Story: Jack Foley
SINGER/songwriter, Michael Clarke, is being hailed by his publicist
as something akin to a minor miracle - a talented artist, who
looks set to emjoy the type of longevity reserved for only a few
in these heady days of fast-food excess.
Clarke, who goes under the generic name of Clarkesville,
is a tall, blonde kid, aged 22, but is no overnight/wannabe sensation.
Born in Walsall, Michael spent some formative years with his
parents in Amsterdam, where they were running a drop-in centre-cum-safe
haven for recovering drug addicts.
By the time he returned to the Midlands, at the age of 14, he
had seen the other side of this life at first hand.
A budding songwriter even then, he started to hone his craft
playing acoustic gigs.
"I never wanted to do anything else other than this - music,
songwriting and playing but I wasn't one of those people who had
a band of mates together by the time they're 19," he reveals.
"I concentrated on my writing, because I was adamant about
my future. I did my A-levels and went straight into a management
"When I came back to England as a teenager," he recalls,
"I felt an element of not fitting in and there was a certain
amount of rebellion from me.
"But it was more about culture shock than some false desire
to be a loner. I'm a miserable bastard at times, I can be a major
hypochondriac, even though there is sod all wrong with me, and
I am prone to be a depressive. Not a manic one. I'll leave that
for later on," he laughs.
Two more years of hard graft at the home studio face enabled
Clarke to build his repertoire, and, when he turned up at the
Wildstar offices armed with his acoustic guitar, it was patently
obvious that he had the right stuff.
After running through a couple of songs, Wildstar snapped him
up on the spot - without hesitation.
The result of that label's faith in an artist is Clarkesville's
gloriously accomplished debut album, The Half Chapter,
(produced by top Swede Martin Terefe).
The 10 songs contained within signal the arrival of a major talent
- a multi-talented musician in the Badly Drawn Boy mode, who evokes
memories of Neil Finn during certain vocal performances.
And the accolades starting to come his way are the result of
many months spent before, during and around Clarkesville, getting
himself about in the low-key environment of the support act.
A usually hapless task, he turned it to advantage, appearing
before Coldplay favourite, Ron Sexsmith, and, more recently, the
Kings of Leon.
He has also been spotted by members of Travis, when he did a
gig at the Enterprise Club, in Primrose Hill. In fact, Travis
drummer, Neil Primrose, appears on the album.
As for his inspirations, Clarke reveals: "My earliest favourite
album is Achtung Baby, by U2, and I still reckon you should never
lose that initial thrill of discovering something that is important
"I love Crowded House, for Neil Finn's songwriting. I'm
a huge fan of Bob Dylan, for his poetry and his honesty. I love
the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, The Flaming Lips, Beck's Mutations,
August and Everything After by Counting Crowes...."
The album title, incidentally, is skimmed from the Julian Barnes
novel 'A History of The World In Ten and a Half Chapters.'
As for Clarkesville itself? "You've got to have some fun.
This album is by me and about me, but it clearly isn't just all
me, so it would be wrong to take all the credit," continues
"Much as I'd like to. It's a collective name that I like.
I mean Clarkesville, Georgia. Yep. Clarkesville, Tennessee. Sure.
But Clarkesville, Birmingham? It's a lot funnier."
Musically, Clarkesville offers a lasting and rewarding experience.
Beats and loops are subtly employed and dropped into a warm
mix, the harmonies are cut
straight from the 'West Coast vibe' Clarke owns up to loving,
the ballads are poignant and punchy but never wet and windy, and
there are plenty of straight down the line classic sounding pop
songs like Secret File, Someday and Spinning, which
all strike that must-hear-that-again-right now chord.
IndieLondon will be delivering its verdict on the album shortly
- but to drop a hint, we rate it.
It's out on July 21, on Wildstar Records, and fans can catch
him live in London, at the 100 Club, on July 29.