There’s a very good regular feature in UNCUT called “An audience with…” where readers send in questions which are then put to the musician in question. Here’s an example from “An audience with Donovan”: “Did you participate in the creation of any Beatles songs at Rishikesh?” Or this from “An audience with Booker T”: “You backed CSNY on one of their early-2000s reunion tours. How did you manage to navigate the warring egos?” These are great questions and got me into thinking which questions I’d like to ask my favourite artists. For example to Van Morrison “Did you really sing ‘Madame Joy’ on ‘Madam George’ and why did you change the title?” Or to Bob Dylan “Why did you leave ‘Angelina’ off Shot Of Love?”.
Which then led me into thinking about the very few conversations I have had with my favourite musicians. When John and Helen treated me a stay at The Randolph in Oxford in February 1995 after seeing Van Morrison at the Oxford Apollo, we ended up in a posh lounge bar with the whole of the 10-piece band. John, one of the most charming men in the universe, walked over to Van, called him “Mr. Morrison” and complimented him on a stunning show (which it most certainly was). He then introduced Helen and me and of course I was completely tongue tied. I mean, how is it possible to walk up to one of your heroes and ask him an in-depth question about his music? It’s not possible. So all I could do was mumble some thanks. John told Van that I had been to lots of his shows. Luckily he didn’t exaggerate the number as then Van would have been able to repeat Bob Dylan’s gag when someone boasted to Dylan about how many of Dylan’s shows he had been to by replying “Wow. You’ve been to more Bob Dylan shows than I have.” (Loudon Wainwright wrote a song called “My Greatest Fan” which was about a guy he had met in Australia who was 22 stone!). The point is that there are many questions I’d love to ask my favourite musicians but to walk up to someone who doesn’t know me, but I think I know all about them, is not a normal social situation. I’m rubbish at parties and initiating small talk is difficult for me. And why would Van Morrison want to indulge in small talk with me? All I can think of doing is mumble a thanks and be apologetic for bothering them. This is not the case for other people I know. Paul played snooker with Richard Thompson. His brother Phil used to regularly go backstage after a Mogwai concert and give instant feedback. I wish I could be more like that.
My stories about “famous musicians I have encountered” is pathetically small. I did once talk briefly to Kevin Rowland outside the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road, telling him what a fantastic album “Don’t Stand Me Down” was. I also talked to David Hayes, Van Morrison’s bass player and asked him whether Van had a set list (which he didn’t). I didn’t actually talk to Paul McCartney but I was amongst a tiny gathering of people that he talked to outside the stage door at The Brighton Dome in July 2005 when he left after the Brian Wilson concert. After Brian Wilson had run to the tour coach and then had a brief conversation with “us”, some wag said “Now all we need is Elvis Presley to complete the set.” I was with Paddy when we had a very long conversation in Oxford, Mississippi with Dave Sickman of The Hackensaw Boys. I had a chat with Brent Best of Slobberbone at The Lift in Brighton when there were only 10 people in the audience. I chatted to Jonny Kearney about why “Dixon Street” wasn’t on Jonny and Lucy Farrell’s second album. But the best of them all was probably a one minute conversation with Gavin Clarke after Mark, Helen and her friend Bernie, and I saw Clayhill at The Komedia in February 2005. My conversation was typically flattering but I was quite inebriated and he very politely ended it to talk to two beautiful girls. Gavin Clark was the lead singer of Sunhouse and their only album “Crazy On The Weekend” is absolutely amazing. A real hidden treasure if you haven’t heard it.
The album is hugely interesting and fairly quiet. To get some idea of what the music is like and what Gavin Clark is like, look at the YouTube clip from Glastonbury (below). In it, he sings the title track simply accompanied by an acoustic guitar. What strikes me straight away is the beautiful soulful sound of his voice. The next track “Hurricane” starts in a similar fashion but develops into a fuller sound with drums, nice electric guitar and great harmonica. It’s still fairly slow and is what Roo would describe as “Dead Miserable Music”. Which means, of course, that I love it. I always loved the song “Good Day To Die” not only because it’s a great song but it’s also a phrase used by Klingons when preparing to go into battle in Star Trek. The whole album has a unified feel but there are many variations in mood, tempo and instrumentation.
The tenth track is “Swing Low” and it would be in my top 20 songs of all time. It starts with a quiet organ and Gavin quietly cheerily sings “Swing low sweet light / ‘Cos I’m standing on the edge tonight / Losing my connection and I’ve lost my sight / Swing low. Swing low sweet light / Cos I’m closing on corrupt tonight / My fuses are almost burnt through and I’m dynamite / Swing low. Will you save me I’m hanging by my neck / My body is a corpse my heart is almost dead / My soul’s an open grave I’ve got venom in my head / Swing low sweet light tonight. Slow down sweet song / The gravity that pulls me has gone / I’m a stranger in this city and my time is done / Slow down. Slow down sweet light / Visions turn to dust and I can’t stand the fright / My pollution’s taking over and it swears it’s right / Slow down” As the drums kick in and the organ plays mournfully, the strength and depth of feeling is overwhelming.
The following track is “Animal” which starts in a similar fashion to the previous ten songs but suddenly erupts into a loud feedback driven rant “I still feel like an animal” repeated and repeated. It’s a great ending to the album.
But no, there’s a hidden track. Bands don’t seem to do that any more do they? Cracker once put “Eurotrash Girl” as Track 69 on “Kerosene Hat” which was a witty in a schoolboy sort of way but it meant you either had to press the forward button from track 13 to track 69 or simply wait about 3 minutes. This hidden track is called “Second Coming” and it’s preceded by the sound of Gavin Clark looking forlornly out of the window of his fifth floor flat in the middle of a large impersonal city. The street below is full of life, cars driving happy people out for a great evening and the singer has to endure another lonely night and contemplate his life and what he can do to redeem himself. Well, that’s how I interpret it. It’s a very sad, downbeat, appropriate and brilliant ending to an amazing album.
Gavin Clark was a long term friend of director Shane Meadows who asked him to score his debut feature “Small Time” in 1996. Sunhouse were formed specifically to provide this music. They were called Sunhouse because that was the name of their favourite Chinese takeaway (look at the album cover). Each of Shane Meadows’ films features work by Gavin Clark. Sunhouse split in 1999 and Gavin Clark went on to form the band Clayhill in 2003. They released a number of EPs and three albums before splitting in 2007. These are all interesting with some very good songs but are not as consistent as “Crazy On The Weekend”. Gavin Clark had more or less given up music by 2007 but with the support of Shane Meadows, who showcased his work in the documentary “The Living Room”, he began working again, particularly with UNKLE.
Gavin Clark, who had struggled with alcoholism, died in February 2015 caused by breathing complications associated with the illness.