Saturday 20 October 2018

The Singing Flame: Gavin Friday and his fight for Irish freedom

The singer and composer released his first album for 16 years on Good Friday -- and it's a strange and out-of-kilter delight, writes Barry Egan

GAVIN Friday is quite the wag, isn't he? He's only gone and released his new album Catholic on Good Friday.

The cover of the CD, shot by photographer Perry Ogden, features Gavin -- in a provocative pose that owes a debt to Michael Collins -- laid out with the tricolour draped over him on his deathbed and a crucifix placed across his heart.

When Gavin's mother saw the image, she said to him: "Your father was right. You are always looking for attention." And eternal attention-seeker Gavin sings a beautiful song about his late father in Blame, ending with the raw truth of: 'No one is to blame.'

It is 16 years since Friday's last album Shag Tobacco. Catholic is well worth the wait. The slick booklet that comes with the album features an essay from Gavin's friend, the novelist Patrick McCabe. In Requiem For The Fallen, McCabe writes: 'Both now, in tandem, intoning "Mea culpa", in sympathy with the Fallen, on broken knees, crouched against the epochal sky . . .'

Produced by demi-legend Ken Thomas and recorded in Dublin, Cork and West Yorkshire, Catholic is 51-year-old Wildean rake Gavin's most inspired and inspirational collections of songs (and emotions). Gavin's voice, like his songs, is not Boyzone: it is brittle and ghostly, haunting and other-worldly in a way that Johnny Cash or Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen or Antony Hegarty or Lou Reed sing; they are not great singers as such, but they convey great emotions and ideas in their songs. Gavin has ditched the Jacque Brel sound for something more cinematic, something more mad.

And you know you are getting something madly potent from Gavin when you press play on the opening track Able and he sings like Quentin Crisp seducing Bono: 'Don't tell me you love, I can feel your rage/Green eyes burning fatal, like a cat in a cage.'

Elsewhere on tracks like It's All Ahead Of You, Perfume and Lord I'm Comin', the hair on the back of my neck is tingling with a strange, out-of-kilter delight. That is the essence of Gavin Friday for me. He is a strange, out-of-kilter delight.

With his shaved head, neo-Bowie suit and boots, Gavin looks like someone who you wouldn't approach easily in the street. He's actually a gentle pussycat in Docs.

When his former band, the ferociously anti-establishment Virgin Prunes (they were always being banned from the Late Late Show in their day for their songs and their look; men in frocks, basically) supported The Fall in Manchester in 1985, Gavin stayed at the drummer's parents' house after the gig. "Gavin sent my mum flowers," remembered Paul Hanley.

Hopefully, Gavin will receive plenty of flowers of congratulations and suchlike when his long-awaited album is released worldwide next month. Let's hope the world has catholic tastes.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section