Ahead of his new Dublin show, Gavin Friday talks to U2.Com about making movies, going into the studio with Bono and producing 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me'.
Gavin Friday has a new show, 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me', opening in Dublin, at the end of the month - a 'musical/visual tribute to 20th Century German Music, Art, Film and Literature'. And Gavin, one of U2's oldest friends and collaborators, has just been in the studio with Bono recording 'sea chanteys' with producer Hal Willner for the double album 'Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys', released next month. Oh, and he's made his Hollywood debut this year, in Neil Jordan's Golden Globe nominated 'Breakfast on Pluto'. And found time to collaborate with Quincy Jones on the soundtrack to the 50 Cent biopic 'Get Rich or Die Trying'. Did we mention he's just become a neighbour of Bono? Seemed like a good moment to track Gavin down for a goss. Here's what he had to say.
U2.Com: We last caught up with you on the road with U2, somewhere in the US last year. The band stayed on the road but you headed off to Hollywood. Has the acting and the soundtrack work taken up most of your time since ?
GF: I get called everything from consultant to poptician but with U2 I always see myself as a midwife. I'm usually involved at the beginning, the middle and end of a project with them. When the live project was up and running last year Mr Friday went home, and then the outdoor show in Europe came along and it was stunning, a very easy birth, so Midwife Friday came home again.
'Pluto' I had already filmed - just before I started on Vertigo - but I think it was after U2's second Croke Park gig that I went over to New York to meet Quincy Jones, Jimmy Iovine and 50 Cents and a month later I was in Los Angeles working on the soundtrack to 'Get Rich or Die Tryin'.
It was a strange thing actually because my dad had just passed away and he and Quincy Jones were born on the same day in March in 1932. Suddenly I had this surrogate black emperor dad who called me 'Taliban Friday' because he thought I was a musical terrorist. Quite a nice title actually, Bono was impressed with that, he said to Quincy, 'You got it in one there!'
U2.Com: Producing a Hollywood soundtrack, starring in another, it sounds pretty full-on?
I tend to forget to rest and when I came home I jumped straight into a show with Gavin Bryars and a great classical ensemble called The Crash Ensemble where I performed the first vocalisation ever of The Sinking of the Titanic. But then I collapsed! I needed a serious rest and I did a very strange thing and I emigrated to the south side of Dub and became a neighbour of Bono so we can call each other over the wall when we want to go down the pub!
U2.Com: It wasn't a very long rest, because 'Pluto' was released and you were promoting it ?
Yes, there was two months of promotion, a lot of Plutoisation, and then agents wanted to meet me because I got some good reviews. But I related to that movie very well, I grew up in that era, the seventies and if you look at the original book by Patrick McCabe it's dedicated to me and my ex-wife and there's a bit of a Virgin Prune about the lead character, ridiculing and laughing, and it's all the stuff the Irish didn't talk about in those days - sexuality, priests having sex, abortion, drugs, the political issues we had to put up with which we pushed under the carpet. And then there's this innocent who laughed at it and moved on. It's a beautiful document of that time and it was a privilege to work on. I got a bit of the bug too, I'd love to do more of the acting. But everyone seems to cast me as a baddie. I wonder why...
U2.Com: You were back in the studio with your new neighbour only recently, recording tracks with Hal Willner for the album of sea chanteys that comes out next month.
GF: That was quite spontaneous. Me and Hal go back nearly 20 years, I met him in '88 when I first signed to Island. But the guy who kickstarted the Chanteys record was Johnny Depp, who is a real rock'n'roll music guy at heart. What happened was him and Gore Verbinski, director of the Pirates of the Carribean movie, got into collecting these old sea chanteys and they thought it was amazing music which has been around for so long and they realised that people subliminally know so many of them.
They contacted Hal about doing an album and he decided to do it just like a pirate! He brought his ship into different towns and started recording. I got a call a week before he came into Dublin, 'Could you put a band together for me? Who's in town? Is Bono in town? What about Andrea? And Shane MacGowan? Actually Shane, as it turned out, didn't turn up for the session on three days in a row! But Bono was up for it and Andrea Corr and we reunited some Virgin Prunes!
U2.Com: How did it work?
GF: Hal had a great method: he would say 'Listen to this one!' and play you a piece and then hand you the lyrics and ask if you like it. He'd play you ten pieces and each time ask you if you liked that one! Obviously I myself was attracted to 'The Baltimore Whores', a very tongue-in-cheek number about four prostitutes discussing which sailor has the biggest dick! Got a real folky, piratey feel.
Bono picked a beautiful piece, about a young sailor bidding farewell to his crew, 'A Dying Sailor to His Shipmates'. Bono, unsurprisingly, went into this very religious place, performing this wonderful emotive wail, incredible really and also very quick!
I put the band together and Andrea did an amazing piece called 'Caroline and Her Young Sailor Bold' - a gorgeous, stunning number. And then there was the three ex-singers of the Virgin Prunes - Dave-iD, Guggi and Gavin - David-id being the lead vocalist. It was not a Virgin Prunes reunion but we performed this real amazing chantey called Bully In The Alley, it's something to hear ! Hal just thought that's how they probably sang the song in the first place - these lads were rowing boats of course - and you wouldn't believe how Irish and northern English all these songs are!
U2.Com: And then Hal's ship set sail again, to record in other pirate towns?
It was so refreshing that it was all done and dusted in two or three days. Musicans were going 'Lets take that song, lets learn it, record it, do a live take, mix it, done!' And it was onto the next one, it was lovely, just capturing that rough-edged spontaneity.
U2.Com: Now you're preparing the new production that you've been writing, a theatrical show which opens in a couple of weeks. Is it a one-man show?
It's a bit more than a one man show, I open up my pocket and lots of people come out! I don't know if it's the Killiney air but since I moved there I've started writing again seriously, like a madman actually, and I was asked earlier in the year, by the Dublin Theatre Festival, if I'd put on 'Ich Liebe Dich', the Kurt Weill tribute I did a few years back.
In the end it wasn't going to happen, the time wasn't right, but I started asking myself why I like things German and I think it all goes back to when I was a kid, the profound effect of seeing 'Cabaret', then Bowie brought me to Berlin - making albums like Low - and Iggy with Lust for Life. Then you discover Can, Neu, Kraftwerk... and I realised I could develop a show around that.
I started looking at the old movies, at the art and intelligence of the country in the C20th. Everyone looks at the arsehole Hitler but what that country produced was unbelievable! And the show is not just German artists but artists who lived in Germany for a few years, people who wrote about Germany, people who recorded in Germany.
U2.Com: It is described as covering everything from 'German Expressionism' to 'electronica' and the 'Gothic'. Sounds pretty out there!
It'll be theatre, rock, pop, electronic, visuals, acting, singing, performing, showing extracts of movies - it's humorous and it's dangerous, a bit of everything!
If you look at the way that music is changing, with the download revolution, none of us can imagine what will happen in the next ten years and I believe the rock show too has to be reinvented - how people perform must be reinvented. The reason U2 are successful as a live band is that they reinvent their show all the time and they put the money into it. And even if the lemon doesn't work they still get into it ! And there's no product behind this show. Why can't there just be a passion ? It will be so inviting and beautiful, imagine having fun with Friday!
U2.Com: Is the live setting the ultimate place for you and your work, do you like playing live?
I was born with a stage light on my head, it's a disease, an illness, if I don't go on stage every so often something goes wrong with me. I love the contact with an audience, I adore an audience, actually I don't just adore them, I want to kiss them, to frighten them, I want to get into them, to bring them on a journey to build something with them and then to knock it down!
U2.Com: Good luck with the show, sounds amazing, just before we leave you, any word on what's happening with U2 at the moment and what would you like to see next?
Right now they're in the sun, with the family and kids. They're the hardest working men I know but July and August is family time. Next with them I'd love to see a new direction - and that's where I'll be kicking them if they come to me! You never know till the baby is born with music. But whatever it is they will have the energy of the 17yr olds who made their first demos, that's what it takes!
Gavin Friday's 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me', sponsored by Beck's, is on at Liberty Hall Theatre, 33 Eden Quay, Dublin 1 on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th July. Tickets 39.50 including booking fee. Contact Liberty Hall Central Ticketing Bureau on 01 872 1122 or www.centralticketbureau.com and Ticketmaster on 0818 719300 or www.ticketmaster.ie, and all usual ticket outlets.