Gavin Friday: Thief of My Heart

Published on January 30th, 2010 in: Issues, Kiss Me I'm Irish, Music, Music Reviews, Retrovirus |

By Julie Finley

I remember it like it was yesterday. It had to have been the end of 1991 as I was still in tenth grade, and I remember there being snow on the ground. It was probably shortly after Christmas, because I can’t recall having enough money to buy more than one album at a time; even if they were used & in the bargain bin, I still rarely had over $10 on me at any given time. I usually starved myself in high school by not spending at least some of my lunch money just so I could buy whatever music I could, because I had priorities.

each man kills

There was this small record store in my shitty small hometown called Music Plus (and then changed its name to Listen Up for reasons I do not know), but it was the most accessible record store in town, and they sold used stuff, which cut down the cost burden on my very limited budget. I spent more time than money in that place! It is obviously now defunct: god rest its ass!

Anyhow, back to my initial train of thought: at this one particular time I scoured the bargain bin, and came up with more than one item. I also was able to acquire Gene Loves Jezebel’s Immigrant, The Orb’s Little White Fluffy Clouds 12″, Front 242’s Rhythm of Time 12″, (all on vinyl), and Elvis Hitler’s Supersadomasochisticexpialidocious on cassette tape (which ended up stolen later on). Yes, sounds like an out-of-print gold mine (and I spent probably seven bucks total)!

However, those items weren’t the thief of my heart; it was the one extra item I picked up randomly, solely because I liked the imagery on the cover and the song titles. . . and that item was Gavin Friday’s Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves on vinyl for one dollar! It was probably one of the best spent dollars in history!

adam n eve

I had no idea who Gavin was, as I had never heard of him. I asked a few friends when I chit-chatted on the phone later that evening if they knew who he was. . . no dice! So this was going to be a journey on my own. In retrospect, if I had never bought that album, I don’t know if I would’ve ever come across Gavin’s work since he’s pretty fucking obscure! He’s not a household name, nor is he well-known even amongst music snobs (which is something I guess I became over time). Back then, I didn’t own enough music to be particularly nerdy about, but I certainly had those tendencies in the works!

I finally got around to listening to the album when we had a “snow day” off from school, and I’m not sure if it was the isolation of being in a small town in the dead of winter or possibly being a teenager that daydreamed of foreign lands and ideas, but this album burrowed under my skin like scabies! Now that doesn’t sound like a nice metaphor, but it’s a hyperbolic example of my sincerity.

From the first vocal inflection on Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves, it felt like everything was in slow motion! I remember listening to the record at least four times in a row, lying in my bed, occasionally glancing out of my window to gauge how deep the snow was piling up. This album was just so comforting, and pure exquisite beauty to my ears.

The photo of Gavin on the cover isn’t too clear (grainy black & white Anton Corbijn fare), and you can’t really tell what he looks like, but you can see enough to fall in love with his ghostly image (although his voice alone made me fall in love; I didn’t need to know what he looked like). His voice was soft & smoky one moment, harsh & sarcastic the next, plus it had the ability to croon in these falsetto octaves that were almost angelic! It reminded me of a cross between Bono and Peter Gabriel, but the lyrical content and personality were much more emotional, enigmatic, and expressive. Not to mention the voice didn’t shy away from profanities, in fact, it used them poetically! It was perfect!

virgin prunes moon looked down

It would prove to be very difficult to figure out who Gavin Friday really was for some time. The Internet was only limited to bulletin boards, so it wasn’t as easy as just Googling his name. Music magazines were also scarce in my area, and Alternative Press was probably the only way I would ever discover anything of interest (sadly, I never read about him there, either). So I had this exceptional record by what seemed like an anonymous artist, and it was truly eating away at me! Due to no further clues of a discography, I had to preoccupy my time with other obsessions, and come back to that one when hopefully more information would surface. It was truly a cold case for at least a year.

Then one night (I believe it was yet again in the winter, but in the beginning of 1993), Peter Gabriel was hosting 120 Minutes on MTV. Well, I always liked Peter, so of course I watched it (even though it was a Sunday night and I had to go to school the next day)! As I’m barely keeping my eyes open (and trying not to awaken any of my family), Peter introduces the last video of the night by the “ex-singer of the Irish band, Virgin Prunes” and it was Gavin Friday!

I had no idea he was a previous singer of any band, let alone Irish, too! They played the video for “King of Trash” from his new album Adam ‘n’ Eve. My jaw pretty much hit the floor! Not only was this a new song, I finally got to see what he looked like and then I really fell in love!

He reminded me of a cross between Bono and Morrissey, but dressed better than both of them! He was very theatrical, too. There was so much charisma shooting through that TV screen, that I was truly beguiled! I had to have this new album! It proved to be very hard to find, but I finally did almost a year after that (and it was on cassette, which by then, was just starting to become extinct).

I listened to the tape until it melted in my cheap GPX brand Walkman. I couldn’t find it again until after I was out of high school and managing a shitty local record store, so I was able to special order it. This was around 1995, and in that shipment from Island Records, they included ads for upcoming releases, and Gavin Friday’s Shag Tobacco was coming up within the next six months. (Unfortunately, the place went out of business before then, so yet again, this was tough to find!)

shag tobacco

At this point, I had bought some lame Goth book and compilation just because Virgin Prunes’ “Pagan Love Song” was on it. I was totally obsessed with that song, and obsessed with finding anything by them! Virgin Prunes proved to be harder to track down than Gavin’s solo work (I am still trying to track it all down, and have been marginally successful at finding stuff by a band that had no American distribution). I ended up ordering Shag Tobacco from a pretty awesome store that was in a really shitty neighboring town.

This particular store had a basement full of stuff that was disorganized and random, unlike the showroom on the main floor. You were allowed to go down there and shop, but it was a real word-of-mouth, speakeasy kind of experience; they didn’t let the public know about their dungeon of treasures! So when I went to pick up Shag Tobacco, I ventured into that no-man’s land underneath the store, and spent hours scouring the chaos for a golden nugget. It proved to be successful, as I found two Virgin Prunes records in that voyage, those being A New Form of Beauty 3 EP, and The Moon Looked Down and Laughed. When I got home, I was pretty much inseparable from my stereo. I listened to my treasures until friends came by and dragged me out of the house!

Somewhere in that time frame, I realized that Gavin had a major connection to U2. I think it must’ve been the fact that Bono and The Edge sang backing vocals on “Little Black Dress” on Shag Tobacco (very ironic since I had thought that Gavin and Bono looked quite a bit alike). Apparently Gavin and Bono are lifelong best friends. So with Gavin having that kind of friendly pedigree at his disposal, I had to wonder why he wasn’t MORE famous! I mean, he had connections up the ass!

Well, the answer to that is that Gavin doesn’t ride anyone’s coattails, and despite whoever he chummed around with, he was going to do what he wanted, on his own terms! AWESOME! A musician with a set of balls and some sense of pride! Unfortunately that sort of backfired on him, as Island Records ended up dropping him from the label, and his solo albums are now all out of print! If you can find them, BUY THEM! Over time I’ve come across more copies of his stuff and I buy it even if I already own it; it’s just that cherished to me!

Gavin toured the United States for Shag Tobacco, but I couldn’t go to any of the shows. I tried my ass off, but being sans-driver’s license (from those goddamn seizures), I couldn’t talk anyone into driving my ass to NYC to see him. I had one taker, but his car broke down the day before the show. Grrrr.

gavin julz 1999

I did get a chance to see Gavin perform in 1999 in Brooklyn with Hal Wilner’s Harry Smith Project. That was a tribute show to raise money to fund the Harry Smith archives (more information can be found here). Considering I was a fanatic for both Nick Cave and Gavin (who were both on the bill), there was NO FUCKING WAY I was going to miss this show (despite the $75 ticket)! I had no money, but I scraped together whatever I could to get it.

There were some really boring-as-shit performances that night, but Gavin exceeded my expectations! It was. . . a TEASE, however! Two songs weren’t enough to satiate! HOWEVER, I met Gavin that night when I was waiting to use the restroom. I came out to meet my friend Tom, and as we turned a corner, there was Gavin! I shyly approached him and became tongue-tied! Tom decided to seize the moment and egg on Gavin by letting him know what a fucking diehard I was and Gavin seized the moment to bask in the glory of my admiration!

After Gavin teased me in a playful way, Tom said, “Gav, can I get a photo of you and Julz?” And he was like, “Sure. . . take three of them!” He put his arm around me and said, “So how long have you and your gentlemen here have been together?” Tom and I laughed out loud and said simultaneously, “We’re NOT a couple!” Gavin then cuddled me a bit more snugly, and Tom snapped two photos and then said, “Gav,you gotta kiss her!!!” And before you know it, HE DID! And Tom snapped photo number three! So my surprise and admiration is frozen in time! (Sigh…)

Since Shag Tobacco, Gavin has not released any solo albums of original work. He did release an audio play of Peter and the Wolf in 2002, but that’s a different animal altogether. This is very bittersweet for me. Bitter, because his work is so good that I wish there was more of it, and sweet because it is a very precious artifact to me. Gavin and his musical partner (Maurice Seezer) have released soundtrack scores to several higher profile films like In The Name of the Father, The Boxer, In America, and Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Most of the film score works have been companion pieces for films by Jim Sheridan.

in america

There is one score that remains unreleased, and that was for Disco Pigs (which was directed by Jim’s daughter Kirsten). That would be the first time I had laid eyes upon the actor Cillian Murphy (yet, another transfixion!) Gavin would later star in Breakfast on Pluto with Cillian, as Cillian’s love interest/Glam Rocker/IRA member a.k.a., Billy Hatchet. Gavin’s charisma has always been top-notch, but after watching that film, I think he was born to act, too! A real renaissance man: music, film… and art!

Yes, Gavin is a painter, too! (Sigh again… )

In October 2009, Gavin’s musical history took a turn that has raised some eyebrows (especially the ones on my face!) His pal Bono threw him a mega-music bash on his 50th birthday, known as An Evening with Gavin Friday and Friends. This shindig took place at Carnegie Hall in NYC; apparently, one of Gavin’s lifelong dreams was to perform there. And this is where Gavin’s friends in high places worked in his favor. It wasn’t all self-fellating; it was for the (Red) Nights AIDS benefit concert series, so there was a bit of altruism brimming under the surface.

gavin cillian BoP
Gavin Friday and Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto, 2005

It was an eclectic mix of performers, which was yet again, another bittersweet moment. I REALLY should’ve attended this show, but tickets that didn’t require a second mortgage were scarfed up before I could act! The main draw (aside from Gavin) that made me weak in the knees was the fact that JG Thirlwell was part of the ensemble (as an adopted member of the Virgin Prunes, nonetheless). I really should’ve been there, but in hindsight, I think I would’ve been disappointed since assholes like Scarlett Johansson, Lady GaGa, and Courtney Love were also part of the evening’s festivities. I hate those losers so fucking much, it would’ve distracted me from the main event! (I know that sounds petty, but seriously, what the fuck?)

So, to keep my love untainted by that trio of the aforementioned E.Coli, I opted out of going to it. My view of Gavin will never be tarnished as a result. Despite that, he’s still the Thief of My Heart and I am eagerly awaiting his new album slated to come out in 2010 (crosses fingers and heart)!

Selected Discography:

Albums (as Gavin Friday)

Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves, 1989
Adam ‘n’ Eve, 1992
Shag Tobacco, 1995
The World According to Me (A Retrospective), 1995
Peter and the Wolf, 2002

A Virgin Prunes Discography can be found here.

Soundtrack Appearances & Scores

Bad Influence, 1990
Short Cuts, 1993
In the Name of the Father, 1993
Batman Forever, 1995
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, 1996
Mission: Impossible, 1996
Angel Baby, 1996
Basquiat, 1996
The Boxer, 1997
Moulin Rouge!, 2001
In America, 2003
Breakfast on Pluto, 2005
Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 2005

Significant Collaborations & Appearances

In Strict Tempo, Dave Ball; 1983
Scatology, Coil; 1984
The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall, The Fall; 1984
Take Me to God, Jah Wobble and The Invaders of the Heart; 1994
No Talking, Just Head, The Heads; 1996
Closed on the Account of Rabies: Poems and Tales of Edgar Allen Poe, Various; 1997
Folk, Howie B; 2001
Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, & Chanteys, Various; 2006

3 Responses to “Gavin Friday: Thief of My Heart”

  1. Popshifter » We Want To Thank You:
    February 2nd, 2010 at 10:01 am

    […] Friday posted links to our “Thief Of My Heart” piece on his […]

  2. Popshifter:
    February 4th, 2010 at 10:15 am

    This is such a wonderful account of the journey of fandom, where the search for and acquisition of the music is as important as the music itself. I truly related to this piece, having been on several of these journeys myself!


  3. Cate:
    March 16th, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    I just interviewed Gav. Lovely chap. Thanks for your memories, and the lovely photo!

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