POP GOES THE 1970’S- RICHARD CLAPTON

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Girls On The Avenue (R Clapton) – Richard Clapton 1975

Richard Clapton (1948, real name Terry Goh) adopted his pseudonym in honour of his guitar heroes, Keith Richard and Eric Clapton, his parents were an Australian nurse and a Chinese-Australian surgeon who separated before he was born and were divorced when Clapton was two years old. At the age of ten his mother committed suicide and a young Richard was reunited with his father at her funeral, he became a boarder at Trinity Grammar School (Syd) but the relationship with his father was remote and fraught.

He was musically inspired by black bluesmen Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf; Motown artists Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Four Tops; Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Jackson Browne and Randy Newman, his English teacher Richard Wherrett became his mentor, but he dropped out of school before completing matriculation and in 1967 sailed to London, his Gibson Les Paul guitar in hand.

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Clapton was a footloose troubadour who sang in various bands and busked in the UK and Germany, returning to Australia in 1972, he signed his first recording contract with Essex/Infinity a subsidiary of Festival Records and began recording with producer Richard Batchens, with whom he would have a tense, fiery, alcohol-fuelled, yet creative relationship for the next four years and four albums.  The single Last Train to Marseille was pre-released before Clapton’s debut album Prussian Blue, it was a country-pop crossover song with exemplary guitar by Red McElvie, but commercially it never left the station. The album. Prussian Blue was painfully conceived with producer Batchens, amidst a sea of binge-drinking sessions, friction, and artistic disputes, nevertheless it was well-received by critics, but it too failed to chart. Below L-R – Kirk Lorange, Richard Clapton, producer Richard Batchens, 1977.

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Clapton was under pressure from Festival to produce a hit record, they wanted a radio-friendly commercial song that would justify their continued support, so the record company decided the A-side of the record would be a Banjo Paterson poem that Clapton had set to music called Travelling Down the Castlereagh, recorded with members of the Dingoes providing backing. Below – Red McKelvie

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At the time Clapton was renting a house in Charleyer Street Rose Bay (Syd), just one street way from The Avenue, where about halfway up that street lived three pretty girls who shared a house there, Clapton and his mate Colin Vercoe, were keen to get to know these girls who lived on The Avenue, hence the inspiration for the song that became Girls on The Avenue.

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Girls… had in fact been rejected by Festival at least six times before it was released, they criticized it for lacking a definable chorus that would anchor the refrain and felt that it lacked hit potential and was only a B-side. Producer Richard Batchens however believed in the song, the recording sessions were arduous, sixteen to seventeen -hour days, repeatedly “doubling” guitar tracks mercilessly until they were note perfect, and re-recording Clapton’s vocals to capture the perfect sound, never the less the record was issued with Girls… on the B-side. Radio stations Double J and 2SM in Sydney and 3XY in Melbourne quickly started to play Girls… on high rotation and Richard Clapton soon had a debut hit single to his credit. Although it was no stretch to conclude that this song was about ogling pretty girls, Clapton was gobsmacked when he learned that people were interpreting the song as a tribute to sex workers, which was not his intention. Below L-R The RC Band – Eric McInerney (drums), Brian Bethel (bass), Red McKelvie (guitar), Stuart West (violin), Richard Clapton (guitar/vocals).

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Girls on the Avenue was quite simply gorgeous guitar pop, it was not originally inspired by sex workers, although it did become something of a red- light hooker hit after a group of “working girls’ attended a Clapton concert in Adelaide and loudly affirmed their appreciation of the song, at what they perceived to be, the lyrical recognition of their profession. This and the ever-increasing flow of royalty cheques for sales of the record, encouraged Clapton to include a prostitute in a photograph of himself and three women depicted on the record sleeve, but the success of the record was only tenuously linked to sex workers. Musically its success was more attributable to a clever song structure with at least seventeen chord changes, a great guitar refrain by Red McKelvie (ex-Flying Circus) supported by the driving rhythm section of Dave Ovendon (drums) and Brian Bethell (bass), and the Al Kooper-esque keyboards of Tony Ansell. The song that took Clapton thirty minutes to write became his most successful hit single to date, climbing to #4 nationally, and gave rise to the mondegreen (misheard lyric) “don’t you slay up”, instead of slip.

1975 Arriving at the Adelaide Festival Theatre and backstage before the show – smokes, beers general mingling, not really a music vid, but those were the times, the song still sounds great.

Clapton has claimed that he didn’t really make much money from this classic hit song even though it charted #4 locally, until it was included on an Explosive Hits compilation album, which sold over 400,000 copies. Clapton did not really embrace the rock star image and the associated posturing necessary to inspire fan adulation, his relationship with record companies was contentious and volatile, physically he was squat and basically hid behind dark glasses and a thatch of shoulder length hair for a decade. He was focused on song writing and performing, unsurprisingly he never really connected with the Countdown audience, and after arriving late for a Countdown rehearsal session one day, never really hit it off with Ian Medrum after that. He joined a group of performers including Midnight Oil, The Dingoes, Spectrum/Ariel, The Saints, Stiletto, and others, who either never appeared on Countdown or only very rarely, and eschewed the standard pop star posing and teenybopper adulation, that Ian Meldrum was so adept at promoting. This video below was made to “heal the rift” between Clapton and Molly Meldrum, and respond to criticism attributed to Clapton about Countdown, it was at times confusing, obsequious, punctuated with Meldrum’s malapropisms, and Clapton’s claims that any comments he made were “spontaneous”, but he didn’t say they were inaccurate…interesting.

But serious musical acts were now getting coverage locally in such publications as Digger, the fledgling Australian Rolling Stone, and Go-Set magazine, the pub rock scene was exploding nationally, and Clapton and his band would become regulars at such pub rock bastions as the Station Hotel, the Bondi Lifesaver, the Governor Stirling, and the Sandgroper, playing shoulder-to-shoulder with such fellow travellers as Country Radio, The Dingoes, Blackfeather, Spectrum, and Chain. The next few years would prove to be some of the most challenging, rewarding, alcohol-fueled and creative periods of Richard Clapton’s career, and he would emerge as a respected singer/songwriter/producer in his own right, by the end of that decade.

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