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A Conversation with Gavin Friday – Part 2

In this second part of the interview, Gavin explains more about the process of remastering the recordings and takes us through some of the other changes in the format of the material.Virginprunes.com: For Virgin Prunes completists, one of the most exciting things about the new CDs is the appearance of the previously unreleased track Fádo. It seems to be similar to the track Apologia that you recorded for RTE’s Dave Fanning show in February 1982. Why was this originally not on the album and why have you chosen to include it now?

Gavin: Yes you are right, it is similar to the track ‘Apologia’ from the Fanning session. We planned to record it fully but never completed the words. It was performed only once at The One Show, Project Arts Centre, with the line ‘Heaven holds a place for you’ repeated numerous times. In the studio we even tried to get Dave-id to sing over it but all he came up with was ‘A long time ago…’. We mixed the track in a ‘dub-like’ manner and put it out as the B-side to Baby Turns Blue. When I was working on the restoration of the tapes, I found this mix. I thought it was beautifull [sic] and renamed it Fádo, which means ‘a long time ago’ in Irish. To me, it bookends the start of the Blue side and the album ends with Yeo.

Apologia as mentioned above has nothing at all to do with the Friday-Seezer song of the same title… Blame Oscar Wilde!

The sound quality is excellent, which I presume is down in part to the re-mastering and in part to more modern compression techniques. Sometimes older recordings sound disappointing on CD when played alongside newer material, but this all sounds great. For example, even allowing for the poor quality of the original cassettes, Din Glorious sounds much sharper than expected. How much work was put into polishing up the recordings and was this a fairly standard process with today’s technology or did you have to employ any special techniques?

I spent about six to eight weeks on the restoration and re mastering. Most of the tapes were damaged; seemingly a lot of 1980’s recordings are so because of a bad batch of multi-track tape. So you gotta ‘Bake’ – as I said, talk with an engineer… I wanted them to sound as fresh as the day we recorded them. Andrew Boland is the man who I put through the mincer to restore and what a great job he did – thanks Andrew. Not sure if he has recovered yet from spending three days working on Din Glorious… The Guys at the Exchange also did a great job at mastering. Brilliant Guys. Also THANKS to Mute, who went the whole hog regards the restoration and mastering. Not many care… they do.

There is some noticeable tape hiss on several tracks. Was there a conscious decision to leave this in place, or was it technically impossible to remove without compromising the clarity of the material?

It drove us fuckin’ crazy. It was technically impossible to remove the hiss. The early recordings were made so quickly and cheaply and in the strangest of ways – you wouldn’t believe if I told you… I had the choice of making them sound big and bold with hiss, or small and dead with a tiny bit of hiss. I went for the former. I was told by a cutting engineer once that if you hear the hiss you are not getting lost in the music. So… what hiss?

Out of interest, where were the original master tapes of the material stored – is it somewhere as basic as the top shelf of your wardrobe, or are there specialised storage facilities for this kind of thing? Did you have any difficulties locating any of the tapes?

Most are stored in Dublin, some with Mute. They are in a safe place. Some multi-tracks I am still trying to locate, along with the missing artwork. Yes, there was difficulties in getting them all together.

In Rolf Vasellari’s book The Faculties Of A Broken Heart, Dik explains that the band was unhappy with Colin Newman’s production of the tracks on the “blue” side of the original vinyl album version of …If I Die, I Die. Why choose him, of all people, to remix Baby Turns Blue if you hadn’t been happy with his original work for you?

Yes, at the time we were unhappy with some of the Blue side, especially Walls of Jericho and Caucasian Walk. We always loved Baby Turns Blue, as we saw it as a pop song. We all loved his production on it. The brown side is magic. It was the band’s aggressive vibe we felt was tamed down. Still, listening to the CD today, it’s pretty vibey. Colin did an amazing job all those years ago. It was no easy task working with the six of us way back then. Theme for Thought sounds amazing. So as regards the re-mix, he did a great job then, so better the devil you know… And the new re-mix is fantastic – simple, very stripped down and addictive. I love it.

On the re-release of … If I Die, I Die the “blue” tracks sound much stronger. Did you make a conscious effort to change the sound of these specific tracks, or was this just a side-effect of the overall sound enhancement process?

I wanted all the music to sound strong. It’s all down to the restoration and mastering. In many ways I feel the work in general was never properly mastered in the first place. To me, making the music sound the way we wanted it was by far my biggest goal with the re-issues.

Who is the “ILOVEYOU” woman in the Heresie CD insert’s centrefold?

Her name is Alice. She worked in the Iveagh Markets. Myself and Tommy the Bottle of Milk [a fellow Lypton Village member] befriended her. We used to buy second-hand clothes off her. We christened her ‘The Kettle Woman’. And yes, the only-performed-once (at The One Shows) ‘A Song for Alice’ was written about her. She is what we call in every sense a true ‘Virgin Prune’.

There was an early version of I Am God played in a 1983 BBC Radio One interview that included Guggi’s vocals rather than Lady Blennerhassett’s, did you consider using this mix or was that always just a demo version of the song?

Don’t know what interview that is, I’d love to hear it??? WOW? Burn us a copy? This was the only mix remaining that I could find. Guggi was no longer with the band when we got to [the] mixing stages. A very difficult DIVORCE album was the Moon…

Why rename “Don’t Look Back” to The Tortured Heart? It sounds slightly different, is this just down to the remastering or is it actually a different version of the song?

It’s a slightly different mix, only very slightly. It was originally called The Tortured Heart and for some stupid reason I changed it to the other. When I found the master tapes, written on the cover of the box was The Tortured Heart. So like the [album] cover, I went back to how we originally wanted it.

Why use the 12″ of Love Lasts Forever on the re-release of The Moon Looked Down And Laughed and put the 7″ single version, originally on this album, onto Over The Rainbow?

‘Our love will last forever until the day it dies’ was never a 12″ mix, it was the first and original mix Flood did for the album. It was how it was written. We loved it. Regards the ‘Moon’, this is the closest to how the whole album was to be before the band started to implode. I truly wanted the music to be as we as a band – a six piece band at that time – wanted the album to be. When we were finally putting the album out – and at that time not only Guggi had gone but also Dik – it was decided to put the edited version/more standard version on, for what fucked up reason I don’t know. Maybe the same fucked up reason that has me in a Butlins uniform on the cover. This was a very difficult time for the band. So ‘Our love will last forever until the day it dies’ is back where it really belongs, like Guggi on the cover – where he really belongs. And it sounds fantastic, don’t ya think? I put the single version on Rainbow in case anyone missed it.

Who is the girl/woman in the white dress in the centre spread of the Over The Rainbow CD insert booklet?

It is Guggi and Strongman’s sister Gwen, taken on Cedarwood Road. The event, her reaction to first hearing Twenty Tens…

Some of the titles of the Din Glorious tracks are different to the titles given on the Italian vinyl re-release of Din Glorious from the 1980s (e.g. Bo-prune as opposed to Bodhran). The original cassette never contained any titles on its insert. Were the Italian album’s titles inaccurate, or have you chosen to rename certain tracks due to the fluid nature of the performance?

To be totally honest, I couldn’t get my hands on the Italian version. Anyone out there want to give Gavin a copy? [Before a million offers start flooding in, Virginprunes.com has subsequently obliged.] So all the titles came from memory. Put it down to me getting old, sorry about that. I was tempted to have no titles.

The baby’s face that you used as the logo for the Baby Records releases also appears in the Over The Rainbow insert. Is this a picture or a drawing? Where is it from?

Virgin Prunes ‘BABY’… It is an original Victorian painting I bought twenty-five years ago. It was first used as a flyer to promote early Project Arts Centre performances. We called our one off label after it. Basically it was the band’s mascot, it was always with us, on our stages and in the tour bus and in the recording studios. It survived a very extraordinary and difficult youth and now happily lives on the wall of my hall and it hasn’t aged at all.

What do you understand to be the commercial proposition for Mute re-releasing Virgin Prunes material in 2004? Is it expected to make a profit in its own right, or it is more a case of bolstering their overall brand value by enhancing their back catalogue? (In other words, are they doing it for love or for money?)

Who knows if the re-releases will make a profit or not. I am just so happy we found a true resting place for this work and that it looks and sounds GREAT and that it is available to all who want it. I am very proud of our past. Mute have been fantastic, it has been a true pleasure to work with such a professional team WHO LOVE MUSIC. Olivier, the project’s curator, has given his fair share of blood, sweat and tears. He’s a saint, a hero. Huge respect! A LABOUR OF LOVE. I think we fit in fairly comfortably with the Mute catalog. The rest is in the lap of the gods. If it does make money, well and good… and that will be a first for Virgin Prunes.

In the final part of the interview on Friday, we find out more about some of the characters and the “bo-prune” language in the songs, talk about what might happen next and ask Gavin for his thoughts on the band with twenty years’ hindsight.