In Rough Trade’s London HQ the Virgin Prunes are seated on old chairs and stacks of telex books, gathered around the tape-recorder. Guggi is busy grooming his nails, Mary studies his rhythmically dangling legs, Dik leans backwards, apparently relaxed, from the tip of his chair Dave-id observes the scene, his eyes nervously darting around and Strongman declares that he really wants to go out and have his nose pierced today. He wants to have a ring put through it. It appears to be impossible to find someone in Ireland to do it.
Gavin is willing to explain what the Virgin Prunes are about. With a dreamy look in his eyes and elegant gestures he declares that it’s all in the head, it’s about the vibe, the group process escaping from the individual, things that cannot be said in words. I nod understandingly and ask myself where I’ve heard that before.
Gavin: There really is so much to say, I just don’t know where to start.
Vinyl: In Dublin for example. Are you all from Dublin?
Gavin: We all live there, but three of us were born in England. We all come from the same part of Dublin and knew each other years before our first gig together when we supported The Clash, late ’78. It wasn’t like getting a band together, performing and making records. It was six people who’d known each other a long time and ended up on stage together.
Vinyl: Just like that? I mean, you must have had ideas of what you were doing?
Gavin: What we did was being who we are. Expressing ourselves.
Vinyl: And you thought it necessary do do that on stage, in public?
Gavin: Yeah, because we think we’re special and we want to communicate something to the audience through our performance.
Vinyl: What do you want to communicate?
Gavin: It depends. Our first performances basically dealt with sexual frustrations. Sex was on our minds at that time. We have an image of what we want to say and we try to say it as clearly and spontaneously as we can. But the first time we didn’t even get the chance to finish the performance. After a few minutes the promoters thought we’d had enough time and they pulled the plug. Something similar happened to us at the Futurama festival a few weeks back, where they cut the power halfway through the show. But they won’t get us off the stage with that any more. They’ll have to carry us off. At the Futurama gig our normal set would have lasted 30 minutes, but now we stayed on for over an hour, without sound, but…
Vinyl: Has your name got something to do with those sexual frustrations you were talking about?
Gavin: In a way… At school we used ‘to prune yourself’ for wanking, but that’s not really where it comes from. Guggi will explain our name to you.
Guggi: Do I really have to?
Gavin: Yes, you do.
Guggi: Well… I think a virgin prune is… it’s hard to explain what a virgin prune is… but… a virgin prune is a certain type of person. Our manager is a virgin prune and we’re working on a book in which you’ll find a lot of photos of prunes, that’ll give you a good idea. The book will clear up a lot of things we can’t say.
Gavin: There is a certain kind of mentality, a type of behaviour. It’s probably very common but it stands out in Dublin. A way of approaching sex that is very hmmmppffrr! (Produces series of strange noises.) Like animals, he- and she-animals. That struck us and we related to it in our performances, especially the early ones.
Gavin: You wanna talk about who we are and what we want? Not about loose facts? That’s difficult… Dave-id, what are you?
Dave-id Busarus Scott Hamster String Logical Gardens 1981, 159 and 1991 awakens from his reverie, almost falls off his chair but finds his balance again.
Dave-id: What I am? I’m a madman, I’m much too mad.
Gavin: It is so difficult to explain who you are, what you want. That’s very personal… you may make statements like: what we try to achieve is blah, blah, blah, a,b,c, and more bullshit and it looks great in print. I can say things, but what’s the use? What we do speaks for itself. We hardly have any conscious control over what we do on stage. It just happens. I can’t really talk about it properly, that’s the problem with interviews.
Vinyl: Interviews are ridiculous.
Gavin: Exactly and it always comes down to you saying things that you actually didn’t want to say at all. As a band you are caught between lots of suffocating cliche situations. Oh you’ve brought out two e.p.’s on Rough Trade, that’s fantastic! Then you bring out an album and they either love it or say it’s crap. Bullshit. We didn’t want that. After we’d done the second 7″ that we weren’t happy with at all, and after we’d fired a certain band member we weren’t happy with, we decided to do exactly what we want to do in future. It’s so easy to be carried away with things. Our first record was released and we played a few concerts and before we knew it we’d recorded a second record but we really hadn’t wanted to record a second record. We kicked that one person out the band and went our own way. We had certain ideas for a project with a number of different aspects. Like Sleep/Fantasy Dreams and Sandpaper Lullabye which has now been released as a 7″. We’ll soon release a 10″ and a 12″, different aspects of the same theme. And because they are all very different interpretations, the concept of releasing first a 7″, then a 10″ and then a 12″ is much better than putting it all together on one record. What’s going to be on the 12″ really is complete madness and it would never be on the same record as something like Sandpaper Lullabye. It’s hard to describe, you have to hear it. The book, which is part of the project, is meant to form the link between the different parts and also give an overview of the development of the band: photos, lyrics, drawings. The video is yet another aspect, we’ll probably make it around a track on the 12″. Making the video is still a problem and not very concrete. It’s unclear where the money that’s needed should come from. Genesis P. Orridge was interested in doing it, or helping us do it, but when… We’ll probably record it in the house we live in in Dublin.
The Beautifull House
Gavin: We live in a Beautifull House.
Dik: It’s dirty. We’ve been there two months but we haven’t got round to cleaning it. Still it’s beautiful. Lots of concrete walls with big holes.
Gavin: One side of the 12″ we recorded in the Beautifull House.
Dik: Very strange, we didn’t know what was going to happen at all and then, suddenly, it was recorded and ready on tape.
Gavin: We caught the atmosphere of the Beautifull House on tape.
Vinyl: What kind of a house is it? A squat?
Gavin: No, we rent it, but we don’t intend to pay the rent.
Dik: The rent is only one pound per person, per week.
Gavin: The Beautifull House is very big, four floors. Maybe you’ve seen videos of the place where Joy Division used to rehearse. It’s like that, but more beautiful and bigger. There are holes in the wall and pigeons fly in and go crazy because they can’t get out, they keep flying into the walls, until they drop. Dik recorded it… bam, bam, bam, bam… pigeons committing suicide. We use it on the record.
Vinyl: The project in question is called A New Form of Beauty, why?
Gavin: Because it’s a form of beauty nobody realised was beautiful before. It expresses what we see as being beautiful, our idea of beauty. Maybe there are more people who are on the same level as we are and see it too, but we present it as such. Of course it’s a very old concept. It’s comes from days long gone, from far above what the head can conceive. It’s what we see, what we feel, what interests us, it’s what we are and what we consider beautiful. And that’s not very beautiful in the conventional meaning of the word. We’re not talking flowers and angels, you know. The things we talk about aren’t nice at all, but if you look closely, on another level, they are beautiful… Oh shit, that’s not what I want to say! I don’t know how to explain it. And why should I? We did it, we recorded those records, we do the concerts. It is what it is, and that’s what it’s about. All those people running around all the time, like Genesis P. Orridge who comes in and goes blah, blah, blah, very good, blah, very interesting. It’s so irrelevant, it’s not about fucking words. It’s things you can’t fucking touch, it’s the head that’s important. Do you know what I mean? It’s important what happens to you and what you feel as a person when you see us play, or listen to our records. What we say isn’t important.
Vinyl: What are you going to do for that exhibition in the Douglas Hyde Gallery?
Gavin: We’ll create an environment with drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations, performances, again to express what we see as a new form of beauty and what we want to do is suck the audience into it, guide them through it for three hours and at the end the Virgin Prunes will perform. We’ll do that twice a day. We want to create an atmosphere, the vibes are important, the audience should get the opportunity to tune in to our wavelength. Only if that is achieved communication is possible. You should talk with us after tonight’s performance, I think it’ll make more sense, because both you and I will be on a completely different level.
The band support The Fall that night in a crummy venue at the North London Polytechnic, It’s the alternative night out for Rough Trade fans and students (one guy was studying with his head in the bass PA, I’m not kidding) but it’s not the time or the place for vibes and communication. The start is promising: Dave-id steals the show with a charming version of a song which is called LALA, if I remember it well. What follows fails to impress those present, including me. Boring, impotent, without any conviction. The band struggle through a series of sound collages and performance. Dresses, mud, flour, cliche upon cliche without any original moments. Even cutting off the power would be too much honour bestowed. It’s a big disappointment, this weak academy cabaret. And the records really are worth while. Afterwards the Prunes, defeated, covered in mud, flour and paint, sit in the dressing room.
Guggi: Nothing to be pleased about.
Mary: But Davey was fine.
Strongman: Yeah, Davey was fine.
The Rough Trade promotion team meanwhile tries to cheer up the band who are rightfully disappointed, with all the superlatives they can think of. You’re always depressed, I mean, you bloody well present a masterpiece and you’re depressed! It was OK, it was fine. I’ll tell you something, there were a couple of thousand people with a lot of empty bottles and not one of them threw one. They could have killed you. You were doing one of the most difficult sets imaginable. And it wasn’t exactly danceable, was it? I talked to several people who thought you were brilliant. It was OK! No it wasn’t ok, it was hopeless.
Dik: It was a disaster, I mean, it was so weak. It should have been better. We had no confidence and we didn’t enjoy it. Without a certain amount of self-confidence it’s impossible to play properly. We lacked conviction and power. Anyway, we’ll do better next time. We’re not used to doing gigs like this yet. But… do you think you are able to understand what we want to do a little better?
To be honest, no, absolutely not. But still the records are really worth while. Reason enough to give them the benefit of the doubt.
(roughly translated from Dutch)