American Neo-Folk harpist Joy Shannon released The Cave through her own label just over a year ago. Taking a break from working with The Beauty Marks, the album redefines the Celtic pagan dark folk with which she’s associated, exploring themes of meditation and finding solace in solitude. Quite apt then, that she’s written for us an honest and open piece on the uplifting and power that music can play as she explains why she loves Nick Cave and Gavin Friday.
When I was 12 years old I discovered two musicians who changed my life for the better, forever. The music of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, and Gavin Friday and his former band Virgin Prunes, both were the bands that made me feel like I was not alone in this world as a kid.
Up to that time, I had heard plenty of music, from the folk music my parents played to the pop and grunge music on the radio. But nothing spoke to my soul.
I was a lonely child with a complicated family who dealt with abuse from the Catholic Church in Ireland. So much went unsaid in my household that I was often left on my own to try to decipher the complex emotions I was feeling all the time. I would pour through dictionaries and thesauruses searching for words to describe my feelings.
It wasn’t until I heard the music of both Nick Cave and Gavin Friday, that I realised I was not searching for words, I was searching for the music that made my heart sing. Words alone could not describe my feelings, but music was the language I was looking for.
I honestly do not want to even fathom what my life could’ve been like if I hadn’t have found music. Music became my safe place. Music became my healer. The music of Nick Cave and Gavin Friday became my teachers of how to be an honest and skilful songwriter and storyteller and a courageous performer.
When I listened to Nick Cave, his work with the Bad Seeds and his earlier band The Birthday Party, it taught me that a song could tell a story as intensely as a film itself. And the album could be a conceptual piece of art from start to finish. Listening to his song The Mercy Seat was like unlocking the mystery of a character in a novel, all in just a few minutes. His album Murder Ballads came out right about that time, and that was a beautiful concept from start to finish, each telling heart wrenching stories of death and loss from all different characters points of view. Through Nick Cave’s example, I saw that the song was a safe place to express the full gambit of human experience, from the darkness seen with a murderer’s eyes, to the purity and vulnerability of a hopeful love song. Growing up in a family who experienced abuse and the mental health challenges and pain and shame that resulted from these burdens, it was an epiphany to find the safety of expression in a song.
Gavin Friday creates a unique fusion of dark cabaret and pop music, most poignantly with his solo albums Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves, Shag Tobacco and Catholic. Friday’s music expresses longing and pain and redemption, and it inspired me and music own future music deeply.
Through discovering Gavin Friday I looked into his band before that was called Virgin Prunes. That band absolutely astounded me, in the best of ways. Being an Irish kid from an Irish Catholic background, with all its religious abuses, the Virgin Prunes seemed to express anger at abuse like that. (My grandmother was imprisoned and abused in one of Ireland’s Magdalene Convents for having my father out of wedlock. My father was born in this institution and abused there as well. I saw their suffering and confusion that a spiritual institution could do such awful things, and I struggled as their child and grandchild, seeing their mental health struggles getting in the way of their ability to be there for me.
Virgin Prunes were essentially performance art, which tore at the heart of Irish Catholic norms, societal pressures and expectations, with their brutal, raw performances. This band was like a cathartic release that felt like some pagan ritual of cleansing, by facing and expressing the darkest of emotions and truths head on, which was so healing from my background to see.
As a young person, I had so many fears, insecurities and doubts, that hearing the courageous music of Nick Cave and Gavin Friday, gave me inspiration to keep going on my own healing journey.
I was so lucky to have Gavin Friday come tour to my town when I was 12 and his concert was the first I ever attended. Watching him sing with such intensity and emotional honesty, influenced my future goal to perform my own music with such passion.
Then, in about 1 year, seeing Nick Cave perform was my second concert. And that sealed the deep emotional impact both of these musicians had upon me in my formative years.
I began having my own bands, the first of which when I was 13 was called The Virgin Marys; a clear tribute to Gavin Friday’s influence on me and my rebellion against the Catholic Church. Through all my ups and downs having bands and writing music over the years, I always have come back to these two artists and the courage they inspired in me to make my music, despite any of my personal struggles with insecurity or stage fright.
Whenever I doubt myself, I go back to the essential driving force behind why I share my music publicly: I think of some lonely 12 year old who is struggling with loneliness and fears and think, may be my music can help that person wherever they are. I know I may never know if my music has helped someone, but I keep creating it, because it heals my heart and I hope it finds another heart out there somewhere that needs it too. Just like Gavin Friday and Nick Cave were for little me.
I have met both these artists in passing over the years and I did tell them both thank you for their music’s impact on me. But I say it again, thank you eternally. I don’t know where I’d be without your music.
Many thanks to Joy for her words on Nick and Gavin, two inspirational artists. The former, a musician we admire greatly and the latter, one well worth your time if he’s passed under your radar.
Here’s Cloister from The Cave:
You can read more from our extensive archive of Why I Love pieces from a wide array of artists, here.