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Virgin Prunes: Hymns From The Village
Date: Wednesday, October 13

Mute Records give a worldwide release to Virgin Prunes back catalogue. The five CD's include A New Form Of Beauty, If I Die, I Die, Heresie, The Moon Looked Down And Laughed and Over The Rainbow.

'Somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off'
- Luis Bunuel

What draws us together as people, as friends? Beauty, dreams and the hopefulness of integration? Belief, an understanding, a communion of spirits . . .

In 1970s Dublin, Ireland a group of teenagers began to explore and develop their individual ideals of beauty and creative expression. Influences were shared and names were given: Gavin Friday, Bono, Dave-iD, Guggi, Strongman, Dik ~ all inhabitants of Lypton Village. Hearts were strengthened and a music was born. Virgin Prunes: six people evoking and evolving their songs of independence, free from the restrictions of religion, politics, culture, class and identity. Speak once more with fire and purpose . . .

'Life is but a dream'

Originally conceived as a seven-part project encompassing 7,10 and 12 inch vinyl records and an as yet unreleased book and film, A New Form Of Beauty (1981) remains Virgin Prunes' first fully realised longform statement of intent. It's provocative and mysterious songs still sound simultaneously caressing and complex. Being chained together by the bittersweet delicate pop of 'Sandpaper Lullaby', a hymn to unrealised love which in turn kisses life into the evocative dreamscapes of 'Sleep Fantasy Dreams'. Golden gentle harmonies sung from the heart but there are also screams from an abattoir of alien rage. Drawn in by the churning, swirling 'Sweethome Under White Clouds' and finally to be cleansed by the infernal apocalyptic curse of 'Beast'. A voyage through light and dark, a transportation by tornado to the Land of Oz. To awaken far away in a field of thorns nestled amongst the poppies. At the same time the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin was utilised by the band that presented to the curious public an exhibition which included installations containing rotten meat and the sight of two live rabbits sharing a bed soundtracked by a pornography loop. The climax of the event is captured live on the 2nd disc 'Din Glorious'. Exposing the bands raw and emotive performance at the art space whereby they unleashed some of their most harsh, abstract and beautiful music to a terrified but fascinated public who remained locked into the gallery for the duration of the three hour performance.

Throughout the early 1980's extensive live work followed. With Virgin Prunes rapidly gaining notoriety and a huge underground following for the often radical and confrontational aspects of their largely improvised concerts. The nature of these performances often embracing the surreal and nightmarish. A single concert's themes could include band members crawling through mud, the onstage destruction of furniture and the consuming of foodstuffs. All backed by Dik's chiming evocative guitars, Strongman's powerful reverberating bass and the rhythmical thump of Mary's tribalistic drumming. Dave-iD regularly opening the evening singing his solo compositions all filled with beauty, wonder, honesty and sadness. By contrast dual singers Gavin and Guggi often appeared in full makeup and dresses crying and screaming songs of pain, anger, love and intent. A universe of dreams, longing and loathing offering escape and emotion but also retaining an innocence. Illuminated by candlelight, flickering shadows sometimes resembling children playing in the rubble, digging and discovering diamonds among the dirt.

'Seeker save your soul she said' . . .

With If I Die, I Die (1982) Virgin Prunes had deliberately written and composed a richly layered and powerful set of songs. With Wire vocalist Colin Newman enlisted to help produce and develop a more emotionally direct album. The impact is immediate as the pulse of the songs are driven by the beat of a sometimes black heart haemorrhaging secret meanings and inner revelations to the listener. Gavin's seanos-like singing is strident, powerful and perfectly aided by the counterbalance of Guggi as brutal poetry is delivered, bursting with bruised conviction. 'Ulakankulot' and 'Decline and Fall' resonate as pleas to reaching and establishing an earthly nirvana, clawing and grasping for a glimpse of the afterlife but always seen through the mists of mortality. Visually contrasted on the inner sleeve by the band appearing in lush woodland, outsiders semi naked in loincloths sheltered amongst the tranquilty of nature. The potential evils of straying from purity of purpose are further examined in songs such as the haunting and powerful 'Dave-iD Id Dead' and by contrast 'Ballad Of The Man' in which the spirit of pop is examined with tongue firmly in cheek. If I Die, I Die, a book bound with flesh, blood and tears finally to closed by the delicately harmonious pulse of the strikingly beautiful and very human closer 'Yeo'.

'We play a different game' . . .

In the same year the band were commissioned by the French label Invitation Au Suicide to record a number of musical pieces which would act as a soundtrack to a series of booklets exploring interpretations of insanity and madness. To achieve the necessary creative mindset the group prepared and wrote material during daylight then spent 3 full nights forsaking sleep to realise Heresie(1982). Both the studio compositions and live soundtrack recorded in Paris stand alone as an individual document of dementia but also act as a distinctive and alarming aural accompaniment to the If I Die project. The bo-prune language, an ancient forbidden dialect is voiced, whispered and shrieked in a discordant but still humane tongue. For the most part a dark compassion shines through the extended pieces such as the wall of feedback and noise erected by 'Rhetoric' while 'Down The Memory Lane' is a wonderfully sloppy pub singalong revealing Virgin Prunes at their most humourous, spontaneous and inventive.

'Like the fire that burns in your eyes'

By the time The Moon Looked Down And Laughed was finally released in 1986, a full two years after the original recording sessions had taken place. Virgin Prunes had lost two members in Dik and Guggi with Mary switching to guitar and Pod returning to percussion. Former Soft Cell member Dave Ball and engineer Flood were recruited to develop and produce a distinctly commercial but still ravishing suite of songs. Over the course of the album the heart is both embraced and dissected, bleeding with all the ecstacies and agonies of romantic love. Words are delivered in a desperate, delicious and delirious tongue. Opening with the celestial strings of 'Heaven', Gavin's vocals have never sounded so assured but still damned. These are very much torch and tortured lullabies to amorous suffering with the highlights including the warped blues of the title song where the band are joined by fellow avant-maverick Jim 'Foetus' Thirlwell. The waves of dramatic tension are broken up by the rousing sea shanty of 'Sons Find Devils', a Brechtian lust for life and death leading agreeably to Dave-iD's wonderfully melancholic and heartfelt ballad 'Uncle Arthur's Lonely World'.

'The dream is over'

Following the completion of The Moon, Virgin Prunes imploded in some very different but colourful directions and began to follow their own distinct and differing creative paths. Gavin appeared as a wonderful acerbic and extravagant torch singer. Mary and Strongman discovered the dark psychedelia of The Prunes and finally Dave-iD showcased his uniquely inventive solo albums. The compilation Over The Rainbow is certainly a fitting and multi dimensional epitaph which truly displays Virgin Prunes at their most creative and beguiling. Indeed such is the schizophrenic diversity of the material present here that 20 years later it still sounds like little or nothing released before or since. Snarling punk spittle (Twenty Tens) rests uneasily with musique concrete-like symphonies. Soundtracks to arcane films and extended exhumations on personal band acquaintances (Jigsawmentallama) all drawn in from the ether. The haunting dronescape opening instrumental 'Red Nettle' and the 'perverse experiment in humour' that is 'Mad Bird In The Wood', a claustropobic vision of madness which sonically exploits the throes of accidently trapped pigeons mixed with the feedback of swinging mics recorded at the bands Dublin headquarters 'The Beautifull House'. So much of these radical, raw and richly imaginative records still sound breathtaking and bewitching and to anyone with an interest in challenging but still highly original music and more The Virgin Prunes catalogue is highly recommended. Just close your eyes and dream . . .

Justin Stabler