Irish musician Gavin Friday has come a long way since inventing an imaginary world, Lipton Village, as a child with a few artistic friends. He tells Big Think how he got to where he is today.
Question: What was it like growing up in Ireland?
Gavin Friday: Well I grew up basically I was born nearly 50 years ago, so I was a child of the '60s basically, which sort of is a real blank. I really started growing up I think in the '70s. I'm a glam-rock kid. But Dublin, Ireland in them days, was a very dark place, as in it was a very poor, almost third world. We are going through economically the whole world is going through a recession at the moment. While maybe the '60s, '70s, and the '80s in Ireland was a real recession. It wasn't a pleasant place. It was massive unemployment, we had huge political problems with the north and it was dull and gray. So I formed a band and tried to escape it all.
So it's a great country; a really beautiful, great country, but it's had its troubles. The last 15 years we had one of the biggest economic booms. Overnight, we became almost the wealthiest country in Europe. And last year , the bubble burst. But I think a few bubbles have burst in a few countries. So we are all going through the same things. But let's say Ireland, in the '70s and the '80s was tough, but if you grow up with a tough background it makes you strong.
How has Irish Catholicism influenced you and your work?
Gavin Friday: One of the biggest problems I found with Irish politics and the economic thing was after World War II, most of the European countries started to develop economically and socially, but whatever way the Catholic church they took a grip and they almost governed the country. I mean, we were almost like a dictatorship. There is good and bad, but we experienced an awful lot of bad, especially from the institutions that taught children the Christian brothers, etc.
All those stories are all coming out now; not just in Ireland, in Canada, and all over the world. So it was pretty intense. The Catholic church were almost -- they were like our Edgar J. Hoover, if you know what I mean. They ruled the roost.
But it had a huge profound influence on me in that as you get older you realize that you can't blame everything; that there is good and bad, and things get misdirected. So I would call myself a black Catholic. I still have this attraction to it because all religions I'm not a fan of. I'm a fan of belief in spirituality. So I would be into Christ rather than the Catholics
Question: What were your main influences as a child?
Gavin Friday: I was a very shy child. I didn't like football. I didn't like the usual stuff that was shoved at. Sports were always down you and the Gaelic language, which I've actually disliked as a kid but as I grow up I quite like it.
My real name isn't Gavin. I was given Gavin Friday by my friends. I'm christened Fionan Hanvey, which is Gaelic and there is no actual English translation. I hated it as a kid, but as I grew up, I sort of went, "Now I like it."
My main influences were -- I loved art. I sounds a little pretentious to say I was into art but I liked drawing. I liked music; music was my outlet from day one.
I was giving you an image of Ireland being this dull, gray, massive unemployment, not much going on and the future was the dull queue or -- and, for me, the window of hope was music and books. So I fell in love with T-Rex and David Bowie very young. They said, "Hey. You don't have to live in this north side of Dublin that's all gray and depressed. You can be a spider and go to Mars." So music and books too. I read avidly as a kid. And that's the beautiful thing about books and music and even movies, is that you can actually escape. You can go into other worlds.
Question: What was Lipton Village?
Gavin Friday: Lipton Village was an imaginary place really. It was a group of young guys that grew up around the same area. I grew up on a street called Cedar Wood Road and, by coincidence, my best friends that are around the age 10 became a guy called Bono and another guy called Guggi. And we just -- it was music again. That pulled us together.
I lived at the bottom end of the street and they lived at the top end and I was quite shy as a little kid, but they found me quite interesting because I had the right albums underneath my arm. Those days where you carry the latest Bowie album or Roxie Music album as you go to school. I mean you can't play an album at school but you were being cool just showing, "Look what I got." And I'm not into Meatloaf; I'm into Bowie. So I attracted their attention and I had long hair and earrings, when it was quite a risque thing to do in Dublin.
We didn't have the liberation that America and Britain in the '60s but I did always looked to England and America, mainly because of the music that came from there. But we became friends through music and we had real names, Fionan Hanvey and Derek Rowan -- what a dreadful name. And Paul Hewson. We gave each other nicknames, just the way most kids do, but the nicknames had more to do with how we physically looked or our essence and I had quite square features as a young kid.
Almost like there was this surge, this ad on the TV as surge pipe, called Wavin and it used to go, "Wavin Piping." And this big square pipe would come. I can be full on at moments, so I was called Wavin for awhile, but I'm a bit softer -- I'm a little softer than a surge pipe so they changed that to Gavin. I didn't chose it, it was Bono and Guggi who gave it to me. And then Friday was added because I have a talent of getting on with most people. So it's a bit of a man Friday thing.
We gave each other these nicknames and then we didn't -- we had similar interests. It sounds really pretentious at 12, 13 year old kids, were like into art and poetry, but we were. We weren't into football, we were into making music or being into music and painting and stuff like that.
And we called this sort of little gang Lipton Village and we made up imaginary games and this is one day we'll form bands and one day we'll make movies and one day we'll do this and one day we'll do that. But I think a lot of kids do this in their own way, except 25, 30 years later legend happens because some of us have become quite well known.
So the myth becomes magical. So I tend to sort of see it very practical for me. When I go out for a drink, Bono can buy the pints because he has more money than me. We're the same guys.
Question: What comes first when you perform: personality or musicianship?
Gavin Friday: That's a tough one there. As a performer on stage, I tend to throw myself into the character, whatever I've written about, so it depends on how I'm writing or what I'm writing about. A lot of singers don't really know who they are. They have this massive insecurity and this massive ego and they are sort of pulled between both. Why do you want a lot of people to look at you all the time and listen to you? There is something going on there, there is a need to express and attention. It's not just ego, it's some sort of complex thing and sometimes you create characters to say something you want to say and then you just throw yourself into that.
In the last couple of years, I've been acting a lot more. I've done one or two movies; I've done a lot of work with the Roy Shakespearian Company and that's been intense; baby I can tell you that.
I love the way an Irish man -- they can hardly speak proper English -- is doing Shakespeare. So I find that extraordinary as I get older.
But I always see music, live shows, performances as moments and to really get there you've just got to actually get into the essence, flesh and the blood.
Question: How did you benefit concert at Carnegie Hall come to be?
Gavin Friday: It had nothing really to do with me. I think it's going back years. I think it was on some TV situation ****. A lot of people think, "Oh, what's he at now? He's doing this. So what are you going to do next?"
And I say, "I don't know."
"What do you want to do?"
I say, "I don't know. I just want to get better."
Who do you want to ****.
"I don't know."
And **** says, "Well where would you play?"
I says, "Look. I'd love to play somewhere classic, somewhere legendary. A place where music was when music was; at Carnegie Hall." I just said it like that. So it became this sort of -- between my friends and different people -- oh Gav's going to play Carnegie Hall or Gav's going to play Carnegie Hall. Blah, blah, blah. Oh maybe he'll do Shakespeare in Carnegie Hall and it just became this thing over the years. Like a joke almost. And then my friends, as I was talking about, were all turning 50, slowly or quickly. And Guggi turned 50 in May. A gang of us went to a really nice hotel and had a beautiful weekend and we had a few drinks.
My good friend Bono says, "Hey. You know what you're doing for your 50th?"
I said, "Do you know what? I don't really care. Whatever. I want somewhere with my friends and loved ones and whatever.
And he says, "I know what you're doing for your 50th."
I says, "Really?"
He says, "Yeah. You're going to be working. You're going to be making a show and you're going to be working for Red."
When I have a few drinks on me, I can talk but I shut up for the night. So I was a little taken aback and it was sort of out of my control. I went, "What's this about?" But the guy who is putting the show together, Howell ****, I've worked with since 1988 and he's a little bit of a genius, well that's an understatement. He is a genius, in my mind. I've done many of his collaborations and shows and he says, "Let's just see who wants to play with you and let's throw the dice up in the air and see what comes down. I mean you've seen the cast. It's pretty extraordinary."
From Joe Grey to Rufus Wainwright to Martha Wainwright to Courtney Love to Marie **** to Eric Mingus and Lydia Lunch to U2, as you've never seen U2, as it's Bono, it's Adam, it's Larry, it's Edge. To some ex-Virgin Prunes, Guggi and Dick to actresses, the incredible Elizabeth Ashley, Chloe Webb and more and surprise guests. Laurie Anderson and after I leave this interview, I go to rehearse with Anthony **** for a few songs.
So what I am most excited about is a lot of music today is so over-rehearse, so worked out, so un-spontaneous; these events, we've got three days rehearsal and there's been a lot of preproduction and thought and e-mails and letters and conversations, but you're getting a group of musicians, almost like a workshop, that love music, that are like pushing it out there and spontaneously doing something. That's a rare thing in these days.
I don't know what's going to happen and I love that because in these days and age everything is so ordered and anal and music is about spirit and spontaneity. And that's what we're going to do on Sunday night.
Question: What do you want to achieve in your next 50 years?
Gavin Friday: Do you think I'm going to live until 100? I'll have to; maybe Bono can arrange that. That would be interesting. Hey Bono, thank you for my 50th, can you make me live another 50 years? It's just such a pleasure to be -- and an honor.
And you know what's so great is that we're making money for AIDS in Africa. There's a lot of love and spontaneity, we're doing something creative. That's what I love about Red. It's not just a charity, "Give us money, give us money." It's being innovative. Like here's a show that you won't see anywhere else and you can come and whatever you pay for your ticket it's going somewhere. You can go and buy a pair of Armani shades, like Bono, but the money goes to Africa. It's quite cool. But I'm actually quite modest.
All I want is a nice car. All I want is a drink at midnight on Sunday night and I'll be a very happy man.
Recorded on: October 1, 2009.