Gavin Friday

A tangible connection to the original punks is slowly being erased. In just the last year, Ari Up of The Slits and Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex shed their mortal coils, Joe Strummer’s death in 2002 was especially poignant and even the seemingly endless supply of Ramones is dwindling. Gavin Friday is one of the originals, and if self-awareness can be measured by one’s artistic output, Friday has mastered that condition. The cover photo of his new album, Catholic, has him lying, dead.

Friday is, however, very much alive and has come a long way since the beginnings of punk. In 1977, the antichrists were everywhere, and Friday’s contribution to said revolution was called the Virgin Prunes. The Prunes, the earliest incarnation of which included Friday’s best mate Bono, slithered its way out of Dublin in November 1982 with the debut album If I Die, I Die. Friday left the band in 1986 and throughout the ‘90s released three solo albums in collaboration with longtime writing partner Maurice Seezer.

In the zeros decade, Friday concentrated for the most part on soundtrack work—something he hadn’t planned on. Unplanned film projects and health problems also delayed any thoughts of releasing a new album, hence the 16-year gap between Catholic and its prior release, Shag Tobacco.

Friday’s forays into soundtrack work, including Quincy Jones’ Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, Basquiat, Moulin Rouge, The Boxer and others did, however, influence his solo output. Catholic is rich with sweeping soundscapes; it’s a highlytextured work that while, for the most part following standard songwriting formulae, is, not surprisingly, deeper and darker than your average chart-topper. Friday called SOMA from Dublin on an afternoon that had left the artist frustrated from navigating traffic restrictions thanks to a recent visit by Barack Obama. The establishment was, as usual, creating problems for the punks.

“I didn’t make a decision not to make a record for so long. When I finished working Shag Tobacco around ‘98, I felt that the music industry had changed quite a lot. Everyone was attracted to Brit Pop at the time and the remnants of grunge; I decided to really go and learn about soundtrack work and learn what it was like to work with 80-piece orchestras. I thought I’d do that for a year or two, but life happens and life leads you astray and a marriage breakup can be a big thing, and coming out of that I just wanted to experience something so I just went down different roads.”

“The point where I really started to write again was when my father died, which was about six years ago. But then other things came along: the Shakespeare project with Gavin Bryars, working with Scott Walker—stuff I couldn’t refuse. The last score I did was with Quincy Jones and by then I’d had enough. There’s no money to make soundtrack albums, everyone wants everything for nothing, and they want it now.”

Lack of money played hugely into the early punk manifesto. In 1977, with unemployment at around 25% and dissatisfaction with the ruling class increasing daily, youthful unrest was practically ensured in the UK. 35 years later things haven’t gotten much better, it seems that whatever flush times that may have been experienced by the creative classes in the ‘90s are part of a bygone era.

“The capitalism bubble has gone but no one’s come to terms that it’s over; there’s not going to be a boom like there was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The people making money are a tiny percentage of the population, and it’s almost like the financers are the new government,” says Friday.

Friday’s recent experiences have been no different. “If you got to do this cottage industry thing with favors; that takes time. Ten years ago making a flyer (poster) for 2,000 quid was questionable; now people say let’s make this video, you’ve got 2,000 pounds. Like with this new album cover, I wanted to do it lavishly with a serious photographer called Perry Ogden who works for Italian Vogue and is a serious filmmaker and makes $25,000 a day. I offered to help him with a score and maybe give him a song if he would help me and he said absolutely, but he had one window in December and the business and label people around me wanted it NOW.”

Naming an album “Catholic” obviously invites questions about the possible religious nature of the production, which Friday of course has answers to.

“The cover is me dead, lying in state which is quite arrogant,” he says as he laughs a bit under his breath. “But it’s a romantic notion, at least in my head. The album deals with loss and redemption; it’s almost like a requiem. I grew up in a Catholic country, maybe the most Catholic country at the time, and the cover was inspired by a famous painting of a political leader in the ‘20s. I don’t really like religion, but I believe in spirituality and people having spiritual beliefs. The feeling and sound of the album is epic—it’s warm and dramatic, and a lot of songs have almost a prayer-like quality. It’s religiousness through sounds, but it’s not about religion.

After over 30 years of constantly entering into and withdrawing from the potentially fatal, trench-like environment that is the music business, Friday is excited to have a new album on the shelves and is currently planning tours for later in the year. Just don’t expect him to embrace the new Guard.

“You see these new so-called rockers, and they’re just models that producers have added guitars to. They’re just kids, they don’t even know who Morrissey is. They’re not a rock band; they’re just copying music of the ‘70s and ‘80s. You’ll never see the likes of the punk scene again.”

– Adam Pollock