April 19, 2022

He’s a fairly quiet, self-effacing chap, is John Clay. I know of him through Stunted Records, having reviewed a couple of their releases over the last year or so. John and Jill Clay formed Stunted Records in 2002, a small independent set-up that aims to nurture and foster new talent in a caring manner – to the point where Stunted Records was voted “Best Independent Record Company 2021” by SME Publications. John certainly doesn’t seek the limelight, there’s no PR images supplied of him, and the album tracks tag Stunted Records as the artist rather than himself. So what’s it all about then?

The nearest we get to a photo of John Clay?!

Well, I expect he knows a few musicians, and the enforced isolation as a result of pandemic lockdowns has provided the perfect opportunity for John to knock together a selection of little ideas into fully fledged tunes, whilst being able to liaise and employ some of the artists under their wing! This includes Andy Wood (an old mate from a previous band), Sam Pulls on drums, Tony Ilkiw on bass, and last but most certainly not least Mike Garson, Bowie’s keyboards man for over 40 years. So there’s some real genuine quality hidden away in this lil’ ol’ release! A number of these tracks have been released as singles over the last three years and the album is now produced – almost purely for the joy of it!

Ten songs are brought together on here, opening with Mere Mortals, sounding sort of New Romantic to start with! – albeit with a more relaxed laid-back smoothness that is intoxicating. It’s one of those songs that you feel you’ve heard before, with echoes of a thousand favourite bands and songs. Sunny vocals and fluid guitars, supported by a nicely tight bass and drum sound, set the tone for the whole album – nicely produced, laid-back, effortlessly capturing the essence of a lazy sunny afternoon but fresh and invigorating at the same time! An extremely promising beginning!

JCabMoan is next, and no, I don’t know the significance of the title! It’s a great mix and the guitar work is superbly melliferous – I need to point out at this point that John plays all the guitars on this album, despite that sense of twin leads. It’s a sort of mid-Atlantic sound overall, slightly mid-70’s, very classy with a zany touch of accordion-like keys that made me smile! Thoroughly pleasant, up-beat and very soothing to these lugholes!

We Are The Gods was released as a single in October 2021, and it provides the perfect platform for the stellar piano work of Mike Garson. Andy takes vocals on this, and gets just the right timbre. There’s a slightly jazzy feel to this one, a longer track that has a very live, spontaneous “work-out” feel to it. Decades is back to that mid-Atlantic vibe I mentioned earlier, with Andy again on the mic. There’s hints of Steely Dan here, and Bowie, but so many more as well – I can’t put my finger on a better description, John just has a knack of writing across genres.

The Dualist is a simply lovely work-out for melodic guitar, notes shimmering in the sun as you sit mesmerised by it. This is all John’s work, I’m amazed he’s not a household mega-star guitarist a la Brian May or similar, its just so beautifully accomplished. I absolutely love this! Killing Time is ironically a timeless piece of quality pop – think Stackridge/The Corgis? Perfect harmonies, the melodies are everything here. And again, that fluidity of guitar….

Were You Ever Really Here feels more experimental, a very live-sounding instrumental work-out on a chord progression that sounds exactly like it is – four or five very accomplished musicians having a great “play” in the studio. Good stuff. Taming Lions in contrast is a sort of standard four-bar-blues, but beautifully done, a hint of Joe Walsh maybe, absolutely classy and timeless. Again with Andy on vocals, there’s an old UK trio called Blue (the real, original band) that this reminds me of – again that mid-Atlantic vibe. You’ll have twigged by now that I just love the flowing guitar work on this and the whole album (shades of the late, great Micky Jones of the Manband?).

Spud Gun is another instrumental, John scaling (heh!) new heights here. It’s a sort of sinuous Southern-rock track, very reminiscent (to me) of The Allman Brothers’ Jessica -high praise indeed! And then the album’s closer We Are The Gods (reprise) is a slower, more bluesy, version, still with Andy on vocals. There’s a much more piano-led take on this track, in fact the second half is an extended keys demonstration of the total mastery of Mr. Garson.

The mantra of Stunted Records is that it’s all about the people – creative people who know how to write a song, who know how to make interesting music at the cutting edge of whatever genre / field they are working in, music that has the ability to move people and make them want to hear more – people and music with passion. As John says, “At the end of the day we are the ‘Gods’, plain and simple. Life is in our hands, we only come here once, so do your best”. He’s tried to – and succeeded!

How to sum up? – I played this not knowing what to expect, but it’s been an absolute delight! Classy tracks impeccably played, and some amazing guitar work from John that I’m in awe of – no rustiness on this evidence!

Rusty Guitar is available for download and streaming from all major online digital stores via Shellshock / The Orchard (Sony) distribution, and in hard copy limited edition Digipak CD format with a full colour 12 page booklet via the Stunted Records Bandcamp site.