Stephen Clarke, founder of gig promoters Wrongpop, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in May 2014. Most of us can barely begin to empathise with both the mental and physical pain he endured during what must’ve been the longest year of his life - when ended when he received a call on July 31, 2015 to tell him that his disease had been cured.
Instead of proceeding as if something life-threatening and terrifying had not just happened, Clarke decided to pull together a charity album via Wrongpop Presents dedicated to Checkemlads-- the charity that he credits with aiding him in his recovery and who he rightfully feels indebted to. Released on July 31, 2016, exactly a year from the moment when he learned his battle had ended in triumph, the album will be available for a month on Bandcamp for only a fiver - with all the proceeds donated to Checkemlads. Not your Grandpa’s charity album, the project features prestigious acts like Mogwai, Teeth of the Sea, Cleft, and many others sprinkled about the album’s 26 tracks.
On the surface, it may seem frivolous to write a review of such a righteous project, much less assign a numerical score to a record built upon such emotionally severe pillars, but the recording/songwriting process in general, albeit usually heartbreak instead of cancer, is typically an amalgam of artists’ personal hardships alleviated by creativity. Luckily, Clarke’s project is immune to such sentimentality and sensationalism, and what we are left with is a lengthy, but damn good record in most spots. The overwhelming impetus behind the music is loud and bombastic - but loud and bombastic in a good way. In other words, the album emits a towering disposition of rock music that sounds both live and alive.
Cleft’s live, rollicking performance of 'Frankenstein' as the album’s opener sets the tone, as music meant to act as a soundtrack to myriad beauties of life, and not held captive to lily white poetics, Pinterest quotes, or platitudes about joie de vivre. Part Chimp’s 'Solid Ground' finds its niche in the metaphorical garages of early Nineties grunge, where distorted lyricism floats just below a heavy cavalcade of deafening instrumentation. Sweet Williams’ 'Half Stripped' relies a bit too much on distortion and hodgepodge electric guitar riffs, and the song the mimics the act of attempting to tune into a radio station and only hearing static.
But even in spite of the filler, there is plenty of method in the madness - so much so that a unifying theme reveals itself not too long into respective listening sessions. Not only does the collection get at the joyous, grateful-beyond-words heart of a man previously staring death in the face, but a lot of the content reflects the overall agony of Clarke’s ordeal. The Wharves’ 'Sweet Merry Time', which is rooted in a neo-punk Ronettes style, seems to promote the philosophy of living for the moment because tragedy is unpredictable.
Clarke’s brave experiment, although far from flawless in strict terms of quality, is not only well-intentioned but well-composed as well. The plethora of bands and their accompanying plethora of styles makes for an enjoyable listen in most parts, especially the concluding track, Mogwai’s live rendition of 'Mogwai Fear Satan' at Glasgow Barrowlands. Although there are well over 20 tracks, Mogwai’s gorgeous instrumental ebb and flow seems to encapsulate the unspeakable thematic undercurrent Clarke is plugging at in just one song. Even if it's not your cup of tea, Clarke’s heroism in putting this project together is worth a few moments of your precious (and I can’t stress that word enough) time.
7Kellan Miller's Score