By BRUCE DENNILL
Gerald Clark: Album Launch – AfroBoer & The GoldenGoose / Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria
Gerald Clark is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who has worked his way to industry prominence the old-fashioned way – years of hard graft perfecting his craft and then endless gigging to build up an audience and create an act that appeals to all.
Perhaps that ethos has something to do with Clark’s apparent lack of arrogance – he swings between a sort of bashful delight in what he’s doing and an uncluttered focus on his guitar when on stage. Ironically, though, this unpretentious approach could be seen as an obstacle to conventional success: Clark doesn’t sneer, and it’s really easy to like him for that, but the list of A-list sneerers includes Elvis, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant and Eminem, among many others. It’s possible – likely, maybe – that Clark updating what comes naturally will negatively affect what he already does well, but there’s also a tempting suspicion that if he adds a little more strut to his skill, what is already a fully-formed offering will suddenly leap into the collective consciousness.
Note: saying that Clark doesn’t have that “strut” shouldn’t be read as him not having moves. It’s immediately evident, from the first song in a concert convened to launch his latest collection AfroBoer & The GoldenGoose, that his rhythm extends beyond his blurred fingers on his guitar’s fretboard or the phrasing of his lyrics as he shifts his feet, stamps his boots and leans into the grooves created by him and his rhythm section.
Those grooves show two things: one, that a band including Tim Rankin on drums and Simon Orange on keys can drive and embellish a simple chord structure to propel it into the gut of anyone listening, and two, that, although Clark considers himself a bluesman, his songs lend themselves just as often to deep-rooted soul and raw, earthy funk.
This variety and vibrancy means that watching Clark and friends play is entertaining over a sustained period, and that his albums old and new are notable for both the diversity and the technical excellence of their content. For the launch concert, Clark added another element to ensure that each song became an event, bringing on guests including Dozi (who reveals an ability to rock out a guitar solo that many won’t have expected), Emile Swiegers and Peter Hoven to sing or play alongside him and his band.
The result is a show that feels like a scaled-down version of The Band’s The Last Waltz, a celebration of musicianship and friendship, built around songs that have hooks and big choruses and are beautifully fashioned, but which don’t make concessions to processed pop formulae. They allow the musicians in the band to continuously extend themselves and they encourage the audience to invest in the compositions, rather than just sitting back and having the music delivered to them.
The Atterbury Theatre is a great venue for this show – properly set up acoustically to allow each facet of the band’s sound to come through clearly and a comfortable context in which to be able to focus on the music without being distracted. As a package deal, the set, the stage, the players and the promise of the new recording and what will in turn follow that are tremendously satisfying and exciting.
A musician to watch. An album to listen to.