Gavin Clark

TrackAlbum
Crazy On The Weekend
(by Sunhouse)
Crazy On The Weekend
Chasing The Dream
(by Sunhouse)
Crazy On The Weekend
Good Day To Die
(by Sunhouse)
Crazy On The Weekend
Afterlight
(by Clayhill)
Dead Man's Shoes OST
Grasscutter
(by Clayhill)
Cuban Green EP
Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
(by Clayhill)
This Is England OST
When We Had Faces
(by Gavin Clark & Ted Barnes)
Somers Town OST
Raise A Vein
(by Gavin Clark & Ted Barnes)
Somers Town OST
Never Seen The Sea
(by Gavin Clark)
Beautiful Skeletons
Bermondsey Stutter
(by Gavin Clark)
Beautiful Skeletons

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Gavin Clark playlist

 

 

 

Contributor: Terry Newman

Sunhouse was formed in Nottingham in 1997. The band consisted of Gavin Clark (vocals) who hailed from London, Paul Bacon (guitar), and Robert Brooks (bass) and Dominic Dillon (drums) both formerly in the Telescopes.

I go crazy on the weekend, chemically speaking I’m a freak

So begins the first track – the title track – on the debut album by Sunhouse in 1998, Crazy On The Weekend (1998). Never off my cassette player during that summer, it is surely one of the great unheralded debut albums. How would they ever top it? They probably couldn’t but we’ll never know because they broke up soon after.

From that first album I’ll also take Chasing The Dream, a glorious melody but a song full of anguish and regret: You saw rainbows and I saw rain, you fed me sweet love but I tasted pain, you wanted colour I wanted grey, ten years gone today and you’re still chasing the dream.

The constraints of only picking ten songs inevitably means being very ruthless. I could quite easily pick six or seven from Crazy On The Weekend alone but will have to make do with just three. Good Day To Die is another classic Gavin Clark song (the liner notes have it as Clarke with the extra ‘e’).

Gavin is probably best known for his association with film director Shane Meadows and has contributed songs to most of his films. They first met at a Manchester house party in 1989; at the time, both were working at Alton Towers; Meadows painting clown faces, while Clark sold chips at a food stall. It was hearing Gavin play a song on an acoustic guitar that persuaded him (Meadows) that he should seek a different career path other than music.

Gavin formed a new band called Clayhill in 2003 with Ali Friend (bass) and Ted Barnes (guitar), both formerly in Beth Orton’s band. From the 2004 Shane Meadows’ film Dead Man’s Shoes comes Afterlight, mainly just Gavin’s plaintive vocal and acoustic guitar.

We must’ve spiralled out of control/ Suffer and glory, rage in my skull
All we’ve become to make it seem right/ Today’s darkest cloud was yesterday’s light

Rather bleak lyrics, no?

Clayhill made a few records along the way but none achieved any real success at all – from the 2004 EP Cuban Green comes the beautifully uplifting Grasscutter.

One of the enduring images in the iconic Shane Meadows’ film This is England is Gavin’s version of the Smiths’ classic Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want playing over the closing credits:

“The singer pulls off a fairly remarkable feat – investing a song already heavy with melancholy with so much more of it that the end result is difficult to listen to. Where Morrissey’s voice was epically languorous – his voice drenched in Marr’s cascading mandolins – Clark sounds utterly desolate and alone.” John Niven (author of “Kill Your Friends”)

Another Shane Meadows film, Somers Town, provides the next two picks, Raise A Vein (see above video) and the gorgeous When We Had Faces (see top clip), possibly his most complete vocal performance to my ears. Another bittersweet lyric, always laced with regret:

They said the hand of God delivered the blow
But all that I know, it wasn’t him that nearly killed you
I let you down, I never carried you home
I left you alone, to fend there for yourself

Clayhill folded in 2007 and it wasn’t long after that Shane Meadows began making a documentary about Gavin and his music called The Living Room. It’s a beautifully made and poignant film which stems from trying to get Gavin to perform in front of a live audience again, in this case from his living room. You can see Gavin struggling with self-doubt and confidence but his personality does shine through on his up days. Knowing what was to come later some sections are pretty hard to watch with any dispassion. The film is only about forty minutes long and is available on You Tube.

2014 saw the release of Beautiful Skeletons, a collection of songs/demos from the previous twenty years which Shane Meadows had assiduously collated. One of the highlights is Never Seen The Sea with the Leisure Society as backing musicians (a different version appears on This Is England).

God knows I love you
You are an original
I came without reason
So bitter, so free
You were born by the river
But you’ve never seen the sea

And finally, Bermondsey Stutter:

We ain’t over the worst of it yet,
There’s a whole lot of faces and places I’m trying to forget,
I haven’t found yet my groove in the world
And he’d have flown stars into space he ain’t likely to tell,
One day I’ll figure where I can relate
And I’ll lose my Bermondsey stutter before it’s too late

By his own admission, Gavin had struggled with depression and had suffered with alcoholic and drug dependencies throughout his adult life. He died in February 2015, just 46 years old.

In Gavin’s own words: “I’ve had bouts of depression and panic attacks since my early 20s, and I’ve had the usual addictions to booze and drugs that go hand in hand with mental illness. I can’t escape it and have almost learned 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.”

In spite of his condition, Clark never stopped writing. Before his death, he was working with James Griffiths and Pablo Clements (members of UNKLE/Toydrum and the owners of the Toy Room Studios in Brighton) on a concept album, Evangelist, loosely based on his own life (see rave reviews below).

John Niven again: “He had that terrible burden many songwriters suffer from – the confidence and ego required to compose and perform coupled with a crippling shyness and insecurity.”

There have been some comparisons to Nick Drake and it would be good if, one day in the future, Gavin Clark’s talent is finally recognised. It will, sadly, be too late for him.

 

 

 

Gavin Clark photo

Gavin Clark (1969–2015)

 

Evangelist is more modern in texture and darker in mood. It works as a powerful piece in its own right but on its final stretch, acoustic ballad Whirlwind Of Rubbish (see video below), Clark becomes transcendent with a song so beautiful and sad it seems unfathomable its creator is not more celebrated. Perhaps this could turn out to be a redemptive tale, after all, of the power of music to restore and heal.” Neil McCormick, The Telegraph

“That Evangelist marks one of the final chapters in Gavin Clark’s musical legacy is one of the saddest musical moments of 2015, notwithstanding its splendour. Do not miss this record. More than that, find anything you can that he was involved in, be it with Unkle, Clayhill or Sunhouse, or as a solo performer, and let the sheer weight of the beauty of his voice and his songs sink in.” Haydon Spenceley, Drowned in Sound

“Whatever it is in his voice that captures the very essence of everyday/everyman fragility, it’s here in spades from start to finish in so many different guises … Wherever Clark had to go to within himself get these voices from, it’s an extraordinary feat to both find them and bring them to us in such a mesmerising fashion.” Si Forster, Echoes and Dust

 

Gavin Clark official facebook page

Gavin Clark on Discogs

Gavin Clark biography (Wikipedia)

Ted Barnes official website

Ali Friend (of Red Snapper) facebook

Shane Meadows official website

This is Terry Newman’s 6th post for this site following Butch Hancock, Jonathan Kelly, James McMurtry, Steely Dan, XTC. He lives in North Yorkshire and you can find him on Twitter @westburtonlad.

TopperPost #790

6 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    May 22, 2019

    How come I have never heard any of these songs before? They are really excellent. Thanks for introducing me to such a fine singer and songwriter.

  2. David Lewis
    May 23, 2019

    What a great list. It’s a shame that he couldn’t beat the darkness he wielded so well in his songs. Enjoyed the songs none of which I’d heard before.

  3. Terry Newman
    May 23, 2019

    Thanks Andrew and David for your comments. I know of very few people that have even heard of him, so if I’ve got him a couple of extra fans that is all to the good.

  4. Paul Vincent
    Jun 13, 2019

    Great list, Terry. As you say, the “constraints” of such a list are particularly challenging in this case.
    His lyrics are always beautifully crafted and often difficult to decipher. I can help you out with “And he’d have flown stars into space he ain’t likely to tell” above. The lyric is “And He [i.e., God] that flung stars into space, He ain’t likely to tell”. The role of religion in the songs, even prior to The Evangelist, is complex and certainly adds an important dimension to them. Cheers again.

  5. Geoff Hamilton
    Jul 11, 2019

    I’ve been listening to a lot of Gavin Clark recently and I watched the film The Living Room. Terribly underrated writer and performer.
    The sad, premature end to his life makes much of this music all the more poignant.
    My own band have been messing around with some of his material – without doing them justice undoubtedly.
    Hopefully time will be kind to his legacy and more people will become aware of his beautiful music.
    Well done Terry, this was a really good read.

    • Terry Newman
      Jul 11, 2019

      Thanks for your comments, Geoff.
      I do hope that one day his music will be more appreciated. Good luck with your band!

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