me what cover suits the music better? The Butlins shot or the G&G lace shot?

The Over The Rainbow art work for the vinyl version was a shot used from the original Moon/Devils sessions. As I made the choice to go back to the G&G lace picture for the Moon re-issue, it meant we could not use the original image – they are way too similar. I also took into context that this is a very different album to the Original Album. It has never-before-released-on-CD remixes etc. Also, it’s a double CD. A lot of the recordings on Over The Rainbow were recorded in the Beautifull House and that’s where the front cover photo was taken. Yeah, it was the cover of Baby Turns Blue, but it’s a great shot and I didn’t want it lost forever, I wanted people to see it. We tried the ‘Girl with Rabbits’ image on the front [from the Twenty Tens EP] but it didn’t feel right alongside the other four CDs. In the booklet I used images that are natural and unstaged and unused. There ya go…

Sorry if any offence has been taken, but to quote the band… ‘Nothing is ever the way they say it is… Nothing is ever the way you want it to be…’

Join us on Wednesday for the second part of the interview, to hear more about the remastering of the recordings and to discover Gavin’s biggest personal goal for the project.