Cut from the same cloth as U2, the Virgin Prunes were anything but a replica, to the the photograph U2 presented the Virgin Prunes were the negative, a dark cloud of invention against the dense fog of rock which hung thick in the late 70s.
In late 1982 the Virgin Prunes dived headfirst into a world of insanity, sculpting a vision of madness to enslave their new-found audience in ‘Hérésie’. The most adventurous band to rise out of the post-punk era struck gold very early on in their career, the Virgin Prunes are the anomaly in music, avant-garde, anti-commercial, hard to replicate and highly original.
To coincide with the debut album, “....If I Die, I Die”, the Virgin Prunes were commissioned by Yann Farcy to record an album for release through his label; L’Invitation Au Suicide, this dark work of experimental music would push the barrier of mainstream sound over a cliff with a celebration of disturbing gothic mastery.
The resulting album was to become ‘Hérésie’, a double ep set, one side a studio recording from their home at Windmill Lane Studios Dublin, Ireland, the other side a live recording taken from a performance at the Rex Club in Paris in June of that year.
Although primarily released and promoted for the French market the album found a much wider appeal originally as an import and towards the end of the nineties it finally found a release through Mute in the US and UK.
It is though an album of sublime anarchy and immense art, never replicated again by the band, a stretch too far into the abyss that it may have started to stare back at Gavin Friday and the rest of the Prunes.
The music contained within however is devastatingly good, interesting and surprisingly at times addictive, for example the track “Rhetoric” a mixture of Faust meets Bowie in a playground of weirdness;
“Spit into his eye,
Seeker Save His Soul.
Crawling in Pain”.
The music is not as powerful as on the debut and the standards recorded worked much better onstage with the visuals of Guggi and Friday bringing the theatrics to the music.
Here though, there is a low-point with the accordion driven “Down The Memory Lane” which is out of place slightly against others such as the sublimely macabre of “Loved One”;
“Sitting on the carpet
Playing with a gun”.
There is a train of thought that the extremity of the live shows did not translate to the studio, those slight touches of magic were lost which is why the second disc is so crucial here.
For the live recording the Prunes deprived themselves of sleep by some reports in a way to bring themselves to the point of madness or rather the right frame of mind to create a recording such as this, wether that is folklore or not this is the better side of the set by far as it pushes the audience and no doubt the listener to the brink of insanity.
The stage performance was always crucial to the Virgin Prunes, it was here that the creature finally sprang to life in a well-honed show, the influences of Joy Division, PiL and even Krautrock comes to the surface. With dolls heads and dead animals which would not look out of place at an Alice Cooper show, this though was in the name of art more so than shock.
The mastery of Dik Evans guitar work is critical in galvanizing their live sound against the thundering bass playing of Strongman (Trevor Rowan brother of second vocalist Guggi) which make the versions of “Pagan Lovesong” and “Theme For Thought” overtly raw and delivered with the intensity the band became famous for.
The “Walls Of Jericho” is blistering with Evan’s guitar chiming throughout, here Virgin Prunes cut-loose in full, sonic attack.
If there is anyone who is unfamiliar with the Virgin Prunes this is not the place to start, think of easing yourself in gently with one of there more accessible studio works, however, if you start to discover the Prunes this is where your journey will inevitably lead as this is a band hitting an abstract style of brilliance seldom seen within the modern music spectrum.
[Kevin Burke 2019]