This is a voice that can be harsh, fragile, despairing and angry all at the same time.
Jack Smith 2004
The first time I heard Clayhill was earlier this year at the Birmingham Song Writer's Festival. The gig was a somewhat strange affair as the venue was the internationally renown club 'Miss Moneypenny's', one of those massive places designed to take hundreds of Ibiza bound teenagers from the suburbs every Friday and Saturday night. It was an incongruous venue at which to see this three piece playing dreamy melodic ballads with the gritty, sensual vocals from the former Sunhouse frontman, Gavin Clarke.
I also saw the band play live in a cellar dive in Soho and they were on superb form. They easilywon over a crowd full of Music Industry executives and Londonmedia types. Like the slew of Norwegian folk pop that is seeping into the collective consciousness at the moment Clayhill have a sweet soulful sound that crosses into jazz, pop and acoustic. Their songs gain a great deal from Clarke's singing. This is a voice that can be harsh, fragile, despairing and angry all at the same time.
So it was a disappointment to find the band didn't bring more of that emotion to the studio. There are great songs on Small Circle "Northern Soul", "Mystery Train" and "Grasscutter" to name a few but the production threatens to smother them. Clarke's voice seems to be struggling to be heard on some tracks and I'm not sure about the backing vocals on the last track "End Refrain".
A couple of songs seem to lose their way. "Afterlight" wanders and fades without really going anywhere. The band's production experiments in a few different directions but Clayhill's musicianship and Clarke's vocals are striking enough to hold their own on tracks like "Mystery Train". This is a charming album which makes for a relaxed, laid back listen but, so far, it is their live performances that stick in the memory.