REVIEWS OF THE BEST OF CLIVE GREGSON
Eclectic singer-songwriter gets a ‘Best of...’ at long last. English folk-rocker Clive Gregson, 54,
now based in Nashville, has been writing some fine tunes for a long time now, so we finally get an 18
tracker that showcases his craftsmanship. In the past Gregson has worked with cult band Any Trouble,
releasing five albums to critical acclaim, in a trio with Boo Hewerdine and ex-Fairground
Attraction vocalist Eddi Reader. He was also a regular in Richard Thompson’s band, along with being
an in demand session musician, a back-up player, singer and producer. His songs have been covered
by Kim Carnes, Norma Waterson and Nanci Griffith; such is his credibility in the music fraternity.
Listening to this CD it’s more than obvious that Gregson has a leaning more towards the
commercial edge of folk, with a hint of pop, enough to appeal to all ages. Key to his credibility is the fact
that there’s nothing pretentious about his lyrical or musical content – it’s all about ordinary people
and their ordinary lives, with a touch of escapism. The feel is that of a musician who’s just popped
into your local or even your home, with a voice that’s adaptable to the varying styles. There’s a
warm and comforting intimacy about the songs too. Truth is, whatever your musical leanings, there’s
nothing to dislike about this album, though it’s likely to appeal to the mature adult audience.
Despite his US residency, Gregson’s musical tilt heads for his north west love affair with
Manchester, we’re left to assume, on "I Love This Town", which is a tongue in check tale, “twitching
curtains” he mentions, there again, humour is found in many aspects of his work like "Antidote" and
unbridled love – “a queen without a crown” on "Camden Town", and the ups-and-down of romance on
"Trouble With Love", told in a common man’s approach that all fellas can relate to.
He creates a wonderful character trapped by his ordinary life, who ponders his dance skills in hope of
acquiring the attentions of one Rosalin Maguire at a local dance somewhere in Yorkshire, dressed
up to the nines. His most stunning work here is the sumptuous and soaring ballad "Home Is Where The
Heart Is", a story of broken promises as the lover returns to his loved one.
"Cornerstone", "Comfort And Joy" and "Cool Cool Rain" are much like the acoustic balladeering
synonymous with Ralph McTell or James Taylor: simple and direct, whereas "Touch And Go" is a
soulful pop take, like something out of a Paul Carrack – Mike And The Mechanics songbook. Expanding
his repertoire even further, he unleashes a country-rockabilly gem "Black Train Coming", proving he’s
not too easy to pigeonhole.
The verdict – Essential listening.
Grossly overlooked singer songwriter Clive Gregson is one of those musicians that just keeps on
keeping on regardless of whether anyone else is coming along for the ride. Initially a founding member
of Stiff signings Any Trouble, then half of a successful duo with Christine Collister, he has also
worked with Richard Thompson, Boo Hewerdine and Eddi Reader and had his songs
covered by Nanci Griffith and Fairport Convention. In short you may well have heard him without being
conscious of having done so, and this "Best of..." is a superb jumping off point for anyone keen to
find out more.
One of our finest songwriters sets off around the UK in May in support of this cultured collection. He
is well known for his time as frontman of Any Trouble, his partnership with Christine Collister and a
successful collaboration with Boo Hewerdine. Several of his top class songs - which have been
covered by Kim Carnes, Claire Martin, Norma Waterson and Nanci Griffith - are included here, often in
their original demo format. From "I Love This Town" to "There Comes A Time", we experience catchy
choruses, moving observations and a stripped down production,packed with promise and warm British
country harmonies. When you have had enough of a genre's limitations, tasted all the basics behind
the bar, travelled a thousand roads and ridden all the punches, Clive presents a reminder of how great
straightforward, mature songwriting and performance can be.
Most readers will be familiar with Clive Gregson through a career ranging from early days with
new wavers Any Trouble, a long duo relationship with Christine Collister and spells as a side man
with the likes of Richard Thompson. Clive's songs have been covered by such as Nanci Griffith
and Jimmy Buffet and this comes as no surprise considering the country/roots feel of many of his songs.
This CD contains 18 songs, some of which will be familiar. That is good value by any standards but, for
me, the real interest of this CD is that it is peppered with CIive's home-recorded demos rather than
more familiar studio versions. We get to know about the where, when and how of the songs in a very
interesting way. We get to know, for example, that "Tattoo" required him to learn a fourth chord on the
mandolin (I've never been sure there was one).
The whole package is interesting in an anorak way and is definitely a good showcase of one of Britain's
most under rated songwriters. The version of "I Love This Town" is better than several of the
cover versions I've heard (though it may not earn so much in royalties), and I was also interested to
hear Clive's organ playing on "Comfort and Joy". A terrific CD. Worth a listen.
Remembered best by this writer for his work with Christine Collister and also the Richard
Thompson Band: this is a delightful collection of Gregson's songs that perfectly shows off his
versatilty as both a songwriter and musician. Highlights include "Home Is Where The Heart Is", "I
Love This Town" and "Trouble With Love". A perfect starter for newcomers.
If you were making a list of Britain’s most criminally under-appreciated singer-songwriters, the name of
Clive Gregson would surely be very near the top. From his early days with new-wave heroes
Any Trouble through a productive partnership with Christine Collister and eight solo albums, he’s
consistently turned out cultured, melodic and emotionally literate songs that stand favourable
comparison with the most revered names in the business.
A generous 18 of them are collected here, and each and every one is a gem. I Love This Town
(covered in the past by both Nanci Griffith and Jimmy Buffett) boasts the kind of effortless shuffle Ry
Cooder once did so well, while Antidote would have shone out on any James Taylor album and Trouble
With Love could have come from the pen of one Elvis Costello. Similarly, Gregson’s
contemporary Richard Thompson would have been proud to have written Fred Astaire. In short, the
peerless sound of a master craftsman at work.
Issue 48, Spring 2009
It's been a few years since Clive Gregson swapped the streets of Manchester for the sun-drenched
boulevards of Nashville but it's a move that clearly agrees with him. From his days with the Stiff
label's 80s popsters, Any Trouble, Gregson has grown in stature as a classy songwriter, swapping the
Elvis Costello-centric sounds of his youth for something akin to a smooth Ry Cooder.
Not your straightforward greatest hits package, Gregson often inserts a demo of a song rather than the
original version and in doing so, illustrates how he hones his material. There's a smile-inducing
nerdiness to Gregson's annotations for each song. He's likely to tell you more about the tape recorder
he used to demo I Love This Town - a Tascam 488 multi-track cassette machine since you ask - as he
does about the fact that Nanci Griffith covered it to great acclaim.
The exquisite Cornerstone may be built around an uncomplicated arpeggiated figure yet its impact is
complex and nuanced thanks to Gregson's sure-handed grasp in keeping things simple and true.
Perhaps this is why singers from the great and good - Norma Waterson, Kim Carnes and venerable UK
folk institution, Fairport Convention to name but a few - to even the lowliest of street buskers and
folk club hopefuls are able to inhabit his songs and call them their own.
Long-term fans will enjoy the alternate takes whilst newcomers will find this a fine starting point
to explore a songbook brimming with warmth.
April 21st, 2009
Clive Gregson - an artist whose music has provided a quiet, unconscious soundtrack to my life from his
early days as a bouncing rocker with north-west, power-pop crew Any Trouble, through what many of
us believe to have been his zenith with Christine Collister and latterly as a soloist and regular visitor
to one of my favourite live musical haunts - his is always a welcome presence.
So, here's a 'best of' and about time too, say any of us with an ounce of sense. As a writer he's
never lost his northern roots and even when he's doing his damnedest to sing about America, he still
sounds like a lad from Manchester. Witness I LoveThis Town, made more famous by Nanci Griffith;
here yer man's version is heavy on the vowels and with lines about neighbours and twitching curtains
is the perfect picture of Coronation Street paranoia and gossip. Further, while he may physically move
deeper into the American West, most of this album's recorded back over here with Pennine Studios
regularly mentioned in his accompanying notes.
What has never deserted Mr Gregson at any point is that happy knack of penning a melodic tune, even
if the lyrics deal in uncomfortable matters such as homelessness on Fingerless Gloves, child custody
on Summer Rain, obsessions on Fred Astaire or just good things gone bad, Trouble With Love;
absolute crackers all. Long may it continue to be so as well, for in Clive Gregson we have an artist who
mixes genres, intimacy, experience and spontaneity into a tactile whole. More power to his strings.
What Clive Gregson means to you depends on who you were at the time; you may yearn for the days of
Any Trouble with their hints of Elvis Costello, or it may be the duo with Christine Collister, which could
headline any festival in the country, that captured your affection. Or indeed his contribution to Plainsong
and later solo career.
Clive has stripped away most of the trappings of history by presenting mostly demo versions of his best
songs. There are one or two ‘full’ versions but in the main this is the essential Gregson. He’s made
a virtue of necessity, of course: the rights to some of those records are long gone but the result is
an album that serves to remind us what a fine songwriter, musician and producer he is.
Rock 'n' Reel
Clive Gregson has never really attracted the attention that has been lavished on many of his
peers, though with a career that spans three decades he has contributed a remarkable body of work
to the world of music. This eighteen-track retrospective album provides a welcome opportunity to take
another look at some of Gregson's music, with some previously unheard demo versions giving
an alternate view to the album recordings.
As a song writer, Gregson seems to really hit his stride when his songs are built around characters and
places that hold a generic appeal, whilst imparting a personal and intimate narrative. Characters and
heroes of every day suburbia are vividly bought to life by Gregson's lyrics, with telling details that will
provide universal appeal, allowing the listener to really engage with the story. "I Love This Town" is
a pithy vignette that could apply to the banalities any town, with its twitching curtains, rent arrears, heart
attacks and rush hour traffic -- the very essence of bustling suburbia distilled into wryly observed
verses, ultimately suggesting that the line "I love this town" is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. "Camden
Town" is a song of unbridled love to some girl-next-door, "a queen without a crown," where
Gregson turns the ordinariness of the situation into a poignant love story, that will probably cause each
listener to recall their very own special sweetheart. With "Fred Astaire," Gregson taps in to the escapist
fantasies of every soul trapped in a humdrum working life, where the "pen-pushing clown" dreams
of Friday nights spent dancing, "in search of excitement, intrigue and romance." The tragedy of the
character is summed up with the lamentable line: "the rest of the week I'm just taking up space."
Soaring and poignant, passion-filled ballads also feature prominently. "Home Is Where The Heart Is"
tells of broken promises, and the ultimate relief of a return home to a loved one, delivered with a
sumptuous and commanding vocal. Gregson even manages to tame the 1980's synth-driven sound on
a wonderful reading of "Touch And Go," that offers a foreboding take on the uncertainty and trepidation
between two would-be lovers.
It may seem churlish to ponder the reasons why Gregson hasn't achieved the same level of recognition
afforded to some of his peers, but on listening to this collection, one wonders whether it might be
Gregson's pursuit of perfection. The smooth vocals and precisely executed instrumentation might lack
the bite or adrenalin that can be found in the delivery of Richard Thompson or John Martyn, for
example. For further evidence, take a listen to the way that Nanci Griffith turns "I Love This Town" into
a fun-filled, hillbilly-rock performance that illuminates the characters and sentiments with an attention-
grabbing intensity, that Gregson doesn't quite manage here.
Setting aside these minor doubts, this collection is a really enjoyable set of songs and performances
and highlights a body of work that genuinely deserves wider appreciation. Flitting between gentle
folk-pop and full-blown power-ballad arrangements, Gregson's songs hold the same allure, and
are similar in vein, to those that have featured highly in the charts by The Beautiful South. They share a
sensitivity and insight into contemporary, day-to-day life, that distances them from starry-eyed celebrity
musings and gives them a treasured place in the heart of listeners. Britain really should wake up and
appreciate one of its finest exponents of song writing... it's long overdue.
April 11, 2009
Clive Gregson's career doesn't lend itself to easy documentation. With the sort of depth and breadth
any football manager would be proud of in a squad, the Manchester born singer/songwriter's tenure
in the music business has had many proud moments. This eighteen track compilation not only offers
an overview but, with a sprinkling of never heard demos and generous sleevenotes, an insight into the
process behind his finest numbers.
Originally a founder member of Mancunian rock quartet Any Trouble, Clive went on to make five albums
with singer Christine Collister and feature in Richard Thompson's band. Whereas, his fertile solo years,
have produced an abundance of consistently acclaimed albums, containing songs that have been
covered by the great and the good.
The town in 'I Love This Town' became a lot of towns to a lot of people after it received a
makeover from Nanci Griffith. It was a feature of BBC Radio 2's A-list and achieved huge airplay in the
States. Here we have the non-album version and template for Nanci's cover. It's a good jumping on
point before the album criss-crosses Clive’s career.
'Antidote' was originally cut with, occasional cohorts, Boo Hewerdine and Eddi Reader in Nashville and
was returned to for his '01 release, 'Comfort & Joy'. Coupled with the single 'Home Is Where The
Heart Is' things start to float towards James Taylor territory. However, before we get too comfy in our
assessments, we're flung back to Any Trouble's feisty new wave single for the Stiff Label, 'Trouble With
Love'. It's a reminder of his wide-ranging abilities. You want stirring ballads, you got 'em ('Summer Rain'
and 'Cornerstone') and stomping pop ('Black Train Coming' and 'Jericho Junction').
A speciality, that must also be savoured, is the lyrical edginess of the anti-love song, 'Camden
Town': 'Well sometimes I still see her with the children in the park, two by different fathers, how
the years have left their mark'. Or his stark reminder about the passing of the years, 'There Comes A
Time' - 'We only get one life to waste, enjoy it while you can'. Like his peers - Thompson, Difford and
Hewerdine - Clive Gregson can produce the melodic goods, as well as put life into perspective; not a
simple artform to sustain over almost three decades.
April 7th, 2009
We should be grateful for artists like Gregson, who follow their own muse, irrespective. This comp pulls
together tracks from a mere eight of his countless albums, and makes you realise what an intriguing
and circuitous path he's trodden. The material here dates back to his days with the Stiff-signed Any
Trouble (with demos of "Trouble With Love" and "Touch & Go"), recalls his fine folk-rock liaisons with
Christine Collister ("Jewel In Your Crown"), and touches on career highlights like "Comfort & Joy" and
"Fred Astaire". Gregson's wry sleeve notes add extra value.
Manchester-born, Nashville-based Clive’s one of the most highly respected guys in the biz: not
content with being one of the country’s finest singer-songwriters, he’s also no mean musician
(guitarist and keyboardist) and a hell of a skilled producer. His career to date spans close on three
decades, from founding the cult band Any Trouble at the back end of the 1970s, through five classic
(and supremely classy) albums in partnership with Christine Collister, a stint with the Richard
Thompson Band and work with Eddi Reader and Boo Hewerdine, then on to a series of fine solo
albums of his own.
Clive’s songwriting is very special indeed, characterised by its brilliantly crafted quality, that winning
combination of keen lyrical dexterity, witty wordsmithery, sensitivity to the human condition and an
exceptional gift for melody. He has an inbuilt feel for exactly what makes the perfect song, for every
one of his creations expresses exactly what it needs to simply, directly and with the minimum of fuss,
making its point with both an enviable economy and a complete accessibility of musical and verbal
idiom. Each song is a polished jewel of observation, with emotionally expressive statement that ranges
from the bittersweet to the wistful, the caustic to the melancholy. And although Clive’s a proven master
of recording technology, such is his natural musicality that his albums never sound artificially “produced”.
This latest collection, Clive’s first solo compilation, is great as a sampler-cum-primer for those unlucky
enough to have missed out thus far on his talent: its 73 minutes present a lovingly sequenced parade of
true hit material, each one of whose 18 abundantly catchy songs most writers would’ve given their eye-
teeth to have written. The disc’s title is no misnomer, and although each Gregsong fan might
feel aggrieved at the omission of a personal favourite or two, there’s not a song here that doesn’t
qualify as among his best – the problem is that he’s written so many that could equally rate!…
The actual selection was made by Clive himself, however, and the constraint of non-availability of
several key albums (those to which Clive doesn’t own the rights) actually proves a bonus rather than a
drawback, since this has enabled Clive to include never-before-heard demo versions of songs from
those albums (this gambit will make the disc an essential acquisition for those who already own all of
Clive’s back-catalogue, of course!). The original I Love This Town album provides the source for
the song of that name, in addition to Tattoo and Jericho Junction, while others originate from Strange
Persuasions (Jewel In Your Crown, Home Is Where The Heart Is) and People And Places
(Feathers). And at the end of it all, There Comes A Time is the natural choice for the collection’s
final track, being a song Clive often closes his live shows with.
Perhaps I’d have substituted the slightly shambolic drum-machine-and-keyboard-based demo of Touch
And Go (purely on the grounds of personal preference), but I can’t honestly quibble with any other
tough choices Clive has had to make in producing this expert compilation. As a bonus, the collection
sports informative, detailed and genuinely thoughtful notes by Clive himself – for this is no cash-in-
repackage exercise. So don’t hesitate; treat yourself to a copy of this ideally rounded demonstration of
Clive’s versatility and musicianship.
Folk & Roots
A true “best of” from Clive Gregson would come close to rating a 10/10, as the quality of his body
of work is equalled by few and exceeded by fewer. That album though would include songs like
“Open Fire” and “Girls Are Always Right” from his band Any Trouble and the bitter resignation of “We’re
Not Over Yet” from his days in a duo with Christine Collister. This one is actually “the best of the songs
played during the subsequent solo years” and is not quite as solid gold as that would be, though
given that Gregson is still one of the most underrated British singer-songwriters it contains more than its
share of gems.
To ring the changes a bit a lot of the songs here are presented in different versions from those
previously released, some of which work better, some of which don’t. “I Love This Town” for
instance has a slightly jauntier feel to underline the irony of the words but “Tattoo” is rather
overwhelmed by the fussy music. We of course get the classic “Home Is Where The Heart Is”, the
elegiac and wistful “Fred Astaire” and the poignant “Fingerless Gloves.” Gregson is the master of
the wry observation, whether about himself or others, and he doesn’t stick the knife in as much as
Richard Thompson, which makes him closer to his characters rather than the dispassionate observer.
He also has a real ear for a melody and “Jericho Junction” and the delicate “Jewel In Your Crown” are
particularly fine examples. Even the inclusion of (relatively) lesser songs like “Trouble With Love"
and “Black Train Coming” don’t diminish the overall impact of what is a truly superb collection.
March 13, 2009