Dave Clark

He was a Six­ties idol. Then the leader of the Dave Clark Five sud­denly gave it all up. Neil McCormick has a rare au­di­ence with a for­got­ten star

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Cover Story -

Back in the white heat of the Six­ties, just the men­tion of Dave Clark’s name could send teenage girls into parox­ysms of scream­ing hys­te­ria. His band, the Dave Clark Five, had a suc­ces­sion of hit sin­gles be­tween 1964 and 1970, sold more than 100mil­lion records, and starred in a hit film. In Amer­ica, they were the first band of the Bri­tish In­va­sion to tour the coun­try and ri­valled the Bea­tles for pop­u­lar­ity. But, un­like Paul McCart­ney and count­less other stars of that era, Clark has been con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence ever since. Apart from a brief flurry of pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing the hi-tech mu­si­cal Time, which he co-wrote, pro­duced and di­rected in the Eight­ies, Clark has stayed away from the lime­light. Un­til now. Next month, BBC Two airs a doc­u­men­tary, Glad All Over: the Dave Clark Five and Beyond, re­call­ing a time when the DC5 were one of Bri­tain’s big­gest pop ex­ports, and, to mark the oc­ca­sion, I have been granted a rare in­ter­view. A lot – it turns out – has changed in the in­ter­ven­ing years. The fig­ure who greets me at his lux­u­ri­ous home in London barely re­sem­bles the ath­letic pin up of the Six­ties. There is a sense of col­lapse about his fea­tures, once thick hair wispily re­cedes over a stretched pate, a sink­ing jaw­line is dis­guised by a goa­tee beard. His eye­brows ex­hibit a cu­ri­ous arch, although he per­sis­tently, if not very per­sua­sively, de­nies sug­ges­tions of Bo­tox or facelifts. “Not a thing!” he in­sists. What is un­de­ni­able is that the 72-year-old Clark has pros­pered fi­nan­cially. Cel­e­brated in the mu­sic in­dus­try as an in­no­va­tive busi­ness­man, he was the first rock star to own his own master tapes. He pub­lished and pro­duced his own records and man­aged the band him­self. He also bought the rights to pop show Ready Steady Go. His home is suit­ably fab­u­lous, cosy yet op­u­lent, com­pris­ing sev­eral ter­raced houses knocked through into one and ex­ten­sively re­mod­elled. It is just the kind of place you would like to imag­ine a vin­tage pop star oc­cu­py­ing, like Austin Pow­ers with bet­ter taste. The dé­cor is cool whites, a mix of an­tique and mod­ern fur­nish­ings, sooth­ing con­tem­po­rary oil paint­ings, with all kinds of nooks and cran­nies dis­play­ing golden Bud­dhas, lush green­ery and scented can­dles. “I was raised Church of Eng­land but I love the Bud­dhist phi­los­o­phy, it’s very pow­er­ful, non-vi­o­lent,” he says. “The trou­ble in this world, it’s envy and greed.” There are bronze busts Clark com­mis­sioned from Czech sculp­tor Irena Sedlecká of Lau­rence Olivier (“I’ve willed it to the Na­tional The­atre when I kick the bucket”) and Fred­die Mer­cury, who Clark worked with on Time. “We were to­tal op­po­sites, Fred­die was so flam­boy­ant, but we just hit it off,” he says, in the same mod­u­lated, sub­dued tone he dis­cusses ev­ery­thing else. “I was the last one with him when he died. It wasn’t planned that way, it was just a small team look­ing after him, to keep his mo­ti­va­tion up. The doc­tor had left 20 min­utes be­fore. I was with Fred­die, all of a sud­den he just sat up in bed, seemed to smile, and that was it.” Clark clicks his fin­gers. “It was so sad. It made you re­alise, he could have had any­thing, but he didn’t have his health.” A life­long bach­e­lor with no chil­dren and no known ro­man­tic li­aisons, Clark’s friend­ship with Mer­cury has led to spec­u­la­tion about his sex­u­al­ity. There are pho­tos of Mer­cury through­out the house, and oil paint­ings of naked male tor­sos. But Clark in­sists he is not gay. “Peo­ple make as­sump­tions when you’re not mar­ried,” he says. “I’ve been best man at five wed­dings and I said I’d never do it again ‘cos ev­ery­one got di­vorced.” He seems un­per­turbed by ques­tions about his per­sonal life. “I’ve al­ways had a phi­los­o­phy: it doesn’t mat­ter who you love or how you love, the most im­por­tant thing in life is that you love.” And has he loved? “Oh yes. You’ve gotta love. Love is the key.” Clark was a work­ing-class north London lad, born in 1942 and raised in the rub­ble and op­por­tu­nity of the post-war years, an am­a­teur sports­man (a Black Belt in mixed mar­tial arts) and movie ob­ses­sive. At 15, he left school to work as an ex­tra at El­stree, ap­pear­ing in more than 40 films, in­clud­ing Richard Bur­ton’s Beck­ett and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor’s The VIPs, even­tu­ally grad­u­at­ing to stunt man. “I knew how to tum­ble, ‘cos I’d done un­armed com­bat. I was fight­ing on horse­back, sword fights, ex­plo­sions, car crashes. It was all fun. You were young, con­fi­dent, if you wanted to do some­thing, you’d do it.” The DC5 formed as a skif­fle group at his lo­cal gym in 1957, a group of friends and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur sup­port­ers. The line-up was set­tled by 1960, with the am­bi­tious, per­fec­tion­ist Clark rul­ing the roost. “Right at the be­gin­ning I said to them, ‘It’s a bit like a foot­ball team, you have to have one cap­tain.’” The line-up fea­tured Mike Smith, an in­cred­i­ble rock and roll singer and clas­si­cally trained or­gan player, gui­tarist Lenny David­son, bassist Rick Hux­ley, and sax­o­phon­ist De­nis Pay­ton, with Clark’s drum kit to the fore. “I never pro­fessed to be a great drum­mer but I was a very heavy drum­mer. It was sim­ple but pow­er­ful.” By 1963, as Beatle­ma­nia gripped Bri­tain, the DC5 were the top-rated live act on the Mecca Ball­room cir­cuit, pack­ing 6,000 peo­ple a night into the Royal Tot­ten­ham. But when record com­pa­nies came call­ing, Clark turned them down be­cause pro­duc­ers wanted to con­trol the ma­te­rial and sound. “I thought f--- it, I’m not go­ing to be put into that bag.” So he came up with the au­da­cious pro­posal that he would make DC5 records in­de­pen­dently and lease them to EMI. His un­ortho­dox meth­ods con­trib­uted to the dy­namism of the DC5 sound. “There were rules in record­ing. You weren’t al­lowed to play past

where the nee­dle goes into the red. Well, that’s bull----, as long as it’s not dis­tort­ing, you can do it. So our records were very, very loud.” They were also very popular, among teenage girls in par­tic­u­lar. “I did fear for my life some­times,” he says with a smile. “We did a gig in Cleve­land where a girl jumped out of the dress cir­cle onto the stage and broke both her legs. And still crawled for­ward to ask for my au­to­graph. It was may­hem.” But, de­spite their Beatle­like pop­u­lar­ity, the DC5 were con­strained in a way the Fab Four were not. “[The Bea­tles] weren’t get­ting the roy­al­ties they should have, but they were given the lux­ury of a stu­dio for 24 hours for as long as they wanted. As an in­de­pen­dent, I couldn’t work that way. Un­less we got it in three takes I would stop and we’d go down the pub and have a beer.” It’s a no-non­sense at­ti­tude that might ex­plain why the DC5 never re­ally pro­gressed mu­si­cally. In 1965, they made a sharp movie, shot with ki­netic en­ergy by a young John Boor­man, a di­rec­tor Clark dis­cov­ered and cham­pi­oned, in­dica­tive of his true area of in­ter­est. In 1967, the DC5 stopped tour­ing and con­cen­trated on tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances and promo films, which Clark di­rected him­self. They notched up more hits but in 1970, with­out much cer­e­mony, they dis­banded. “I al­ways said we’d stop when the fun went out of it, that was the agree­ment from the start. I had other things I wanted to do.” Some con­tro­versy dogs the DC5 be­cause Clark owned the band rights and ef­fec­tively em­ployed his fel­low mem­bers, but he in­sists he “looked after” them well. “We never had one le­gal let­ter be­tween us,” he says. In the age of so­cial me­dia, dis­sent­ing voices have sur­faced, sug­gest­ing Clark ruth­lessly ex­ploited oth­ers’ cre­ativ­ity, em­ploy­ing un­cred­ited ghost­writ­ers and ses­sion mu­si­cians and hoard­ing the prof­its. “Peo­ple are rewrit­ing our his­tory who weren’t even born then and never saw us play,” he says. “That p----- me off. If somebody’s got a com­plaint, they should write to you about it, or get on and sue the a--off you.” The DC5 doc­u­men­tary con­veys the ex­cite­ment of the Six­ties pop ex­plo­sion. A string of celebrity ad­mir­ers in­clud­ing Bruce Spring­steen, Ste­vie Won­der and Tom Hanks queue up to pro­claim the DC5’s im­pact on their youth­ful psy­ches. “Those were big, pow­er­ful, nasty sound­ing records, man,” en­thuses Spring­steen. “Much big­ger sound­ing than the Stones or the Bea­tles.” But the pro­gramme lacks crit­i­cal in­sight, per­haps be­cause it was writ­ten, pro­duced, di­rected and edited by the con­trol­ling Clark him­self. “There’s no back­ground story of drugs, sex, rap­ing, driv­ing cars into swimming pools,” he says. Although Mike Smith worked as a pro­ducer, song­writer and com­mer­cial jingles maker un­til his death in 2008, none of the oth­ers con­tin­ued in mu­sic. Sax­o­phon­ist Pay­ton be­came an es­tate agent and died in 2006. Bassist Hux­ley was in­volved in prop­erty and re­tail busi­nesses and died 2013. Gui­tarist David­son dealt in an­tiques and taught mu­sic and is now re­tired. Clark gave up mu­sic to pur­sue his first love, study­ing at the Cen­tral School of Drama for four years. “I wanted to be treated like every­body else, get crit­i­cised, pulled to bits, I wanted to learn.” Clark never went on to act, but did resur­face in the Eight­ies with his mu­si­cal Time, which ran for two years in London’s West End from 1986-88. Lau­rence Olivier ap­peared as a holo­gram in his last ever stage role. “That was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence. Olivier was the great­est ac­tor in the world and he didn’t suf­fer fools gladly but we hit it off right away.” An all-star al­bum, fea­tur­ing Fred­die Mer­cury, Cliff Richard, Leo Sayer, Ste­vie Won­der and Dionne War­wick sold over two mil­lion copies and spawned four hit sin­gles. But Clark ad­mits he found the film and the­atre worlds frus­trat­ing. “Be­ing in­de­pen­dent and hav­ing suc­cess, all the com­mit­tees and com­pro­mises in­volved in that sys­tem, it doesn’t work.” To­day, he runs a pub­lish­ing company, over­see­ing the rights of his own mu­sic and other artists, in­clud­ing tele­vi­sion footage of the Bea­tles, Stones, Otis Red­ding and many other Six­ties leg­ends. “I miss go­ing out on stage, phys­i­cally play­ing in front of an au­di­ence; it’s like be­ing heavy­weight cham­pion of the world for that mo­ment. But ev­ery­thing else that goes with it: the in­ter­views, the trav­el­ling, be­ing locked away, I don’t miss that at all.” The DC5 never re­united and have slowly faded from pop mem­ory. Yet their mas­ter­mind re­mains a fas­ci­nat­ing, slightly in­scrutable fig­ure. As El­ton John says in the new doc­u­men­tary, “Dave’s a man of many mys­ter­ies.” “You’ve got to know when to stop. My great­est ex­am­ple is Muhammed Ali. We were good mates. It’s a shame he didn’t re­tire when he was champ. In the end, he went on fight­ing and got brain dam­age.” Pho­tos of Ali with Clark adorn a man­tel­piece, along with old pic­tures of his par­ents and smil­ing snap­shots of Clark and Mer­cury. Clark may be out of the pub­lic eye, but he in­sists he is not reclu­sive, with many close friends in­clud­ing El­ton John and Ian McKellen. An at­ten­tive fe­male house­keeper pours red wine in what ap­pear to be some slightly fancy beer glasses. A black labrador dozes at Clark’s feet. “I was dev­as­tated when the boys died. We were young kids and it was ex­cit­ing what we went through to­gether. It makes you re­alise how im­por­tant liv­ing life well is, be­cause none of us know when we’re go­ing to go.” Clark raises his glass. “You can’t ar­gue with suc­cess. I’m liv­ing in this lovely place but it’s not to be ar­ro­gant or flashy. I al­ways be­lieved that if you do some­thing well then you will reap the re­wards. Me and the boys, we knew what we did and were very proud of it. And that’s it. I don’t want to live in the past.” ‘Glad All Over’ is on BBC Two on Feb 14 at 10pm

Clark­ma­nia: Dave Clark (third from right) in his hey­day; and how he looks to­day, above

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