Fanzine Brasil

sábado, 15 de junho de 2019


 By: Juliana Vannucchi and Abel Marinho

Mary D'Nellon: Played percussion with the Virgin Prunes from 1981 to 1984.

1. How did you get into the Virgin Prunes? What you were doing before joining the band?

I saw Virgin Prunes supporting the Clash when I was 16 and I thought they were amazing – especially for a town like Dublin. After that I went to all their shows, and as Dublin is a small town, I started to meet them in cafés or at concerts. They were totally different from anybody I had ever known – alien, arrogant, frightening… I’d started a band called System X, I was the guitarist. We played quite a lot of shows in Dublin and The Virgin Prunes came to see us sometimes. I became friends with them, especially Gavin. Then when they sacked Bintti from the group before ‘New Form of Beauty’ Gavin called me and asked me to join the band as drummer. I’d never played drums before but 6 weeks later I was on stage.

2. How were the recordings of the album "…If I Die, I Die"?

Some of the songs like ‘Caucasian Walk’ were in fact quite old and we were really excited about finally recording them, other songs like ‘Baby turns Blue’ or ‘Bau-dachong’ were new. We had the idea for the two different sides to the album before recording as it reflected our stage show at the time. Colin Newman wasn’t our first choice as producer but Nick Launay (who produced ‘Pagan Lovesong’) wasn’t available. Colin Newman didn’t really understand our vibe – think the multi-layered approach he used worked on material like ‘Ulakanakulot’, ‘Sweethome...’ etc. but we weren’t really happy with ‘Caucasian Walk’, ‘Walls of Jericho’, all the songs on the ‘blue’ side of the album. There was quite a lot of conflict in the studio, I really wish we had used another producer – when I see videos of us playing ‘Caucasion Walk’ at that time I think a more direct approach would have been better. Apart from that, as a band, we were very happy with what we were creating at that time.

3. Most people rate Virgin Prunes as a gothic band. Do you agree with this label? Were you or are you gothic?

As I said, Virgin Prunes were playing concerts in 1978 – long before anyone talked about ‘Gothic’ music. There was a lot of religious imagery that we were interested in, but also Dadaism, Surrealism and we listened to all sorts of music, all those things influence creation, but we never wanted to sound like another band, or be a part of any movement. Obviously, there was a point when a lot of people coming to our shows had a certain ‘look’ and liked the more ‘Gothic’ elements of the group. We played with bands like Sisters of Mercy, Southern Death Cult… But we didn’t feel we had anything particular in common with those bands. I’ve never thought of myself as Gothic or anything else.

4. What were the main influences and inspirations of the band?

Really varied. We were influenced by the people around us, the films we saw, the books we read… the feelings, the vibes we used to get from those sources were translated into songs, sounds, visuals or stage shows. It probably won’t be a surprise to anyone to hear we all loved Bowie, Iggy, Roxy Music, The Velvets, they were certainly key to us wanting to make music but we never wanted to ‘sound’ like anyone else. Punk was the catalyst that made all of us feel we could go out and make music.
"There was no formality. No-one in Virgin Prunes had any kind of formal education regarding music or art, everything we did was instinctive, there were no rules".
5. What kind of effect do you think Virgin Prunes songs cause on people? What led you to make this kind of music so peculiar and artistic?

I’m lucky, because I saw the band before I was in the band, so I know exactly the kind of effect Virgin Prunes can have on people. I think that people who came to our shows often felt like I felt when I first saw the band. That anything is possible, that everything you think is ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ doesn’t have to be like that. That if you have the courage and the imagination you can create your own world and live your life the way you want.

Nothing ‘led’ us to make this particular type of music. The combination of personalities meant it had to be like that. It occurred naturally, organically.

6. Virgin Prunes has a very peculiar aura. Why do you think the band managed to create such a different atmosphere?

There’s a lot of different elements that went into Virgin Prunes. Where we grew up, our frustrations, our imaginations. Dublin was not an easy place to live in if you were ‘different’ at that time. We found a family in the people in Virgin Prunes and the people around the band and that allowed us to express ourselves. So, we had a common bond but we were very different in lots of ways and that mix made something unique. There was no formality. No-one in Virgin Prunes had any kind of formal education regarding music or art, everything we did was instinctive, there were no rules.

7. What is the best memory you have of your participation in the band?

Performing live, there were some amazing shows we did – before ‘…If I die, I die’ nearly every show was like a special event – we prepared each show differently, wrote special pieces, created visuals, etc. We had to buy Pigs heads, fish, all sorts of stuff. We borrowed furniture and set up the stage with sofas and TV’s. There were leaves, mannequins, bits of trees…When we were touring, that was no longer possible but, even so, every concert has a different energy, the audience reacts differently, the feeling between the musicians is different… I couldn't pick one concert but for sure there was something extra special when Guggi and Dik were in Virgin Prunes and I was behind them.

8. What are your favorite bands? And besides music, what do you like to do?

I don’t really think in terms of ‘bands’ any more. I listen to music I like. I stream, so I just listen to a song and if I like it I keep it. Like I said Bowie, Lou Reed, etc. have always been part of my life. I like hanging out in Paris, it’s a nice place to live.

9. How were the Virgin Prunes concert and where did you get all those theatrical elements? How did the public respond to you?

The theatrical part came from Gavin and Guggi, they were influenced by performance artists like Nigel Rolfe who did some pretty weird stuff, films like Nosferatu or Onibaba, theatre like Bertolt Brecht and just people whose mannerisms and gestures they found cool. They both painted and the visual side of the group was always important – they put a lot of thought into the make up, the clothes, album covers…

The response was sometimes violent at the beginning. In Dublin the clothes Virgin Prunes wore and the music we played were very provocative to a lot of people. Later, violence wasn’t a problem but the audiences could react in very different ways. Sometimes there would be silence and people would say to us after the show ‘We loved it but we didn’t think it was appropriate to clap.’ Other times there would be near riots – the audiences in Italy for example were very emotional! The stage show was not very black and white – people could interpret things in different ways. That’s what made people react differently, I think people were imagining their own story and felt we were communicating with them personally – I think that’s one of the things that made us special.

10. How was the transition from being the drummer to the guitarist? Have you played guitar before?

As I said before, I started playing guitar, so it wasn’t a problem. I love playing guitar and writing songs – I never play drums now. To be honest though I preferred Virgin prunes with Dik on guitar.

11. Is there any current band that you enjoy?

Like I said I don’t really ‘follow bands’ I just look for music I like. I did see a band last week called ‘My Great Blue Cadillac’ they were pretty cool.

12. Could you tell us about The Prunes, the project you had with Strongman and Busaras? Were you part of any other band after this one?

The Prunes was a reaction to Gavin leaving Virgin Prunes. We had been through a very difficult period and we were just about to go on a tour of the U.S. and Japan. Gavin just came in and said he didn’t want to go. We were devastated and felt personally betrayed. That’s the reason we kept part of the name. That probably wasn’t a good idea because we wanted to do something different - obviously we couldn’t do shows or make records like Virgin Prunes when there were just the three of us. We weren’t very focused – there wasn’t a leader like Gavin to drive the group. I’m not very happy with the records we made, I think there are some good songs, some good ideas, but we never really found our own identity. That said, I think the music we made is better than the music Gavin has made since leaving Virgin Prunes ;-). I’ve never wanted to be in another band. I’ve written music for films and TV series here in France – I still love making music.

13. Do you still keep in touch with your old bandmates?

Strongman was here in Paris last week. Him and Dave-id are like family to me. I exchange messages with Gavin but I haven’t spoken to Guggi or Dik for years. I love them all though. They were very special years we spent together and Virgin Prunes will always be a part of me.

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