“Bono calls me regularly if he can’t come up with a song”

A deluxe reissue of the album was released last week …If I Die, I Die from the Virgin Prunes from 1982. Singer Gavin Friday’s band originated from the same group of friends as U2, but as an avant-garde opposite.

Gijsbert Room

In his autobiography, published earlier this month Surrender – 40 Songs, One Story Bono tells extensively about the club of friends that formed in Dublin about fifty years ago. They invented the city of Lypton Village themselves, in which they spoke their own language. The imaginary town would spawn two bands: Bono’s rock group U2 and its more avant-garde counterpart Virgin Prunes (1977-1986), whose lead singer was Gavin Friday before going solo.

Friday (63) is not only still friends with Bono, but has also been involved with U2 for more than forty years as an advisor or ‘midwife’, as Bono calls him.

“That qualification is for him,” says Friday laughing in a New York hotel room where he talks via Zoom about the re-release of …If I Die, I Die, Virgin Prunes’ 1982 album. An event that coincides nicely with the publication of Bono’s memoirs. The book and the poster give a nice picture of Dublin in the early eighties.

The Virgin Prunes around the appearance of ‘…If I Die, I Die’Sculpture Ursula Steiger

‘Ireland was really under the spell of Catholicism at the time. It was a political and religious one fucked up country. I lived on the same street as Bono and Guggi, my later partner in Virgin Prunes. In a nutshell: Bono started with guitarist The Edge U2 and I formed the band Virgin Prunes with Edge’s brother Dik and Guggi. U2 was more of a real rock band, we wanted theatre, art and music to come together in an anarchic way. Everything was born out of anger at the religious oppression, which I had really felt as a boy. We wanted to bring pagan and Celtic elements back to theater and music, and made a delicious mess of it. Dressing up and painting on stage, in dresses or running naked across the stage. It was a mess, but around 1980 we made a name for ourselves, thanks to performances with Nick Cave’s Birthday Party, who were just as eager to disrupt.’

Virgin Prunes got a record deal and a producer, Colin Newman, who knew Friday from the post-punk band Wire he admired. ‘We were anti-everything, so also anti-producer, but I’m glad that we went with Newman at the insistence of the record company. He disciplined us and brought out the best in us with the simplest instructions.’

null Statue Ursula Steiger

Sculpture Ursula Steiger

…If I Die, I Die had a brown, mystical record side and a blue, more rock song oriented half. Friday: ‘I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to everything before remastering. Okay, that song side has those typical echoing eighties drums. But the first half influenced by Celtic folk and dark gothic music is really beautiful. Such a title as Ulakanakulot came straight out of the language we spoke in Lypton Village.”

There was not much contact between Bono and Friday in those years. ‘Between 1980 and 1985 Virgin Prunes and U2 followed their own path. I saw U2 become really famous and I was proud too. I didn’t have such great ambitions myself. I was mostly angry and I wanted to turn that anger into something beautiful. A New Form of Beauty, as we called it. Expression came out of regression, and when I now hear what we sang about in songs like Baby Turns Blue, self-harm, suicide among young people and gender fluidity, those topics are still topical.’

Bono wanted to go in a completely different direction with U2. ‘He liked to embrace his audience, we preferred to disrupt. But the club of friends in Lypton Village has always existed. Bono still calls me regularly when he, I can hardly pronounce it but come on, needs his midwife. I’m here for U2 if they don’t come up with a song. Then I say: do this or that, or I’ll just sing something, and then hop, then that song is suddenly finished. It has been this way for more than forty years. Most of the time they don’t need me, but sometimes I say, Bono, where’s the chorus?’

For tours like the one accompanying the album Achung Baby (1991) Friday was employed as a visual consultant, and together with Anton Corbijn, Friday designed the photo section in Bono’s book.

“Bono likes to have me everywhere. Also yesterday, when he presented his book here in New York at the Beacon Theater. That’s so obvious, as it goes in friendships. But I’m not going to run after him for an entire tour. I’m going to wrap up my new album here, which should be out in the middle of next year. I notice that I have a lot of anger in me again, just like in the time of the Virgin Prunes. No more about Ireland, which is now a well-liberalized country. But the encroachment of the ultra-right everywhere, including you, worries me. We are entering the same dark age as the late 1970s and early 1980s. To escape that, we made forty years ago … If I Die, I Die. That album actually fits very well with this time.

null Statue Ursula Steiger

Sculpture Ursula Steiger

Virgin Prunes …If I Die, I Die. BMG, various formats.

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