When did you start making music?
I started playing music professionally at the age of 15, however I was writing poetry from a very young age. I grew up in a musical family; a big Irish family of 11 children. At parties we all had to sing something, the house was always full of instruments. My older brothers were professional musicians; they played Irish folk music and bluegrass. So I was born into music, and at 15 I was paid to play.
How did The Broken Toys form?
My first real band was The Broken Toys. I had always thought having a real band was out of reach for me, and then punk music came along and allowed the type of expression that I would be capable of and enjoy. The punk scene allowed for all types of people, even people like me. My first band members were just guys I knew, I wrote all the songs - words and music - and played the bass. My brother John played the drums, and we had Andrew Campbell on guitar and vocals and Lyndon Hooper played rhythm guitar. After our first few gigs Lyndon and John were replaced by older guys; Peter Mullany on guitar and Paul Cosgrove on drums. Lyndon and John were too young to be allowed to play late gigs. I was 15, they were younger. I talked my parents into allowing me to live in town (inner city Sydney) with my band so I didn't have to travel home alone on the train at night. We played very often, mainly at The Grand Hotel near Central Station in Sydney.
What was the punk/underground art and music scene like in Sydney, what memories do you have of that time?
Sydney in the late 70’s had a vibrant punk underground music scene. I lived in Darlinghurst and King’s Cross, in those days the housing was cheap and run down. Sydney has a warm climate so as long as you could get something to eat you would survive. We all seemed to have plenty of time to make music and art and do gigs. It seemed like everyone from Australia who didn't fit in anywhere else and was clever came to live in Darlinghurst.
Even though Sydney is a major city, the inner city itself, town, never appeared to have any people in it. Most of town was office buildings or Government buildings, so at night it was like an Omega Man playground for punks. On Sundays you could walk around and see no one in town. In Darlinghurst there were no children just hippies, artists, punks, prostitutes, dancers and people who worked at King’s Cross. Sydney is different now but back then if you couldn't make art in Sydney out of how weird it was, then you weren't an artist.
Out of the Sydney underground came SPK , SPK as well as being abrasive and confrontational, were a very original band. Tell us about how SPK formed...
SPK started with Graeme and Neil. Neil liked my band Broken Toys, he knew I wrote all the songs. He told me that he and Graeme had a band but no songwriter. He asked me to join and play bass and write the songs. Neil was very good with lyrics, so I just wrote the music to go with the
words. Graeme had a machine that he got from the guys from Kraftwerk that you stuck pins in and it created sequenced sounds. I made a rhythm machine from a home organ rhythm box and put it through a fuzz box to make it sound like machines. Danny Rumour played electric guitar. I had worked as a metal press operator in a few factories; I knew what machines were supposed to sound like. So we made music that sounded like machines and Neil wrote lyrics about men and machines. We recorded three or four singles, the songs later ended up on the ‘Auto De Fe’ album.
What did you think of the Industrial culture movement?
I only found out it was a movement later. I was 16 years old. My job in SPK, live and in the studio, was to create a definite atmosphere of man, machine, sex, fright, adrenaline. We did a great job. It was hard work to get normal people like us to create that sound on record and live.
What's the craziest memory you have from an SPK live show?
When we played live no one knew what we were or where the sound was coming from. The guitar didn’t sound like a guitar. When we used our home-made rhythm machine it didn’t sound like drums, it sounded like a machine. Some of the vocals were on tape and some were live. Most of my bass playing was just throbbing sliding, that was the sex bit. The taped vocals were twice as loud as the band, this caused people to run out of the venue in fright. One time everybody ran out because the taped voice was so loud, then all came back in one by one. The only time I was ever hit by a beer can was playing live in SPK, the can was intended for Neil but he ducked.
At what point did you leave SPK and form the Ugly Mirrors, who became Sekret Sekret? Were you also unhappy with the direction SPK were taking?
I was sacked from SPK twice by Neil and re-hired twice by Graeme so I missed one gig and a film clip. Neil and I lived together in Mansion House in Sydney so we knew each other very well. Mansion House is now a posh hotel called The Southern Cross, back then it was full of warehouses and sewing machine sweat-shops. We lived in a warehouse. This was also where SPK rehearsed. The top floors of the building were a run-down, private hotel for derelict men. It was the end of the road for many lost souls.
Neil was a very insecure fella, and he would get jealous and sack me from the band and Graeme would re-hire me. Neil was a nice guy and it’s a shame he died young. The later SPK would have been more interesting if Neil had been in it. Graeme went to London to make a new SPK. He took the singles and used them on later albums. So Neil dying and Graeme going to England was the end of early SPK.
I don’t know much about later SPK but I’m glad they were successful. History has now shown that early SPK was a first of its kind and I’m very proud of that.
Sekret Sekret were successful in the Australian underground , despite only having a ltd amount of releases, although there was not much physical output ,did you play live a lot during this period? What's your best memories of this time?
Danny Rumour and myself formed the Ugly Mirrors which later became Sekret Sekret. Even while we were in SPK we were writing songs and preparing for our new bands. The idea was to have the type of band that could play soft, melodic music and still create intensity equal to, or better than, some of the other live acts around. In the late 70’s the motto was louder, faster, harder and the colour was black. The Ugly Mirrors, and later Sekret Sekret, created a new intensity and our style was soft, melodic and powerful. We would creep into your heart and stay there. We brought colours back into the scene, and as one newspaper wrote; “Paisley is the new black.” With our paisley shirts and creeping soft music we were the first and the best of the neo-psychedelic era bands, The Church, The Hoodoo Gurus, The Go-Betweens and The Triffids followed our lead.
Punk in Sydney continued on at any rate and co-existed with the new psychedelia. Sekret Sekret became a very successful live act, we played very often, sometimes 5 or 6 nights a week. We had a lot of underground hit records. In those days recording was expensive so we didn’t make an album. Now you can buy a Sekret Sekret double album through a company called Feel Presents. I enjoyed having a successful band and being on the radio a lot. For a songwriter, having your songs on the radio is the best thing. Sekret Sekret lasted seven years and was a great ride.
After Sekret Sekret split you embarked on your solo career. Where did you take inspiration from to create your solo sound? Who's been in the David Virgin Band over the years? Has it been a revolving line up? Where have you toured and played in your solo career?
After Sekret Sekret split up I started just using the name David Virgin for my acts. I’ve had many types of bands over the years under David Virgin. In France I had French guys, in Holland I had Dutch guys, in Ireland I had Irish guys. In Australia I would often team up again with Danny Rumour and some other old pals. In ‘91 I made an album called ‘Landlord Green’. The idea was to make nu-folk. It was released only on vinyl and, like everything else I do, it was 20 years too early for anyone to get it. At the time people were saying, “why vinyl?!” and “why nu-folk?!”
I thought it was a good idea, it’s a good album, you can buy the digital version now if you want.
There was a notable gap between your debut solo LP ‘Landlord Green’ and 2004's 'Virgin and Rumour’, were you active musically during this period?
After ‘Landlord Green’ I headed over to Europe to play solo or with bands I could pick up. I lived in the South of France for a while where I played a lot, including four gigs at the famous Rockstore in Montpellier. I settled back in my birthplace of Dublin for a while and created a classic rock band called PIN with my brother John Boy on drums. I wrote a bunch of classic rock songs, played the bass and sang the lead vocals. It was a fun band. We recorded an album and released a single called ‘Tuggin’’. Many of the songs I wrote in that period were released on my classic rock album “International Treasure” which I recorded back in Dublin in 2012. After a few years living in Dublin in the 90’s I went and lived on the North Coast of New South Wales in Australia where I formed a band called Black Train with my old friend Kim McLean. We played cowboy songs and old-timey music. Kim and I had an act back in the late 80’s playing old cowboy songs and old-timey music in pubs around Sydney. It was kind of a hobby; finding old songs, playing them live and doing lot’s of yodelling.
Also in northern NSW I had The David Virgin Group, that was my touring group and locally I played with Jimmy Willing and the Real Gone Hickups as guitarist. The Hickups are a cow-punk, hillbilly band. At the same time as those three acts I played drums in a band called Blurter. Blurter were a wonderful, hard-edged, cabaret act and were very popular and well loved in the area. I was recording a lot then as well so Danny and myself made the ‘Virgin & Rumour’ album up there on the North Coast in 2004. I later released the ‘No Fun Sessions’ volumes 1, 2 and 3 which were all recorded between 2000 and 2005. So for me there was no gap between ‘Landlord Green’ and ‘Virgin & Rumour’. There is no rest for the artist, I’ve written over 2,000 songs since the age of 15, recorded and released as many of them as I could, and have spent a life-time playing honky-tonk bars in different parts of the world. I’ve spent many years in three or four bands at the same time, playing different instruments and different roles.
Onto your more recent releases, David Virgin & The Stanley Knife Brothers is your project feat Both your sons Rohan Healy and Al Quiff , your LP 'Party like its 1899' has a more country and western and hillbilly influence, how did this project come into being and what was your influences? Your New Lp 'Boots and Tooths' came out in Feb, what did you draw upon for inspiration for this LP?
This year I have released a lot of music. David Virgin & The Stanley Knife Brothers...How it all started: I had always wanted to make a good rockabilly record just like the Sam Phillips ‘Sun Sessions’ so I asked my two boys would they help me make a live-round-the-mic Sun Sessions type record. I wanted to use my own songs that sounded like 50’s rockabilly a bit. Then I realised it was going to be really, really hard to do. I was going to have to do a lot of research to find out how early rockabilly players sounded the way they did. So I spent about a year digging deeper and deeper into the origins of blues, jazz and folk. I went down a very deep rabbit hole and sometimes worried for my sanity. The sound I was looking for ended up having nothing to do with jazz, blues or folk music because those styles didn't exist where the essence of what I was looking for was to be found. After all history tells us blues is from 1912, jazz is from 1914 and I found no evidence of the existence of folk music anywhere (I actually like folk music, but I’m pretty sure it was fabricated by academics sometime around the 1940’s or something). What I did find was so called “folk” songs written by actual writers and published by actual publishers on actual sheet music and were not collectively written by anyone, for example, “the folk”. I found the spirit of the Sam Phillips Sun Sessions in sheet music archives, most of the songs written by European immigrants to America.
The spirit of Rock n Roll was born out of the imaginations of songwriters who wrote for minstrel shows from the 1840’s onwards, and eventually by the Tin Pan Alley songwriters in New York around the 1890’s to the early 1910’s, and that’s where I found the essence of the rockabilly I wanted. Songs written by educated and clever songwriters and musicians feeding an insatiable desire by the American audiences for raunchy and racy themes. The subjects the middle class American’s couldn't get enough of included gambling, prostitution, comical relationships, poverty, drunken Irish, lazy people, people on drugs, travelling, and all the stuff we now associate with rock n roll, blues, folk and even jazz. So for our own amusement we brought many of these songs back to life in the earliest forms we could find them, and tried to capture that same wild spirit. So the album, ‘Party Like It’s 1899’ is music before jazz, before blues and before folk, whatever that is.
So finally I was able to start my Sun Sessions style album called ‘Boots ‘N’ Tooths’. My two sons and myself recorded round a mic my own compositions. The boys played very well using the skills they had learned making the Stanley Knife Brothers album. We recorded the album over a few days and I believe it captures something of the 50’s rockabilly sound. An added bonus is that my boys now have a great act called The Dublin City Rounders where they get to use all the skills they picked up on this project.