1. Mind The Doors
2. Cuppa Tea
3. Romance Ain’t Dead
4. Skin & Bone (Blood & Moaning)
5. Porky Pies
6. Oh My Days
7. Mind Your Head
9. Local Boy
11. Life Has A Way
12. Off The Rails
13. Mind The Gap
There is a concept running through the album which is one of Seán’s oldest ideas for the record: a journey across London between Old Street, Oval and Camberwell. These refrains have a mantra flowing through them, “it's breathing, it's breathing, the young gum teething....,” and provide a beginning, middle and end. Each of the tracks begin with the word ‘Mind’. The first one ‘Mind The Doors’ recounts a bus journey. The track is spoken word over a solo acoustic guitar, which reminded me a little of 'Either Way' by the Twang released over a decade ago. 'Mind Your Head' is the halfway point of the album and starts with a similar acoustic intro, but with a warm piano gently supporting the guitar riffs. It has the same mantra as the opening track, only this time it is more audible. The album closes with pounding drums which suggest a train journey. If it’s London this must be the tube. Delivered mainly in spoken word, which reminded me of Mike Skinner, it describes a young mother on a crowded train full of miserable commuters. “keep tellin’ me to mind the gap, as the space between us grows” and “there ain’t no love on the Northern Line”. This is a longer track than the others with full instrumentation and a delicious guitar.
These tracks perfectly frame Seán’s observations on modern life. His cynicism is clear in 'Cuppa Tea' a more up tempo number. Seán continues with the social comment by pouring scorn on the increasingly worsening work life balance with a Dickensian “I’m so sick and tired of spending my whole life on my knees. Can I have some more sir please?”. Another slice of cynicism is dished up with 'Porky Pies' which starts with the spoken line ‘Daylight robbery, mad men on a muggery, lifetime of monotony, it’s a fixed lottery, burdened to bottom feed, banished to poverty, worship celebrity?… Nah I don’t think so’. The track then starts proper, with catchy hooks, key changes all at a jaunty pace as he has a dig at the commercial, aspirational fakery all round us.
There are high optimistic moments such as ‘Romance Ain’t Dead’ which is a catchy Indie style song with great horns. 'Excuse me Chloe, Fancy running away'. This is not Mills and Boon though as he sees the object of his desire across the shopfloor, where she looked as bored as him 'selling perfume'. The first single from the album follows and 'Off The Rails' is a barnstorming Punk song, given the full Joe Strummer treatment. It could be a clash song, with the thumping drums, backing vocals and snatchy guitar hooks. 'I'd be lost without ya, and love you lot like family' describes the way we have all felt about our friends especially after a few cold drinks.
Seán is at his strongest when he sings with emotion, and emotion flows through the album. You can hear his oppressive emotions in tracks such as 'Oh My Days' which is a bitter sweet song. A simple acoustic guitar supplies the melody as he looks at the world with his 'glass half empty', full of self doubt and depression. 'Autopilot' reflects that drink is not the answer. The track undulates from quiet and unassuming to Punk Rock. Seán returns to his more recognisable Folk roots with the regretful 'Life Has A Way', gently finger picking his way through the song on his acoustic guitar. A gentle song again full of emotion. 'Life has a way of deciding your fate, now you ain't got a say. What will be will be'.
Just after the halfway point in the album are the two songs that really grabbed me and immersed me in his work. 'Springhill' is the jewel of the album. Full of emotion as, Seán shows off his vocal prowess, with sublime instrumentation backing him. Springhill is the story of him and his best friend growing up together, Springhill being the name of his Primary School. The violin and piano add sweet layers on this track. Another musical treat follows with 'Local Boy', brimming with warm instrumentation and slide steel guitar. A tale of a hard but honest life in London. 'I ain't quite the bloke, I hoped I would have been, day dreaming at 16'. Another melancholy look back at life. Again this is a beautiful track which shows real maturity, in the vocal delivery and the musical arrangement. The violin gently flows through this track and at over 7 minutes long you can lose yourself in.
Seán has supported the likes of Billy Bragg, Skinny Lister, labelmate Will Varley and Frank Turner. He has been ‘the one to watch’ for more years than he probably cares to mention. With the release of 'Son Of The Smith', he should be considered a peer of the aforementioned artists, and is ‘the one to listen to’. He is on one of my favourite labels, Xtra Mile, who have a great list of artists and Seán does not look out of place in this list.
'Son Of The Smith' is overflowing with observations and commentary on real life. Seán McGowan delivers this with an honesty and with the kind of authentic emotion that can only come from the heart and from taking his fair share of knocks. His gritty storytelling about real people for real people shows that he has the potential to become one of the great raconteurs of his generation.
So grab a cuppa tea and a porky pie, and put this album on. 'Son Of The Smith' is released on 11th May, on the Xtra Mile Label.
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Review - Tony Creek