Interview – Gavin Friday: ‘I lost my virginity to Oscar Wilde’
By Beibhinn Byrne
Sunday September 21 2003
GAVIN FRIDAY is a mass of contradictions. A self-confessed ‘moody bastard’, he is someone who can choose to be as obnoxious as he is gracious on a whim. Equal parts Wildean sophistication and Behanesque vulgarity, he seems to be a collage of disparate inspirations gathered over his colourful life. A riot of expletives pepper his sentences but underneath one senses insecurity. He’s difficult too.
We have never met before. He excoriates me with a tirade against the Irish media and the Sunday Independent specifically. He is concerned I won’t tell it like it is. He has a request. He wants to know if he can “Be a nice bollix” this time. He complains of being pigeon holed. Agendas. The media label of being ‘Bono’s Best Friend’. “Bono, Bono, Bono, Bono, nobody has had to learn to listen to that word more than me,” he keens. He finds the constant references, “boring” but he mentions him enough. His grievances don’t end there.
In a Rabelaisian rant, he fumes: “I am fed up with the celebrity, celebrity, celebrity in the Irish media and magazines like yours. We don’t have Posh and Becks. We have Bono and Ali. The media don’t care about art. I like to talk about art and music, I could give you Ulysses condensed and all they’ll print is the Bono ‘love him like a brother’ quote. All they want to know about is money, and they’re ruining it for everybody. They are contributing to this international disease ofcelebrity.”
But let’s talk art. Next Tuesday night, as part of the ESB Dublin Fringe festival, he will be performing, before a sold-out audience, and for one night only, a monologue that revisits his childhood, his teenage heroes and anti-heroes, and his life’s experiences of Dublin. Entitled I Didn’t Come Up the Liffey in a Bubble , Gavin will incorporate the kaleidoscopic sights and sounds of the Northside Dublin that he grew up in, the one that produced Lypton Village and its famous denizens. Competing with his helter skelter show will be the Spiegel tent in which he performs. One of the last five remaining cabaret tents beloved of Marlene Dietrich, and fashioned by Belgian master craftsmen, they are spectacular confections of teak dancefloors with private booths, nouveau chandeliers, mirrored ceilings and bevelled glass pillars. It promises to be a star in its own right.
In the paradoxical manner typical of Mr Friday, the show is a spontaneous event, arising from a talk that, though he initially turned it down, he gave for The Dubliner . “The title was something my dad used to say to me all the time. I’m into the poetic licence Dubliners have – the Dublinese. The Joycean, Flan O’Brien thing. I love art and literature but I think I’ve more in common with Brendan Behan. I am very straightforward – I swear and eat sausage sandwiches.”
The show’s subject focuses on his teenage years of technicoloured glam-rock, punk rebellion amidst the grey wasteland of a Christian Brothers Dublin. “I lost my virginity to Oscar Wilde and was f***ed by Bowie,” he declares, a decidedly glamorous awakening. He elucidates: “Here was something that was new, it was anti-hippy, it was outrageous, it was anger. You could go to Mars with David Bowie or the bank. I knew where I was going.”
His parents, still in their early twenties, had four boys of which he was the eldest. He was a sensitive child, looked upon as ‘difficult’. He had a strained relationship with his painter/decorator father, though they’ve reconciled since. He resents being weighed up, however, and recoils from the psuedo-shrink journalism that tries to analyse its subjects’ motives. “One of the worst things I detest about Irish culture now, is that everyone goes on that ‘Howaya, I’ll tell you my story – the Angela’s Ashes vibe – and then I was raped and then I was . . . ‘ and you just go, for f***’s sake, just get over it.”
Yet he claims to be “absolutely” an attention seeker who loves a reaction. “I think most performers and singers are dysfunctional, they want to be adored, they are standing there on stage with a microphone saying look at me. I love to build up an image and emotion and to be quite sophisticated and intense and then knocking that down by turning around with ‘Wha’ the f*** are you lookin’ at?’ And debunking it completely.”
I wonder is it this mind game he’s playing when after an interesting and provocative interview I thought we both enjoyed, I get an abusive and paranoid phone call the next day citing disappointment and threatening me with a ‘never eat lunch in this town again’ hissy fit. But I decide it’s egomaniacal tendencies and pre-show nerves. Working part-time jobs since he was 10, he had money to go over to London on the ferry and bring back records and books for him and his friends. “I had more money than them then, now they’re all richer than me,” he jokes. He appears to have been the mover and shaker with the inspiration and ideas in the ‘Lypton Village’ (U2, Guggi, etc) pack. “I was always the one they would get the loan of records off. F***in’ Bono owes me a ton from all the records [he borrowed]. I’d lend him one and I’d get it back with a classical record in the sleeve and I’d go what’s going on? ‘Oh, it got mixed up with me dad’s’., We are skirting dangerous territory here because mentioning his friendship with Bono threatens to eclipse the good humour, as does any reference to money. “I think just to talk about people who have millions, it’s like, so the f*** what? Do I get a pain in the hole with the word ‘Bono’? Of course I do, but I’m my own person. If I ended up sounding like him or trying to do what he did, I’d be an asshole, but I’m not. I love that person as my mate, he’s like my brother and I adore him and he adores me and the media and the rest can go f*** themselves and write and say what they want.
“Now, if I turned around and started f***in’ giving people peace signs and goin’ to Africa to raise money for AIDS – I’d be a right wanker. And if I came out with a single and the guitar was like chukka chukka – I’d be a right wanker. But I don’t.”
His voice vacillates between camp and working-class. His whole attitude appears to be fashioned out of the Auden mould of ‘I don’t have a gun but I can spit’. Personally, I’m more interested in the man behind the myth, born Fionan Hanvey, but I’m not getting past the hall door of his alter ego today. He admits to being a bit of a Dorian Gray who, at 43 years of age,has recently done a growth spurt of maturing. Largely attributed to some pivotal events in his life. The break up of his marriage a few years ago about which he is philosophical, a ‘monumental’ visit to children in Kosovo, and spinal surgery last year all contributed insights and perspectives into his life and music. “It’s a wake up call. I gave up moaning. The one thing I found out about myself is: I’ve an awful lot to do. So get your shit together, don’t compromise, shut up and enjoy it, go for it.”
Work, he concedes, is time consuming. “I don’t limit who I am; I’m trying to find out who I am. I love chalk and cheese, I love to jump around from Kurt Weill to kid’s stuff.” He loves children. Although he has none of his own, his current project, his musical interpretation and narration of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf is destined to delight children (and adults) worldwide. The CD, accompanied with a book illustrated by Bono and his daughters Eve and Jordan, is in aid of the Irish Hospice and all hospices worldwide wherever it is sold. He and his longstanding musical partner Maurice Seezer have put their own inimitable stamp on the story. The cat has been playfully sexualised as ‘pussy’. The story has been simplified and colloquialisms abound such as ‘scarper’ and the wolf ‘goes mental’. The music’s arrangement of jazzy flourishes and traditional folk instruments show inspired genius in rearranging this masterpiece to produce something funky and fresh.
He says he’s learnt much from his 10-year collaboration with Jim Sheridan on his film soundtracks. (Friday does an impeccable imitation of him.)
Friday and Seezer composed the scores for In The Name of The Father and The Boxer , and this October will be heard on Sheridan’slatest offering, In America .
He wants to do everything – film scores, music, young audiences, old audiences. “I’m a fool for performing,” he drawls. “I love an audience, it’s the whole love me or leave me thing.”
I get the feeling he loves an interview also. But if I’m to tell it like it is, he’s honest but complex. His raison d’etre is to provoke, but when the gentleman doth protest too much, you know the ego has landed – and yet he’s salt of the earth.
He is, I think, a right, nice bollix.
Peter & The Wolf, Irish Hospice Foundation’s CD/book will be on sale at the City Hall, Dame Street, Dublin 2 on Wednesday and Thursday, October 1-2 from 10am to 8pm; Friday October 3 from 10am to 5pm; and from October 6 in good book and record shops.
Copies are also available from The Irish Hopsice Foundation, 32 Nassau Street, Dublin 2 or formore information you can visit the website www.peterwolf.org