EP Review: Seán McGowan - Graft & Grief

Written by Daniel Rourke

If you’ve ever found yourself in a back-bar watching your city’s latest next big thing in the ‘folk-punk’ scene, then chances are Southampton’s Seán McGowan has crossed your path, whether it’s via a support slot, the anthemic Never Let Us In rattling over the PA or simply just people talking about: “That bloke who’s kinda like Joe Strummer.”

Earlier this year McGowan broke out of the mould that most of the folk-punk scene are stuck in, by getting signed by Xtra Mile Recordings. Several months on McGowan is back with his label debut, ‘Graft & Grief.’

If the Xtra Mile audience needed an introduction to McGowan, then ‘Graft & Grief’ is the perfect place to start. Opening with Gag, Pt.1, fans of Xtra Mile’s familiar sound may be at a bit of a loss, as McGowan rattles off a spoken word piece which not only introduces the listener to his sound, but also the overarching themes of the EP.

The opener bleeds perfectly into the raucous lead single, No Show. It’s in this where McGowan truly shines, as his ability to write infectious hooks whilst also conveying a heartfelt message is on display for all to see. No Show sees McGowan dismantling the government one line at a time, as he wraps his tongue around verses that aim to tackle the current financial climate in Britain and the way in which the working-class are looked down upon.

If you were going into ‘Graft & Grief’ expecting another broken-hearted middle-class bloke singing about his latest break up, then you’ll be disappointed, it’s the working-class who are the centre of attention here. Apple Core and Dog Tag see McGowan comment on various aspects of growing up in a working-class background, as talk of “blagging” a career in Apple Core is followed by the inclusive nature of Dog Tag: “Wind your neck in cos you’re not better than me or any woman / or any man.

Given the way in which the working-class are perceived by many in modern Britain, a seven track EP based around their struggles could be seen as somewhat of a chore to listen to. Thankfully McGowan will undoubtedly win over even the most sceptic anti-working-class with this release, behind every tale is a song crammed with hooks to pull you back in and keep you singing along.

The standout track on the EP comes in the form of Clear Conscience, a song that is subtle in its verses, but huge when the chorus rolls around. Thematically it’s much of the same, as McGowan ponders being lost, losing touch with friends of old, and clambers to make something of himself. It’s also a track that touches on deteriorating mental wellbeing and drinking to excess, it’ll hit hard, and it’ll hit fast.

The backend of the EP sees McGowan singing about the need for a getaway in Costa Del Solution, and how an often scoffed at package holiday can be of help no matter how bad the holiday in question may be. It proves to be one last hurrah before Gag, Pt.2 sees the focus shift to the importance of existence.

Overall, ‘Graft & Grief’ is an EP that is set to generate two forms of responses, one in which sees it as just another fetishized representation of the working-class, but it would be inherently wrong to look at it this way. ‘Graft & Grief’ is an important release, it’s a release that gives the working-class kids striving to be something more than cliché or another statistic a voice, it’s an EP that should be used to unite against a demonic Tory government.