Terry Clarke from first FSR 1999
TERRY CLARKE AT THE ELM TREE 6th April 1998
Sometimes you can’t see a ship for the mist. Sometimes fate takes a hand and you get a glimpse of something wonderful. My local Irish pub had his photo up for a couple of days – I had his past records including the marvellous Shelly River (originally on Minidoka but to be re-released hopefully on Koch International)but had only seen him play solo briefly supporting Butch Hancock. I was unprepared for what followed as he proved that he well deserves inclusion on Butch’s list of favourite songwriters.He had played here in the seventies when an enterprising landlord, Bob Moore, filled another local pub, The Radcliffe Arms, with amazing and wonderful sounds. Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Joe Ely, Jesse Winchester..they all played here and supporting and absorbing the tunes was Terry. Friendships ensued and Clarke found himself in Texas being produced by J.D.Foster and accompanied by Flaco Jimenez. That first record Call up a Hurricane contains some fine tunes including the great The Flatland Road.
Here he was on a monday night in Oxford sat in an empty bar under photos of Oscar Wilde,Patrick Kavanagh, James Joyce.. smoke curling up to the ceiling. The only member of the audience that so far had arrived I ended up chatting..and learning as his natural enthusiasm for music came flowing out. Heroes like Strayhorn and Carmichael mixed with more contemporary faves as a sense of pre-rock jazz craftsmanship mixed with more obvious post-Dylan influences. Then Terry picked up his big Guild 12-string and started heading back to ..The Well.
Drawing a crow’s line directly between Sligo and Austin what followed was one of the most consumate displays of the art of singer/songwriting I have witnessed. For more than three hours he dug deep into his transatlantic songbag and pulled out covers ( Johnny Cash and Van Morrison) and standards ( Lake of Ponchartrain, Raglan Road)honed by years of support slots and playing with jazz musicians. Candles flickered and that 12-string dazzled.
Then there were his own songs – literary-leaning emigrant ballads that breathe like oral history – some describing life in his hometown of Reading ( Bruce Chanel in this Town)and others about his Irish roots ( Sligo Honeymoon 1946). His singing clasps together his two great influences, Cash and Morrison, as tightly as the hands on a Claddagh Ring which is also the title of a moving tribute to Townes Van Zandt. Then came a batch of songs from the recently released Lucky cd with titles like Mr.Lucky, Gardenia Blues and Hyacinth Room which show his love for the more jazz influenced work of Willie Nelson and the late Walter Hyatt.
At last the doors swung open, the candles died, and Terry was still enthusing…in this case his duet partner and great friend Rosie Flores. In a business that is at times cut-throat and notorious for shortchanging the audience it was a thrill to see someone with such enthusiasm, talent and knowledge playing for the simple pleasure of it. There may have been less than a dozen in the audience but all no doubt felt it a pleasure to have been there. Maybe one day his ship will truly come in …all the way from Detroit to Dingle.
This review first appeared in Flyin’Shoes column, Oxford 1998
POSTCRIPT : Terry has a new Cd entitled Mother Indigo scheduled for release on the U.S. label Gadfly in 1999 and will be playing a series of house concerts and live gigs across the States and Britain.
Look out for an interview in the Summer ’99 issue of Flyin’ Shoes!
the original can be seen here