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Clarkesville - Introducing The Half Chapter


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 deal.

"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 to you.

"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 Clarke.

"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.

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