Hallowed Be Thy Sins
I’m sure a great many folk (as I was) were introduced to the beautiful intense mortal fragility that embodied the voice of one Gavin Clark via the equally talented story teller and director Shane Meadows. They were both mates from years ago having worked together on a holiday camp, doing what young guys do, hoovering up life and anything else they could as if there was no tomorrow. They were halcyon days of wild free youth were you hadn’t even heard never mind understood the word responsibility yet.
These two close friends noisily and joyfully drive down memory lane in a busted exhaust pipe old red Volvo in Shane’s documentary The Living Room (2009), itself a wonderfully candoured account of not only their friendship, Gavin’s unquestionable musical talent and the resonance of his songs on himself, his family and people around him. Shane once upon a time had desires to enter the music profession, that is until he heard Gavin play. Having seen such inherent ability, you don’t want to compete with it, you just want to praise it from the heights to all and sundry, and the documentary became an almost tour movie of that campaign, well at least of Gavin’s living room.
Shane continued to have Gavin’s work in every film he made giving him the exposure he richly deserved with the protective emotive distance he desired. It’s often the case that such super saturated talent inherently comes with a cost. Be it God given ability, or a deal on the Devil’s Crossroad, being able to free dive to such emotive depths can come back scared with raw crippling insecurities, the journey giving the diver the bends that can only be alleviated by various vices. But the true artist will always prevail at any cost to themselves as they know their travelogues will help nurture, support and embrace others.
Gavin sadly passed away in February 16th 2015. He had been on many journeys through his own work and in bands such as Sunhill, Clayhill and multiple time freezing collaborations with UNKLE. He was also in the midst of one such trip with close friends James Griffiths and Pablo Clements (both of Toydrum) who he had worked with in UNKLE. This parable was to arrive in the form of Evangelist (2015) with Gavin taking on the guise of a preacher recounting his tragic journey through various ill begotten judgements and decisions throughout his life. Effectively in one pitch summing up every human mistake we the listener have ever made in our own stumblings through our mortal duration.
Setting the scene and opening the brooding sermon ‘This is the world that I created, I created light from sweetness and darkness.’ on The World That I Created, you have been warned that an adult, VERY human tale is about to be imparted, and you will learn if you listen. And listen you will. It is a genuine tragedy that Gavin has gone, not only for his wife, kids and friends but also because this Evangelist creative commune of believers and talent is an unmitigated success.
Flowing through the building tempos and unfolding story of the Preacher from Spirit, to the rapturous Same Hands where you can almost see the crippled stand up and dance with joyous abandon. The fiddler must always be paid though, and cost is the gorgeous lament of I’m In Love Tonight as the Preacher looses willpower to lust. From the pedestal we placed him on, he’s actually made up of the same emotive confusion of us all, except he has the ability to talk about it.
The Preacher isn’t pontificating to us between the dark beats of Know One Will Ever Know but Christ the Devil does have the best grooves, and his sins are definitely enticing.
And so the journey continues (I’m not telling you the outcome). It screams fragility, confusion, suffering, regret, what it is to be human, alive, dead, forgotten, remembered, from the bowels of despair to the fervour of enlightenment, to be judged and forgiven, not only by others, but in particular by ourselves. Basically what it is to have the experienced life in any capacity, the momentary tremble in Gavin’s voice sounds infinite in life experience.
The album hadn’t been fully completed before Gavin departed, but as in the richest of influences and the most beautiful of paeans, close friends and family came into the ever increasing congregation to finish the sermon, ending up with Michael (Gavin’s son), Warren Ellis (Dirty Three/Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and Wendy Rae Fowler (UNKLE, Queens of the Stone Age) amongst many others returning the love and talent that Gavin had shared all his life.
I’m an absolute atheist, but music (such as this) has the power make you believe, if not in a higher form, at least in people, humility, loyalty and candour, and that’s a far richer experience in my eyes. And even though Gavin is gone, he had the courage despite his insecurities to stand up and say something, a true pioneer for our souls.
The Evangelist is out now.
Flush caught up with Evangelist members James Griffiths and Pablo Clements to delve into their stunning album a bit more.
FTF: How and when did the concept for the album and the creation of the Preacher come about?
Gavin had the concept for a while and in 2011 when he started writing the lyrics, the full story of the preacher and his rise and fall took form.
It was a pretty amazing time – Gavin was living in James flat where we had the studio set up. He was so prolific, staying up all night writing, nothing felt forced, it all seemed so real. It then became our jobs to keep up with him by writing the sound beds for the songs.
FTF: Did the title for the band emerge from theme?
Yes, we had a few ideas but in the end ‘Evangelist’ seemed right.
The story came first, it was about a preacher’s life and ‘Evangelist’ summed up the story Gavin had written in one word.
FTF: The album artwork is of Gavin holding an accordion almost like a cherubic Pied Piper leading us dancing between the shafts of light and dark of the actual album. When and where was it taken?
It was taken while we working on the album in Jan 2011 in the same flat where a lot of the writing and recording was done.
At this time Gavin was the preacher, living the character 24 hours a day, even dreaming the lyrics. Upon waking he would then write and record. This photo was taken during that time with Gavin playing his Grandfather’s accordion. When it came to the album, James found the picture and we all agreed that this was the cover. Later, when we looked closer at the picture we noticed the cross behind him on the door. He was the Evangelist!
FTF: Given the focus of the subject/theme/sermon, did it make it easier in the creative process to almost role play, or get into character, particularly for Gavin taking on the guise of the Preacher, who sounds very empowered/enraptured (as well as a mortal fragility) across the album.
This would have been a question for Gavin. Once he found the concept he was cruising through writing the songs. It was just pouring out of him. Gavin had the story in his head like someone writing a book. He knew the beginning he knew the end. He was filling in the chapters with every song , ‘The World That I Created’ is the introduction to the character, ‘Spirit’ is the story of him joining the church and finding his faith through the teacher he learned from, ‘Same Hands’ is the story of him becoming the preacher , ‘I’m In Love Tonight’ is the story of the preacher falling in love with a prostitute, ‘No One Will Ever Know’ is the story of the child he wants to hide from the church he had with the prostitute and so on and so on. The character of the preacher allowed him to write about certain things that were very close to him in a fictional way.
FTF: Restrictions (be it thematically or technically) are often very constructive devices, did it bring focus to the work? There’s a tremendous emotive fluidity on the journey across the tracks.
Yes, very much so and as far as the music goes, kept us in a certain place. We knew what we wanted it to sound like and it had to be very cohesive. The subject matter to each chapter helped us create the sound beds, pulse and tone. ‘God Song’ is at the height of his preaching glory, the power and fame was going to the preacher’s head, it had to be erratic and crazy while ‘I’m In Love Tonight’ is a tripped out love song and ‘Whirlwind’ is the song where the character loses it all and is sat looking at the world from a homeless person’s street view. When you have these images it’s like scoring a story really.
FTF: How much of the album was completed before Gavin passed away?
All the writing was completed before Gavin passed, and the music was in a really good place. The album is the way Gav knew it, there’s a lot that goes into finishing the tracks but we never rewrote them musically at all, it had to be as Gavin knew it.
FTF: It’s a fitting act of love/devotion to finish the album in honour and tribute of his memory and remarkable talent. Are there any particular tracks that personally stand out that sum up the creative alchemy with Gavin? And can you give a bit of background to the track(s)?
We’re biased of course. All the tracks play an equal part in the story. ‘Same Hands’ ‘God Song’ and ‘Whirlwind Of Rubbish’ would probably be our favourites. ‘God Song’ in particular, the way it came about makes it one of a kind. We had the music backing track before Gavin wrote the lyrics and later that evening we did the take. Gavin had never heard the music before but came in and literally did one take and that was it. The track never changed from that take.
FTF: What was the actual creative process?
The writing stage of the record came from 3 weekend long sessions. Some were formed with an acoustic guitar and Gavin sitting in a room. Some started with a groove. By the end of these sessions everything was finished lyrically. A few months later we booked sessions in our studio, that was now up and running. Ourselves, Gavin and our good friend drummer, Leo Taylor (The Invisible) jammed like a band. They were great sessions, wild jams with Gav screaming down the microphone. This is where tracks like ‘Know One Will Ever Know’, ‘Spirit’ and ‘Same Hands’ really came to life.
We began really working on the music then and continued over the next few years. Then, when it came to finishing the record, Gavin was no longer with us. It was one of the hardest things we have ever had to do, listening to your friend’s voice sing to you 16 hours a day. That was pretty heart wrenching, especially when listening to Gavin laughing in-between takes. Also those finishing touches can sometimes be the hardest, whether it’s a little sub melody or a new texture, it’s really hard to know when something is finished.
We were also making all the decisions now for Gav. That’s why we called on a few of Gavin’s friends from Warren Ellis to Ludovico Einaudi to Wendy Rae Fowler to Ben Trigg on strings, Bruno Ellingham mixing and even Michael Clark, Gavin’s son. All of these people helped with a fresh perspective. After Gavin’s passing we made the rule that anyone that joined the project would have to be a friend of Gavin’s. That’s how we finished it.
FTF: Were there any particular influences in the album, to me there were echoes of Roy Orbison and maybe even Johnny Cash and obviously gospel on some of the tracks.
One of the talent’s Gav had was to always sound familiar to the listener but still be himself. Gav’s inspiration came from lots of places. I remember talking about The Fall around the time of the ‘God Song’ and John Lennon around the time we recorded ‘Same Hands’. Gavin really had that in his voice, he could sing high without singing in falsetto. He had a soul quality that Lennon had. You also believe every word he sings. The best singer’s do that, they make you believe! On this record Gav was at his best you can feel the soul flowing out of him on every track.
FTF: The production has the same exacting standards of your previous work, especially in Unkle. Though there’s deliberate rawness allowed to seep in too, such as in God Song. Where there any particular production influences involved?
Our influences on this record came from the same place they do on every project we’ve ever done.
The main point being that we’re always trying to make something we’ve never made before. What’s the point in painting the same picture over and over again. With this record we didn’t want to push the over production like some of the other records we’ve made. Gavin always sounded best over something stripped back and organic. His voice sounds like a classic singer so we wanted to make a record that felt like it could come from any decade over the last 50 years.
Our studio was up and running and this was the first time we were in control of everything being recorded, we were finding our way and there is a rawness that comes with that , we were making a record with one singer and we wanted the record to be a journey that Gav controlled. Spirit was inspired from some mad Yugoslavian psych record, ‘Same Hands’ was inspired from a crazy electronic glam rock record, ‘Know One Will Ever Know’ was recorded live in one take, ‘Whirlwind’… is fluttering electronics added to an innocent painting Gav made for us. ‘God Song’ probably nails it for us more than anything.
The Fall meets Madlib with a screaming preacher on top, we’ve never heard that before!
FTF: Are there any other plans to continue to spread the message and voice of Gavin?
We want this to be the record that thousands of people discover Gavin from and dig into his back catalogue. Over the years, Gav wrote some amazing songs that everyone should hear and we are proud to have been a part of that. There are a lot of other tracks that we have didn’t have finished for this record. We sat down with Gav before he passed away and decided, these tracks in this order tells the story Gav wanted to tell. We have loads of tracks with Gavin that no one has ever heard but for now, this is the ‘Evangelist’.
FTF: Will Evangelist continue on to spread the good word that you have all created?
We’re in talks about something that could spread the word of the Evangelist a lot further than where we are now. We can’t talk about that yet, but it’s very exciting.
We hope you enjoy the record. It’s pretty bonkers with a soul in it that sadly we’ve lost. The music is now here for everyone to enjoy, so go cry and dance to it, that’s what Gav would of wanted.