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Somers Town - Gavin Clark interview

Somers Town

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GAVIN Clark, of UNKLE and Clayhill fame, talks about collaborating with director Shane Meadows for the soundtrack to indie hit Somers Town, why they work together so well and some of his own personal favourite movie moments.

Q. How did you first become involved with Shane Meadows, going back to your first collaboration on 24/7?
Gavin Clark: We were friends who had the same tastes in music. Shane was in a band when we first met and we used to write songs together. Really early on he made a film called Smalltime for almost nothing. He had a zero budget for music so he put “the big arty band” together who eventually became Sunhouse. When 24/7 happened it seemed natural for us to be on the soundtrack. We were all mates – Paul Fraser was Shane’s next door neighbour and he went to college with Paddy Considine.

Q. What makes him so special as a filmmaker, in your opinion?
Gavin Clark: When he first started he shot a load of films on a camcorder where he’d play every character himself. Where’s The Money Ronnie started like that and is still my favourite version of the film – even then they were brilliant and light years away from anything else going on. He had a raw talent, he was able to make a great short film on instinct. Obviously, over the years he’s become the full package as a filmmaker but what makes him special is something that can’t be taught.

Q. What did you think of Somers Town when you first saw it?
Gavin Clark: I loved it, I thought the two lads in it were excellent and Perry was ace as usual. I couldn’t believe they got it together so quickly. It was meant to be a film in between his major projects. And I think everyone was surprised by how much attention it got.

Q. How easy was it to put together the songs?
Gavin Clark: I was making a solo record so it wasn’t that hard.

Q. Do you find that you have developed a kind of short-hand with Shane, as well as a mutual apprecation society?
Gavin Clark: I guess so… I’ve known him for such a long time now it’s bound to happen. I trust him with material I wouldn’t let anyone else hear apart from my wife. Some people need to see or hear the finished product before they can get it, knowing someone well enough to understand where they are going with something and how great it could be before it’s great is a real blessing.

Q. Raise A Vein and When We Had Faces rate as my two personal favourites on the mini-album. Can you tell me about the process of writing them?
Gavin Clark: As I said, I made a solo record which was produced by Ted Barnes and is yet to be released. Those two songs got lifted into the soundtrack and other stuff was written around them to create a sort of theme. I wrote the album in a way I haven’t done for years, a lot more story based and specific to a particular time. When We Had Faces and Raise A Vein are both flashbacks to 1998.

Q. A soundtrack’s relationship to a movie is often very important, but is sometimes difficult to get the balance right, so that the music enhances emotions, rather than overly manipulates them. Is that something you’re always aware of when writing songs for Meadows’ movies?
Gavin Clark: I never think about it. Shane chooses where music is going to be placed in a film. Any stuff on Somers Town that was written with a particular scene in mind didn’t end up there anyway. Shane is really good at pairing music and film and it’s his decision at the end of the day to make sure the emotion felt is the right one.

Q. In your opinion, what are some of the finest movie soundtracks?
Gavin Clark: Once Upon A time In America, Midnight Cowboy, The Mission, The Proposition, Atonement… I could go on and on and on [laughs].

Q. What’s your favourite Shane Meadows movie moment?
Gavin Clark: When Frank Harper whacks Paddy at the end of Romeo Brass, I love that!

Q. How is The Living Room documentary coming along and when can we expect to see it? How much fun was it to film and have the spotlight turned on you?
Gavin Clark: In the beginning it was great. We bought a car for a 100 quid and drove around all the old haunts just talking in the car. I did a gig in my back room and another couple at other people’s houses. All this was before TIE came out and the UNKLE thing started up for me. They shot a gig I did at the Union Chapel just before Christmas and I’m not sure if it’s the right ending or not, so at the moment it’s ongoing but it could also be finished.

Q. How was performing at last year’s Meltdown?
Gavin Clark: It was a great night and very enjoyable for me – having all the cast there was great and Barnaby from Tomboy put on a great party. There was a lot going on that night, I would have loved to have seen Massive Attack but the times overlapped with Somers Town.

Q. How did you become involved with UNKLE and will you be working with them again?
Gavin Clark: I met James [Lavelle] through his manager and they asked me to try out for a song on War Stories. James liked it and I ended up on tour with them which was great. I had some songs on End Titles as well as being involved with the Able Ferrara documentary. It’s very exciting working with them and it’s ongoing I think.

Q. Can we expect any new material from Clayhill soon?
Gavin Clark: We’re not far off finishing a new record, so yes.

Q. What are your own touring plans for the coming year? Will you be on the road in various guises (with UNKLE, Clayhill or with Ted Barnes)?
Gavin Clark: Unkle won’t be touring this year, Clayhill will be doing some shows and I’ve got a gig with Ted on January 23, supporting Francoiz Breut in London.

Q. When did you know you wanted to become a musician? Why folk? And how easy was it to pursue the dream?
Gavin Clark: Quite late… I was a music fan long before I had any realization I could write or sing. It seemed a million miles from where I was at as a kid, the work of godlike figures. I was 22 when I knew I had a voice and it coincided with my first good song. I was 26 when Sunhouse started and I’d made a record before I’d done a live show. The transition from strumming songs in the back room to having a record deal was really quick and came about only because of 24/7. If Shane hadn’t been a success, then myself, Paul, Paddy and loads of others probably wouldn’t have been either.

Why folk? There wasn’t a big market for folk when we made Crazy On The Weekend and that showed in the record sales. I love folk music but I wouldn’t describe myself as just folk, I’m a songwriter at heart and the music feeds the song in whatever style feels right at the time.

Q. Who are your influences?
Gavin Clark: I was raised on my dad’s records, so all the usuals – Dylan, Hendrix, Bowie, The Beatles and the like. The first artists I bought were Elvis Costello, The Smiths, Billy Bragg and Lloyd Cole. Later, it was all the stuff my dad didn’t have like Nick Drake and The Velvet Underground… that sort of thing.

Read our review of Somers Town