John Stuart Clark, known as Brick, is as qualified as anyone to have an opinion on Gaffa. So here it is:
Gaffa - 2014 – ‘N’ Product
The great thing about rockers who didn’t die before they got old is that they improve like peat-infused Islay malts. They become earthier, expressing the confidence of knowing who they are and why they’re still gigging, but now blissfully disinterested in making their mark atop the midden heap that is the music business. They might not be down with the kids, as far as the kids are concerned but, man, can they play and have they got something to say.
This is the 21st Century Gaffa, with Simon Bowhill more than deftly replacing Mick Barratt on drums, and augmented by Richard Kensington (from Mas Y Mas) on percussion, and XIXIIXIII is Gaffa in melancholic mood, taking a swipe at the mediocrity currently seeping into our bones like rogue nuclear waste. It is bitter and twisted, but self-deprecating and strangely uplifting in nailing the perennial whinges. Jeysus, who in long trousers isn’t tired of everything!?
‘Rocking Science’ takes a pop at technology driven perceptions of creativity as defined by the ADHD FaceAche generation that defines itself through the accumulation of apps, corporate gizmos and being out there in virtual La-la Land, harvesting ‘friends’. For those in the know, there’s a nice lyrical put-down of the singer songwriter by the man himself on bass, but it’s the scything lead guitar that puts the boot into the sour grapes and elevates the number high above a sanctimonious dirge.
Sounding a tad like something a white Bob Marley might pen then hand over to Carlos Santana to orchestrate, ‘Dark Town’ is the underbelly of ‘Hollow City’ off the album Neither Use Nor Ornament. Laced with vocal harmonies and featuring a beautifully understated layering of six-string guitars from Maslen and Smith, the song is Gaffa’s journey into the dark heart of every townie’s urban nightmare.
Track three begins in the vein of a C&W sob at being on the road too long then mutates into the metaphor made real. ‘When You Get Tired Of Everything’ is the sort of social reality lament that maybe only Gaffa in their mature years could pull off without sounding finger-in-the-ear corny. It’s a beautiful piece, finely poised metres short of slush, more Beethoven’s 7th than Tchaikovsky’s 6th, if that means owt to y’all.
With ‘New Love For Old’ we are back to pedigree Gaffa of yesteryear. Quirky, uncomfortable and lyrically witty with some magnificent yet subdued guitar strains working away in the engine room before climbing up to the bridge and, four minutes in, turning Sun Ra on us. Manfully held on the leash by Bowhill and Kingston, Gaffa goes post Be Bop with a free-form coda that kinda says, “Fuck it, we’re having fun even if you a’n’t”, which pretty much sums up the EP.
You’re not going to break into a sweat bopping to this latest release from the men who refused to die, but you’ll definite stroke your chin and mutter, “Know where y’coming from, lads.” Unlike the re-released album, this isn’t raw and rebellious. It’s mature and full of tonal flavours that slowly emerge the longer you let it roll it round your sound box, much like the taste of that cask-aged malt in your mouth.
John Stuart Clark