Record Review: The Virgin Prunes – “Don’t Look Back” US 12″

Touch And Go | US 12″ | 1986 | T&G#16

The Virgin Prunes: Let’s All Sing Of The Tortured Heart [Don’t Look Back] – US – 12″ [1986]

  1. Let’s All Sing Of The Tortured Heart [Don’t Look Back] [extended remix]
  2. The White History Book
  3. Day Of Ages

“Thank god it’s Friday!” There. Someone had to say it. So I bought a trinity of Virgin Prunes singles decades ago in Atlanta after finding this band always next to the Visage records in the used bins. Gavin Friday cut a similar figure as a androgynous dandy on the covers as Steve Strange did…maybe there was something there? This particular single was the US indie label Touch + Go out of Chicago licensing this record for US distribution. Making France and America the only regions where one could find a copy. Astonishing, but then there’s still the record itself [much less its provenance] to engage us.

“Don’t Look back” was a track from the final Virgin Prunes album, “The Moon Looked Down + Laughed,” which saw the Irish avant-collective getting production by David Ball of Soft Cell. David Meegan provided the extended remix here and it was an example, thoroughly if its time, where the track was poured into a sampler and given a hard shake or two. Lots of sampled cut-up repetition seeking to give the track a new rhythmic profile.

The drums sounded like they could be machines but the guitar and bass here were rough and ready, with the synths relegated to the margins of the brash dance rock track with the occasional horn patch riding the top of the muscular sound. Where it all arrived on point was in the commanding vocal of Gavin Friday. He did not merely sing the chorus of this song, he spat it out with unmitigated venom. Con brio.

The song went halfway through the mix before the verses finally manifested but the end result was something of a paradox; a dance rock mix that was light on the synths processed as a whole on the sampler; giving the bruising music a technological footprint that it might not have had in its LP or 7″ mix. If you got to hear this in a club, it would definitely grab one by the lapels and give a good head butt in the process. In the end it was down to Mr. Friday’s forceful performance.

With The Virgin Prunes, there was always a bit of the vocal roulette wheel with Gavin Friday certainly not dominating the vocal duties of the sometimes sprawling collective. The B-side “The White History Book” was an atmospheric number produced by David Ball and Flood with a quixotic vocal by Dave-Id Busaras, who sings [and that’s stretching it a bit…] the track in its first half as though he’s masticating particularly thick oatmeal at the same time. Descending at times into a Joycean flourish of heavily feathered language for its own sake. The second half of the track consisted of the music bed with what sounded like field recordings of Busaras giving someone driving directions.

The second B-side, “Day Of Ages,” was later added to revised, resequenced pressings of “The Moon Looked Down And Laughed” that Mute reissued about 18 years ago. It found Mr. Friday back at the mic, but the chaotic, dirgelike music, complete with martial beats and bleating sax struck a mid-point between the relative commerciality of the A-side and the first B-side we just discussed. Hearing him intone “I wish I was dead…” repeatedly, just managed to stop short of wearing out its welcome at the 3:14 length.

The Virgin Prunes were definitely a group of great interest who walked a path zig-zagging between avant-garde thrills and what would later be called the Goth scene. They had just enough of a commercial edge with a leftfield club sound so that their cliff-jumping art excursions only served to balance out their overall platform well enough. But Friday bolted for his fascinating solo career as soon as this album and its singles were issued in 1986. He’s made only four solo albums since then [and the latest was a decade ago], but they are all great listening as he’s honed his Scott Walker influence into something that has embellished and informed his own art most capably.


About postpunkmonk

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2 Responses to Record Review: The Virgin Prunes – “Don’t Look Back” US 12″

  1. Jeremy Shatan says:

    Very cool, I don’t know if I’ve heard that remix. I’m a much bigger fan of If I Die, I Die than TMLDAL, however, and love Gavin Friday’s first three solos almost unreasonably. Now you’ve given me something else to hunt down!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jeremy Shatan – I still don’t have “The Moon Looked Down And Laughed,” […yet…] but I have both singles from it. I have had “If I Die, I Die” on LP and the silver disc for 30+ years and it’s my go-to Virgin Prunes experience. So you didn’t love “Catholic?!” Care to elaborate? As for Gavin Friday, I’d love to hear some more. I still can’t believe we saw the “Shag Tobacco” tour [on St. Patrick’s day, 1997!] in the sleepy hamlet of Orlando in an intimate club with Friday and The Man Seezer. What an electric performance that I often reflect on.

      Liked by 1 person

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