Unless you live in Eastbourne, or you are a big fan of David Ford as I am, you probably won’t be familiar with Gary ‘G Man’ Page (if you even don’t know who David Ford is, then you have a whole incredible world of music to discover, but I digress). Gary is both a long-time friend of David’s and a regular in Ford’s ever changing line-up of supporting musicians, as well as an infrequent songwriter and performer in his own right, supporting Duke Special in Eastbourne back in 2006 and, obviously well aware he’d let his personal music career stagnate a little, made a new resolution on New Year’s Eve, 2012, to record a new song every month. This self-imposed deadline resulted in this ten track album, “The Age Of Constant Pressure”, recorded in his spare room/recording studio throughout 2013 (and the first couple of months of 2014), minus two songs he decided to cut as they didn’t fit in with the rest of the tracks. What’s really quite extraordinary and more than a little noble, Gary is donating the proceeds of his album (after manufacturing costs) to Macmillan Cancer Support and, if he sells out the initial run of a hundred CDs, he will raise over £300 for a very worthy charity. The more cynical amongst you will be thinking, “Hmm, charity album… can’t be much good, then”, but, on the contrary, it’s just over half an hour of intelligent, thoughtful, catchy indie-pop and it’s very good indeed.
Page’s voice is an expressive instrument. It’s not what you could call a powerful singing voice (“When I fail to hit the high notes/please don’t laugh at me” he pleads on “Ordinary Me”) and probably wouldn’t get past the first round of any of Simon Cowell’s so-called ‘talent’ shows, but it’s very pleasant on the ear, is a large part of the overall charm of the album and he also has the confidence to present his vocals ‘dry’, with only a little touch of reverb here and there. The nearest comparison I am able to make is the vocals of Chris Difford (without the gravel) on his underrated solo albums. Gary also has the knack of finding complementary harmonies, which he uses sparingly and to great effect. Importantly, there are some great, memorable songs on offer here. The excellent title track, “The Age Of Constant Pressure” opens the album. It’s an upbeat, jaunty piece slightly reminiscent of The Electric Soft Parade during their lighter moments, with a social commentary on the current age of the media’s idea of normality and the kind of ridiculous standard of body image forced on people. It’s an immensely catchy song and the lyrics are spot on (“From where I stand and what I see/there’s no beauty in magazines/and living through pretty people’s lives/the world will soon discover their disguise/don’t change for me/don’t change your desire for the world outside”). It’s a very strong start that should immediately grab the attention of listeners.
The album contains a very strong set of songs. “Taking The American Side”, for example, is a song that will stay in your head for a long time after you’ve heard it, glockenspiel motif and all, as Page tells the story of an argument based around his preference for American music (ironically, by writing a great English song). “The Last Bit Of Light” is a worthy piece with some interesting chord sequences, urging us not to write off the next generation. “Can I get a little smile?/It’s all I really need” sings Gary on the opening lines of “The State Of Doom And Gloom”, one of my very favourite tracks on this quality release and around five times more upbeat than the title suggests. There’s a touch of Squeeze to the arrangement and chord sequences on the extremely likeable, understated “You’ll Never Be Alone” and the album comes to an end all too soon with “Disguising All Your Fears”, which reminded me a little of Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco. In fact, part of the attraction of the album as a whole is that you can’t quite put your finger on who Page sounds like and, when you come to the end of the record, you have to resign yourself that he sounds like himself; there are no easy comparisons.
For an album recorded by only one person, it’s really quite an achievement. The tracks were laid down with the ethos of “less is more” and the vast majority of the songs are performed with acoustic guitar, bass, drums/percussion and vocals, with the occasional extra instrument making an appearance here and there. This results in a beautifully clear, direct collection of songs which allow the superb lyrics to come to the forefront. It doesn’t sound at all derivative and the songs, chord sequences and presentation sound very fresh indeed. It reminds me of the days when singer/songwriters such as Roddy Frame took on the excesses of the synth-laden eighties with ringing guitars and honest, heartfelt lyrics. Albums like Gary’s are swimming against the tide of popular music today, but there’s something really quite wonderful about the positivity and immediacy of the material here and I would take “The Age Of Constant Pressure” over the vast majority of music that bothers the near-meaningless charts these days. Don’t get the wrong impression, this isn’t a “charity album”, this is a thoroughly enjoyable studio album, the creative fruit of one man’s labour for over a year. Yes, he has decided to donate the profits from to charity, but there’s a difference between doing that and making a “charity album”. You won’t find saccharin covers here, no posturing, not even a whiff of Bono. This is a beautifully sincere, delightful singer/songwriter album which deserves a much wider audience than the hundred copies Gary has had made so far and, quite honestly, I hope you all force him to make many, many more copies.
“The Age Of Constant Pressure” by Gary Page is available now from www.garypage.bandcamp.com/album/the-age-of-constant-pressure for the small price of £5 + £2 p&p. You can also stream the album from the same page. All profits from the album are being passed on to Macmillan Cancer Support.
Andy Sweeney, 4th June, 2014.