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Act Gary Clail

Gary Clail
Gary Clail

The arrival of a one-time roofer from Bristol at On-U HQ was the unlikely beginning for an artist who went on to provide AMS with his biggest music chart success to date. Steve Barker gives us the low-down:

The arrival of Gary Clail at the On-U Sound stable brought with it the emergence of a previously undreamed raggamuffin tendency. Gary had come in from Bristol as an acquaintance of Mark Stewart, also zooming in on the West Country ley lines was poet and wordsmith Andy Fairley, alas now departed from this "poor world of sin". Whatever the truth about Gary's background it always turned out to be a good story - roofing, used cars, gypsies and then, the music. Bristol was, is and always will be a scene unto itself, and that remains its strength.

During the mid to late eighties Gary Clail became a regular warm-up for all types of On-U gigs - with his "On-U Sound in the Area!!!!" crowd calls [***Ed.: Hence the name of this website :-) ...***]. This came both as a welcome relief for devotees of On-U Sound and also as an unexpected bonus. The relief was occasioned by Gary as DJ / MC / chanter / warm-up man as against the tedium of the in-house DJ who usually fumbled through an inappropriate set prior to the band, or worse still, and this was quite common at On-U gigs, some periods of meditative silence! The real impact of Gary was to introduce and roadtest new On-U rhythms and tunes, and also to re-version old favourites. As he usually lived in the studio when he was not on the road, Gary lifted X amount of cassettes of Sherwood mixes which otherwise would have been destined for an early tape wipe.

The 'Human Nature' single
The "Human Nature" single

Gary made his first vinyl appearance back in October 1985 on the thinly veiled speed track "Half Cut For Confidence" (ON-U DP 12). The backing musicians were essentially Tack>>Head but were credited as TOTP - The Occult Technology of Power, which was of course a corny play on TOTP - Top Of The Pops [***Ed.: The UK's long-running weekly TV pop music show...***] ! By the following year Gary appeared on the World Label, the imprint was a venture between the Tack>>Head boys and John Loder of Southern Studios, the tune was "Hard Left" (ON-U DP 16) with Gary taking the main credit. 1988 saw the release of "Reality" (ON-U DP 19) with the credits reversed and Gary as featured vocalist. And that was that as far as the singles went for On-U and World. Gary then went on to negotiate future material through Paul Oakenfold's Perfecto label. This union was to result in "a consummation devoutly to be wished", Gary's actual appearance on TOTP, together with the wonderfully over the top Alan Pillay, when "Human Nature" became a number 10 UK chart position (by far the highest placing for an On-U act in its own right), albeit with the original Billy Graham sample removed after threat of legal action.

The "End Of The Century Party" album (ON-U LP 49) (the title was borrowed from Steve Redhead's book of the same name eventually published in 1990, Steve, a friend of On-U Sound, was then Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities, Law and Social Science at Manchester Polytechnic), was basically Tack>>head complemented by a few mates with Gary as lead vocalist. The name Tack>>Head Sound System could no longer be used as the band were shaping up for their, eventually, abortive major label flirtation wherein they would fumble though a few premature cock-rock behaviour patterns and inconveniently forget about the music. The On-U Sound System proved a good substitute as that was actually what Gary was doing in the first place!

The 'End Of The Century Party' LP
The "End Of The Century Party" LP

"End Of The Century Party" was a follow-up to "Tack>>Head Tape Time" (ON-U LP 46) effectively a greatest hits compilation released the year earlier via Nettwerk. "Beef" opened up the set and was to be radically reworked for its appearance as Gary's first single on Perfecto. Although not coinciding totally with the BSE crisis to dominant politics and the press a few years later, it nevertheless sounded a prescient warning on the dangers of abusing our Friesian friends! "Two Thieves and a Liar" is undoubtedly the top tune of the set, with a punishing bass line, great sample on the wickedness at work in the square mile, Bim Sherman crooning in sweet style in juxtaposition to Gary's remonstrating chant, the effect is almost biblical in its impact (the rhythm [Rhythm 52] is shared with Dub Syndicate's "JA Minor").

Continuing Gary's long-running theme of delivering lyrics concerning socially concious current issues "Privatise Pts 1 & 2" was particularly hard-hitting. Indeed the issue of privatisation was at its height under the Thatcher administration [***Ed.: Margaret Thatcher, UK Prime Minister, 1979-1990***] with the question raised "where would it all end?". The track lifted the rhythm [Rhythm 54] from Barmy Army's bass-heavy "Stadium Rock" and saw Gary as near as he got to a genuine JA early 80's toasting style. Both "Rat Race" and "House Building" had a totally different sound due to the programming work of David Harrow, who was then working a lot with On-U live and in the studio. The final track "A Man's Place On Earth" finds Gary accompanied by ex-PIL man Keith Levene getting as near as he can to pomp rock without dressing up for the occasion, but having said that its a great closer for the set.

Gary Clail's presence on the On-U Sound scene from the late eighties certainly brought a new feeling of energy to the live gigs and although is vocal stylings can be objectively said to be limited, he certainly got the best out of his bag for these tunes and the earlier singles.

Editors additional:

The 'Dreamstealers' LP
The "Dream-stealers" LP

While Gary's time under the wing of BMG / Perfecto probably brought him his biggest commercial successes, helped in no small part by the remixing talents of Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne in giving some of his tunes more dancefloor friendly edges, the partnership was to be short lived. While BMG's first "Emotional Hooligan" (ON-U LP 55) album in 1991 sold well, a combination of Clail's unrealistic belief that he was now a fully-fledged pop star, coupled with a lack of new musicial direction and particularly his record companies increasing dis-interest in promoting him saw an acrimonious parting in 1993. In particular the almost complete lack of promotion of the following "Dreamstealers" (ON-U LP 70) album left a bitter taste of major label dealings in both Clail's and Sherwood's mouthes.

A new deal was struck with Yelen Musiques in France for 1995's album "Keep The Faith" (ON-U LP 76) which was generally well received and featured more of Clail's characteristic lambasts against injustices of the world before he slipped quietly out of the music scene in the late 1990s. He went on to buy a church in Penzance, England convert it into a guest house and then run it for several years. The most recent word I have, however, is that he is living on a boat at Saltford, between Bristol and Bath, and is working at a hostel for homeless people in Bath. We wish him well.

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