Jazz Headfuck, If You Know What I Mean
An interview with Gavin Friday and the Man Seezer
Dave Fanning Rock Show RTE radio, May 2, 1989
What’s an hour and five minutes of music?
[G] The album is.
Really? It goes on for 65 minutes, does it?
[G] Almost, yeah. CD-age… but ultimately, an album. Not a record, an album. Not many people are making albums, Dave, they are making records.
Yeah, that’s quite true, I know. Well, Gavin and er…the man… The Man Seezer, you’re both very welcome to the programme. So tell us, Gavin, what have you been up to… when was the last time you were on the programme? As a Virgin Prune was it, or?
[G]I think it was the Virgin Prunes, I think meself and Dave-id were getting phone calls, because of the f-word and things like that. Are you allowed to say that now?
Ach, there’s no need. [laughter] So when was that, that must have been about four years ago?
[G] About four years, yeah.
Well, the obvious one, what have you been doing for the last four years? Where have you been all my last four years?
[G] Oh, around the world and back again!
Like, is this what it’s all been leading to: the solo album, well it’s not the solo album you are going tell me next, cause the Man Seezer’s on it… but go on, is this what it’s all been leading to, yeah?
[G] I think so, I didn’t know it was going to lead to this. It was like the Prunes sort of fizzled out, and faded out. Not with a bang, sadly, it should have been a bang, cause we came in with a bang. It was around early ’86, that we fizzled out, and I got totally freaked out, depressed, freaked out and all that shit.
Why? Cause you were out of a job, unemployed?
[G] Naaa… I’d never worried about that, I was unemployed even though I was in the Prunes, you know.
The Prunes weren’t about money. No, I was just, say: hey, I’ve been in this since I’m seventeen, there goes eight years of me life and it’s gone, you know. A bit like you, back in your Radio Dublin days, say: `what am I gonna do?’ If you know what I mean… [laughter]
Do you remember back in those days, yeah?
[G] Oh, I do!
Do you remember coming in for interviews?
[G] I do! See, I’m around a while.
Yeah, you are around a while, in fact, if you go back even further, nearly twenty years, which is really going back, say 1970, ’71. Back to the old days of Lypton Village when the whole lot of youse used to hang around in North Dublin. One of the things you used to say then was: the whole lot of us gathered all together, because we s a w t h i n g s d i f f e r e n t l y … Do you still see things differently, Gavin?
[G] Well, I suppose I do. But er, I don’t know, I wouldn’t er, that’s very arrogant, you’re asking me to be arrogant, Dave, to say: yeah, yeah, I’m really different to everyone else. No basically, when we were growing up in Lypton Village in the early seventies, the main thing was football, cider and mots. And we sort of were afraid of mots, hated football and had never experienced cider. And we all liked music and painting. Little poncy, arty people, that had a great sense of humour and hung around with each other. Then we discovered alcohol and mots and things like that later, so…`see things differently’ in that was like, we weren’t bootboys, if you know what I mean. I’m not being condescending.
No, because obviously an awful lot of those early days have come very much up to the surface with the world-wide success of the other friends you had in Lypton Village which basically were Bono etcetera. And if that is the case… I mean… I’m getting the impression that when I talked to you in the old Radio Dublin days that it was different, in other words like that… you were upper-class boys, I think, were you?
[G] I was never upper-class!
I get the impression now, looking back, that you had lots of money in those days, you were middle-class… that’s why you weren’t into whatever and whatever you were into, whatever…
[G] I wouldn’t say I was middle-class, I mean, me ma…
Am I wrong to re-evaluate?
[G] I think you’re very wrong, you’re being snobby, just because you’re a Southsider! [laughter] Which isn’t like these up and coming Northsiders… we’d terrible trouble, I remember er, the Village, like, the Prunes and U2 going into town and being Northsiders and being into punk in ’76-’77 and there was all yer so and so Southsiders, we won’t mention any names, and they were saying: Who are they? Ah, they’re poshies, cause only poshies can buy bondage trousers. But the truth is, if we wanted to get bondage trousers or records, an auld friend of ours and yours, Tommy the Bottle of Milk, whose da used to work on the B&I and we used to give him a list: Get us this record, that record, this record and a pair of bondage trousers and this and that and go over and… you know… we weren’t poshies, I mean, my ma and da never had a car… you have to be posh to have a car, Dave…
Ah, that’s true, you have to have a car to be posh.
[G] We were, what one would call, lower middle-class, but it is all bullshit, if you know what I mean.
At the end of the day.
[G] It is at the end of the day, I mean, I came from Ballymun, but I didn’t come from the flats!
I see, so now it’s the album, so tell us then, Gavin, what about this one. You got a lot of people together. I saw one review of it, in fact the only review I saw of it in Q-magazine and it compared a lot of the stuff to Tom Waits…
[G] That’s bullshit.
Yeah, I think it is too, actually, complete nonsense, but anyway, you do have some Tom Waits people on the album.
[G] Well, this is like, you know, typical reviews, they read the press-release, and see there is one or two Tom Waits musicians on the album, they say: ah, we won’t listen to it, just write it off…
O.K., who are these people, and why New York and what happened?
[G] Oh er, you know who they are, it all came together with Hal Willner, who is the producer of the album, who we met up with and he came over and he spent some time with us in Dublin and we did some demos, and Hal is not what you would call a typical producer he is much more a conceptualist and a man with vision and we sat down with Hal and we explained we had all the tunes written, all the songs written and we explained what we wanted. And he simply has his fingers in a hundred pies in New York and he sent us over lists of different guys, says: maybe this guy, maybe that guy. And a couple of the guys we knew, Marc Ribot from Tom Waits, and Michael Blair, Fernando Saunders who did work with Lou Reed and a couple of guys we never heard of like Bill Frisell and Hank Roberts, the Flo and Eddie that we all know of, it was pretty like that. It was like we did an element of rehearsal in New York, but it was pretty quick.
[M] It’s interesting, because in the club that we were in, the Blue Jaysus, we used to do a lot of songs taken from an album called `a tribute to Kurt Weill – Lost in the stars’ and Hal had actually produced that album, so when we got to meet him and work with him it was a little bit like the Blue Jaysus turned full-circle, for us anyway.
Down at the Blue Jaysus club you did have people coming along like Phil Chevron who has done a lot of stuff like that. I’ve seen him on stage doing it actually as a support at the Stadium once. And also you had Agnes Bernelle which is the same again, so is there a scene of… I mean is it very trite to say: Ah, Thirties’ Berlin, Dublin, Blue Jaysus, Waterfront, bound to have the album, here it is?
[G] Yeah, I think it’s very trite to say that! [laughter]
Well, hold on a second now, he said Kurt Weill, not me!
[G] I know, but we’re into that, I think there is very few… I mean, Agnes is like, in her sixties and is the authentic Berlin thing. Philip is a bit like meself, like, an ex-Bowie freak that discovered punk and then started to educate himself, and anyone that is a little theatrical and into certain things will turn towards Brecht or Kurt Weill or Brel or Piaf, sort of a Northside intellectual thing, if you know what I mean? [laughter]
I see, right, what about Dagmar Krause, did you buy her album?
[G] Oh she… it’s a brilliant LP, wonderful.
I thought you would like that… so, what is it this week, talking to idiots like me with pens or microphones and then next week it’s Europe and next week?
[G] Yeah, we’re doing all this talking-trip, trying to explain ourselves to people that don’t understand us or think they do [laughter] Ah, there’s some nice guys and then there’s some real rent-a-people, do you know what I mean?
No, I don’t know what you mean, do you think there’s people out there sort of…
[G] There’s people out there who are into free trips over to Dublin and there’s people who just read press-releases and put any bullshit down, like, the days of opinions are going in my mind, you know? Everyone wants to have a good time, but they’re not interested in good music anymore. I’m generalizing now.
You are generalizing. You say that the two of you had your first gig at an aids benefit at Hawkins House, that was in October 1987, do you not call what you were doing back in the Waterfront the year before as that?
[G] An AIDS benefit?
No, I mean as a concert, like in other words, what’s gonna be on the road, when you do take this on the road, what’s different?
[G] Well, the Blue Jaysus was like er, a post-Prunes exorcism for me in some ways, and it was only post-… after we kicked the Blue Jaysus in the head that we decided to start writing together and it was when we recorded a couple of songs and started demo-ing them, it was then, I would call that our first real gig… because the Blue Jaysus wasn’t a gig. It was an experience, a headtrip… [laughter]… if anyone was there, they’d understand. So er, when we go out on the road… the road… I can’t even handle that word, Dave, but when we go o n t o u r … [laughter] we’re going to Europe first. What we decided was, rather than going into this horrible aul’ rock ‘n roll dingy, dingy scene, that’s been there for a long, long time, was to go into a new area, not new, it’s older than rock ‘n roll, but it’s a little more exciting, and that’s sort of Soho… we’re into stripping ourselves down. The album’s quite big, in that there’s about five or six musicians playing with us, so myself and the Man here, along with a double-bass player and a cello player are doing a four week tour of Europe, sort of like little residencies in Pigalle and Soho of London and the redlight districts of Amsterdam. Sort of like er, jazz headfuck, if you know what I mean.
I see, I know exactly what you mean. Well, isn’t that what you’ve done before in some ways?
[G] Never as beautiful and articulate as we were before, Dave.
No, but let’s get down to basics here, you did that before basically with the Prunes in ways, it’s nothing necessarily new for you is it?
[G] Er, oh… well, nothing’s new in life, I mean, all you can do is pick yourself up and be better at what you were and find out where you were crap. The big thing about us all, Dave, I think, is that we have ideals of what we think we’re good at, you find out what you are good at… whaddaya mean, are you trying to say I’m repeating meself?
I’m trying to say it’s not necessarily the newest thing in the world, but you usurped me by saying things like: `well nothing is new anymore’, so I suppose you got out of that one alright before I could…
[G] I’m not getting out of it! I’m just, I just feel that er, I mean, what do you want us to do? Start going the mouldy Mean Fiddler up to the sort of like the SFX-hall, that’s more boring than anything at this stage, for me.
For you, yeah.
[G] Ah, for us all, ultimately, Dave. I’m sure you’re sick of getting demo tapes of bands who see the SFX as `it’, you know. The ultimate thing is to make great records and play great gigs, whether they are in the SFX-hall or in a Soho headtrip, that doesn’t matter.
O.K. but there is another ultimate thing as well, and that is that in order to be able to make records, especially as expensive as the one that you’ve just made and as lavish and as New York and as hiring major musicians as that you’ve made, is to make sure that it’s somewhat successful to be able to afford another bloody record, right?
[G] But I… what, whatcha mean?
The success is part of it, too. I mean, you wanna be successful as well…
[G] Oh, we don’t buy champagne in the Pink Elephant, or have a limo! It’s not indulgence…
Is that an answer? Wait a minute now, hold on a sec…
[G] I mean, it’s not a lavish album. We recorded that in fourteen days, and mixed it in fourteen days, that’s twenty-eight days. Not many bands do that, they sort of like, fuck around with drummachines and things for a couple of weeks, paying hot rice… we, we, we had a budget, which is an average… I’m not gonna explain meself… you are putting me in a place now of explaining meself…
I had him going there, for a moment.
[G] You are not going to get me to do that. O.K.. This album, Dave, it’s lavish, but it’s gonna last, won’t be in the bargain bin.
Is it gonna sell?
[G] Of course.
[G] I don’t know about that, but it’s gonna sell, I mean… what do you mean, does Lou Reed sell? Does Tom Waits sell?
Yeah, New York sells, I’ll tell ya.
[G] How many?
I’d say loads and loads and loads. Wait till the end of the year, it’s only been released since January.
[G] Well, wait till the end of the year, it’s only been released a week.
[Apart from Next and Death Is Not The End] the rest of them are all, what, collaborations between just the two of you?
[G] The two of us, except the lyrics by Oscar Wilde, etcetera, etcetera.
Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves.
[G]Very talented, aren’t we, Dave?
Pretty talented alright, yeah. So, what happens, is it different from you working in the old days, is it? What are you coming up against here, a musician, is that it?
[G] People like you, that’s what we’re coming up against! We are trying to be honest and you are giving us all this middle of the road shit! [laughter]
No, but seriously, I mean, have you come up against a musician here? I suppose I am slagging the Prunes a bit, but I never looked upon the Prunes for musicianship.
[G] There was no band like the Prunes! And there never will be! The Prunes were the Sex Pistols meets the New York Dolls for Ireland, and I’ll never, ever put a bad word against what I did in the Prunes!
No not a bad word, but I’m just saying I wasn’t looking at the band for musicianship, and I didn’t find any either, if you know what I mean. The Prunes as a whole was much more…
[G] A concept.
That’s the word I’m looking for.
[G] We… like er, Saint Patrick banished the snakes and we tried to banish rock ‘n roll, but didn’t succeed.
O.K., so what is gonna happen then, you’re gonna have this out, then you’re gonna do all the things, you’re gonna go on the road with those cello’s, etcetera and you’re gonna do the tours of those places. Is that it? What about America?
[G] Then we’re going to… whaddaya mean `is that it?’?
What about Gavin Friday and the Man Seezer in America?
[G] Yeah, we’re going to America, in September, we’re actually doing, like, seperate to this sort of low-key sort of Soho tour, that you were saying wasn’t very new, we’re doing er, the rock ‘n roll tour, you know. Out to the people, September, October, November, probably going to the States, yeah. I mean er, what do ya mean, we’re gonna play some concerts, we’re gonna promote our record as we are now, and then we are gonna go in and make another record.
Ah, that’s great… rock and roll, I love it. All right, well listen, Gavin and Seezer, or the Man, whatever the hell I’m supposed to call you at this stage, but then I’m well used to that with some of the people you used to bring in in the past, Gavin, thank you both very much for dropping in and I wish you the very best of luck with the album. Are we gonna see you on TV, some late night around a quarter to eleven till half eleven on Network 2?
[G] On Network 2? Nighthawks? Nighthawks have no neck, and they’ve something else missing — it’s between most men’s legs.