Singer/songwriter Richard Clapton has been a seminal force in Australian music since the early 70’s as a composer, performer and producer of his own music, as well as producer of the work of others including INXS and Jimmy Barnes. The enchanting Capricorn Dancer was lifted from the soundtrack of David Elphick and Steve Otton’s surfing movie Highway One to which Clapton had contributed six songs, others including Skyhooks, Dingoes and Ol’ 55 had also collaborated.
Capricorn Dancer is imbued with a mellow acoustic feel which perfectly captured the languid, dreamy, summer vibe of the beach and the grace and athleticism of the surfers featured in the film. The song is notable for the sublime harmony vocals of Dianne McLennan, the virtuoso guitar of Kirk Lorange, long -time Clapton collaborator Michael Hegarty on bass and drummer Ian McLennan, who all combined to produce a memorable Jimmy Buffetesque groove, which charted #40 in April ’77, and deserved a better fate.
Clapton was searching for new direction and creative fulfilment at the time he decamped to Europe in the middle of a norther hemisphere winter to write the elusive follow up to his 1975 debut hit Girls On The Avenue. Snowed in and broke, living in the town of Norre Nebel in Denmark, his mental images were not surprisingly of Australian beaches, sunshine, sea spray, and the rolling surf, and his new songs reflected this energy, as well as his angst and concern for the future of the Lucky Country, his homeland which seemed to be sacrificing its natural wealth for profit, and depredating an ancient land for commercial gain.
The album Goodbye Tiger would emerge from Clapton’s hibernation, released in August 1977 it was his fourth studio album, replete with shimmering melodies and engaging lyrics, the songs embraced country rock – the title track, and Down in the Lucky Country; gritty R&B – I Can Talk To You and Out On The Edge Again – and enchanting, emotion-charged ballads – Winter in Denmark and Hiding From the Light, it was Clapton’s best album to date, climbed to #11 nationally and the first single lifted from it was Deep Water.
Deep Water was partly inspired by an incident that happened after a long day of boozing with David Elphick (below) at his Palm Beach (Syd) home, the two revelers and Clapton’s girlfriend took off in Elphick’s Nissan Z down the Palm Beach Road to get supplies, but his car broke down. As family groups meandered by heading for the beach or the milk bar for morning bread, milk, and papers, a drunken Clapton and an equally inebriated Elphick started to abuse each other, Clapton’s girlfriend agreed to walk back down the road to phone the NRMA, Clapton then quickly noted these lines “The Sunday drivers are cruising round, wish they’d all go back to town.”
He married those lines to an invented story about bassist Michael Hegarty’s sister Christine – “We used to go down to the beach at night/ Fireflies dancing in the promenade light/ Oh those rock ‘n’ roll bands could really swing/ And I did the foxtrot with sweet Christine.”, he also namechecked the famous Sydney dance and concert hall the Trocadero in George St which closed its doors in 1971 “They closed down the doors to the Trocadero/And I came back looking just like a ghost…”
Deep Water used regular Clapton collaborators Kirk Lorange (guitar), Michael Hegarty (bass), as well as Jimmy Penson (drums), Cleis Pearce (viola) and the affecting backing vocals of Diane McLennan to intro the song. Then the mood and tempo slows and the listener is seemingly suspended in space until guitar and keyboards wrench us from our reverie back to the narrative of a drunken night of bingeing and the remorseful hangover which ensues “Sitting out on the Palm Beach Road/ I’m so drunk and the car won’t go/ And my crazy eyes keep looking out to sea/ The Sunday drivers are cruising round/ I wish they’d all go back to town/ What do they expect to find/ Sure as hell ain’t peace of miiiiinnnd.”
With his album Goodbye Tiger Richard Clapton transcended his acoustic guitar origins, demonstrated a versatility across several genres including pub rock, balladry, and artful pop music, he was recognised as a singer-songwriter of repute, and became a respected local performer. Clapton would never become a Countdown regular nor win a King of Pop title, but Goodbye Tiger charted #11 and Deep Water climbed to #43 and should have been a bigger hit. The song did not deliver substantial commercial returns until it was included on a compilation album marketed as the World’s Best Beer- Drinking Songs, which sold over half a million copies and Richard got his share – cheers to that! Clapton was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1999 along with Australia’s first Aboriginal popular singing star Jimmy Little.