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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Princess Tinymeat – Herstory January 14, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Here’s a group who by any reckoning of the Irish music scene were almost sui generis – not least with their name, a reference to Montgomery Clift. I’ve mentioned Supernaut, a collaboration between Shane O’Neill of Blue in Heaven and Dave Long from Into Paradise in the 1990s as being perhaps, along with the Golden Horde, Stars of Heaven and Microdisney, the bands that top of my own list of best Irish groups, well truth is Princess Tinymeat would be there or thereabouts too.

Founded by former Virgin Prunes member Daniel Figgis, otherwise known as Haa Lacka Biintii [these being the days when no self-respecting post punk musician could emerge into public view without a pseudonym], around 1984 they produced some of the most interesting sounds set within atonal but oddly magical songs. Of course with a pedigree like that it is no surprise that Figgis brought an experimental aesthetic sensibility to the feast. The Virgin Prunes were, to my ears, a bit of a mixed bag. Their first rash of singles, the ‘New Form of Beauty’ tracks, were superb. The album less so, positioned a bit too much in proto-Goth, though with some good tracks on it. But that said at least they tried and often succeeded in lifting themselves above the ordinary. Princess Tinymeat continued, albeit for only a short enough period, that sense of effort.

The sound of PT foreshadowed My Bloody Valentine and had something of PIL, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Alien Sex Fiend about it. Listen to ‘Wigs on the Green’ which has that JAMC Bobby Gillespie trebly reverb drum sound down pat – and given that it was released the same year as Psychocandy we can reasonably attribute that to convergent evolution. The other instruments could fairly easily have been accommodated on Loveless [‘Sloblands’ is a case in point] and then the half sung half spoken approaching a falsetto vocals and the combination is entirely otherworldly. In that sense this is also nudging towards Alien Sex Fiend and Specimen territory, sort of the edges of then early enough post-punk/goth experimentation. But where the latter groups were all melodramatic and baroque gestures there’s something more considered about Princess Tinymeat. In that respect every once in a while when I hear them I think of The Passage.

The visuals were highly entertaining. The cover of the Sloblands EP showed Figgis naked from the waist down and when shipped came with a discreet circular white sticker to spare the blushes of Irish record buyers. Of course Figgis played up to this. And rightly so with an androgynous and transvestite imagery that somehow was perfectly suited to the music. But this wasn’t isolated in a vacuum separate from all other music of the time. Listen to the quite brilliant ‘Put it There’ [a track that in some parallel universe was a massive hit single] which has the twang of surf guitars [Art of Noise, so much to answer for…sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much] and sequencers producing something that was intrinsically of the period, and yet still retains a power and authenticity all its own.

Herstory, released by Rough Trade around 1987 or so, usefully pulled together the EPs and singles. Now this wasn’t an absolutely unqualified success. Few will need to listen to ‘Jay Gone Bimbo’ more than once, indeed it’s arguable that once is once too many, and ‘Lucky Bag’ is no masterpiece of ambience, but the rest holds up remarkably well. In fact amazingly well. This was powerful, propulsive and challenging music that never eschewed melody entirely but also didn’t make any easy concessions to the listener. And perhaps that is why this still sounds light years ahead of its peers both in Ireland and internationally.

Those interested in Figgis’s later, and unfortunately somewhat irregular, output [and he is an individual who has branched off into many areas] might enjoy the softer, but no less compelling, approach of electronica [but so much more] inflected Skipper, released in the mid-1990s, another album that was well ahead of its time. His website can be found here, where entertainingly his 1980s output, including PT, is covered in the following way ‘following on from a not too brief dalliance with post-punk projects which he entered into in the spirit of both fledgling composer and performance artist’, and that’s it. Kudos.

I met Figgis a number of times years later through a mutual friend and found him an interesting and unassuming person who said little or nothing about his genuinely fascinating musical career.

One last thought on him and the band. Princess Tinymeat once appeared on the Late Late Show, an event of such transcendent brilliance that even today it brings a smile to my face, not least for the total incomprehension on Gay Byrne’s face as Figgis, resplendent in IIRC a silvery outfit, produced perhaps the most challenging three minutes of music ever played on that programme.

Wigs on the Green

Put it There

A Bun in the Oven

Angels in Pain

Sloblands

Comments»

1. LeftAtTheCross - January 15, 2012

“these being the days when no self-respecting post punk could emerge into public view without a pseudonym”

WbS, pot and kettles there? Asks LATC…

🙂

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2012

Hah hah… I should have put in the crucial word ‘musician’ between ‘post punk’ and ‘could’. Duly amended and we can shrug off any accusations of hypocrisy. 🙂

BTW, I’m surprised yours is the only response so far… did they just drop off the musical map in the intervening time?

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LeftAtTheCross - January 15, 2012

I had never heard their work at all. The Virgin Prunes I liked a lot up to and including their first album, at which stage I moved to London and lost touch with them. The Prunes first EP with Twenty Tens on it was quite different to the mainstream stuff of Dublin’s post-punk scene at the time, loved the thumping bassline of the main track. Bau Dachong (?) is a great track on the first Prunes album, I’ve no idea what the lyrics are about but the mood music is fantastic, what every angst ridden teenage boy should be listening to in their bedroom of a cold dark winter’s evening.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2012

Big time!

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2. anarchaeologist - January 15, 2012

I suppose I just thought the names they gave themselves were a bit silly, and didn’t bother with the music (apart from Pagan Love Song). Some of the stuff here isn’t too bad though.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2012

To me the U2 link was a big problem. I can’t warm to anything after October and in a way what came after almost devalues what went before.

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