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Virgin Prunes - Profile Part 1

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 16 / 11 / 2004

Virgin Prunes - Profile Part 1


In the first part of a two part series, Anthony Strutt profiles Irish new wave art collective the Virgin prunes and examines their debut album, 'A New Form of Beauty'

Introduction The Virgin Prunes were a new wave art collective who formed in Dublin in the late 70's. They were part of a tightly knit musical community called 'The Lypton Village Scene. This scene also spawned U2. The Virgin Prunes were fronted by Gavin Friday and also included at various points Guggi and Dave-ID (both vocals), Strongman (bass), Dik Evans (brother of U2's Edge, guitar, Mary O' Nellon (drums) and Pod (drums). All five of their albums, two of them double CDs, have been remastered and repacked, and re-released on Mute. 'A New Form of Beauty'(1981), one of the double CDs, is the first of these and has been released on CD for the first time. The first CD was originally released as a set of 7, 10 and 12 inch singles on Rough Trade, while the second CD appeared on cassette. 'If I Die, I Die' followed in 1982 and, again originally released on Rough Trade, is the easiest piece of work here to digest. It should appeal to fans of Goth/industrial music and of the Cure. 'Heresie', which came out initally on French label L' invitation au Suicide once more in 1982, consists of a studio performance art piece and is a followed by the recording of a gig in France which includes tracks from 'If I Die, I Die'. 'The Moon Looked Down and Laughed' was recorded in 1984 and finally released on small indie label Baby in 1986. It was produced by Soft Cell's Dave Ball and, the most commercial of all the band's albums, is a set of torch songs. The final release is 'Over the Rainbow', which was released again on Baby as a LP in 1985 and then as a CD in 1986. It is a double CD. The group. while it has reformed on various occasions since, and continued for a short while with Strongman and O' Nellon at the helm, effectively came to an end when Friday departed for a solo career in 1986. They are undoubtedly hard work, but definitely worth checking out. We will look in the next edition at the latter four albums in more detail, but this month will begin by looking at 'A New Form of Beauty'. More information can be found at www.virginprunes.com, www.gavinfriday.com, www.guggi.com, www.dave-id.com. 'A New Form of Beauty' (1981) All these remasters come in new super jewel plastic boxes. The double CDs come in boxes that sit on top of each other rather than fold out like the old double CD boxes. ‘A New Form of Beauty’ explores the beauty of love in both physical and musical form. Its cover is orange and shows a begging made up man. It doesn’t prepare you for the journey within, but hints that this in not going to be a pleasant trip. CD 1 The first CD consists of the records that originally appeared on the 7”, 10’ and 12”. The original 7” featured ‘Sandpaper Lullaby’ and ‘Sleep Fantasy Dreams’. ‘Sandpaper Lullaby’ is very new wave, and has a shy, narrative vocal from Gavin Friday. The guitar and keyboards are very basic, but get tighter and gel more together as the song progresses. ‘Sleep Fantasy Dreams’ is a torch style song which begins with a childlike innocence, but gets darker as the song progresses. It is lightly Gothic in style. The 10” single featured ‘Come to Daddy’, ‘Sweet Home Under White Clouds’ and ‘Sad World’. ‘Come to Daddy’ has a shouted vocal, and sounds something like PiL, but with a darker bass. The vocal is in a spoken word style and tells a story along the lines of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ Very dark in tone, it is exactly 10 minutes long. ‘‘Sweet Home Under White Clouds’ is very atmospheric in tone, and the vocals are sung like a sing-a-long but with an eerie feel. Friday’s lyrics on ‘Sad World’ tell of a screwed up relationship. A gentle piano opens up this song, while the guitar lines recall the early Echo and the Bunnymen. The original 12” consisted of ‘Beast’, ‘Abhagal’, ‘Brain Damage’ and ‘No Birds to Fly’. The lengthy ‘Beast’ opens up with what sounds like a demon from Hell crying out. When the music kicks in, it is backed by a war-like chanted vocal. which begins as being inaudible and becomes clearer as the song progresses. It is very dark in feel and as black as anything on the Cure’s “Pornography’. ‘Abhagal’ is quieter, but similarly dark and very Gothic in atmosphere like a horror instrumental soundtrack. '“Brain Damage’ is performance based and another very black tune. It finishes with ‘No Birds to Fly’ which recalls a child crying in an echoing street while the walls sing their evil. It is classic, like the soundtrack to a Hammer horror movie about Jack the Ripper. The bass is dark and the vocal is haunting and menacing. CD 2 The second CD consists of the recording that originally appeared on cassette tape, and is one track that lasts for 37 minutes and 33 seconds. The track begins sounding like a new wave number and a little like PiL, until demons invade from a TV set or at least it sounds like it. Next up there are Chinese drums, flying saucer noises and an ethereal vocal from Friday that recalls Alison Shaw of the Cranes. 10 minutes in and the noises coming out of the speakers sound like drumstricks on wood, and these are then followed by classical strings. 14 minutes and it starts sounding like the soundtrack of an Edgar Allan Poe adapted horror film with its eerie, ghost like vocals 17 minutes in and it begins to sound like the Cure’s “Killing An Arab’, but far madder, and then the sound claps out all together and there is nothing bar the odd background noise. Another 5 minutes go by and an organ cries out in pain and there is a sad vocal. 24 minutes in, and a full band starts up. 27 minutes in and it goes into 'Alien’ movie territory. Friday’s child-like singing is backed up by a dark bass making the odd beat. 31 minutes in and the sound of a whip crackles and a man cries out. Nursery-type rhymes are sung against the backdrop of a once more dark bass and drumsticks which once more sound like they are being knocked on wood. The vocal appears distorted and then ticking of a clock and the noise of an audience clapping ends the songs. It has been hard work, but is it music or art ? Art, I would definitely say.

Picture Gallery:-
Virgin Prunes - Profile Part 1

Virgin Prunes - Profile Part 1

Virgin Prunes - Profile Part 1

Virgin Prunes - Profile Part 1

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Profile Part 2 (2005)
Virgin Prunes - Profile Part 2
In the conclusive part of our two part feature on the experimental Irish art rockers the Virgin Prunes, Anthony Strutt looks at their three of their latter albums,'...If I Die, I Die', 'Heresie' and 'The Moon Looked Down and Laughed'

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