As regards context (for worthwhile music): London = Bad, Newcastle = Good.
I realize this is a gross over-simplification, a completely unforgivable, borderline-bigoted generalization. I’m brushing over the genuine opportunities a metropolitan centre affords new bands, ignoring the serious shortcomings of a provincial town without any formalised infrastructure to speak of.
But fuck it. After watching Post War Years in a sort of barren corporate Shoreditch-Gomorrah last week (see gig review below) I saw Findo Gask play to a Newcastle crowd as part of a small, completely free local festival, and it was without a doubt the best gig I’ve been to all year.
This could easily have gone the way of PWY @ Vibe Bar. Here were four young men in multicoloured sweatshirts, with a sound that ticked just about every box imaginable, musical zeitgeist-wise (synths – check, disco-redolent accessibility – check, post-punk edge – check). But instead of coming across as a cynical, shallow, manufactured pop-like gesture, as with PWY, all these elements seemed to click for me as I watched Findo Gask’s set this weekend, to come across as complementary parts of a sincere and harmonious whole.
There were no record company A&Rs present. There was no cocktail-strewn VIP room, and no banner on stage to proclaim the fashion industry-sponsored nature of the whole thing. Instead, there were lots of friends drinking on a Saturday afternoon, un-self-conscious people dancing, members from a wide array of incredibly good north-eastern and Scottish art-rock bands talking to each other in bullshit-free, self-deprecating terms. This was something approaching a mutually-supportive, autonomous community, and it felt utterly right, where Vibe Bar had felt so completely wrong.
Back to the band itself, and Gerard Black’s voice is a big part of what distinguishes the Gask from their less-imaginative coevals. Plaintive, romantic, and the opposite of derivative, something about his delivery in set highlight ‘One Eight Zero’ recalled early Morrissey in a really good way (perhaps it was the post-industrial-gothic, railway arch setting). And flanking him were Jehovah’s own backing vocalists Greg Williams and Gav Thomson, so soaringly and angelically in-tune that I thought they must be cheating in some arcane technological way (they weren’t, of course).
Other than that, as far as I’m concerned, the mystery of the Gask’s genius is a fairly straightforward one. They’re talented, and they’ve got something interesting to say. But this isn’t in itself enough. What sets the Gask apart from people like Post War Years is their knack for eschewing London-centric generic-ness, for breathing a unique spirit of independence and marginality into a music that might otherwise be degraded by a context of identity-distorting ephemerality and trends.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen at first hand music so appropriately located in context, so wonderfully comfortable in its own skin, so purely focused on the mere fact that it exists.