Coventry Kid was the 'sixth Moody Blue' BACKBEAT: BECAUSE THEY DON'T MAKE MUSIC LIKE THEY USED TO!: 1967.
TONY CLARKE may not be a familiar name but the Coventry-born producer was responsible for one of the world's best-loved songs and to helped to create a new genre of rock music. PETE CHAMBERS investigates. TONY CLARKE was born in Ellys Road, Radford, on August 21, 1941.
He was to win long-distance running medals as a member of The Godiva Harriers, but it was music that was to dominate his life.
One day during Tony's time as an art student at the Butts Technical College he was doing some sketching at Coventry railway station when a shadow fell over him.
He looked up to see it was Ella Fitzgerald admiring his work.
These chance meetings continued when he met the legendary rock 'n' roll singer Eddie Cochran at Coventry's Odeon. A week later Eddie was killed in a car crash.
A path in music seemed Tony's destiny, so he joined local band The Atlantics as a fill-in, and learned to play the bass guitar in the back seat of a car on the way to the gig.
He entered (along with Pinkertons Colours & The Fortunes) the strange world of Reg Calvert through his pop academy at Rugby's Clifton Hall.
Calvert's madcap antics were legendary. Tony's 21st birthday present from his mentor was a volley of gunshots over his head as he walked down Clifton Hall's long drive.
By this time Tony was in the Strollers, a backing band for the Cliff Richard clone Danny Storm (who charted with Honest I Do in 1962).
More divine inspiration came when John Lennon paid a visit to Clifton Hall. He told Tony that he should embrace music completely, "Make it your life, go for it, we have opened the door, now get in there".
Even Jerry Lee Lewis visited Clifton, picking up a guitar (not an instrument you normally equate with Lewis) and jamming with Tony on bass.
His Clifton Hall days taught him well, and by the time he was 23 he was working at Decca records in London as a session musician and studio hand, at first dealing with the likes of Bill Haley, Roy Orbison and Brenda Lee, eventually progressing to the rank of producer.
Reg Calvert asked for Tony to produce Mirror Mirror by Rugby's Pinkerton's Assorted Colours recorded at Decca's studio 2. It reached number nine in 1966.
He continued to produce various nondescript 'in-house' albums and records until in 1968 he scored his first number one with the energetic Baby Come Back from the Equals.
All exciting stuff, but what was to follow was to change rock music as we knew it. Birmingham beat band The Moody Blues had hit number one with their second single Go Now, but despite supporting The Beatles they had failed to build on that success - their engagement fees had dropped from pounds 250 to just pounds 40 a night.
Things were looking bleak. They were close to splitting up but decided to give it one more go.
Tony was asked to produce them and they immediately hit it off.
A huge clue of what was to come came with the haunting six-minute-long single Nights in White Satin, which made its first chart entry in December, 1967.
"I produced it in four very intense hours, I wanted to give the impression of a shepherd playing his flute in the hillside," Tony reveals.
"Did we know it was a sure-fire hit? Well yes, no question about it - it was just that good."
A month later Tony Clarke and The Moody Blues released the album Days of Future Passed and the world heard progressive rock for the first time.
Sweeping Mellotron and orchestral arrangements cleverly fused with rock rhythms, introspective lyrics and conceptual story lines would eventually launch albums from a thousand other progressive rock bands.
For the time being though, the Moodies were on their own, basking in this 'new' musical form.
For the next 10 years Tony would be the architect of the Moodies' stunning high-drama sound, producing what now has become known as the 'core 7' albums, including On the Threshold of a Dream, A Question of Balance and Seventh Sojourn.
There were also the singles Nights in White Satin, Question, Isn't Life Strange and I'm Just a Singer in a Rock 'n' Roll Band.
His style of production was very 'hands on'; he was never just a producer. He was always referred to as the sixth Moody Blue.
In 1973 the Moodies were asked what had been the most important point in their career and drummer Graham Edge replied: "Meeting Tony Clarke".
I asked Tony if he thought the productions would have sounded different had someone else created them.
"Absolutely, I think all ideas just fitted so well together, we just gelled. I don't believe another producer would have had the same raison d'etre as I did."
Such was his skill that the legendary Tamla Motown record company asked Tony to produce one of their acts, white rockers Rare Earth.
This connection led to some Moody Blues songs being submitted. Mike Pinder suggested his composition A Simple Game and within weeks the Four Tops were recording their vocals over the backing track.
Tony recalls that session: "It was amazing, the guys were doing all their dance moves as they recorded it, I was having my own private Four Tops show, quite bizarre. The whole 'Motown' process was unique. The tape was sent to Motown's quality control department who would listen to every beat, chord and instrument, and you would get a report back telling you to tweak this up, turn that down or whatever.
"I got invited to their 10th birthday bash, rubbing shoulders with Stevie Wonder and a very young Michael Jackson; great times and A Simple Game went to number three."
Of late, Tony has produced (and won a BAFTA) for The Legend album for Clannad, Rick Wakeman and has even had Shirley Bassey on his boat re-recording her Bond songs and making the toast.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Tony on his boat in Brighton Marina, in the on-board studio.
He played me a solo album The Flight of the ARC that he had recorded in 1979 and consequently shelved. He now feels it is the time to release it.
Release it he must, it's a stunning album, with all the hallmark production qualities you would expect from Tony Clarke - clever lyrics and stunning musical vistas. It would make a perfect West End production.
I also experienced what is was like to be sitting next to the creator as Nights in White Satin played on the studio speakers, not something I will forget in a hurry.
The Radford boy done good!
TONY CLARKE TRIVIA US space shuttle commander Robert 'Hoot' Gibson took the Tony Clarke produced Moody Blues cassettes The Days of Future Past and Seventh Sojourn on four space missions. It means these songs have travelled more than 10 million miles and circled the Earth 420 times.
TONY was originally a songwriter at Decca and wrote Our Song, a ballad performed by Jack Jones and Malcolm Roberts. He also wrote the song Aviation for Leo Sayer's 1984 album Have You Ever Been in love.
NIGHTS in White Satin has charted in the UK three times (No 19 in 1967, 9 in 1972 and 14 in 1979). It also made No 2 in America and clocked up well over a million sales there.
TONY is an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, he was proposed by sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke.
ITONY was responsible for the special effects soundtrack for the Supergirl film.
VERY rarely was a camera present at a Moody Blues recording session. These pictures, taken by Derek Varnals, are a unique glimpse of the recording of the classic album To Our Children's Children's Children recorded in 1969. They show Tony Clarke (right) and (above) in discussion with band members. PROGRESSIVE SOUND: Tony Clarke (top) at his floating studio in Brighton Marina with the gold disc for Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues (right) which featured on their 1967 album Days of Future Passed (above).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)|
|Date:||Apr 5, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Protest over housing plans; Fears over loss of parking, noise and traffic.|
|Next Article:||Fears of rise in burned waste; 'Helpful' strategy may backfire, says FoE.|