The Golden Virgins: remember them? 2004’s hotly-tipped indie-darlings, an act who were hyped up but let down at a crucial point in their life by both the media and the music-buying public.
Preceding praise-ridden column inches, important support slots and airtime on national radio, The Golden Virgins started life after a successful three-track demo stirred interest at labels looking for The Next Big Thing. The rest - as they say - is history, and The Golden Virgins did go on to bigger and better things.
Their debut album Songs Of Praise (XL, 2004) was a critical success, and despite its commercially failure it’s still seen as a classic by many. After that, information regarding The Golden Virgins became sketchy at best. The eventual split came last month, and the band played their final gig in their hometown of Sunderland on Friday October 27.
Former singer and guitarist Lucas Renney agreed to talk to DiS about the split, through e-mail, following their farewell gig. Here's what he had to say...
Firstly, what do you think you've achieved as a band over the years? Have you learnt any important lessons?
I think the band's proudest achievements in terms of tangible things would be playing the Glastonbury / Leeds / Reading /T in the Park festivals, recording a John Peel session and making an album for one of our favourite labels. But what I'm most proud of is the music we made and the fact that we concentrated on writing songs that meant something to us rather than pandering to prevailing trends, trying to fit into hip scenes or copying other bands. That feels nice.
News and information about the band over the last year has been patchy: what happened during this time? What happened to the second album?
I think it's best we draw a veil over this period of the band's history, for the time being at least. It's too soon to tell the full, grisly tale...
You cited_ "lethargy, alcoholism and a deep-seated hatred of the music industry"_ as reasons for the split. Would you mind elaborating on that?
We were just exaggerating for comic effect, I suspect. We don't hate any individuals in the music industry, in fact we've made a lot of genuine friends there. But the music industry machine as a whole is, as everyone knows, a fairly brutal and horrible thing.
As far as alcoholism goes, none of us is an alcoholic in the true medical sense of the word, but whenever we do one of those 'Are you an alcoholic?' questionnaires in magazines we always pass with flying colours - but that's the same for everyone who drinks, isn't it?
As for lethargy, well, I can't be bothered to elaborate on that!
Why do you think Songs Of Praise sold badly, despite getting rave reviews from both the press and the fans?
I think the album didn't sell for a number of reasons - we didn't tour enough, the record company didn't spend much on advertising and we had all sorts of other problems that I don't want to go into here. But I'm glad it got such great reviews and that it seems to have meant so much to the people who heard it. And I think Cliff Jones deserves much of the credit for the wonderful job he did of producing it.
Are there any bands that you're particularly proud of sharing a stage with during The Golden Virgins' lifespan?
We were proud to be playing at the same festival as the Pixies at T in the Park, although we were on a different stage. We met them, though, which was a big thrill. But not as much of a thrill as meeting June Brown, aka TV's Dot Cotton, at Glastonbury. Nice woman. Gave me a signed photo. I think our proudest moment, though, was when we had a great live review in NME, on the same page as Morrissey's big comeback gig at the Albert Hall or somewhere. This is kind of pathetic, but I was excited to think that he might read his own review, then scan down to ours and become vaguely aware - for however fleeting a moment - of our existence. I told you it was pathetic, but hey! The Smiths were one of my favourite bands at school, what can I say...
Any regrets or things you wish you could have gone back and changed?
No regrets, man. Although, saying that, I suspect the rest of the band are still slightly miffed at me that I turned down the chance to have one of our songs on the soundtrack of a PlayStation football game (FIFA Euro 2004, fact fans). The thing is, I hate computer games and don't really like football, so I didn't want The Golden Virgins to be associated with either of those two things and certainly not with both. Maybe we'd have sold more albums if I'd said yes, but I couldn't bear to see a song I'd sweated blood over being cheapened and trivialised by a fucking computer game.
What's the view on Songs Of Praise, two years on?
I love it. It's obsessive and funny and scary and sad. It makes me laugh in parts, and brings a lump to my throat in others, which is more than most popular music does these days. I'd like to think that future music historians will analyse and acclaim it as one of the lost masterpieces of the 21st Century, but, y'know, I'm not pinning my hopes on that happening any time soon...
Which songs are you most proud of?
I like everything we released, but I think 'Light In Her Window' is probably my favourite. That was such a bizarre single. I mean, it's got no drums for the first minute, it's got nothing even vaguely resembling a chorus, then a demented slide-guitar solo comes screaming in and then it cuts down to nothing. And it got played on daytime Radio 1! And it's about a drunken fool keeping a moonlit vigil outside his ex-girlfriend's house while she goes to bed with another man! Amazing.
How did the farewell gig go?
Firstly, we'd like to thank everyone for coming along, and say "we understand" to those who couldn't make it. It was a great night, like a drunken Irish wake or something. There was a lot of drinking, a lot of singing and dancing, and quite a few people in tears by the end of the night. And it was what you'd imagine being at your own funeral to be like; all your friends, family and ex-girlfriends there, and people you haven't seen for years turning out to pay their respects. Weird.
What are the individual post-Virgins plans? What hopes do you hold for the future? Is there ever a chance of a reunion?
Neil is continuing with his other band, Former Cell Mates, who are amazing, like a cross between Steppenwolf and Motorhead - Motorwolf if you like.
Chris and Allan are supposedly working on some mysterious new project together. They claim it's "experimental post-hardcore-folk with Sisters Of Mercy-style vocals", but are probably lying.
David is working on his magnum synth opus.
Ross is now in the Futureheads.
And I'm currently sorting out a publishing deal and preparing to launch a solo career.
As for a reunion, Jesus! We've only just split up! But I would be happy to work with any of the ex-members of the Virgins in the future - I love them all and I miss them already. And I'm sure I'd miss them more if I wasn't under such heavy sedation.
So there you have it! The Golden Virgins are no more, but Songs Of Praise lives on. For those unaware of The Virgins’ work, go and hunt down their album, or at least check some 'choons' out at their MySpace page. And of course, Lucas Renney’s rather great new solo-project is here, while Neil's band Former Cell Mates currently resides at this MySpace address. The Golden Virgins will be sorely missed.