Saturday, 13 July 2013

A Visit To Clive Smith's House

As anyone who was in Wakefield Theatre Royal around 13:15 on Saturday 8th June 2013 will testify, Clive Smith has never been very good at sticking to his appointments. On that occasion I was very much put on the spot not only by him, but by his manager Alan Lobley, who asked I read a letter out in place of Clive appearing (thanks to Joel Rowbottom for getting a photo of this forgettable moment here).

Within the madness of that day and weekend, I didn't really have time to consider what had happened. What I was told was this: Alan had gone to pick Clive up that morning, ahead of his first appearance at Long Division, to find the front door ajar and, in the kitchenette, a letter by an empty bottle of whiskey. This letter, which Clive had somehow posted to himself the previous year was (and is) the only clue as to where he might be.

At the time I had the strong sense that I was being had. Clive is a known joker, and it seemed like him and his manager might be playing some odd prank upon me.

But last week, after being invited round to Clive's still empty Ossett house by Alan, I had to conclude that Rhubarb Bomb writer and well known cabaret singer Clive Smith does appear to have vanished into, or out of, thin air.

Alan had called me round to assist him going through some of Clive's things. He's a long-time friend of Clive - they've been through it all together. He doesn't seem the rock and roll type. He's a small, thin man with dark hair in a fluffy side parting. His look is somewhere between an efficient but ambivalent Nazi officer in an afternoon drama, and 'the quiet, brooding one' in a 70's sitcom about teachers in a rough northern comprehensive. Perhaps it is the fact all my reference points for his appearance seem to bounce back towards television that showbiz ended up being his calling.

I'd not been to Clive's house before. It was more chaotic than I expected, as the man himself was always well presented, most often in a tight fitting pinstripe grey suit, a slightly darker shade than his trademark slicked back silver locks.

I've learnt that Clive was a lover of the post-it note. Their spread across the house would suggest inspiration most often came to him in the bath, in the shed, and in the armchair. Little notes for song lyrics, potential collaborations, or even graphs of 'song power' are littered around the house. It's hard to tell from some of the references to TV shows whether they had been left around the house for well over ten years, or Clive just watched a lot of UK Gold.

There were many other mementos from his years in the biz, including some gold records (slightly put in question by the large number of gold spray paint cans present in his man-shed) and photo's with celebrities who I didn't recognise, but Alan seemed to expect me to be impressed as he walked me along the wall that displayed them, like I was the Queen at the Royal Variety.

But most interesting of all, and the real reason Alan had dragged me round, were the plans and notebooks for Clive's next album, tentatively titled 'The Why Of Clive'. Some demos existed too, rough sketches of riffs and melodies, but nothing too fully formed.

The thing was, I've never been much of a fan of Clive's work. I liked his sample cut-ups from about five years ago, but after that (and since he started writing for Rhubarb Bomb to be honest) he seemed to jump styles in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to follow what was cool which was problematic because that's a difficult thing to do at the best of times, especially when your own 'cool-dar' is a bit screwy.

But these demos were really interesting. I gather from his notes (and I didn't and couldn't even contemplate reading everything) that these were half remembered ideas and tunes that he had discarded in the past for fear they had been too 'revealing' of his true nature, and didn't follow the persona he had cultivated and had great success with over the years. He felt it was time to bring them out of the cellar and into the harsh light of day, for better or for worse.

Alan was clearly moved as we looked through and cross referenced what we found. And it was then an idea formed. What if these songs could be finished off? I don't know which of us actually suggested it; the conversation and our immersion in the material just kind of led things that way. Alan said it might be just the thing to bring Clive out of hiding. I had to bite my lip then, because from what I know of Clive, he wouldn't have run away in the first place. That letter just over a month ago spelt out a much harsher result, but I guess that's just a gut feeling.

Despite not really having time for this kind of project, I must admit, it did intrigue me. So, I have agreed to act as a kind of 'director' in charge of finishing the album. We reckon we've got the raw material for around ten songs. Some have musical sections complete, some have lyrics half sketched out. I am going to try and involve Clive's many fans in its completion; it'd be great to see the Wakefield music scene Clive gave so much to rally round and see this self proclaimed 'potential super-masterpiece' brought to light.

So I left the house with a strange feeling in my bones. Being me, I love a project to get stuck into and loads of ideas have already started bouncing around my head. But I feel apprehensive too; I need to keep my distance. In creative ventures such as this, it would make sense to try and 'get inside the head' of the subject, but in all honesty that's not something I want to do. But it'd be nice to get a Clive Smith album out there, for all the people who wondered what all the fuss was about. Who's with me?

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