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Influences and song explanations

There were many direct and indirect influences on the music that the Virgin Prunes produced and this list is by no means exhaustive. It also includes some appropriate interview excerpts. The band often refused to discuss what they were “about”, insisting that they didn’t want to tell people what to think. Nevertheless, on several occasions they were happy to explain the ideas behind their songs and performances.

Twenty Tens

“It’s a conversation. I meet you. Hello. Ah DARLING so nice to meet you! And both the parties hate each other but they both talk because they feel obliged to.”
– Gavin, in “Music in a Doll’s House”, an interview with Dave McCollough in Sounds, 7 February 1981
The title presumably refers to the act of smoking a packet of twenty “John Player No. 10” (?) cigarettes. Gavin used the tobacco motif again in the title of his 1995 solo album Shag Tobacco.

Red Nettle

“Geoff Travis came to us and asked us for something for C81. It was at a time when we were very anti-groups, and he played us loads of tracks by different bands and said ‘now you get a good track in there’. So we did totally the opposite – not arrogant to blow heads, but to say that we’re not the new pop sound of Ireland. Basically Red Nettle is just a very simple piece. It’s very easy on the head, not aggressive. Dik had his theories about what it was and said it was the Jews’ flight into exile, but really it’s just a very atmospheric piece.”
– Gavin, in the sleevenotes to the Over the Rainbow album, released in 1985
The same sleevenotes give small excerpts from the lyrics of all of the songs. For Red Nettle, the Biblical reference “John:3:16” is given. To save you the trouble of looking it up: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotton Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Third Secret

“We were asked to do something for Cherry Red’s Perspectives and Distortion album. I was reading at the time about the third secret of Fatima – which is what it’s about. We went into a church and recorded women praying – you can hear that underneath very low. And then we were in the Douglas Hyde Gallery and there was an exhibition of scaffolding. It was Dik’s idea – how about us blindfolding ourselves, getting iron bars and climbing the scaffolding. So we did it and a couple of us nearly broke our necks. We mixed it down with some piano chords. It’s more or less a comment on the religious fanaticism of places like Lourdes, and on Fatima – the blind lead the blind.”
– Gavin, in the sleevenotes to the Over the Rainbow album, released in 1985

Jigsawmentallama

“There was this character we used to know in the Dublin Meat Packers. An old obsession of the band’s was to put words on people – not in a condescending way, but in the way we have names and words for the band. We used to call him Jigsawmentallama because he looked like a llama and a bit sort of insane – our usual obsession with meeting people who are hobos or slightly touched. 1981 was a very experimental phase for the band when we weren’t doing many concerts. We were messing around in the Beautifull House where we would make soundtracvks for imaginary films and we actually recorded a soundtrack for this bloke. As with Mad Bird in the Wood we would have various pieces done up over a period in the Beautifull House. Vinyl contacted us and they wanted something experimental. We really liked Jigsawmentallama so we said they can have this.”
– Gavin, in the sleevenotes to the Over the Rainbow album, released in 1985

Mad Bird in the Wood

“Almost like a perverse experiment in humour in one way. It was in the Beautifull House and pigeons used to break in and they couldn’t get out. During the night they’d beat themselves against the wall. So we hung up a load of microphones that swung and gave feedback, and we tape-recorded the birds. We left the tape rolling for a few hours and we actually had birds committing suicide. It’s very heavy but there was nothing we could do to stop them – they were getting in through the roof.”
– Gavin, in the sleevenotes to the Over the Rainbow album, released in 1985

Moments and Mine (Despite Straight Lines)

Despite Straight Lines was one of the working titles for David Bowie’s Lodger album. It was also used for Boy George’s friend Marilyn’s album.

Sandpaper Lullabye

“This song is about a girl who is looked upon as a freak. She’s the girl with bucked teeth and she’s fat (suffers from glandular trouble). Other girls can have boyfriends and wear dresses but she can’t – she’s pushed to the side and nobody seems to care. She’s ignored and is not loved by anyone.”
– Gavin, in an unidentified article about the band’s New Form of Beauty performances at the Douglas Hyde Gallery.

The Beast

Bear in mind the lyrics “I can’t see, I can’t see, the blind leading the blind”, then see the section on Third Secret above.

The line “This could be hell with the devil in my head”, is also a line in Nick Cave’s poem on the back of The Birthday Party album Prayers on Fire.

No Birds to Fly

The lines “the time has come to talk of things, of shoes and bells and wedding rings” (used in the Virgin Prunes’ No Birds to Fly and Gavin Friday’s Why Say Goodbye) are very similar to The Walrus and The Carpenter from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The third verse of this poem is: “The sea was wet as wet could be, the sand was dry as dry. You could not see a could, because no cloud was in the sky: no birds were flying overhead – there were no birds to fly.” The eleventh verse is “‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things: of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax – of cabbages – and kings – and why the sea is boiling hot – and whether pigs have wings.”

The Happy Dead

“This was around when we were doing things like The Beast. At that time there was to be a video to A New Form of Beauty and we wanted to make some soundtracks for it, so basically this was a proposed section. Also part of it was the soundtrack for the A New Form of Beauty exhibition in the Douglas Hyde Gallery. Parts 1 – 4 – the records, the cassette – were all finished before the exhibition came up, so this was recorded with the exhibition and the video in mind.”
– Gavin, in the sleevenotes to the Over the Rainbow album, released in 1985

Come to Daddy

“Come to Daddy looks at the things a woman has to go through – women who have had loads of kids and who find that love is now gone. Their dreams and ambitions slowly fade away. There’s a certain tragedy here. But there is always something very strong about women – they have guts. It’s like if you put a man in a woman’s situation he’d crack up – he wouldn’t be able to go through the hardship.”
Gavin, in an unidentified article about the band’s New Form of Beauty performances at the Douglas Hyde Gallery.

Down the Memory Lane

“The whole essence of that is the band’s sense of humour. As in taking a typical cliched title like Memory Lane, and the band’s biggest preoccupation when they’re having a drink is to get together, have a slagging match and sing. It’s exposing that side – the breakdown of cool. The point of the accordion is that you get all the ould ones and the ould feller and they go ‘ah, here’s the accordion’, la la la, clap hands – the whole out of timeness and out of tune accordion. If you ever listen to ballad sessions, they’re horrendous, but it’s being involved that’s important. We had a great time recording that, capturing the spirit of… it’s Irish, very much, but I also see it going a little bit further.”
– Gavin, in the sleevenotes to the Over the Rainbow album, released in 1985

Loved One

Evelyn Waugh wrote a book called The Loved One (about a pet crematorium, as far as I remember). The Virgin Prunes wrote a song called Loved One. Yes, I agree this one is a long shot.

Caucasian Walk

“… what it is basically is quotes, quotes from people we heard talking, sayings we’ve heard… we just got sentences that we liked, that we were familiar with, and joined them together… it means nothing.”
Gavin, in Alternative Megazine issue 8, February 1984.

Theme for Thought

Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol is quoted at length in Theme for Thought and also forms the basis of Gavin Friday’s song Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves.

Gavin has admitted to a fondness for The Pop Group on several occasions. Their song Words Disobey Me (from their first album, Y, released in 1979) may have influenced the line “words they betray me” in Theme for Thought and almost definitely influenced the lines “love is just a word, and words disobey” in Gavin’s Love is Just a Word.

Theme for Thought includes the lines “Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me, but stay with me”. Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot includes the lines “Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!”.

Gavin would often use the line “life is a cabaret” in live versions of this song, which unsurprisingly comes from one of the songs in the film Cabaret.

Baby Turns Blue

“It’s about this girl we know who died of a heroin overdose. And by the time they’d found her, she’d turned blue… a serious and sad story, but all the local auld biddies were gossiping about it, trying to explain it away, as if talking about it could melt away or gloss over the unpleasant home truths, that it had touched their lives, that it could happen to them. It’s a singalonga Prune song to show the blase way ordinary people cope, they chew over and trivialise them so they can distance them from their own lives, that’s why the tune of the song is so song-song…”
– Gavin, in “Dressed to Kill”, an interview with Helen Fitzgerald in Sounds, 11 December 1982.

The King of Junk

“Dave-id had made up this story. And the name of the story was The King of Junk. The band had written this really child-like pop song so we wrote these lyrics based around Dave-id’s story. We know this guy called Shay Healy – who wrote Johnny Logan’s Eurovision winner – and he went crazy about it. He tried to get it on children’s television in Ireland but it ended up that they thought the word ‘junk’ had a lot of different meanings coming written by a band called Virgin Prunes. That put them off.”
– Gavin, in the sleevenotes to the Over the Rainbow album, released in 1985

Just a Love Song

“We were in the studio with Dave Ball and Flood and we were talking about Barry Manilow and things like that, slagging all this ‘oh, I love you’ type of thing – totally over the top, totally heartless. And Davey – who has very crass musical taste – said ‘no, they really mean what they say, I wrote a song just like Barry Manilow’. So we said ‘come on then – let’s hear it’. And he went into the studio and we said we’ll tape it for a laugh and play it back. And he did it and it was brilliant!”
– Gavin, in the sleevenotes to the Over the Rainbow album, released in 1985

Sons Find Devils

Listen to Mario Lanza singing Drink, Drink, Drink and then listen to the track Sons Find Devils. The shared beginning of “Drink! Drink! Drink…” doesn’t look very convincing in print, but when you hear the tempo of the song it’s unmistakeable. Backstage at Cologne on 8 October 1995, Gavin offered the following explanation: “Oh… such a mental fucking song… not consciously. Myself and Dik came up with those melodies. Subconsciously there is probably some sort of old Sunday movie in the back of my head from RTE, in the late 70s, and Mario Lanza was always fuckin’ on. Subconsciously, yes. Consciously, no.”

The Moon Looked Down and Laughed

In The Moon Looked Down and Laughed, the lines “oh blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a love of my own” come from the famous and well-known song Blue Moon. Embarrassingly, the name of the singer and/or writer temporarily escapes me… Bobby Darin…? Also note Gavin Friday’s 1996 contribution to The Heads’ album, Blue Blue Moon.

I am God

“…is feeling nobody understands me, nobody feels me, I am nothing and building yourself up to… I am myself… I am God.”
– Gavin, in “The New Virgins”, an interview with Audrey Gaughran in the Hot Press, 11 September 1986

Never Ending Story

Leonard Cohen’s hilarious track Diamonds in the Mine begins with “The woman in blue, she’s asking for revenge. The man in white – that’s you – says he has no friends”. Never Ending Story includes the lines “The girl is in black, she says she wants revenge; the boy is in blue, he says he’s got no friends”.