POP GOES THE 1970’S – RICHARD CLAPTON

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Capricorn Dancer (R Clapton) and Deep Water (R Clapton) – Richard Clapton (1977)

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.

Gorgeous beach scenes from Byron Bay in 1977, not a mobile phone, jet ski, Hemsworth or sign banning horses on the beach,in sight – life in the pre “Byron Pay” days,

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 rented accommodation 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. There was also feelings of angst and concern for the future of the Lucky Country, a notable song on his next album, as he saw his homeland sacrificing its natural wealth for profit, and depredating an ancient land for commercial gain, without respect or recognition of the rights of our indigenous people.

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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 title song embraced country rock,  Down in the Lucky Country; gritty R&B – I Can Talk To You and Out On The Edge Again, and such enchanting, emotion-charged ballads as – 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.

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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 the girlfriend’s Nissan Z down the Palm Beach Road to get supplies, but the 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.”

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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…” Below Richard Clapton Band L-R – Cleis Pearce, Greg Sheehan, Kirk Lorange, Richard, Dianne McLennan, Michael Hegarty.

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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 slowed 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.”

This was the Countdown performance that was originally cancelled by Molly Meldrum because RC turned up late for rehearsals, the band had to come back several weeks later and perform (mime) the song, Molly had the power.

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. This 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!

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Richard Clapton in his memoirs The Best Years Of Our Lives ((2014) described himself as a hippie, a peace-loving, binge-drinking hedonist with an insatiable love of music, who was at the same time a self-styled iconoclast, who rebelled against the corporate image-making of record companies, and the flavour-of-the -month pop music candy of Countdown and its guru Ian Meldrum. He was a passionate advocate of music that he decreed was intelligent, credible, and valid – Little Feat, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, James Taylor, Randy Neman, Ricki Lee Jones – and closed ranks locally with bands of a similar ilk – The Dingoes, Spectrum, Ariel, Chain, Blackfeather – who developed unbreakable bonds of solidarity and camaraderie, and married an outlaw mentality with a wild bohemian lifestyle, hedonistic decadence, and a restless creative energy. Below L-R – Richard (2) and Richard with Jon Farriss.

Richard or “Ralph”, which was his party animal alter ego, was a citizen of the world, who lived and worked for many years in Germany, the UK, the USA and pursued success and inspiration there but never secured a major company recording contract, despite several overtures from such labels as Island, Elektra/Asylum, and Chrysalis. He was slow to find a balance between music as his chosen art form and the compromises necessary to survive as a pop musician in an Australian market that he briefly dominated in 1975-80 with hit albums and singles. Below Richard and wife Susie with baby daughters Saskia and Madison.

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He lived through the pub rock era in this country and enjoyed the sex, drugs, and alcohol on offer, ultimately marrying fashion model Susie in the mid-80’s and fathering twin girls, Saskia and Madison, Richard and his wife were divorced in 2012. In the 1980’s Clapton would continue his musical odyssey with such solo albums as The Great Escape (’82), The Very Best of Richard Clapton (’82), as well as producing the second album for INXS, Underneath The Colours (’81), Richard continues to write, record, and perform, and in 1999 he was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame by his friend, INXS keyboardist Andrew Farriss, along with Australia’s first Aboriginal pop star Jimmy Little.

2 Comments

  1. That is not Andrew Farriss in the photo with Richard, it is Jon Farriss, Andrew’s brother.
    Jon produced The Great Escape album for Richard.

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    1. Hi Phil, thanks for getting touch, I have checked Richard Clapton’s memoirs and it was Jon Farriss and not his brother Andrew in the photo and I have amended my blog accordingly, however you will find that it was Mark Opitz and not Jon Farriss who produced Richard’s album The Great Escape, regards and keep in touch, Graeme Davy 4TR

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