The former Virgin Prune has a seriously busy 2016 ahead of him
Gavin Friday is in the finishing stages of recording his fifth studio album, his first since 2011’s widely acclaimed catholic. Fresh from art-directing U2’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour, the 56-year-old Dubliner is also working on another solo album, as well as a 1916-themed art installation paying homage to Roger Casement.
Speaking to Hot Press’ Olaf Tyaransen from Dublin’s Temple Lane Studios, the former Virgin Prunes frontman says, “I’m working on a few things at the moment, but I usually tend to just keep the head down until things are finished. There’s an engineer I’ve been working with called Michael Heffernan, and he’s pretty gifted and brilliant. I’ve worked with him on various things for about three years, on and off.”
Most of the forthcoming album, which sees the Dubliner experimenting with electronica, has been recorded in London with two collaborators. “I’ve actually not really spoken to anyone about it. It’s mainly electronic, but I’ve some sessions here in Dublin with musicians that I use a lot, especially Kate Ellis who’s the cello player. So there was a lot of traditional, classical elements blended with electronic. So it’s a new avenue I’m going up.”
Friday has yet to title the album. “I never christen it until I have it finished, mixed and then it tells you. With catholic I didn’t know what I was going to call it until it was done. So no, but I’m pushing to get it finished before this real summer kicks in and see when I get it out. I’m doing it all myself, there’s no label at the moment but we have my manager, who’s a British guy. We have three or four interested parties. It won’t be with Ruby Works, who I worked with the last time, it will be most likely an English company.”
Amazingly, that electronica album aside, there’s also another Gavin Friday album in the works.
“Yeah, just to make things more complex, there’s another album I’m halfway through with Jolie and Vaughan Thomas - who’s Ken Thomas’ son who engineered catholic. He’s a guitarist and a drummer so we just started writing together. After this electronic album I’m going to kick into making an album because… imagine a Gavin Friday album with nothing but guitars, drums and bass? There’s no logic to this, but I’m wired and I’m fired up. Sometimes when you’re in very high intense situations, you get more intensified with your own work.”
Given the year that’s in it, the singer is also working on The Casement Sonata, a long poetic work in musical form, examining the life, imprisonment and death of Roger Casement. Casement was a British diplomat of Irish extraction, humanitarian activist, Irish nationalist and poet who was executed for treason in 1916.
“You can describe it as a musical, poetic, soundtrack homage,” Friday explains. “It’s basically a spoken-word musical installation - a strange project in that it’s turned into a lot bigger than what I thought it would be. I got into Casement just before I put catholic out.
“I was really blown out by his humanitarian stuff, the work he did. He was a pet favourite of Queen Victoria too so he was almost an Oscar Wilde character in certain ways, but far more politically motivated. He set down a lot of the train tracks for human rights issues in Africa when he worked in the Congo and then in Peru.
“It was modernist, futuristic thinking and then his sexuality being a complex thing, it was what they fucking got him on in the end. His execution for British law. When the Padraig Pearse’s and the Connolly’s were executed the international and national outcry was so huge that it made the Rising successful, basically. So they went ‘we can’t fucking kill this bastard’ because they brought him to London.
“He was caught on Good Friday before the Rising, he was smuggling guns over from Germany and he was caught. So they brought him over and decided they couldn’t hang him on that so they found his diaries and his sexual exploits when he was in Africa and they published them in The Times. So it was a bit of an Oscar Wilde case and they hung him because he was seen for High Treason. It sort of kicked off from that.”
Friday expects to unveil The Casement Sonata in August. “It’s basically going to be an installation where you walk in and see imagery around the last 6 months of his life and you will hear a narrative/score in this room. So it’s a movie without it moving. We’re still looking at potential locations, but it’ll almost definitely be in an art gallery.”
Friday’s surge of artistic activity could perhaps be ascribed to the fact that he was busy directing U2’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour for the last two years. Would he say he was distracted by all the U2 stuff?
“Well you don’t get distracted because the weird thing is I’ve been doing this since forever in a weird way,” he laughs. “We’ve been dealing with each other work-wise and song-wise in that we beat each other up about our work when you play it, just as you do when you’re an 18 year old saying, ‘that’s great but the chorus isn’t good enough!’ That kind of shit has been going on forever.
“Since Joshua Tree, though, I’ve been part of the creative team in working on putting the shows up,” he continues. “This was such an ambitious tour, the pre-production was a lot of work. There was time-out where you’re not here for a couple of months but I knew it was going to take that time. So yeah, it did slow down stuff but what was great was that I worked very intensely on the Gavin Friday album in London and I went back to it just this year and started looking at it with different perspective and I was glad I didn’t finish it this time last year. I was glad I was away working with the U2 boys, but I always stick in my own stuff.
“I always will find time for my own stuff. I do what I want to do and I’m very lucky to be able to do that. That sounds arrogant, but I don’t like following the straight road. I like going up around the coast, up the hills, sometimes to the moon.”
Has he heard any of the Songs of Experience material?
“I’ve heard some stuff,” he admits. “U2 tend to work from A-Z and you’ll go, ‘Wow, there’s 26 fucking amazing things here, there’s three albums here!’ And then suddenly you won’t know what the fucking album is until they decide ‘these are the 12 songs we’re mixing.’ They’re really productive, and there’s so much stuff that they didn’t put on Songs of Innocence, so I would not like to be the anthologist that tries to put that together when they’re all gone like The Beatles. It would probably take 1000 years to put together. I have heard it and it’s exciting. It’s more aggressive than the last album.”
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