Hope Dies Last
Penny Black music
The Turner : Hope Dies Last
Author: Malcolm Carter
Originally released some three years ago this
album by singer / songwriter Gary Tomkinson, who writes music
under the moniker of the Turner, has recently had a digital
release on Amazon, HMV and itunes and has only just come our
way. Featuring excellent back-up from members of
Pennyblackmusic favourites Anna Kashfi (namely James
Youngjohns and Sian Webley) it’s surprising that it’s taken
this long for this excellent collection of thirteen original
songs to get our attention.
There are some albums that we discover that we want to keep as our own. We feel that they have touched a certain part of us and that the artists concerned have written and are singing the songs just for us alone. The songs mean so much that we don’t want to share them in a way, but at the same time we know that the whole world should be aware of such beautiful songs. I can’t help but feel that Gary Tomkinson, by not getting the word out there as to just how great his songs are, feels that way about ‘Hope Dies Last’. If it’s taken three years for the album to reach our ears then something is wrong somewhere…
The opening song, ‘Worlds Apart’, is probably the best introduction Tomkinson could have made to introduce his songs to the world. With keyboards from Mike Harries (Quiet Loner) enhancing the delicate melody the first thing you notice is that Tomkinson sounds uncannily like Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze. A warm, inviting voice ringing out crystal clear over a memorable tune make the Squeeze comparison inevitable. But then on the second song, ‘Can I Bring Him Here?’, Tomkinson’s vocals sound more like Paul Heaton (Beautiful South, Housemartins) in places. One begins to wonder that, although just on the evidence of those first two songs, it’s obvious that Tomkinson can write a more than decent tune, is lyrically sharp and can sing if this talented singer / songwriter can show enough originality to sustain interest through the whole album.
The third song, ‘Each Time Love Lies’, which is drenched in violin and cello shows another side to Tomkinson and while the above vocal comparisons still ring true it’s here, one feels, that we are hearing Tomkinson’s own true voice for the first time. The song is simply stunning, dripping with strings and with only an acoustic guitar tracing the melody, which is superb, Tomkinson seems to find his own voice here. In a song where the vocals could be overshadowed by the amazing sound of the violins Tomkinson shows us another side vocally, still warm, still affecting and still reaching those parts few other singers can he really pushes his vocals on this song and you just know that he feels every single word he sings.
As if to prove the point that his vocals are something special the following song, ‘Fear And Loathing’, is just voice and an acoustic guitar and really showcases that Tomkinson has one of those voices that wraps itself around you and envelops you in his songs. It’s also the first song where the f-word is used totally unexpectedly and most effectively since Aimee Mann used it in Til Tuesday’s ‘(Believed you were) Lucky’ from twenty odd years ago.
So four songs in and we are waiting for Tomkinson to show at least a small dip in quality control…he can’t possibly keep this high standard up can he?...and he presents us with ‘The Outsider’ another gorgeous string-driven melody where his vocals are joined by those of Sian Webley which adds even more texture to his sound. The closing lines of "I would like to meet you again" accompanied by those weeping strings are one of the highlights on the whole album.
On ‘A Divide’ Tomkinson delivers some particularly moving lines, opening the song with the lyrics "The ashtray says you’ve been up all night/marking time and drinking wine." This cheating song also features an outstanding vocal performance by Tomkinson. The song also features some of Tomkinson’s smartest lyrics, "I see the lines on your weathered face, if they’re just laughter lines why don’t you smile…."With a vocal sound that simply demands your attention, ‘A Divide’ is another highlight on an album that in all honesty really doesn’t have any low points.
At fifty minutes long the album could have been a case of too much of the same thing in one listening but, as mentioned before the three songs where Sian Webley joins in on vocals, especially ‘Why Does Everything Always Come Down To Love?’, take the album to another dimension and add more colour.
It might well be three years old but ‘Hope Dies Last’ is in the top five albums I have heard this year without a doubt. Even without name-checking the best song Paul Weller ever wrote in ‘Will You?’ it would be up there just for Tomkinson’s vocals and melodies.
Sensitive, intelligent and from the
heart. A fine debut.
‘The Turner’ is a Manchester singer/songwriter called Gary Tomkinson and this self-released debut features contributions from James Youngjohns and Sian Webley from Anna Kashfi as well as Mike Harries from Quiet Loner. ‘Hope Dies Last’, presumably taken from Studs Terkel’s commentary on keeping faith in difficult times, is an appropriate title for these intelligent reflections on love and self-doubt. Sounding somewhere between Chris Difford and Paul Heaton, Tomkinson is a brave romantic, unafraid to write and sing with an almost feminine sensibility. Refreshingly, there is no pretense of swagger or trickery; these songs are naked and unashamedly vulnerable in a way not often seen in male songwriters. Particularly on ‘Each Time Love Lies’, where he only barely reaches the high notes, Tomkinson seems fearlessly, proudly sentimental with (admirably) no concern for the occasional wobbly note. What matters is truth and heart--real heart, not the usual glib artifice -- and this record is certainly truth and heart in spades. The musicianship and production is spare but pin sharp and, even after fifty minutes, thirteen songs don’t seem quite enough. The occasional string arrangements perfectly accentuate the songs melancholia and, for a relatively anonymous debut, 'Hope Dies Last' feels like a real discovery that deserves attention.
Reviewers Rating: 7 out of 10
God Is In The TV
I believe it was the great prophet Haddaway that boldly proclaimed “What is love? Baby don't hurt me / Don't hurt me / no more”. We chase love like rats after bacon scraps, and when we carelessly lose love we are forlorn, crying into our favourite woollen blankets, with Kenny G in the background comforting us with syrupy notes from his soprano saxophone.
The Turner is a vehicle driven by Gary Tomkinson, a Manchester based singer songwriter who operates alongside an assortment of contributors including Sian Webley and Mike Harrries. Hope Dies Last is an interesting concept, looking at life through various vulnerable eyes; from the perspectives of people, down on their luck who cling on to something insubstantial, something that isn’t tangible, yet something that nonetheless keeps them going.
It was Nietzsche who stated “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man.” Had he heard this album he might have retracted that statement. Tomkinson reflects beautifully, he’s an old fashioned romantic who comes across as sincere in the most cynical of ages. With a voice that veers between Paul Heaton, and one of my personal favourites – Jackson Browne.
‘Can I Bring Him Here?’ lingers, crisp with morning dew, the debonair string arrangements on ‘Each Time Love Lies’ enchant, ‘Reverie’ captures Tomkinson’s authentic vocal performance and ‘Why Does Everything Always Come Down to Love?’ totters on the frozen lake, waiting for a partner to lead it to a homely fire place.
There are too many troubadours knocking about the local live scene that straddle cliché and come across as trite timewasters pandering only to their own brittle egos. The Turner, simple and understated in terms of their musicianship prove that passionate songwriters can thrive even if they sing about the lovey dovey stuff.