Earlier this year Britain tragically lost one of its true originals, Gavin Clark. At just 46 years old, he unexpectedly passed at home. If you’ve ever seen This Is England, then you’ll know Gavin’s voice, and what a voice, as his desolate cover of The Smith’s Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want plays over the credits. It wasn’t the first, or the last, time he would work with the director Shane Meadows. A close friend for many years, Meadows would always have Clark’s back – from his earliest student films to the projects he would work on after Clark’s death. Shane memorably made a documentary about his friend just last year, a paean to his talents and encouragement from Meadows to get Clark playing live again after a sustained period of anxiety (after quitting drink) had crippled Clark’s confidence in his own abilities.
Outside of his career-long work with Shane Meadows, Clark’s work would be well received critically, if not commercially, and as well as solo material he released records with Sunhouse, who were signed by the then A&R and now successful author John Niven, and afterwards with his folk trio Clayhill. While both acts made their dents, it was his work with UNKLE that would reach the most people. Who was the man behind that voice? And it was this successful collaboration that led to the formation of friendships with Pablo Clements and James Griffiths, the other musicians behind this ambitious posthumous release, The Evangelist.
While James Lavelle put UNKLE on hold, Pablo Clements and James Griffith, members of the seminal project since 2007, forged a new musical partnership, TOYDRUM. Shortly after this in January 2011 the Evangelist concept was conceived and the orignal demos were written and recorded. The Evangelist, a concept album, is a loosely autobiographical tale, about a preacher’s life. Exaggerated a little like any great tale, it would follow his peak, his downward spiral into drugs and vice, his attempted redemption and ultimately his failure. Inspired by the likes of The Who’s “Tommy”, Gavin wrote this of the record in an email to Pablo and James
‘I’ve got 20 years of all the bullshit that surrounds this, 5 points of Calvinism, spinning coins (predestination versus freewill). I’ve got a lot to say about it all. Church to me, is not brick, pricks or spires, it’s life. Giving time to an old guy on the train who wants to tell you of his life, tramps, the hurt, the hungry – this is church, this is Jesus to me, hookers and fools.....Shit I’ve become the preacher!!!’
Gavin continued to work closely with Pablo and James, he features on TOYDRUM’s first mini-album on the poignant track “I’ve Got A Future” which was released in October 2014.
They released their first mini-album last year and on the very last track on that record, a new Gavin vocal featured, on the now poignant “I’ve Got A Future”. During these sessions Gavin had come to them both with an idea for a concept album, and a loosely autobiographical tale, about a preacher’s life. Exaggerated a little like any great tale, it would follow his peak, his downward spiral into drugs and vice, his attempted redemption and ultimately his failure. Inspired by the likes of The Who’s “Tommy”, Gavin wrote this of the record in an email to Pablo and James:
After Gavin’s death, James and Pablo promised themselves they would finish the record as a tribute to their friend. So that his music live on within his family they even got Gavin’s eldest son, Michael, to sing backing vocals on two of the tracks. Most of the material featured was recorded live, some of the vocals were done in just a few takes and all of the tracks are the work of three people who understand and understood each other’s talents. There’s a real rawness to the record that befits the subject matter and Gavin’s passing, and each organic imperfection feels exactly as it should be.
From the cracked, hazy folk of “Whirlwind Of Rubbish” to the propulsive, almost cyclical rhythm behind an intense, scalding “God Song” there’s a variety here that belongs as much to rock and roll and psychedelic folklore as it does the trio’s electronic past. Further album highlights include the blissed-out low-end of “Spirit” and “Same Hands”, both blessed with an anthemic set of vocals, full of religious iconology, that are some of the most memorable of Clark’s recorded career.