words fae jen hughes (@dearoctopus4)
Experience Essential is the debut album from Kevin P. Gilday & The Glasgow Cross, a collaboration between spoken word performer Kevin P. Gilday and multi-instrumentalist Ralph Hector. It’s a kaleidoscope of poetry and colourful indie music, and one of the strangest albums you’re ever likely to hear. Picture this: you’re at a party. You are stoned, not enough to be out of it but just enough to go with the flow. You meet some guy in the smoker’s area, and you could sit and listen to this guy’s smooth accent all day. Because you’re a bit intoxicated, you don’t pick up everything but the nuggets you do speak to you on a deeper level. This is how best to describe this album.
It isn’t really rap music. Where rap music marches to the beat, spoken word floats alongside it at a leisurely pace. It does not try and stay on the beat because that is not the point. Each track is a window into Kevin P. Gilday’s life, from his experiences on Glasgow’s surprisingly enthusiastic poetry scene (The Plates Keep Spinning… pt 1 & pt 2; I’ve Fallen Out of Love With Poetry), his working class upbringing (To Live and Die in Denniston) to his political leanings (How To Spot A Tory) and his commentary on masculinity (Me, Masculine Me; Hitler’s Moustache). His poetry tends to be more humorous but also self-effacing and self-aware. The songs themselves tend to stick to only one or two musical ideas or motifs and don’t stray far from these within the track. Each track’s musicality is varied enough, and tracks don’t drag on for long enough that this would be a problem. To listeners whose primary interest lies in poetry, this is not a concern anyway as spoken word still takes precedence here.
The spoken word/music combination is a hard sell and is difficult to pull off, especially if you’ve heard any of William Shatner’s cover songs: they are hilarious. While there are a few weaker tracks in Experience Essential, where the musical ideas do not work as well with the spoken word, the majority of the album is reasonably enjoyable. For the most part, Gilday and Hector can bring the two aspects together to a good standard, though there are some tracks that didn’t work well to the point where it distracted from what was being said. With these tracks, it’s a case of two ideas not working well as a combination but fine separately.
Out of all the singles to be released, Atheist’s Prayer is a particular highlight. A smooth, melancholic synth accompanies Gilday as he asks the opening line, “Who do the atheists pray to?”. It sounds like rain and smoke. Gilday’s performance of this song is passionate, and the music reflects this as it crescendos and brings in guitar and drums. Arguably, the tracks released as singles aren’t the strongest on the album; for example, The Man Who Loved Beer, which was released first, gets things off to a shaky start as the music noticeably detracts from the spoken word. On the other hand, it’s possible that the upbeat rock music reflects the mood of the poem itself, so it could be there for good reason.
Other recommended tracks are mostly deeper cuts from the album such as The Vision (Jesus of Possil), How To Spot A Tory and There’s a Workie in My House, which touch upon themes of the divisive nature of social class. They’re both humorous but self-aware. The Vision talks about what would happen if the reincarnation of Jesus Christ visits Possilpark, Glasgow, whilst There’s A Workie in My House describes the time a repairman came to fix Kevin’s boiler, prompting him to reflect on his own career.
As a poet and a music enthusiast, it’s difficult not to admire that a fellow Glasgow poet is bringing two worlds together. If you’re a music fan who is looking for that gateway drug into spoken word, Experience Essential would be as good a place to start as any. Gilday’s poetry is genuine, relatable, not too reliant on references to classical texts or other poets you may not have heard of and – for the most part – unpretentious. As an added bonus, the music itself is pretty decent. There’s bound to be at least one track on the album you can relate to, so for that reason, it’s highly recommended to check it out and discover which track you relate to most.