Sunday, December 15, 2013

An interview with The March Violets, Si Denbigh

It's been a long while in coming, but now we finally present to you the interview with March Violets front man Simon Denbigh.

JVS: After six years since the Trinity EP and something like 28 years since the Electric Shades album, how was it to be back in the studio again as a functioning band?

Si: Ha! More like a malfunctioning band. Not that we were fighting or throwing tantrums, but The Violets are very rarely conventional, and the recording of this first 'proper' album, which took well over 2 years was fraught with all sorts of tension and unforeseen happenings and just didn't happen in the normal way. We are spread out all over and all doing other stuff, so everyone getting together at the same time tends to be a rare occurrence. And of course you can plan as much as you like but unexpected shit happens and then you have to try to get back on track.

JVS: What made you all want to get back together and do it all again?

Si: I can't speak for the rest of the band. I think my motivation was solely to be able to make some of the music that never got made, and say some things that had been left unsaid. You have to understand that, certainly from my perspective, the Violets never fulfilled their potential back in the eighties. From my point of view, we imploded at the end of '84, due mainly to different aspirations. The Violets were a rare thing, with Tom's amazing guitar work, Rosie's fantastic voice, and my stumbling around in dark and twisted visions. There was something unique, and in my head we were always teetering on the cusp of becoming huge, or evaporating.

JVS: Was there an underlying philosophy to recording Made Glorious and how has your approach to making music changed since the 80s?

Si: Interesting. Yes, I'd like to think there is some kind of underlying philosophy at work, however haphazard. Yes, I specifically wanted to attempt to do a real Album, one that works as an entity, one you can listen through from start to finish and enjoy the journey. I have those albums that have meant something at various points in my life, that I love exactly as they are. I don't want bonus tracks or a different running order, they are exactly right. And that is the target to aim for, it's a high bar, you'll have to decide if "Made Glorious" does it for you...

JVS: A lot of other artists I’ve spoken to from the early scene took considerable umbrage at being referred to as “Goth”. Did The March Violets ever consider themselves to be a part of that scene, and why do you feel so many of the original artists were so keen to reject the Goth tag?

Si: Hindsight, it's a weird thing. And history is a moveable feast. It's very easy and only natural for people who weren't there at the time to get their information from what is currently available. And over the years the tale has changed, been rewritten both by people with new perspectives and those with self-promoting agendas. And labels that were once laughed at, like "Positive Punk", become historically accepted as though they had more relevance than they did. I was asked to sign a book on 'Goth' the other day, and yet the Violets had pretty much been ignored as a musical force. Yet if you look at the 'Goth' record compilations over the last 25 years the Violets are on well over 50 of them. So we were obviously important to some people and I would never deny that part in history. However I would probably be happier to go with Siouxsie and Peter Murphy et al and accept the term 'Gothic'. I think 'Goth' is more of a lifestyle choice, and, despite my mainly black wardrobe and being in the Sisters of Mercy for 16 years, it's a label I haven't earned. Of course, the rest of the Violets, who naturally all sleep in stereotypical coffins, might disagree. It's not a topic that ever comes up. I'd say it's all about enforced labelling. Imagine you had been happily and independently making your own style of music for a couple of years and then someone sticks a label on you… You are now "Blah" and being included in a 'Blah movement' that maybe includes a few bands you like, and a whole pile of bands you think are shit. Your natural urge, that which drove you to try and make different and unique music, is to rebel against being put in a box. Put it another way: Let's say some misguided but visible source declares your blog/magazine is now an "Emoid" publication, and linked with 'Orkus', 'Gothik', 'Emo Weekly', and 'Dark Fashion 4 US Teenz'. What would your initial reaction be? Denial? That might just feed the flames. There is another obvious reason, for an active band, the 'Goth' scene is actually quite small and restrictive. It is much better to be a 'Rock' band, simply on the number of stages/people you can play to. I sometimes see the shutters come down in people's eyes when the word Goth (a diminutive) is applied. They are applying some presupposed stereotype, probably missing most of the truth. That is mainly why many bands take umbrage I think, and shaking the label, once it has been applied, is very hard. But the bottom line is that I really don't care how people view the Violets, as long as they DO view us, and nothing I say is going to un-tag us… if we are a Goth band to you, so be it. Personally, I'd say the Violets are a pop band and have both dark and light going on.

JVS:  In between the original March Violets and their current incarnation, you fronted a band called Batfish Boys. Along with Bomb Party, Gaye Bikers on Acid, Crazyhead and (arguably) Zodiac Mindwarp, this became an alternative genre known as “Grebo” which seemed to disappear as swiftly as it began. What was the basic vibe of that scene and why do you think was it such a “flash in the pan”?

Si: Once again, we are talking about 'scenes' created by journalists. I had many chances with Batfish to jump on that bandwagon, ride it to death, and become the featured 'grebo' band in whatever publication. And once again, I immediately rebelled against assuming that mantle. I hate being labelled. It's like someone who doesn't understand you telling you what you are. If I was going to put a label on myself it would be Punk.

JVS: Like yourselves, a lot of the early bands from the darker side of the post-punk scene seem to have recently reformed – Danse Society, Skeletal Family and Actifed all come immediately to mind; Why do you think this is suddenly happening now?

Si: Is it suddenly happening? Every Century has its Reformation Period, seems that there has been a gradual movement amongst old bands to get back together. Might be some kind of musical mid-life crisis. I'm all for it if they are: 1. any good, and: 2. doing something new and original and not just rehashing a formula. I will say that the difference live between experienced bands and new ones is obvious. The years of stagecraft tend to show. Of course you have to put up with old-looking artists, so if you can't get past that stay at home and listen to records.

JVS: The March Violets have of course been doing a number of live gigs recently and are booked as one of the major headlining acts for Alt-Fest in 2014, which sounds especially exciting. How has the general reception been, especially with younger followers of the dark-alt genre? Years ago you commented to Mick Mercer about later Goth bands in the 80s “…but as regards all this imagery, what do people think they’re doing? It’s hideous!!!” In the light of that remark, how do you feel about the Goth scene in the new millennium?

Si: We don't play very often, again, it's due to being individually busy with other stuff, and several thousand miles apart. But we do occasionally manage to come together to do some rare purple performances. They will no doubt get rarer as we get older. And having just done a little UK tour I have no real urge to do another anytime soon. Yes Alt-Fest is an exciting new thing and I thought it was important to support it from the start. I think we are down as playing on the 'Goth' stage on the Saturday, not headlining the Main stage, though if the Album takes off you never know. Should be a great festival, loads of stuff as well as some fab music. My remarks to Mick Mercer, hmmm, I said a lot of things back then. But I'll stand by my attitude… I'm not impressed by copies, rip-offs, or unoriginal style, 'Goth' or otherwise. You can still refer to classic images and yet paint new pictures, both visual and audio. And you might like to make a noise like the bands you like, but you need to push it further. I'm lucky in that I made my noise back at the start so I have the excuse that this IS MY style, but I still don't want to keep repeating the same old stuff, I don't want to be a copy of me. Evolve or die.

JVS: What contemporary bands on the dark-alt scene particularly excite you?

Si: I like Berlin Black, The Witch Hunt, Partly Faithful, Cold In Berlin, and a few other non 'Goth' bands.

JVS: When can the public expect to be able to lay their eager little paws on a copy of Made Glorious?

Si: Well, we haven't done any deals with labels yet. We are selling a few directly by mail order. The Limited First Edition double CD is nearly all gone now. We might well press up another run without the bonus remix disc… dunno, depends on whether we find a label… but I am in talks over doing a double vinyl LP, which is kind of what the album was designed to be in my head. We'll see, just think of all that lovely visual real estate!

JVS: What do you see lying in the future for The March Violets and the dark-alt scene more generally?

Si: Not sure really, for the Violets I want to start playing some other continents, South America would be lovely. We haven't done that much in Europe, though I just confirmed we will be headlining Resurrection 2014 a little do in Kaiserslautern in April. The 12th I think. And there is a lot of material that didn't make the album, maybe some of that might slip out. As to the dark-alt scene… well that's the problem isn't it, what do you actually call it? Tricky. We need a brand new, all inclusive term, that sounds old, and isn't hyphenated or a diminutive with stereotyped connotations. It's a job for you. "Goth is dead, long live…..". Sort it out please.

JVS: Have you any final words to say in your defence?

Si: Yes. And No.

Another fine reason to pledge money to crowd sourced efforts of bands 
you like - not only do you get to hear new music from them, 
but a t-shirt and and autographed copy of the Love Will Kill You EP.
 What more could you possibly want?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ritual - rare promo pics

I awoke this morning to a quite surprising message out of the blue from one Mr Jamie Stewart

"Hi James. I wanted to send you some promo pics of Ritual, since there aren't any elsewhere. It would be great if you could stick them on the page Thanks! J" Why yes, Mr Stewart, we'd be delighted to oblige!

No dates were provided with these, but common sense suggests they have to have been taken sometime between 1979 and certainly no later than '83.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Past, Present and Forever

Again, I must apologise that things have been so quiet around here lately. Rest assured that I haven't forgotten you, I've just been terribly busy trying to finish my thesis (And no, before anyone asks, it has absolutely nothing to do with music, let alone Goth.)

In the meanwhile though, myself and the redoubtable Adam Lovkis (who hosts dark alt/noise/metal show Behind the Mirror on 6RTR fm) have started up this rather more interactive page on Face Book.

Of course, you could just post music or video clips, but the key word here is "conversation", and we do sincerely hope that you will throw your two cents worth in.

Don't be afraid now, just walk on in

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Look Back in Anger – Caprice (Criminal Damage Records, 1984)

Sorry things have been a little on the quiet side in The Tombs lately. Life unfortunately has an annoying tendency to interfere with one’s hobbies.

 Never fear though! Starting out in Waterlooville in Hampshire on the south coast of England, in 1979 Look Back in Anger would experience a few line up changes, including losing the keyboards before anything concrete was released.

It would be easy to assume that the band took their name after the 1956 play about a love triangle which gave the world the phrase “angry young men”, but this seems slightly odd for a female fronted band. Perhaps it would be safer to assume that the actual source was David Bowie’s  single of the same name (RCA, 1979)?

Things kick off with the Caprice / Mannequin 7”, (LBA, 1981), swiftly followed by the Foxhunt cassette/7” (Stick It in Your Ear Tapes!, 1982) whose contact listing for various animal rights groups on the rear would leave no one in any doubt as to the group’s stance on the subject matter.

A short hiatus follows before the band reappears in 1984 with the Flowers 7” (Criminal Damage Records) with its title track sounding curiously like Kim Wilde trying her hand at Goth – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Kim Wilde happens to be a little guilty pleasure of mine and one of the first albums I ever bought. Anyone who doesn’t like it can bite me.


This brings us to the focus of this post, the Caprice mini album (or was it an EP?) containing both “Torment” and “Inamorata” from the Flowers 7”, but perversely not including the track “Caprice”.

Listening to this, there’s no ignoring the fact that it’s very much a child of its time. If 80’s alternative was a scent, you’d be able to smell this crew from the other side of the nightclub.

Unfortunately, Caprice is not an especially coherent album. It’s clear that Look Back in Anger had two quite different aspects, a relatively poppy side, and another less accessible one, and they were much the better for it when they adhered to the former. If we take that view, then tracks like “Executioner” and the rather aggressive “Silent Partner”, tend to pale into insignificance here in the face of the real stand outs here of “Gray Sky” and “Inamorata”. That last song is interesting here, not only because it’s substantially longer than the version on the previous single, but also because it includes a bridge in which the band suddenly break into a snippet of “Flowers”.

Even if listening now, this material sounds curiously dated, it is nevertheless clear that, when on the money, Look Back in Anger remain capable of evoking a deliriously wonderful sense of nostalgia.

Gray Sky



The Caprice album would prove to be the last thing Look Back in Anger would record before dissolving.

Jim Newby went on to form the curiously named The Fifteenth whose sole release would be the Andelain 12” (Tanz Records, 1986), with its highlight on the B side being the surprising and delightfully Duran-Duranesque “Marble Shire” and Zig Zag journalist Barbara Ellen, who may possibly have been Jim’s girlfriend at the time, gracing the cover.

He followed on with Splashpool, who as far as I can work out don’t seem to have released anything apart from the video below. He also appears to have been an occasional collaborator with cover version terrorists Brian.

Slashpool – Trash You Baby (watch for cameos from Jon Fatbeast and Mick Mercer)

Mich also seems to have had a busy year appearing in Mankinds Audio Development with Rob Hickson and Pete Waddleton of Play Dead fame on the one-off Sunfeast 12” (Criminal Damage Records, 1984), doing backing vocals for “Gimmick” on The Cult’s debut album Dreamtime (Beggars Banquet, 1984), and turning up again a few years later working with Balaam and the Angel on the She Knows 7” (Virgin, 1986). Later she would depart for the US, in company of her boyfriend, some chap called Billy Duffy.

Track Listing:
1. Gray Sky
2. Silent Partner
3. Executioner
4. Torment
5. The Dark
6. Inamorata

Line Up: Mich Ebling (vocals), Jim Newby (guitar), Simon Tufnail (bass), Chris Pickford (drums)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The March Violets – Made Glorious (Self-Released, 2013)

And so it’s finally out, well, almost. Made Glorious is one of those things that makes you proud to have been involved in a DIY fund raising issue through Pledge Music that began something crazy like two years ago.

I’ll be the first to admit to some hesitation after the Trinity EP (self-released, 2007) failed to light my fire, but hey, what’s a few dollars towards helping a genuinely alternative band you really like in an age when record companies are much more interested in instantaneous shallow pap like Niki Minaj, Nickelback or that Beiber thing?

Happily, what we have here is indeed glorious; a massive 16 track double album, including largely new versions of the album preview if you will, the Love will Kill You EP (self-released, 2011) and a whole heap of new goodies.

This is quite clearly The March Violets of old, and yet they have unsurprisingly subtly grown over the intervening years. Part of this is undoubtedly down to advances in technology allowing for vastly superior production, but also, the material presented here with more varied instrumentation is somehow more multi-textured than what folks who came to know and love the Violets from the Botanic Verses compilation (Jungle, 1993) may be used to.

There’s no filler here, all is wonderfully catchy from the title track “Made Glorious”, “We are all Gods III”, “Tokyo Flow”, “Dress 4 U” and of course, the unspeakably brilliant “Road of Bones”. Other tracks like “Billion 3”, “London’s Drowning” and “2024” come bearing political subtexts which could have been annoying had they been delivered in an in-your-face style like anarcho punk bands, say, Crass for example, but are actually pleasingly subtle. 

They’ve lost none of their humour either, which is very welcome in a genre where many bands are so tediously po-faced. It’s easy to imagine the serial killer ode “Of Roses” playing as the final titles roll on a particularly black comedy, and the rollicking “Ramming Speed” jogs merrily along in a vein not unlike what one might expect from Andy Prieboy. There’s a moment when things go weirdly electro, but the punch line quickly becomes apparent when the track listing reveals the song to be “Discoboy Must Die”.

At time of writing, Made Glorious has only been made available to those who pledged.  Very soon however,  it will be available by mail order, initially in a strictly limited 2 CD edition, albeit with different cover art than that shown above.

The Violets have requested that none of the pledgers upload or distribute their advance copies of Made Glorious, and from what I can see on Youtube, so far everyone has very graciously complied with the request. Just to give you a small taste of what you’re in for however, here’s two little snippets.

 We are all Gods (Live in Glasgow 2012, presumably a bootleg, but a very good one) 

Dandelion King

Buy this – you won’t regret a cent.

Track Listing:
1.    Made Glorious
2.    Billion3
3.    A Room With No View
4.    Of Roses
5.    Tokyo Flow
6.    Ramming Speed
7.    Little Punk Thing
8.    Dandelion King
9.    2024
10. London’s Drowning
11. We are all Gods
12. Road of Bones
13. Discoboy Must Die
14. Dress 4 U
15. Bottle of Poison
16. My Demons

Line Up: Si Denbigh (vocals), Rosie Garland (vocals), Tom Ashton (guitar), Jo Violet (bass).


Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Slightly Erratic and Mildly Drunken Interview With Jon Fat Beast

Somewhat sadly, London appears to have caught the same disease that has long afflicted Perth and Melbourne in Australia, with live venues giving way to more "upmarket" ventures. The disappointing announcement of the closure of the Bull and Gate, long a fixture for up and coming bands seems to make this interview timely.

The Time Box was an incredibly important regular live music night held at the Bull and Gate at a time when not many others were prepared to give new alternative  bands a go. Never one to miss an eye for the main chance, Plunder The Tombs seized a surprise opportunity to talk to the man responsible, Jon Fat Beast.

I'd be the first to admit that this is not the best interview, not least because at least one of the participants was far from sober when it was done, but in the best tradition of Gonzo journalism, I think we'll just whack this out there, relatively unedited, so the rest of you can appreciate the very high journalistic standards that we employ at Plunder The Tombs.

James Von Sutekh
Is this the guy behind Timebox and Brian?
I would very much like to interview you.
Jon Fat Beast
It is me. Yes I am for my sins Jon Fat Beast.
Yeah an interview would be lovely,but quite sweary on my part no doubt.
If you want an interview its as easy to do on here isnt it ?
I dont know.I`m an idiot obviously.
James Von Sutekh
Sweary is fun. Fuck. Fuck. Muthafuker. Shit fuck cunt. I look forward to interviewing you.
The penguin fascinates me...
Jon Fat Beast
Theres plenty of links on google etc for Timebox and Hype but probably not a lot on Brian. My pic on my FB site was a messy Brian gig. Mick (Mercer) probably remembers more than me about the five or six years I did Bull and Gate clubs. I was normally drunker than him. We had 4 timebox venues at one time in London alone.

James Von Sutekh
Tell us first about Timebox. How did that come about, and how did it evolve?
Jon Fat Beast
I was 18,new to London and Punk had just finished its short spell knocking bloody pomp rock into oblivion .I started putting on goth/punk/evolving indie acts on at The Red Rose Club in Finsbury park and upstairs and down at The Clarendon in Hammersmith.
I wanted my own venue and approached the Bull and Gate in Kentish town to take over booking ALL their nights.
I put thousands of acts on at Timebox over a two year period. Voice of the Beehive and The Poppinjays were regular staff, as were loads of other famous pop tarts.
I just wanted to see great new bands in a nice atmosphere
Timebox was all about unity and fun/and I married a penguin Live on stage.
James Von Sutekh
What were the bands that really fascinated you at the time?
Jon Fat Beast
I loved All About Eve, they played a few times, The Primatives from Coventry, I loved Voice Of The Beehive, Half Man Half Biscuit, Bogshed, The Fifteenth, all played loads. A Witness, Breathless, oh there’s hundreds I loved. it was very much a Do it Yourself attitude .We loathed record companies or agents.
I used to call Simon Cowell a cunt twice a week, he was at Phonogram as an A and R man
I upset loads of important people. We just wouldn’t tow the line
Record papers Melody Maker, NME,Sounds etc loved us. Some weeks we would get half the country’s gig reviews from Timebox venues.
We enjoyed what we were doing but I did it full time.
I would get sent over 300 demos a week at its peak.
We were very cheap/free entry and made our money selling hundreds of sweary tee shirts I designed
I am just ranting now. lol

James Von Sutekh
Tell us about Brian? And we do want to know about the penguin.
Jon Fat Beast
Brian got quite famous, really very strange considering it was just me, and a mate of mine Sean on guitar, Jesus Sex on drums with any indie stars we could rope in whenever we played. We once pulled 500 just to see Brian at Dingwalls. Mad. It was just inappropriate cover versions sung and played badly whilst I poured buckets of various foods on my head. It was just two fingers up to bands who took themselves too seriously. I enjoyed every minute. Ian Brown from the Stone Roses wanted to hit me for covering one of their songs. He chased me around Camden one drunken evening.
Jon Fat Beast
Oh and I married a penguin.................
James Von Sutekh
I hope you two were very happy. How would you describe Brain's music
Did you ever release anything?
Jon Fat Beast
Brian’s music was "Shite but we don’t care" as our tee shirts said. My favourite song to sing was anything with swear words. It wasn’t much about the music really, more the theatre.
James Von Sutekh
Timebox- your venue: who played there (in the Goth sense)
More to the point, what do you think of the current scene?
Jon Fat Beast
We must have had 500 Goth bands at least. Wayne Hussy used to be sick in the ladies toilets on a regular basis if that’s any help. I don’t think there is a well defined "Current Scene", where I now live, In The Midlands every band seems to be speed metal/Goth which I find very dull. I like Operatic/Goth acts but nowadays I mostly listen to Radio 6 in the UK, its all new stuff, a cross section of punk/Indie/Goth stuff. I have worked with Goth bands since Sex Gang Children and Flesh for Lulu days.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Elephant Talk – Ask 7” (Fragile Records, 1983)

Elephant Talk were a pleasingly punky Goth band that appeared out of Cornwall. This last bit surprised me a bit since thanks to my entire knowledge of Cornwall having been gleaned from Ripping Yarns, I naturally understood it to be populated entirely by pirates, smugglers and eccentric innkeepers.

The band seem to have taken their name from a single by Prog rock gods King Crimson (EG, 1981) and several other bands have since followed suit, making research into Elephant Talk ever so slightly awkward.

Sadly, Elephant Talk proved to be a short lived affair and the Ask 7” would be the only thing they would ever release. Sad, because it’s a highly enjoyable listen, especially the A side, but equally sad because managing to get Art Director for The Face magazine, Neville Brody who had also worked with much better known acts including Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Mode, Clock DVA and Throbbing Gristle, to provide the cover art must have been quite a coup, but doesn’t seem to have translated into success. 

I've thought long and hard trying to work out just what this reminds me of, and eventually came to the conclusion of a cross between Joy Division and Bauhaus with Gavin Friday on vocals might come close. But decide for yourself.

Ask (For some inexplicable reason Youtube wrongly calls this song “Alive”)

Burning Halo

After this it’s all over as various members, like opening a sack of cats, explode in all directions, forming numerous new bands and projects.
Short and sweet, just like this post really.

Track Listing
  1.  Ask
  2. Burning Halo
Line Up: Ross Reid (vocals), Matthew Watts (guitar), Adam (bass), Andy Copelin (drums)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lavolta Lakota - Prayer 7” (Factory Benelux, 1984)

This will be a short post, in the main due to so little information being available, and the band having released so little during their existence. This in itself is rather a shame, because what they did do, while minimalist, is difficult not to like.

Started up by Jed, (formerly with Stockholm Monsters) and Dave, Lavolta Lakota sprang up out of Manchester in 1982, which was convenient since it gave them the opportunity to meet Peter Hook of Joy Divison / New Order fame who managed to help them get their single out through the Belgium arm of Factory Records, despite not being formally signed to the label. It also gave Dave some work as a roadie for New Order.

In 1983, the band records the track “Nightmare” on a double compilation cassette The Angels Are Coming (Pleasantly Surprised, 1983) alongside much bigger bands including Bauhaus, The March Violets, The Alarm, Bone Orchard, Death in June, Gene Loves Jezebel, Nico, Artery and Test Department. Interestingly, Jed’s old band Stockholm Monsters also put in an appearance.

Cover art of The Angels are Coming compilation


By the time the single is recorded, bassist Michael Eastwood has curiously decided to start calling himself “Moist” (as you do), and ensuring that the band maintain their distinctive line up of having two bass players. Also interesting is that the single was produced by Peter Hook under the psyudonym Be-Music.
The cover art bears a pleasingly tribal aesthetic, reflecting the band’s interest in American Indian culture which they shared with Southern Death Cult who they would occasionally support. Indeed, Lavolta Lakota translates as “all the tribes together”.



A second single is reportedly planned, but somehow never eventuates. They are successful however in supporting Death Cult, Play Dead, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, The Fall, and are occasionally joined onstage by Billy Duffy during 1985. Things grind to a halt the following year though as members begin to drift away, some to form BFG and Dave to join Peter Hook in Revenge.

Track Listing
i.                     Prayer
ii.                   Mitawin

No points for spelling

Line Up: Dave Hicks (vocals, guitar), Jed Duffy (bass), Moist (bass), Guy Ainsworth (drums)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Virgin Prunes – If I Die, I Die (Rough Trade, 1982)

Now here we have something genuinely interesting, unique and original. Considering the wide and more than often, very weird scope of their output, to try to classify or confine them under the “Goth” tag seems somehow insulting, and like many bands at the time, it seems wildly unlikely that they would concur anyhow. To attempt to describe their work as anything more specific than what falls under the very wide umbrella of bizarre art-rock is probably self-defeating – it simply doesn’t work.  That is not to say however, that what The Virgin Prunes would produce was frequently very grim, desolate and grotesque. That said, they certainly belong here, but people who understand “Goth” only as something that sounds like The Sisters of Mercy or Fields of the Nephilim would likely find their material extremely strange and difficult to get a grip on.

However, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

The tale we need to tell of the band, begins quite strangely indeed with something called Lypton Village. Don’t for one moment go thinking that this was a band however, rather it seems to have been a kind of odd little tribe of the more arty young Dublin folk, who finding their existence in that city rather more than mundane, retreated into a sort of fantasy land where everyone got a new identity. And so, Fionan Hanvey became Gavin Friday, Derek Rowan became Guggi, his brother Trevor Rowan became Strongman, Daniel Figgis became Haa-Lacka Bintti, Paul Hewson became Bono Vox and David Evans assumed the moniker of The Edge.

If those last two names seem familiar, then well they should, since they would of course go on to form U2, one of the biggest bands in rock history. Strange as it now may seem, in the early days, both U2 and The Virgin Prunes would often share a stage together. Indeed, The Edge’s brother & U2’s original guitarist Dik Evans would later join Virgin Prunes. I must agree that in retrospect the combination superficially appears very odd, but then that’s probably due to the fact that most people have long since forgotten that U2 started out as a very good, albeit very accessible post-punk act.

U2 – Out of Control (1980)

It wouldn’t last of course – U2’s increasingly mainstream musical tendencies would soon cause the two bands to drift apart. I suspect, although can’t find any direct evidence to support the hypothesis, is that U2’s increasingly Christian inclinations by the time of their second album October (Island, 1981 )may also have had a part to play.

But enough of U2 – you can read about them anywhere! Back to Virgin Prunes. 

Virgin Prunes release their debut EP Twenty Tens (Baby, 1980), three years after their formation. The cover art of a small girl playing with her bunny wabbits certainly seems innocent enough – almost like an illustration from a Victorian children’s story. However, combine this with the band’s name, the unsettling and generally sombre musical tone and song titles like “Twenty-Tens( I’ve been Smoking all Night)”, “Revenge” or “The Children are Crying”, and it’s impossible to ignore that there is something very subversive, and perhaps even unwholesome going on here. It’s probably safe to say that Gavin Friday’s happy warblings of “I hear the children crying as they all die of fever” was never going to get the band a shot on the Eurovision Song Contest at any time soon.

The Twenty Tens EP

The following year saw the band release the Moments and Mime (Despite Straight Lines 7” (Rough Trade, 1981). Once again, the front cover art appears innocent enough, although the back cover gives us a much better idea that things are far from normal here, and that impression is confirmed by the B-Side track “In the Greylight” which serves to complete the impression that we’re no longer in Kansas anymore Toto.

In the Grey Light

The same year sees the band start to release the “New Form of Beauty” series in four parts (Rough Trade, 1981-82), its name itself perhaps a manifesto of intent.  These will all be later compiled into a single CD (A New Form of Beauty, New Rose, 1993), of which sample tracks like “Come to Daddy” clearly indicate that we’re not destined for safe or familiar territory quite yet. Much strangeness remains. Meanwhile, drummer Haa-Lacka Bintti has left the band and gone off to do his own project with the disconcertingly monikered Princess Tinymeat. He is replaced by Mary D’Nellon.

Come to Daddy

These early gigs must have been quite something to behold.  Jonny Slut (later to become keyboardist with Specimen) describes his first encounter with Virgin Prunes shortly after he arrived in London:

“Saw the Virgin Prunes the next week though, they blew my head off a bit. That was the best gig I’ve seen in my life…The whole audience when they played at Heaven…David came on and did his spastic stuff and I thought oh, this ain’t that brilliant! Then Gavin and Guggi came in their black and white dresses and the audience were like that (holds mouth open for impromptu dental appraisal)…honestly, it was quite frightening, we were just like that for half an hour, no-one in the audience clapped, we didn’t know what to do. They went off and came back on in their loin cloths with their fruit and started chucking tables about, demonically chanting…it was just brilliant – the best.”
(Gothic Rock, Mercer, Pegusus, 1992)

And so we arrive in 1982 with The Virgin Prunes’ first full length album, If I Die, I Die. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of my favourite albums of all time, at once hauntingly beautiful and deeply unsettling, and effect only added to by the band’s very unorthodox vocal stylistics. There’s something oddly faux-oriental about the guitar on this album that doesn’t come out on the band's other releases. Indeed, after listening to it many years ago after consuming something hallucinogenic and almost certainly illegal, I had to give it a rest for a few months because it kept conjuring up recurring mental images of insane Fu Manchuesque vivisectors.

We begin with the yearningly desolate “Ulakanakulot / Decline and Fall” which sets the tone for the rest of the album – it’s very clear that this is not going to be a happy journey.

“See the children play by, running try to touch the sky,
When one falls you hear a cry
‘You’re dead, you’re dead, you must die’
‘Take a dream and fly away, take a dream and fly away’
She will call
They will wait for you not I, they will wait for you not I
See me crawl
And sometimes I feel so old
I never smile nor do cry
Shadows flicker from above.”

Sweet Home Under White Clouds” follows and is similarly bleak, although perhaps less harrowing than the earlier version that appeared on A New Form of Beauty 2, and next comes the very enigmatic “Bau-Dachong” which is anyone’s guess as to what it might be about.

At this point we arrive at “Baby Turns Blue”, a happy little ditty about drug overdose, and of course, the band’s big single, still packing out dance floors in Goth clubs to this day. To judge from the behaviour of some DJs, it would be easy to believe that it and the “Pagan Love Song” single (Rough Trade, 1982) were the only songs The Virgin Prunes ever wrote. Indeed, back when I was DJing in the 90s, it got so over-requested that I actually started refusing to play it. Nevertheless, it remains the cheeriest and most upbeat If I Die, I Die would get. I was also released as a 12” remix The Faculties of a Broken Heart (Rough Trade, 1982).

The Baby Turns Blue 7" - that commercial success would 
elude the band seems simply inconceivable

After this we unfortunately hit the sole low point of the album “Ballad of the Man”. What the fuck were they thinking? The nicest I can imagine is that the song was a deliberate attempt to take the piss out of contemporary folk music. Whatever their reasoning, it very much spoils the flow of an otherwise near-flawless album.

Fortunately things quickly pick up again with “Walls of Jericho”, a song so strong that it could easily have been a single in its own right. The puzzling Caucasian Walk follows before the album closes with the excellent  “Theme for Thought” with its reflections on individuality and quoting of Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”.

“He did not wear his scarlet robe, for blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands when they found him with the dead.”

Ulakanakulot  / Decline and Fall (Live)

Sweet Home Under White Clouds


Baby Turns Blue

Ballad of the Man (not live but WTF cares?)

Walls of Jericho

Caucasian Walk

Theme for Thought

After this, the band produce the Heresie EP, making them one of the very few bands from the scene to receive an arts grant for a commissioned work. Work on a second full length album Sons Find Devils (Not to be confused with the video of the same name) is commenced but never released and in 1984 the original band begins to dissolve. A final studio album, The Moon Looked Down and Laughed (Baby Records, 1986) appears after which Gavin Friday departs for a solo career, effectively ending Virgin Prunes forever.  Some of the remaining members will eventually reform as The Prunes, but it is reportedly a much tamer beast than its notorious ancestor.

Track Listing
i.                     Ulakanakulot
ii.                   Decline and Fall
iii.                  Sweet Home Under White Clouds
iv.                 Bau-Dachong
v.                   Baby Turns Blue
vi.                 Ballad of the Man
vii.                Walls of Jericho
viii.              Caucasian Walk
ix.                 Theme For Thought

Later versions on CD include a variety of bonus tracks, most notably Pagan Love Song, but also Dave-id is Dead, Fado, Chance of a Lifetime and Yeo.

Line Up: Gavin Friday, Guggi, Dave-id Busarus (vocals), Dik Evans (guitar), Strongman (bass), Mary D’Nellon (drums)