A New Form Of Beauty: How Virgin Prunes Changed A Nation

John Robb speaks to tQ about his monolithic new book The Art Of Darkness: A History Of Goth, and shares an exclusive extract detailing the rise of Virgin Prunes, Lypton Village, and the indelible mark they left on their native Dublin

John Robb

What, exactly, does ‘goth’ even mean? It’s a question so simple, and yet with so many different permutations, that John Robb has spent the last decade in search of an answer. “My working definition of ‘Goth’ seems to have ended up being a book of 260,000 words,” he tells tQ in an email interview. The book in question, The Art Of Darkness, over 600 pages long, is released this Friday (17 March) via Louder Than War Books.

“For a scene that none of its key players wants to be in, it is a fascinating conundrum,” he continues. “It’s a handy reference point for a period in post punk when a fascination with the darker side imbued the scene with a thrilling Cimmerian shiver. It’s a stylistic reference point for darker clothes and music, and a sex and death wardrobe, it’s a style of music that has a darker hue to it, and it’s a culture that coalesced in a lot in clubs at the time. It was also a retrospective term for a scene that was already there and was initially called ‘alternative’ music or even ‘raincoat’ music. Initially, like all pop culture, it wasn’t codified and it was a free for all and that is when things are always the most fun, but if you are looking for a simple and short explanation for the form, maybe we can sum it up in one word: black.”

The book is vast in its scope, looking back as far as the historic Germanic Goths and their role in the fall of the Roman Empire, and the way, as Robb puts it, that “the very unsettling funk that goes around the word ‘goth’ [has been] part of the European psyche for centuries. The idea that these uncouth warriors in dark outfits were going to sack the eternal city and bring classic culture to its knees is a part of the European soul and it became a byword for shadowy cultures in the beyond and the dark forests.”

Robb traces that through to the re-emergence of Gothic art and culture in the 12th century, “the point at which it ended up being celebrated as another culture of its own with its own dizzying heights in all fields,” as he puts it. It also takes in European folk tales, Romantic poets, ghost stories and philosophy, and also brings things right up to the present.

“The word ‘goth’ has [now] become embedded in pop culture,” Robb says. “Seemingly everywhere has a goth club or bar. Goth, like punk, is now everywhere and yet nowhere – you may rarely see one of its practitioners flitting in the dusk but the groups are bigger than ever and all popular culture is infused with its DNA – from gaming to Wednesday, from Batman to blockbuster novels. Its eternal attraction is in its embrace of the core fundamentals of life like sex and death, with a great soundtrack, a constantly evolving style, and a snakebite of cultural dissonance.”

John Robb

Rather than what often feels like an increased blurring of genre distinctions in the internet age, prompting fears that subcultures might one day disappear for good Robb argues that when it comes to goth, “weirdly, the opposite seems to have happened. Its role has changed, but its flavours are everywhere in literature, film and TV, gaming and social networking – the art of darkness has infused all culture and like it always has done, that sense of the embrace of melancholy is played out in whatever the current technology is.”

Much of the book, of course, is dedicated to goth music, told via interviews with artists including Nick Cave, The Cure, Einstürzende Neubauten, Killing Joke, The Damned, The Banshees, Trent Reznor, Andrew Eldritch, Adam Ant and more. Robb highlights The Doors – a review of whose first New York show is the first known description of a band as ‘gothic’ – and Jim Morrison’s “dark leathery presence, baritone voice and deep love of the romantic presence setting the template for the form,” as something of a starting point, before the post punk generation crossbred it with punk after the Apocalypse Now soundtrack saw a resurgence in The Doors’ popularity. “Add a dose of Bowie and the glam wars to the mix and you are pretty well ready to do the dark dance,” Robb says.

For all the high-profile artists Robb is able to associate with ‘goth’ in the book, it’s also striking how few – and how few people in general – actually like to call themselves goth. “It was a sniffy sarcastic retrospective term for a scene that was already there,” Robb points out. “One of the things I wanted to underline in the book was that many of these band were making seriously brilliant art rock. Bauhaus and The Sisters Of Mercy and many others were sonic game changers whose imagination and music was astounding, Siouxsie was a stunning icon whose band changed the way music was made. None of these bands adhered to anyone’s code, that was their genius. None of these bands can be housed in the smallholding of a four-letter word.”

With his own band, The Membranes, Robb witnessed much of that scene’s rise first hand. “Although we were always a band stuck in its own micro-scene of one,” he points out, “we often played with the other bands like at the Futurama Festival or supporting Sex Gang Children or going to many of the clubs in the book. Stylistically we are also growing out of punk into more flamboyant darker styles. At the time it felt like a darkly flamboyant take on punk and that chimed with our mood.”

Writing about that time, he says, “enhanced what I thought [at the time]. The idea that it was part of a much bigger picture that went through the centuries and also added a real depth the culture. It helped to enhance the culture with more layers and to underline that this was a serious game changing art rock that was going on here. It was not the cliched redacted idea of black clothes and moping around, but a profound and artful darkness that needs to be embraced. Its cultural relevance is huge, and I knew all this, but it was a privilege to explain this in detail.”

Read on for an exclusive extract from The Art Of Darkness, detailing the rise of Virgin Prunes and their lasting effect on their native Dublin. You can pre-order Robb’s book here.

A New Form Of Beauty: Virgin Prunes

How Lypton Village Changed a Nation

Virgin Prunes, photo by Ursula Steiger

Back in the late ‘70s, Dublin was a claustrophobic conservative village – a place where despite sparks of culture, creativity felt suppressed, and a stiff religion without a warm spirituality was in control. The powers that be felt that the Irish nation was the last bulwark of an old school Christianity standing against the tide of filth of the western world, with the likes of the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Morris, describing the nation in 1961 as ‘a Christian country surrounded by paganism.’ The Thin Lizzies and the even thinner hippies had left their mark, but things were moving slowly until the shock troops of glam sieved through punk appeared. The maverick souls in the radical Dublin undergrowth of the mid-to-late 1970s who had part coalesced around the godhead ziggy of Bowie and that dystopian arthouse vision of glam were now inspired into action by the DIY ethos of punk. Virgin Prunes added their own dark theatricality, surrealism, fringe pop culture and a yearning for an esoteric twist on Christian spirituality – a philosophy that was a fascinating addition to their glam take on post-punk, their penchant for shock tactics, and a freakish wardrobe.

It took this ragamuffin gang of freaks to short-circuit the sleepwalking city and drag it into the 20th century. By creating a danceable work of art with a side order of beautiful outrage and a twist of their own innate spirituality, Virgin Prunes pushed the boundaries of music and appearance and helped to kick down the cultural doors of their stuffy home country and helped to create a pathway from the wreckage of punk and the dying embers of glam into an artful end of goth.

”We knew exactly what we were doing. We were following our animal instincts. We were trying to make a new music to try to get somewhere different. In our heads, we thought we were changing the world.”
Gavin Friday

Gavin Friday was one of the driving forces behind Virgin Prunes. One of the three singers, alongside Guggi and Dave-id BUsaras, he was curating a provocative and artful freak show. Friday and the band’s performance art and wonderfully weird, dislocated music was an eclectic electric shock. They were like the Diamond Dogs from Bowie’s mid-’70s sci-fi dystopia running amok in the post-punk playground of a late ‘70s Dublin, defying its claustrophobic and repressed atmosphere that they would be the key catalyst in changing.

”Dublin was very repressed. There was lots of unemployment. The Troubles were only just up the road in Belfast. There were bombs going off. It was repressed by the church, poverty, unemployment and very conservative. It was a pretty fucked- up country but Bowie and glam were the beacon of light.”
Gavin Friday

After the glam rock shock of Bowie, Gavin became immersed in a small clutch of cultural outsiders, a very local Ludd gang. A ‘youthful gang’ of fellow mavericks that also included pre-U2 members and other fertile demiurgic souls who created their own imaginary community, a surrealistic street gang which they called Lypton Village.

The conceptual village came together in the mid-1970s at their Mount Temple School in Clontarf, North Dublin and was an imaginary and mythical place of escape steeped in many esoteric ideas and provocative interests. This theoretical village was a safe space where the small clutch of outsider droogs could seek and develop their own interests outside of their country’s deadening reality.

Lypton Village was akin to Dublin’s own Bromley Contingent. They were a similar loose collective of young, artistic minds bristling with reinvention, unconvention and creativity. Forward-facing and desiring to create something new, many of the group found solace and inspiration in their country’s own past, a mystical tradition built into the rocks of the island nation. Perhaps Lypton Village was simply another contemporary interpretation of Ireland’s romanticised past, as journalist Brian Boyd explained: Lypton Village was a little-known area in Ballymun, Dublin. It only ever existed for a few years during the 1970s. Its residents included Fionan Hanvey, David Evans, Paul Hewson and Derek Rowen. You could never find it on a map because it was a virtual village – a psychological place of escape for its inhabitants. Lypton Village had its own laws: art, music and weirdness were good, but everything else was bad. It had its own language, and its members were christened with new names.

The loose collective turned nicknames into an art form, creating new identities for one another. Derek Rowen became Guggi, and his brother Trevor became Strongman. In turn, Guggi renamed Fionan Hanvey ‘Gavin Friday’, their neighbour in Ballum and best friend Paul Hewson was renamed Bono Vox, and David Watson became Dave-id Busaras. It was a process that saw every member receiving a futuristic takeover and a passport to create whilst providing an escape from their dreary and predictable Dublin lives, offering a chance to be anything they wanted.

When punk arrived in the imaginary commune, its residents had formed what would become their bands – U2 and Virgin Prunes. These were two deliberately different outfits, showcasing the opposing sides of mythical village life. Yet, both groups had morphed out of the same post-punk immaculate conception, even sharing the odd song title before following somewhat different artistic paths. Forming the bands had been an attempt to reinterpret the new energy of punk, and whilst U2 were aimed at the mainstream jugular, Virgin Prunes added a sense of wild-eyed Celtic art terrorism to the melting pot. The band’s differing identities were unavoidable, but this did not affect the village’s closeness.

”The U2 connections were very strong because I grew up with Bono. He lived a few doors down from me. As kids, we used to be bored. We didn’t use to go out much. When Bono went and formed U2, what they were expressing was totally different to what we were expressing when Virgin Prunes formed, but there was still this closeness, but it was in friendship rather than attitudes and ideas. As the two bands developed, we came to our own identities.”
Gavin Friday

Musically, Virgin Prunes integrated primal, tribal rhythms, a mutoid disco and an embrace of dissonance and discord with captivating vocals from the singers. If U2 would go on to become the biggest band in the world later in that decade, it was, arguably, the confrontational art of Virgin Prunes that would have an equal yet far different effect on their hometown than the huge successes of their close friends. Once Virgin Prunes started playing in Dublin in 1978, the band challenged every convention of overbearing Ireland. This confrontation was conducted most potently through their outrageous live shows. These performances often involved blood, theatrical stage fucking, suggested genderless sex, makeup, pigs’ heads and a brilliant deconstructed music. Shock values aside, their sound was parallel to the eccentric howling genius of early PiL to make their music eminently danceable and exotically melodic. There was something about Virgin Prunes’ beautiful madness that sparked a whole creative new world.

They were the perfect gang of blood-stained diamond droogs who escaped after Bowie had opened the floodgates of pop culture lunacy in the mid-1970s. Dublin needed this jean genie to escape from its bottle because the city in which Virgin Prunes originated was not the modern fun house of the trendy Temple Bar, ubiquitous cultural events, and the capital of a young, forward-thinking nation.

”We were like a Third World country. If you go back to parts of the Eastern bloc of Europe now, that’s what Dublin was like in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Grey, dull, mass unemployment and complete poverty. Music became a lifeline to escape for kids. Punk gave you a license to form a band with just an attitude. I turned sixteen when punk kicked in, and I had plenty of attitude. I was ready, and for me, punk looked like the abortion that Ziggy had.”
Gavin Friday

”Johnny Lydon said anyone could do it, form a band and scream. This licence was given to us, and it was beautiful. That was the real godsend of punk. I took the DIY thing very seriously. Also, the idea was don’t try and ape anyone. We just formed a band in 1977, and all the influences were coming out before we made it our own. You don’t know what you are doing at that age. You are just making it up as you go along. We were hitting out against a lot of things, like the way that Ireland was very repressed sexually and politically. We were messing with all that androgynous shit as well ‒ getting stuff out. Spitting it out.”
Gavin Friday

Punk already had its champions in Dublin. The motored-up, tough R&B of local bands was easily assimilated by the new nihilistic rush of punk rock. However, these local bands were not going far enough.

”There was a scene of bands in Dublin like The Radiators from Space, with the late Philip Chevron, who would go on to play with The Pogues. I saw them in 1976, and to my mind, they were brilliant. They had signed to Chiswick Records and released the album TV Tube Heart in 1977. Their first single, ‘Television Screen,’ was the first and only punk record to make the Irish Top 20. That was punk to me. I was actually at the Belfield Punk Festival in the summer of 1977 when they played with The Undertones. I remember that it took two hours to walk to that gig. It was also where the first stabbing at a gig in the British Isles and Ireland occurred. That wasn’t very good. The violence at gigs in Ireland was pretty intense at the time.”
Gavin Friday

The Boomtown Rats was the biggest band in town in 1976, just about to break out. Their supercharged take on the pre-punk zeitgeist of Springsteen and Dr Feelgood was armed with an outrageously charismatic frontman which Gavin Friday observed from a distance.

”The Boomtown Rats were still around in town at the time. I have much respect for Bob Geldof, but he had flares and a moustache, and they were doing Dr Feelgood covers before they went punk. I thought they were a show band. They felt different to what we wanted to do.”
Gavin Friday

Even when punk arrived in Ireland, Virgin Prunes were still outsiders. Too artful for the linear thrashing of established rock, too outrageous for the new puritans, too out there for punk. Gavin Friday liked what he heard but felt separate from it:

We landed on that scene, and there were a few bands around, but most of them took on an almost power pop feel. The northern bands from Belfast, like The Outcasts, were like the beginning of Oi! really. Stiff Little Fingers were around ‒ ‘Alternative Ulster’ is a genius pop song ‒ and The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ is brilliant as well, but we didn’t fit in with any of it. We were dealing one minute with improvisation and performance art, and we were big into German music like Kraftwerk, Can and Neu! I was mad into Public Image Limited, and the darker, more industrial side would become more interesting, but at the same time, I loved in your face punk and pop and Jacques Brel; the band was almost schizophrenic because of this.”
Gavin Friday

The Irish music scene was a small affair with the post-punk community like a remote colony, clinging together in cultural isolation. Everyone knew everyone else, and the must-have purchases were always a long ferry journey away.

”There was one shop called Advance Records, off Grafton Street, near the Dandelion Market, which would get imports in for you and another shop called No Romance, which the sisters of Boomtown Rats keyboard player Johnny Fingers ran. A lot of the time, I would get the ferry over to Liverpool and buy records. I’d say, ‘How many people want Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag, Nag, Nag’ single?’ and I would go over to Probe Records, where Pete Burns from Dead or Alive would famously work and get 15 copies, and 15 copies of the latest Pere Ubu release. I would make these shopping trips for singles. It really pisses me off today, people moaning about getting hold of stuff: then it was the quest! The weekend on the car ferry!”
Gavin Friday

In the pre-internet days of vinyl currency, a record was like a missive from an imaginary world, a portal to a new culture. Records were invaluable and micro manifestos.

”There was a great sense of adventure in travelling to buy the singles. You would have your copy of Datapanik in the Year Zero by Pere Ubu, and no one else would have it in the whole country. That felt great! In a weird way, there was a bit of a trainspotting thing goin’ on. That was the mentality.”
Gavin Friday

The anarchic nature of punk and its micro scenes meant that this was no mass movement. The inhabitants of Lypton Village were just a tiny clutch of free thinkers, and there were similar pockets across the UK and Ireland.

”I think punk was the last scream of rock’n’roll. It was amazing, with all the energy and excitement. Ten years later, there was the dance scene, and that was an energy as well, [but] punk was ten years after the 1967 summer of love, and this was the summer of hate. The NME was the Bible to me as a kid, and then punk came along but, for me, the period just after, from 1978 to 1982, has been very ignored. We were much more related to that era. You can actually trace a lot of that music from the Bowie fans who got into punk – bands like Joy Division, The Slits, The Pop Group, Cabaret Voltaire, and Public Image, who went that way. It was the geezers from the suburbs of Manchester and Sheffield, the grey-coat brigade with the eyeliner ‒ that was what was going on, and we attracted that crowd. I remember going to Futurama Festival in 1980 to see PiL and Joy Division, which was unbelievable, wasn’t it? We played the second one, and I remember Lydon had his back to the audience, telling them to ‘fuck off, you cunts’.”
Gavin Friday

That crowd were the early stirrings of the goth scene, and Virgin Prunes were very much part of this post-punk landscape, creating their own distinctive howl.

”The name ‘Virgin Prunes’ had been hanging around for a while. We’d had it since the early ‘70s. You’d see old people walking around, and we’d call them prunes. That’s where it came from. Virgin Prunes were quite innocent, and we always said if we ever had a band, we’d be called that. The name was there; now we had a lineup, and we each had a key role. I was a big, big music fan, and Guggi was also a visuals person. When punk happened, it was a godsend. It was like we and U2 were two bands just waiting to pick up an instrument.”
Gavin Friday

Their second gig in 1978 set the template for their provocative and delicious performance, as Friday fondly recalls:

At first, there was just me and Guggi, with U2 as our backing band, when they were still called The Hype. I worked in a slaughterhouse and got a load of white coats and mesh, which we used to cover up with. We did a 20-minute version of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ slowed right down so that it would take a minute and a half to get one sentence out. It was totally provocative. After that gig, Dik Evans, who was Edge’s older brother, left The Hype and came to work with us.”
Gavin Friday

Another gig soon followed. The ad hoc lineup supported The Clash in 1978, which saw them venturing further into the obscure. In these early performances, they were testing the sensibilities of even the self-styled broadminded punk rock nation. Gavin Friday still relishes the confrontation:

“The gig took place at the Top Hat in Dun Laoghaire in October 1978. When we came on, Guggi was wearing a tiny skirt, and I had a plastic suit made out of raincoats, no jocks underneath, and a pair of Docs. We had only played two little gigs before that. Steve Averill from The Radiators from Space played synthesiser with us that night. When we started, the crowd just went apeshit. They thought Guggi was a chick. The adrenaline of all these people pogoing kicked in, and I started jumping around; the next thing, this plastic suit that my ma had made me split completely. I was standing there totally bollock-naked, except for a pair of Dr. Martens. I turned around, and Guggi’s skirt had come off, and you could see that he was a bloke. All hell broke loose, bottles were flying, and they were setting the curtains on fire. We were thrown off the stage by The Clash’s tour manager and fucked off out the door. We had no money and had to walk home with all our gear from Dun Laoghaire to Ballymun.”

By late 1978, instead of being trapped by the newly buckled straitjacket of punk, the Dublin contingent embraced an ‘anything goes’ philosophy and pioneered a post-punk artfulness. Their wilful and evocative provocation saw them as the city’s interpretation of such dark and artful bands as Public Image Limited, Einstürzende Neubauten, The Fall and The Birthday Party. Their boundary-pushing warped music, avant-garde performance and theatrics soon gained them a local cult audience. They were fiercely loved by few but ridiculed by the culturally conservative community of their homeland. This was their success. Their aim. It was part of their blood.

”Ireland was different then. I remember someone rang me to say Johnny Rotten was in town having a pint and that he’d been arrested. That’s what it was like. He ended up in Mountjoy Prison. He was supposed to go to court, but he legged it. Lydon had Irish blood, Morrissey had Irish blood, the Gallaghers are fucking Irish ‒ the whole attitude is like that.”
Gavin Friday

While Gavin Friday and Guggi’s manic vocal interplay had served them well, they had quickly added a third vocalist into the fray. Dave-id Busaras fitted well into the group, with his early performances involving the consumption of a ketchup- smothered chicken as a musical accompaniment. Busaras also began writing songs and performing them live. It proved to be a cathartic outlet for the previously introverted soul who’d experienced a childhood battle against meningitis and had lost his mother at a young age. He became an integral part of Virgin Prunes in the studio, contributing tracks to all of their albums. The wide range of musical styles covered by Dave-id’s songwriting reflected his eclectic taste in music; his voice, capable of expressing both a wild rage and soul-melting sorrow, made him a truly unique artist in a truly unique band.

The Prunes’ multi-frontman format also saw a solid band behind them. Hot on the heels of guitarist Dik Evans came The Hype’s bassist, Strongman, and drummer Pod, who was eventually by replaced Haa-Lacka Binttii. With Binttii on drums, tape loops and keyboards, Virgin Prunes surprised even themselves when they signed with Rough Trade records. They released a brace of singles, including their January 1981 debut, ‘Twenty Tens’, on their own Baby Records label. A driving, manic song, wild with ideas and sounding so fresh today that it could have been released last week, the single was a shot of maverick energy that could still sit easily in a set by new bucks from Dublin like Murder Capital or Fontaines DC.

They followed it with a second single, the gloriously eccentric ‘Moments and Mine (Despite Straight Lines)’ that June. Like a perfect Prune Yin to U2’s Yang, the bands were running parallel and opposite careers. U2 had begun their ascent into a worldwide success, which; although they were utilising the same source material as Virgin Prunes, was moulded into a new kind of rock music that would fill stadiums. Virgin Prunes resolutely went in the opposite direction, into an art underground with smaller gigs involving innovative music. Not shying from their love of provocation and artful dislocation, these shows would often feature raw meat thrown around a leaf strewn stage, amongst other dark theatrics.

”People have always brought comparisons between the bands musically. But we’ve never really gone together on musical terms. If I see Bono, I won’t talk to him about music. I’d talk about other things. We hate it when people bring it up ’cos they say, ‘Hey, you’re in Virgin Prunes. Well, tell us all about U2.’ We get that a lot, so we hate the U2 connections! It just gets to be a pain in the arse.”
Gavin Friday

1982 saw the band creating a larger impression with their impassioned and left-field live performances. Their dark theatricality was a definite precursor to what would become goth, and their artful provocation brought an intense coterie of fans. They were obsessed with dark themes and artful confrontation, which continued to feed into their recorded work. Their music remained hypnotically off-kilter, even during an attempt to become more commercial with 1982’s excellent ‘Pagan Love Song’ and ‘Baby Turns Blue’ singles, both would become goth club staples with their anthemic choruses and dance floor rhythms.

Their debut 1982 album, …If I Die, I Die, is, for many followers, their grand statement. It was a release that somehow managed to confine their creative madness into recognisable, near-song structures that ring with a primal, pagan originality. The album wildly swung between emotional extremes and makes for unsettling listening. Besides the tense drama and unique guitar chiming of ‘Ulakanakulot’ sat the band’s closest attempt at a breakthrough song; the electro-drenched hysteria of ‘Baby Turns Blue’. As expected from the obtuse band, it was an album full of twists, turns and curious imagination – a complex and brilliant work.

Maintaining their love of the conceptual and artful, the Prunes also released their 1983 A New Form of Beauty compilation album that collected parts 1 through 4 of the A New Form of Beauty project. Of course, though, a volatile band like Virgin Prunes was always going to have an inbuilt obsolescence. They were not built to last. The group were created to break barriers and then break up.

By 1984, both Guggi and Dik Evans, unhappy with the music business, left the band. Guggi, despite a few years in prison, is now a respected artist whose work has continued to explore the depiction of common everyday objects whilst making magic from the mundane. Despite these changes, initially, Virgin Prunes regrouped, with drummer D’Nellon switching to guitar and Pod returning as the band’s drummer. The reconstituted lineup started to record their unreleased second album, Sons Find Devils, but it wasn’t until 1986 that they finally released a version of the album. As a four-piece, the following year, they released The Moon Looked Down and Laughed, which was produced by Soft Cell’s David Ball. Rejecting a consistent sound, the album is full of unique, nursery rhyme-style ballads.

Shortly afterwards, Gavin Friday left to pursue a solo career and to write soundtracks. The band continued as the Prunes, but the moment had passed. Despite never reaching mainstream success, they had opened up a small tear in the fabric of Dublin. To this day, when visiting the city, you see a different vista – more eccentric, more artful, and more off-kilter.


Virgin Prunes have left their mark not only musically and sartorially but also culturally and politically. Once Dublin realised that it could nurture something extraordinary, then there was space for similar creatives, the lid was off, and the beautiful madness started in earnest.

”We didn’t have a fucking clue. One of the few things I was good at was art. We were always called pretentious pricks simply because we were into the avant-garde. I remember when we were sixteen, when it was a big deal to come into town and hang out at McDonald’s. One day we walked in and saw the performance artist Nigel Wolf naked with paint all over him and a huge stream coming off his mickey, pulling these rocks. We were going, ‘What the fuck was that? We just continued from there…”
Gavin Friday

Virgin Prunes had the same reaction. They were post-punk provocateurs, tapping into the artistic confrontation of punk’s inner psyche, duty bound to terrify the mainstream. The band’s closest bedfellows were the punk experimenters, musicians tearing rock apart, searching for new angles and ideas to mine, as Gavin Friday explains:

”We freaked out the radio stations. The whole 78/82 scene of Gang of Four, Joy Division, the Banshees – was where we fitted in, but our music was also very forward-looking. Some of our stuff could have been made in New York in the 21st century, and I’m surprised that no one ever followed what we tried to do, even with the visual aspect and the performance art end of it. When you travel, you meet a Paddy everywhere you go. Look to America! look west! With his punk interpretation of Irish music, Shane MacGowan hit a chord there in a way that we never could.”
Gavin Friday

Looking back, Friday understands his importance in the cultivation of the proto-goth scene:

”That confused us so much. We were sort of instigators in that whole movement. We were the band that wore makeup, then The Cure, Bauhaus, Banshees, and other people picked up on the androgyny. Post Virgin Prunes, there have been all manner of projects and art exercises. These are creative people, and, in many ways, being in a band was just one part of their art war. Somehow, almost by accident, maybe even by a grand instinctive design, they managed to make some great music that echoes through the decades, sounding barely dated.

We knew exactly what we were doing ‒ following our animal instincts. We were trying to make a new music to try to get somewhere different. In our heads, we thought we were changing the world. There was a scream for identity. Our country was changing. We were the first generation to kick back and say, ‘Fuck off and fuck religion ‒ we’re getting out of this ‒ fuck your repression.”

This common theme of music culture kicking against the suffocating pricks of mainstream consensus was played out over and over again across Europe. Playing with styles, symbols, sound, and even pop culture itself can go a long way in changing your corner of the world, just like the next group on our journey have done.

The Art Of Darkness: A History of Goth by John Robb is published on 17 March by Louder Than War Books. Pre-order it here.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today