Interview with MARK CLARKE

December 2006


He has it all: the looks, the voice, the talent, the skill, yet all Mark Clarke’s interested in is playing with the artists he finds interesting. The great artists who find Mark’s talent essential – be it COLOSSEUM, the band Clarke’s been loyal to for many years, URIAH HEEP who he contributed one of the band’s key tracks to, or THE MONKEES he toured with.

A versatile musician who prefers to keep in the background, that’s why Mark’s a musicians’ musician and doesn’t draw as much attention as he deserves. And that’s the reason to engage him in a conversation.

– Mark, what does being a Liverpudlian mean to you?

Being from Liverpool means a little to me but seems to mean a lot for other people. I still have family there, and when I visit I always notice what a great place it has become. So I think it means I still have roots there and will always remember seeing THE BEATLES performing live there.

– When I spoke to Jon Hiseman, he said of you, “if he’d had a business head and if he’d tried, he could have actually been a star”. But did you ever want to be a star or have, in Jon’s words, has been “just very happy to work for other people”?

Yes, I would like to have “been a star” as you put it, in my own right, but I also very much enjoy working within a great unit. As far as trying, that’s all I’ve ever done, and still do try. I think in some places in Europe I’m thought of as a kind of star, but I really would love to become more famous all over the globe than just being well known as I am in certain countries. Jon is right though, I do not have a very good head for the biz. In fact, I hate the biz end of it and always will. It’s taken away so much from the art of it all that all that’s left for me is the music… but I’m not at all stupid when it comes to business. I do it, get rid of it and carry on with the artistic side of it. And then, of course, there is a question of luck. And believe me, I’ve had some good and some very shitty luck and that too can play a role in the game.

– Do you think of yourself as a bassist, in the first place, or as a vocalist?

I’m a bassist and vocalist. Both mean so much to me, but I get the feeling that some people would rather hear me play bass than sing sometimes. But I’m damn good at both of those crafts now and I love both.

– What was the first band you sang lead with?

My first band vocal? Er, that was THE KEGMEN in Liverpool, in 1966, just a few songs. But then in 1968, I was with THE LOCOMOTIVE and found myself singing all bloody night. They turned into ST. JAMES INFIRMARY in late 1968, and I was the singer. In fact, an article in “The Liverpool Echo”, that’s a daily paper. called me, “the Joe Cocker of Liverpool”.

– Is it hard to play with Hiseman, a very meticulous drummer?

Is it hard to play with Jon?.. I remember when COLOSSEUM were looking for a bass player. At that time, they were really getting a huge name all over England, and the bass players I knew thought that Jon Hiseman was one of the most incredible drummers on Earth. But I think they were all afraid to play with him as Jon is not the most forgiving of players. So I was conned into doing a, of all things, vocal session on the new COLOSSEUM LP, and when I got down to the studio, my bass was there – low and behold! Jon asks, “Do you know “Rope Ladder To The Moon”? Yes, I do! And off we went! And here I am today…

Jon is the hardest, the most difficult drummer to play with, but when we click, we are the best that you’ll ever hear. So for me, he’s just the best, and I miss him so much when I’m not playing with him. Other drummers are just drummers to me – Jon’s not! And now, as an after note… It’s just as amazing playing with Jon’s wife, Barbara, she’s just as complex a player as Jon. So when I’m on stage with those two, sometimes it just takes me to another place, and for that I thank them both.

Mark Clarke and Jon Hiseman

Mark Clarke and Jon Hiseman

– You said you should have been singing with COLOSSEUM. Wasn’t there Chris Farlowe enrolled already?

Er, I did sing with the band, and never have I said anywhere that I should have sung more. Other people have said that but never me.

– How do you remember Dick Heckstall-Smith?

Dick and I were very close I like to think, and I’ll always remember him for not just his music, but also his completely mad humor. “Off the wall” is a good way to describe him, but I loved his views some of them were just “whoooa” but always he and I would find time for a bit of fun… God bless him.

– Were you surprised when, two years after COLOSSEUM broke up, Jon Hiseman asked you to join him in another venture, TEMPEST?

TEMPEST… No, it was just not meant to be, I think. I was still finding things out about myself, and if it was put back together now, I think it would just be fantastic.

– Was there any bitterness about you not being the first choice for a lead singer’s position in TEMPEST and coming forward when Paul Williams jumped the ship?

There was no bitterness on my part at all about the singing in TEMPEST. I was with Jon all the way as far as finding a singer. Remember, I was still, as far as I concerned, finding out about my talent and never for a minute thought I could carry the vocals in TEMPEST on my own.

– How was it playing with Ollie Halsall compared to playing with Allan Holdsworth?

Ollie versus Allan… Well, they were completely different and in fact both were fun to play with. Allan, of course, has his own incredible style, but Ollie was more of a rocker style, and I enjoy playing both, so it was easy for me to go from one to the other, I loved both of them.

NATURAL GAS: Mark Clarke, Joey Molland, Peter Wood, Jerry Shirley

Mark Clarke, Joey Molland, Peter Wood, Jerry Shirley

– Was the latest incarnation of TEMPEST, a power trio, a pre-cursor to work with MOUNTAIN?

Before COLOSSEUM, as I said, I was in a group called ST. JAMES INFIRMARY that was a three-piece power trio, and I loved it, and at that time MOUNTAIN weren’t even a band yet, but CREAM had been, and they were one of my biggest influences. I’ve always loved the trio bit. And when COLOSSEUM are rocking away at the end of our show, you will see Clem [Clempson], Jon and myself – the best power trio – as one of them.

– Was it through Felix Pappalardi producing NATURAL GAS that you entered the MOUNTAIN camp?

As far as MOUNTAIN and myself goes, he may have had a little to do with it, but it was Ian Hunter who put Leslie West and Corky [Laing] in touch with me. You see, at that time I was doing an LP with Ian, “All Of The Good Ones Are Taken”, and I co-wrote and mixed a lot of that record by the way… We had just done the first mixes and I was about to take some time off, when Ian told me, “MOUNTAIN are in need of your services, if you’re interested”. And so that’s how that came about.

– Why do you think NATURAL GAS, a supergroup, didn’t have success the band deserved?

This could have been a really good band, and we had a lot of people behind us. But Joey Molland and I were going in different directions, and within two years we even stopped talking to each other. Now, by the way, we are close friends again – as it should be – and we speak quite regularly. Peter Wood went on to [play with] PINK FLOYD and has since passed away, God bless him.

– There were two very short stints with a couple of great bands in your career, URIAH HEEP in 1971, and RAINBOW in 1977. Is it true that Gary Thain re-recorded your parts in the former group – and did you record anything with the latter?

URIAH HEEP: Ken Hensley, Mick Box, David Byron, Lee Kerslake, Mark Clarke

Ken Hensley, Mick Box, David Byron,
Lee Kerslake, Mark Clarke

Well, the very day COLOSSEUM held the meeting to disband, I was out at a club later that evening. And I was approached by the leader of URIAH HEEP, Ken Hensley (in fact, though Ken wrote a bulk of their classic material, HEEP has always been led by Mick Box – DME), asking me if I could help out by doing a gig the very next night up in Scotland. That was the start of a very wild and very tiring ten months on the road – and I mean on the road. It was also the start of a very close friendship with Ken, but it nearly killed me, I was a wreck. It took me about six months to start to feel normal again. In that time, I recorded two tracks for the “Demons And Wizards” LP. I co-wrote “The Wizard” with Ken, but as far as Gary – who was a friend, by the way – re-doing my bass parts, that’s just not true. The bass on “The Wizard” and the vocal in the bridge section is me; David Byron couldn’t hit the high notes, so I was asked to sing it, and that’s what you hear today – me.

As for RAINBOW… It’s so strange because just like the day COLOSSEUM passed on URIAH HEEP to me, so did Ritchie Blackmore. The very day I decided to knock NATURAL GAS on the head, within two hours the phone rang, and there was Ritchie. He came right out with “Do you want to join RAINBOW”? I was in shock but after about a minute I said, yes. Within a week, I was living in LA, and I don’t remember how long we were there, but it was many months. From there we went to Paris, The Chateau [studios], for about two months. This is where we had our falling out that lasted about ten years, but now I consider him, when I see him, a friend. By the way, that was the “Kill The King” LP (the record’s called “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” – DME), and I’m also on just two tracks on that.

– Why didn’t you stay with either of the ensembles?

RAINBOW: Tony Carey, Ritchie Blackmore, Cozy Powell, Ronnie Dio, Mark Clarke

Tony Carey, Ritchie Blackmore, Cozy Powell, Ronnie Dio, Mark Clarke

Why did I quit? With the HEEP it was just plain old “I was fucking shagged out” and felt as if I was about to blow up. With Ritchie, it was the music: I didn’t like it.

– Where do you think Blackmore heard you play?

Well, he knew of me from COLOSSEUM and then, in LA, from NATURAL GAS. We rehearsed in the same studio, Pirate Sound. It was the old Columbia Pictures lot; it’s where they filmed “The Wizard of Oz”. In fact, the yellow brick road was right under our stage, I remember walking on it.

– You stayed in touch with Ken Hensley, though. “In The Morning”: a Mark Clarke song sung by Mark Clarke even became a Ken Hensley single. How could that happen?

Because of our friendship, Ken would ask me to do all of his recordings with him. And when he needed to write songs for “(Proud Words) On The Dusty Shelf” LP, he asked me if I had any, and “In The Morning” popped up. He loved it as did Gerry Bron, his and COLOSSEUM’s manager. Gerry… He still is the best manager we ever had. So it was then picked for the single without any changes or edits. I don’t know why but I still say, “Thanks, Ken”… I hope we’ll work together again at some point, I’d love work with my friend again, I really would.

– The briefest of all your tenures seems to be the one with MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND. Were you just helping out the fellow Bronze act or were there plans to stay longer that didn’t work out?

This, as you said, was in fact a favor for Gerry. He told me Manfred had asked about me many times before, and would I go down and see him. When I got down there, Manfred asked me to learn a few songs. I think I learnt most of his show on that day, and he was, it seemed, very impressed with me enough to play me and eventually teach me his new song that turned out to be Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light”. There have been times when I thought about calling Manfred up and seeing if he still needed me as a bass player. But that’s all I remember about that brief encounter.

– I read you worked with another master guitarist, Gary Moore. Did you really?

TEMPEST: Ollie Halsall, Jon Hiseman, Mark Clarke

Ollie Halsall, Jon Hiseman, Mark Clarke

Mark Clarke, Jon Hiseman, Gary Moore: that was going to be the new line-up for TEMPEST in 1974. We did rehearse for a couple of weeks, and from what I remember it was quite amazing. Well, it would be, don’t you agree? But I then decided to form NATURAL GAS and then moved to the States… But playing with Gary and Jon, now I think about it. we should have gone through with it.

– You recorded vocals on THE BEATLES’ “Here Comes The Sun” over the late John Entwistle’s bass part? How did you feel singing to the backing track you didn’t play on?

That came about through Steve Luongo, John’s drummer and producer. This track was on the George Harrison tribute album [“Songs From Material World”]. And also on this album, by the way, is another track titled “Old Brown Shoe” by Leslie West, and I’m playing bass on that track. Steve asked me to try to sing on this, and it worked out so well that they kept it as the master. But as I said I’m on two track on that CD, not one.

– What are you doing now when COLOSSEUM seem to not exist anymore?

When COLOSSEUM’s not on the road I’ve toured with Billy Squier, MOUNTAIN, Davy Jones – for a long time – and did a few stints with Roger Daltrey when he was doing British Rock Symphony. There’s been some really slow times, just as there is right now actually, but I’ve done a lot of touring. But my ultimate tours are with COLOSSEUM.

clarke2– Was playing with THE MONKEES and Michael Bolton just a routine work or you were indulging your pop side?

THE MONKEES and Mr. Bolton were both great gigs for me over a long period of time. THE MONKEES and Davy Jones were more of my “pop” side than Michael Bolton but still they were good gigs. I go way back with Mr. Bolton when he was a rocker, so I’d done many gigs with him before his big break.

– What do you consider your definitive recording?

I don’t think I’ve done that yet, have I?

– Star or not, but you play bass, guitars and keyboards and you sing. Isn’t it a time for a solo album?

Yes, there will be one. When, I’m not sure but there will be. Just the other day it crossed my mind that if I could get all of the people I’ve worked with over the years to play on one track each, I could have quite an amazing CD or record…

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