By Mick Middles (Manchester)




If I told friends that, on a deceptively sunny day, lost deep within the global gloom of ‘lockdown’, my state of mind was beautifully hijacked by an album of solo piano music, they would have cast me that sorrowful stare. Furthermore, if I conveyed the truth that I would spend the next fourteen days transfixed by this unexpected new direction, they might be tempted to link it to vaccine symptoms, or worse.

“Since his jab, Mick has developed an appreciation of solo piano music…the public needs to be warned.”

Even for me. It was a curious and illuminating interlude. Fifty years of listening to music, and often for a living, and through all too many altered states but this, the album you now hold, transported me to a place of unlikely illumination. Many of the songs on this album had since the heady days of the eighties – a curiously derided era jam-packed with melodies and pulse-beats of dizzying effectiveness – lodged themselves in a mass collective consciousness. I knew also, of the extraordinary skills of Alan Clark, mainly through his work as long-term member of Dire Straits and, indeed as a key element within, arguably, Eric Clapton’s finest band, and with Tina Turner and Bob Dylan ('Infidels’). I knew little more about him beyond his soulful musical ‘ghosting’.

Since catching Dire Straits live before they ventured beyond the miniscule stages of pub-land, I retained a certain unfashionable fondness for them. Of course, their gargantuan success did have its downside; beautiful songs attained a deadening omnipresence on the global network of MTV and radio. As such, we became massively, perhaps overtly familiar with the rhythmic twists and melodic hooks that defined their sound. But what lurked beyond this simmering familiarity?

This is the key to this extraordinary collection. Take, for instance the Dire Straits classic, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which sits at the heart of this collection. A song so deeply embedded within our collective psyche that it had attained a sleepiness that needed an awakening. I admit, on first hearing, this piano rendition floored me and I hit repeat…and repeat…and repeat! This is not effectively a true reflection of the song. It is, as Clark has stated, an interpretation that sits in the moment. Should he record it again, it would almost certainly convey a different feel. But here, now, blessed with the familiarity of a long-term listener, you simply allow the song to flow with a vivid freshness. More than this. Ghosts and shadows are teased from the infectious melody. All manner of nuance and wholly unexpected soulful hollows; even a trace of jazz smarts and a rush like a warming breeze. The song simply evolves to a different stage. The sheer ‘push’ that Clark delivers is a reawakening of, perhaps, the soulful birth of the original version.

This happens all across the album. Because Clark’s remarkable largely self-taught visionary keys powered the original recordings, he is uniquely placed to steer each song into deeper waters.

There is so much more. Can there be a more evocative and illuminating ‘80’s hit than Tina Turner’s ‘Private Dancer’? Here Clark revisits his original piano score and delivers a tentative, simplistic fragility that perhaps more suitably squares with the song’s emotional core. It must have seemed an impossible dream for Clark, an unassuming lad from the North East, to add keyboard width and depth on a famous record by Turner, one of his primary influences. Similarly Van Morrison – ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’, which he recently recorded with Rod Stewart, or Bob Dylan…or Eric Clapton!

But this album isn’t about celebrity, fame or musicianly comradeship. In many ways, quite the opposite. In these private workings the songs are free from commercial pressures and certainly from the (admittedly) production values of the 1980s or thereabouts. As such they attain a rare and lonely beauty, away from the spotlight, on some desolate hill, perhaps? Unlike many albums brimming with familiar melodies from the ‘80s or 90s, these songs are not the firings of a weaponised ego. They never were. This is the truth that is teased out on this extraordinary album.

Italian music producer, Alberto Fabris certainly noticed the possibilities that lay in the new shadows cast by these interpretations. Having invited Clark to perform solo at The Milan Piano Festival in 2019, he saw, first-hand, how the solo Clark affected an audience who swelled from 200 to 2000 before the set’s conclusion. Suitably enthused, he duly set about the arduous task of convincing Clark to record this album, ‘Backstory’. This apparently took a great deal of prompting and, indeed, extra nudges from Clark’s partner. Tentatively…tentatively the musician warmed to the unique task in hand.

“When I finally started the recording – at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath – “I really enjoyed the process.”

“Maybe I should play more solo shows,” he conceded.

Maybe he should. Hopefully he will.

Mick Middles (Manchester, February 2021)


Source TWO PR

October 5, 2021 5:45am ET by TWO PR  


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