Gavin Clark: A rare talent who deserves more recognition

The following blog comes from Richard Sefton (pictured), director of UK sales & distribution at [PIAS].

One of the great things about working within independent music is that you are always that close to hearing great new music. What makes it even better is that you have the complete freedom to discover this music yourself without being force fed through the radio, or television or press.

Independent labels do not have the luxury of big wallets and buying into the media circus which sustains the major record labels. The music stands on its own merit and there is no better feeling than coming across a brilliant album without having had it rammed down your throat.

In the course of my time at [PIAS] this has happened on numerous occasions, and it will continue to happen in the future. Independent labels are as prolific and intuitive as ever, and the pleasure from a sales point of view is bringing this music to the attention of a wider listening public.

Sometimes however, this does not happen and albums fall into that wilderness inhabited by many others. This is not unique to music. The same happens with books, but occasionally books are given a second life in the guise of a rediscovered classic.

“music from independent labels stands on its own merit – there is no better feeling than discovering a brilliant album without having had it rammed down your throat”

Think of Stoner by John Williams and the credit it finally received 50 years after first being published. There are many examples of this in the book world, but somewhat of a rarity in music. Sure, there are re issues aplenty, but often this is not met with a proper and fair re analysis from the media.

So why bring this all up? I recently heard some very sad news, and it relates to what I discuss above.

Two of the ‘undiscovered’ albums I would put high on my list were released on a label called Eat Sleep in the mid 2000’s. The band Clayhill seemingly came from nowhere, but when I first listened to their debut CD I was immediately entranced.

There was a subtlety aligned with understated power, there were intricate melodies, there was wonderful musicianship, but, my oh my, what stood out by far was the fantastic voice. A voice like I’d never heard, so unique that it knocked me flat. It managed to express so many emotions effortlessly.

Gavin Clark was a rare talent indeed and I would add completely under appreciated. Along with his band mates Ali Friend and Ted Barnes, Gavin made two wonderful albums – Small Circle and Mine At Last. I went to see them on several occasions and it was an odd but uplifting experience.

Musically Ted and Ali were so gifted, underscoring these great songs sung by that great voice.

Gavin did not look comfortable on stage. He hugged himself and seemed insular trying so very hard to deliver the songs as he wanted them. He never failed, and in a strange way his performance was magnetic. Yet with Gavin any performance was superfluous. It wasn’t needed. The voice carried everything in front and behind him.

Clayhill only made the two albums. They stand the test of time and deserve to be re-evaluated.

Gavin Clark went on to provide vocals on UNKLE albums, and also continued his long standing alliance with Shane Meadows, working on various soundtracks This Is England, Dead Man’s Shoes and Somers Town. He also spent time delivering pizzas in his home town of Stoke. It was at this time that Shane and Gavin collaborated on a documentary called ‘The Living Room’ about Gavin’s struggles to reignite his music career.

The idea was that proceeds from the film would buy Gavin some new music equipment. For several years I waited for something new from Gavin Clark – maybe Clayhill would reform, but nothing came along. I discovered the album he made pre-Clayhill with a band called Sunhouse. This was another one hard to track down but well worth the effort.

Then last summer I had a meeting with Wez and Nigel from Full Time Hobby (they were also owners of the Eat Sleep label which released Clayhill). In the course of the conversation I asked about Gavin (as I always did) and there was news.

He had played live to launch a new album. I wondered how this could be without me knowing – no record shops I knew had mentioned or even listed the record.

Nigel mentioned I could get it from Gavin’s web site (or maybe it was a small label web site – I struggle to recall). On returning to work I searched on Amazon and sure as day there it was – a vinyl release, double, with a CD version inserted and DVD of the film documentary made with Shane Meadows. Quite expensive, but I had to get it.

‘Beautiful Skeletons’ is my favourite album of 2014, without question.

It is an album I have played repeatedly and each time I hear something new. Along with the Clayhill albums I will still be listening to it in years to come. It is something I would urge anyone to seek out and spend time with. Unfortunately there is an added poignancy now.

“Beautiful skeletons is my favourite album of 2014, without question.”

Earlier this month, Gavin Clark passed away in his flat in Brighton. I had been intending to go and see him play live in Nottingham along with a screening of the documentary two weeks ago. The show was cancelled. I thought nothing of it at the time.

I wish he had played, I wish I could have heard that voice soar once more. I wish I had told more people at the time about the fantastic nature of ‘Beautiful Skeletons’.

I feel sad for Gavin’s friends and family. Privately their grief must be unfathomable.

I never met him, but I also feel sad because publicly the world has lost a great singer, and a great independent voice.

Gavin Clark deserves much greater recognition. I truly hope he is singing with the angels in a better place now.