Welcome To Clarkesville
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Well, I guess if you’re going to spend warm summer days indoors (without the writing frigtening verse bit), you may as well have your cockles warmed yet further by an ascendant troubadour, fired-up (and I if you use another heat related metaphor, forgive me but sweat is spirting from me in all directions what with the heatwave outside) ready you to tell you of his first click of the draw. That very man is Michael Clarke or as he’s now known in shimmering indie circles… Clarkesville. So why is his debut record ‘Half Chapter’ not a Michael Clarke collection, what’s with the imaginary band? “It’s becoming more of a full band all the time. When I went into the studio, I just had a bunch of songs and it was just me and my guitar, really. I found a producer that I wanted to produce the album and at that point, I don’t think any of us that were involved, my manager, my record company, really knew what this was going to turn out. It could have turned out like a glorified acoustic album. It just so happens it turned out quite band-y.” Thus, a proper band name and an album dusted with chorus riven dusty road music.
With Martin Terefe (Ron Sexsmith, Shea Seger) slumped down on the swivelling chair, the duo last year set about raiding their address books, hooking up with old amigos and roping in the Clarkesville collective. What with Wildstar label’s relatively limited roster - being just Craig David - no doubt a faux two-step roots hybrid was avoided with only judicious bouts of clarity. Label honchos did pull one premiere league turn though. As Michael recalls, “we pulled in loads of favours. I’ve got a bit of a contact with the Travis guys because my record company manage Travis. We got Neil the drummer to come down and play a few songs. He was going to do the whole album and then he had his accident, but just before that happened, he came and play on three songs.” After Neil Primrose took the last train out of Clarkesville, worked continued on the record, albeit in sporadic bouts as new songs arrived with a flurry. “We put aside all of August (2002) to record the album and then left it for a bit and I went away and carried on writing as usual and wrote some more songs. We were working on the album for the best part of ten months, here and there.”
To be awash with new tunes, throwing your debut album into whole new directions is no unusual occurrence in the making of a record, but Clarke can hardly claim to have been caught by surprise. He may declare his usual songwriting process involves throwing out much of his backpages into oblivion, but for Michael Clarke, making it as a musician seems to have been part of his modus for many, many years. “I started learning instruments when I was a kid. I started learning piano when I was five and guitar when I was eight. I started really getting into writing when I was about ten and obviously I wouldn’t ever play anyone any of that stuff!” Despite his earthy Walsall intonation, he seems a little touched with the hippy aesthete and whilst many a sensitive child will scrawl their emotional ramblings down, could it be his background opened him to a more colourful, less suburban approach to life? “I lived in Amsterdam when I was a kid. My parents ran a drop-in centre over there for people with drug problems. I always took myself seriously, but I guess I really started to hone my craft when I was doing my GCSEs when I came back to England.”
On return to these fare shores, Michael made an occasional jab at collaboration with classmates, with perhaps a little more awareness than his chums that an escape from office drudgery could be his. Whilst no doubt many families would advocate their aspiring guitar-wielding indie kids not to give up the day job, one of the Clarke clan had already done so and made a success of it, which has got to make it easier when you’re plotting your future to Mum & Dad. “I tried to have a school band once or twice, but I never felt I was surrounded by people I wanted to be in a band with. My brother was always musical so we always did things together, but when I was at school he was the bass player in a band called the Dum Dums, so that put our plans on hold for a bit.”
Sans dum-dum and with his A-level slips in his back pocket, the time seemed finally apt for a punt at the pop star business. Unsurprisingly eschewing Pop Idol, he set about bagging himself a way into the business. “I put aside a year to get a good management company. If I couldn’t do it in that time, I’d probably have gone and done something else and I got it straight away! Within a month or two, I hooked up with my manager.” So, of course the obvious next step was to litter a hundred A&R men with C90s. Well, not for Clarkesville, it wasn’t. In a path trodden by both Elvis Costello and erm... the Spice Girls, with varying success, Michael turned up six-string in hand and literally strummed his way into a record deal. As Michael reckons, this novel approach could have potential (if, of course they let you in), “they have so many demos sent in, but I don’t think it’s very often that someone comes in and sits and plays them a song in their office.” Just don’t tell his record company he told you that.