But you gave us more than we need my friend
Back when The Great Western first appeared, An English Gentleman was one of my instant favourites. When it was announced as the second single, I was over the moon because I thought it was one of the best choices to represent the album. When James performing acoustic versions of it in radio sessions became so frequent that it became a running joke in the fandom, I didn’t care because I was just happy the song was getting so much exposure.
And frankly, it’s still impossible to deny its charms. From the instrumentation to the production, the backing vocals of the chorus to the drum-driven stagger of the verses, it’s still a very good song. But as obvious favourites sometimes do, its big hooks that grabbed from the very first listen have now began to loosen up with age. It continues to be one of the most quintessential James solo songs in regards to its style and sound because it really does nutshell The Great Western in so many ways lyrically and musically, but it doesn’t have the same overall punch anymore. There’s nothing bad I can say about it, but at the same time all its great parts are presented in a slightly better way somewhere else on the album. With all that said however, as stated it is still a really good song – and you can’t help but feel those positive shivers in your back whenever the bridge switches to the chorus.
It also starts The Great Western’s lyrical themes of looking back into the past. The English Gentleman in question is Philip Hall, Manics’ old publicist who saw something special in the four young, wild and a bit dodgy lads and gave them a chance when he began to support their musical adventures and eventually came to be a close friend of the band until he passed away in the mid-nineties.
The song’s video where James portrays a film director shooting the puppy love between a young couple gains some most likely very unintentional comedic value from the fact that its scenes end up making James seem like a stalking peeping tom. An association that isn’t really helped with the ending where he mysteriously disappears just as one of the couple glances at him.