Sunday, 20 May 2007

Gavin Clark. Singer, songwriter, guitarist.


© Jude Calvert-Toulmin  Backstage at UNKLE 2007

Update: It is with unbelievable sadness that I have to update this article to say that on the 16th February 2015 Gav died of complications due to his drinking problem. Terrible news and writing this in December 2015 I still haven't got over his death and think about him all the time. At some point I'll write another article about him, when I'm ready. 

Last month I saw a trailer for Shane Meadows' film This is England on tele. Shane Meadows? Never heard of 'im. My partner Brian informed me that Shane has been one of the most important up and coming filmmakers in Britain for a while now, and when another of Shane's films, Dead Man's Shoes came up on Film 4 a few weeks ago, we watched it.


I like to think that I can spot a brilliant film within its first minute, but "Dead Man's Shoes" whacked me instantaneously, a bit like Bladerunner did when I first saw that. It's one of the best films I've ever seen. So, being the kind of person that likes to hold diamonds up to the light and turn them around so that I can examine every facet, I wanted to find out more about Shane Meadows. First port of call, obviously, his IMDB listing. Bloody hell.
Winner of 11 international film awards plus 12 noms. Okayyyyy.

Then I go to www.shanemeadows.co.uk, a refreshingly good site with an excellent forum, and I have a look at what Shane's doing next. Hmmm. Click on "FILMS", click on "Future Projects?" This looks good. A documentary (or "docco" as they are known in the trade) comprising live gigs by Gavin Clark, whoever he is, shot in various living rooms around the UK. Excellent. A superbly surreal and bonkers idea. Right up my street. Our terrace would be ideal, I'm thinking.

Above: Our front room, which happens to be outside.

Lots of musicians and artists, torches, a view of the palm trees down below and a battered old Chesterfield out there all year round. That's a front room only it's outside. Oh right, all the footage is already in the can, shame. Anyway, next stop, check out this bloke Gavin Clark's music. Find his MySpace, click on a few tunes.

Fucking nora, what is this, what is THIS?!!!!
The second the vocal kicked in after the guitar intro on the song "Stems" I knew exactly, without a shadow of a doubt, what I was hearing. Absolutely legendary, timeless, genius.

Here, have a listen and judge for yourself.



I had to talk to this guy and write about him. I did the following interview with Gavin by email but he's also up for me doing a photo session with him in the near future. I'm telling you, this is not just some flash in the pan, this guy is the genuine article, there are not many of these every decade...


Jude Calvert-Toulmin: Shane is about to edit a short he's made, filming you doing gigs in various living rooms. How many living rooms did you film in? Were they all over the country? Were they a variety of living rooms, as it were?
Gavin Clark: The basic idea of the film was to do a tour of peoples front rooms, the first starting at my house and each new venue picked from a hat at the end. We did some background stuff ( we first met at Alton Towers when we worked there for a Summer ) which went into our lives before anything had really happened to us. I've only done one other gig in Brighton so far, the next one's in Ireland and after that I'm not sure, could be on the other side of the world.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: What was the funniest thing that happened whilst making the film?
Gavin Clark: Generally hanging out with Shane is a good laugh but when he gets behind a camera he becomes a film maker. It was more serious than I thought it would be and I got an insight into how he manages to coax performances from unknown actors. He got a lot of out of me, more than I intended to give. The nature of it was pretty free, we saw a car on the roadside for 120 quid and bought it, we did a lot of filming just driving around in the car, getting it fixed up and talking.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: What was the strangest thing that happened whilst making the film?
Gavin Clark: I've been trying to get a publishing deal for years, Shane set up a meeting with the guy who sorted the music for TIE. We chatted for a while and he agreed to sign me. It seemed odd that after years of no interest I could be signed on the strength of an idea.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: When you write a new song, in which order do things happen? For example do the lyrics materialise as the melody evolves, or do you tend to write the melody singing gobbledegook words to catch the melody whilst it's materialising, and then write and get the lyrics into place later?
Gavin Clark: I tend to do both, I find it a lot easier to write a lyric first but often they sound the same because I'm addicted to writing in half lines. Sometimes they just get plucked out of the air, Stems was like that, it was there and I wrote it down.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: Exactly. I call it "taking dictation". But not everyone has got the abilityto be able to plug themselves in to receive the information; most people think they can manufacture it themselves without plugging themselves in.

Do you use alternate tunings? If so, which do you prefer?
Gavin Clark: I love open E or D, I write a lot in open tunings. Some things just sound right and both these make sense to me.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: Have you ever played a 12 string?
Gavin Clark: I've just got into using one again on this new record. It covers a multitude of sins.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: I'm loathe to compare your work to anyone else's, but I'm a big fan of both Nick Drake and Tom Waits, and your work seems to be floating in the same haze as theirs. I don't think one can choose to go into that haze. You're either already in it, or you aren't, and in my opinion, you are. What music would you say has been an influence on your work? Are Nick Drake or Tom Waits in there at all?
Gavin Clark: It was only after I started to play my songs to other people that I was introduced to Nick Drake and Tom Waits ( they thought I sounded like them.) At the time it was a confirmation that I was doing something right. The whole Britpop thing was at its height and I felt completely out of place in that environment; hearing them helped me believe and gave me something to aim for.
I'm not sure who my influences really were, I was raised on Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dylan, Van Morrison and as I got older it was Billy Bragg and The Smiths. I think I developed a taste for good songs and stories and when I first started I wanted to write just one great record like all the artists I knew and loved. Now I want to make loads of great records and the beauty of
the age I live in is that it's possible to do without an A & R guy asking for a single!

Jude Calvert-Toulmin: How old were you when you got your first guitar?
Gavin Clark: I was 18 which is really late, I wrote my first good song at 22 and was in my first band at 25. It took me a long time to discover who I was, musicians were in a higher realm, untouchables to me in my youth, but looking back I think it was really important for me to go through that. I've never lost that feeling and it's something that drives me to keep going.
Above: Clayhill in, I presume, the studio. It's barren and bleak and it's got a big clock, so it must be a studio. L to R Ali, Ted, Gavin.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: Do you play piano at all? If so, how do you find writing on guitar vis a vis
writing on a keyboard?
Gavin Clark: I don't play the piano, I admire people who play the piano well.

Jude Calvert-Toulmin: I have this theory that the brightest light comes from the darkest darkness, artistically speaking. Paul Morley sums it up more lucidly than I in Words and Music. "No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modelled, built or invented except literally to get out of hell."
What do you think about this idea? Has your own songwriting been a means to slay personal demons? I realise that's an uncomfortable question but going back to Nick Drake, his music could not have had the kind of depths it does have, were it not for the torment he went through...
Gavin Clark: I'm not sure how to answer this without sounding like a nut. I've had bouts of depression and panic attacks since my early 20s and had the usual addictions to booze and drugs that go hand in hand with mental illness. I can't escape it and have almost learnt to accept it, it's part of me. My songs are a reflection of the world as i see it, and the world as I see it is often dark but not hell. I'm filled with hope sometimes I think but mostly it's dark with the odd shaft of light.
I don't think all great music has a dark under current but most of it has. I sometimes sing songs like ' Don't Look Back In Anger ' because I think it's a great song ( a lot of people disagree I know ) but my version comes from an entirely different place. I love that song because it's beautifully put together yet I don't think it was born from a personal hell.

Above: Clayhill. L to R Ted, Gavin, Ali.

Jude Calvert-Toulmin: I was struck by a particular story Shane told on the section of the forum on his site set aside for discussion about your work and that of Sunhouse and Clayhill. Shane said that he went round to yours one day and you were looking through the yellow pages at adverts with a view to getting a job delivering pizzas. Have you got any other recollections about that incident?
Gavin Clark: The story of me looking for pizza work is pretty much as Shane told it. I've never earnt much money from music and have always had to do shit jobs to make the rent. Pizza delivery is my own choice because you don't have to think about doing it, you pick up pizza and drop it off and your mind is your own. I hate having to do it but can't get out of it really. It's an odd experience when you're on tour being applauded one night and humiliated the next but it stops anything going to your head which is a good thing.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: Have you done any solo gigs yet?
Gavin Clark: I've now signed a publishing deal and did my first solo gig as part of the documentary.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: Do you get stage fright?
Gavin Clark: I get terrible stage fright, it takes me about 20 minutes to settle down. I can still sing even if I'm shaking but it's not that enjoyable.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin: Do you watch Road Wars by the way? It's my favourite programme. If you don't, what's your favourite programme on TV? Or do you not watch TV?
Gavin Clark: I watch a lot of TV and love reading. I'm a lot fussier with books than I am with TV. I love good comedy, Peep Show , Curb Your Enthusiasm etc. I really like any type of documentary, even the really shit ones you get on the History channel.
Christian from The Leisure society lent me a book called The Fountainhead which I absolutely love and am just finishing now. I love the children's story The Giving Tree, it really is remarkable. And my favourite film is It's A Wonderful Life.
The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand's story of Howard Roark, a brilliant architect who dares to stand alone against the hostility of second-hand souls. First published in 1943, this best-selling novel is a passionate defense of individualism and presents an exalted view of man's creative potential; it is a book about ambition, power, gold and love.
The Giving Tree, by Silverstein: This story of a boy who grows to manhood and of a tree that gives him her bounty through the years, is a moving parable about the gift of giving and capacity to love.
It's A Wonderful Life: Capra's masterpiece is considered by many (including me) to be the greatest film ever made.
I thank Gavin for his honesty, integrity and brilliant answers. I knew a question about Road Wars would break the ice, wink.
Here are the lyrics to "Stems". These lyrics are up there with Dylan and Nick Drake in my opinion.

STEMS
I buried my heart, outside in the dirt,
I fed it with tears, I fed it with earth,
I let it grow, gave it a name,
Born on the wind, raised in the rain,
A stem of illusion, a flower of pain,

I pulled it up, by the roots from the dirt,
Gone were the tears, the trace of earth,
I let it die, by the light and the sane,
Killed by the wind, killed by the rain,
A stem of illusion, a flower of pain,
I'll never bury myself again.
© Gavin Clark

Well personally, I think those lyrics are mindblowing. You don't just twiddle your thumbs and come up with stuff like that.

Anyway, a little bit of history:




From www.shanemeadows.co.uk, here is how Shane Meadows describes meeting Gavin, and how unwittingly, Gavin shaped Shane's future as a filmmaker...

Me and Gavin First met at Alton Towers in 1989'ish, He was working in a fast food shack and I was painting faces with Paul Fraser*. Gavin had moved up north from Maidstone with his future wife Judy (who was 6 months pregnant at the time) and was living on a caravan site near to Alton.

Around that time I was in a band with Paddy* called 'She Talks to Angels' and really thought that we were like the best band of all time and would conquer the world in the early nineties, but then I heard Gavin play a song one day and it changed my life forever....

I had told Gavin about my band etc and he had said he had always wanted to be in a band himself. I was like, play us one of your tracks Gav, maybe you could do like backing vocals or summut. So he played a song to me and I was totally gutted. As I watched him play and sing I watched my own music career go up in smoke as I knew he had more songwriting talent in his little toe than I had in my entire being on a good day with a prevailing wind. I didn't realize it at the time, but that day played a major part in me becoming a filmmaker. Although I was horrified, I was honest enough to know that my dream of becoming a rock star was simply that, a dream.

This story reminds me of how the then unknown Jimi Hendrix got up on stage to jam with the already legendary Eric Clapton and blew him offstage. Literally. Clapton sloped offstage and ended up in his dressing room, attempting to light a cigarette with trembling hands, saying "Was he really that good?"

*Paddy Considine, one of the best actors I have ever seen, who is in many of Shane's films, and delivered a remarkable performance as Richard in Dead Man's Shoes.

*Paul Fraser, writer of several Shane Meadows' films, and winner of the Golden Berlin Bear award for Best Short Film, Scummy Man, starring Stephen Graham who played Combo so wonderfully in This Is England. Scummy Man was commissioned by Sheffield band The Arctic Monkeys and inspired by their track "When the Sun Goes Down". The rushes from the shoot were used to create the Pop Promo for that track.





Gavin's band Sunhouse were formed in early 1997 and split up in 1998 after releasing one album, Crazy on the Weekend. Sunhouse material is now very rare and hard to come by.

Below: "Hard Sun" by Sunhouse. Check. Out. That. Fucking. Voice.
And yes, that's Sinead O'Connor singing backing vocals towards the end of the song. Cool or what. She's one of my favourite singers, too. A legendary lass.



Below, "Crazy on the weekend."





Above: Clayhill during US tour supporting Beth Orton.

Gavin is now playing with the band Clayhill whose song Afterlight can be heard on the soundtrack for Dead Man's Shoes. Below, an unofficial video made by gggy32 for Afterlight, a song which is, naturally, amazing:




Clayhill also covered The Smiths' "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" for the soundtrack for This Is England. If you haven't seen This Is England yet, go and see it. It is brilliant. Acting, directing, editing, music, production design; seamless, the lot of it. Apart from everything else that's wonderful about the film, it's worth seeing for the astonishing acting debuts of Thomas Turgoose as Shaun and Rosamund Hanson as Smell.

And the cover of Please, Please is perfect. Clayhill have taken the song apart, reducing it to its basic components and then started from scratch, re-assembling it in their own way; the only way to do a cover version in my opinion. Clayhill have got a "best of" coming out on i-tunes soon for under a fiver. Here's cowboymod's video on YouTube for the Clayhill cover of Please, Please:



Gavin's song "Never Seen The Sea" is also on the This Is England soundtrack. You can hear that track here on Gavin's MySpace. All the tracks on Gavin's space are available on an add to add to your own MySpace page, by the way.

Gavin has recently finished recording material with The Leisure Society, check them out on MySpace. Really beautiful music. For those who don't know it yet, there has been a burgeoning acoustic/folk revival going on for a few years now...

One of the greatest scenes I have ever seen in the history of cinema. Paddy Considine as Richard and Gary Stretch as Sonny, from Dead Man's Shoes.

SPOILER ALERT!!! Do not watch if you haven't seen the film and are intending to do so!





Below, This Is England trailer:



I've got a theory about Shane Meadows, Gavin Clark, Paddy Considine et al. I'm sure it's been said before*, but I think there's the same kind of ensemble thing going on here that Scorcese had with De Niro and Harvey Keitel when they first started making films together. I certainly think that Shane is the most talented director I've seen in the UK for a long time. In my opinion he's on a par with directors like Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Terrence Malick and Krzysztof Kieslowski. And with Paddy Considine having the same kind of depth as Robert Duvall, and with Shane's music.....I just think the sky's the limit for these guys.
* It's being said all over the internet. Duh....
Many thanks to Gavin for this interview.

Above: Paddy Considine and Gary Stretch in that seminal scene in Dead Man's Shoes.
***

Thanks to Dave, admin over at www.shanemeadows.co.uk, for giving this interview a heads up on their front page.
Thanks to Gavin for putting this on his MySpace blog!:
It's the most enjoyable interview I've ever done so if you're into finding out what's happening with the Doc, how I write and what tv I watch press the link. Gavin. I've also put Jude up as a top friend so check out her myspace.
Well I've put Gavin as a top friend on both my spaces so it's just one great big hippy love-in :)

***

RIP Gavin Clark 25 January 1969 - 16 February 2015
Loved and missed