INTERVIEW: “I felt that Gene Clark has been dealt a bad hand by history – that’s always struck me as being a grave injustice”

New documentary, The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark, tells the fascinating story of one of the founding members of The Byrds. One part hell raiser, one part mystical poet, Gene Clark died in 1991, aged 46, his latter years blighted by illness and drink and drug abuse.  He left The Byrds in 1966, unable to cope with the pressures of fame, and embarked on a solo career. A fear of flying also had a large part to play in his decision to quit the band.

From Beatles-inspired pop, to country rock, folk ballads and experimental, symphonic rock, Clark was a songwriting genius. His solo albums, White Light and No Other, are cult classics, but he’s never had the true recognition he deserves. Could this documentary, which is based on new interviews with Clark’s friends and family and contemporaries, including the surviving original members of The Byrds, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, change all that? I spoke to father and son Paul and Jack Kendall, from Four Suns Productions, to find out how and why they made the film.



Congratulations on the film. It’s a great achievement. Why did you decide to make a documentary on the life of Gene Clark?  

Paul Kendall: I met up with a couple of guys called Mike Kerry and Chris Hall, who have a company called Start Productions. They’d made a fantastic film about Arthur Lee from Love, which is called Love Story. I thought it would be fantastic to do something like that – to go back to my roots and my love of music and combine that with what I knew about filmmaking, along with my sons Jack and Dan [who are filmmakers]. I thought if I could find the right project, then it would be great to try and get something off the ground.

Have you always been a fan of Gene Clark? Is he one of your musical heroes?

PK: Absolutely. I’m slightly too young to have caught The Byrds in their first flush, when he was still with the band, but I picked up on Dillard & Clark very early on and fell in love with their first album. I then followed his solo career. For the last 10 years of his life, to a large extent, he went off the radar, but he was still writing and recording songs, even though he didn’t have an outlet for them. Apparently there’s a whole wealth of unreleased and unheard material.

What’s your favourite Gene Clark song or album?

PK: The album I’ve listened to most regularly over the years is White Light – I love that one, particularly the song Spanish Guitar. Bob Dylan said it was a song he’d have been proud to have written. No Other is a unique, extraordinary piece of work. Even now, nearly 40 years after it was made, I can’t think of anything else that’s quite like it. The first Dillard & Clark album is a lovely record and arguably one of the first steps into country rock.


(Left to right: Leland Sklar, bassist on Gene Clark’s No Other, with filmmaker Paul Kendall)

Has Gene Clark been overshadowed by Gram Parsons?

PK: Yes – that was one of my main motivations for making the film. I felt that Gene Clark has been dealt a bad hand by history. I love Gram Parsons as well and he should be remembered and acknowledged, but he’s way up there and Gene Clark is lurking in the shadows somewhere. That’s always struck me as being a grave injustice. Hopefully this film will do something to redress that.

Jack Kendall: I think Gene Clark is someone whom a lot of people like, but no one’s had a chance to hear his story. There hasn’t been a big outlet for him. He hasn’t had any of his songs sung on The X Factor, or used on adverts… He’s got a secret following, which we can tap into.

PK: Next year will be the 70th anniversary of Gene’s birth and the year after, it will be the 50th anniversary of The Byrds coming to prominence. There’s a sense that after years of Gene languishing in obscurity since he died, the stars are starting to align.

He’d have liked that… You actually met Gene Clark in the ‘70s, didn’t you?

PK: Yes. I spent a couple of years as a music journalist in the ‘70s, mainly working for Zig Zig magazine.  I met Gene when he was touring the UK with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman [from The Byrds] in 1977. I spent a very pleasant afternoon with him – the gig got cancelled and our one hour interview turned into a five hour tête-à-tête over a few beers. I feel like I have a personal connection with him, beyond the music.


(Left to right: Tom Slocum – Gene Clark collaborator – Jack, Dan and Paul Kendall)

Was Gene Clark your first choice as a subject to make a film about?

PK: In 2010, I got given John Einarson’s biography on Gene Clark [Mr Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds’ Gene Clark] as a Christmas present, which filled in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge of Gene’s life and it took me back to his records – I re-played them while I was reading the book. I thought that it would be fantastic to make a film about Gene – if nobody had done it already. I did a bit of digging and found out that nobody had.  We had a big stroke of luck early on – I met up with the guys from Start Productions to get some advice and it turned out that they had thought about making a film about Gene as the follow up to Love Story, but in the end they did one about Mott The Hoople instead. They’d got as far as making contact with Gene’s estate, so they gave us the details – we knew we’d need to get the estate on board, right from the start. I had a series of exchanges with the lawyer who runs the estate and also Kai, Gene’s younger son, who is involved in looking after his father’s legacy.

The family were very sceptical at first – they’d had a number of approaches from filmmakers over the years, including some famous ones, but nothing had ever come about. They asked us to prove that we could do something, so we did some interviews with Barry McGuire, who was in The New Christy Minstrels with Gene, and John York [ex-Byrd who played with Gene’s band in the ‘80s]. Barry McGuire is a force of nature – he’s in his eighties and he still goes around the world doing shows – he was one of the prime movers and shakers in the LA ‘60s scene. We met up with Barry and John, who were playing in Frankfurt, shot some interviews and edited in some archive footage. We then sent that to Gene’s family and the lawyer, so they could see that we were serious about it and that knew what we were doing. Thankfully, they really liked it and they gave us their blessing and said we could approach other interviewees. That was in May 2011. From there, it just accelerated. In September of that year, we flew out to LA and spent almost a month running around California and Missouri filming interviews and location footage.

The whole project took two and a half years to complete. Was it easy tracking all the interviewees down? Are a lot of them still hanging out in LA?

PK: No. I thought they would be, but they’d fled LA and headed to the coast and the hills. We had to travel the length and breadth of California to get all the people we wanted and then we went to Missouri, where Gene hailed from, to meet up with his family and an old friend of his. We also interviewed Taj Mahal in Missouri – he was playing a gig there. We had one opportunity to speak to him.


How easy was it getting The Byrds – Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman – to get involved and to talk about Gene?

PK: Once we’d got one – Chris Hillman – to come on board, I knew we’d get the others. They wouldn’t want to have been left out and have the others talking about them. They were very happy. Hillman, in particular, gave us a very good interview. I’d heard, through the grapevine, that he can be a bit prickly if you get him on the wrong day, but he was very gracious and was very open and insightful. McGuinn was slightly more guarded. There have been all sorts of talk over the years about relationships in the band – not just with Gene, but with all of them. There’s been various fallings out and issues. I think McGuinn is conscious that he’s taken some flack about the way in which Gene was treated by the other members of the band – particularly him and Crosby. Both McGuinn and Crosby were very happy talking about The Byrds and how the band started and their rise to fame, but trying to talk to them about things after that became a little bit more difficult.

For me, Crosby is one of the highlights of the film. I love his recollections and his delivery – he’s like a wise old man.

JKThere were so many great Crosby moments. While we were editing, we thought he was slowing the pace down, but we loved it…

PK: We interviewed Crosby in Bristol, while he was in the UK, playing with Graham Nash. We made it by the skin of our teeth – the interview was scheduled for the day after we got back from America. The whole US shooting schedule was finely tuned – if anything had gone wrong, we’d have had a problem – but it all went very smoothly. However, we came within seconds of missing our flight back to the UK, as Jack had lost his passport. But we found it – with seconds to spare.

Was there anyone that you wanted to interview for the film, but couldn’t get hold of?

PK: We had Bob Dylan on our wish list, but I got as far as talking to his manager…. I also wanted Tom Petty, but he decided he wasn’t available. I spoke to Doug Dillard [Dillard & Clark] and Bernie Leadon [Dillard & Clark, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles], on the phone,  but Doug was too ill – he died seven or eight months after we went to the States to do the shoot – and Bernie was reluctant to do it, as he’d done a similar thing for a Gram Parsons documentary and he didn’t like dredging up the past. He said that he didn’t want to do it.


Any good anecdotes from your filming trip to the States?

PK: There was a really spooky moment while we were shooting in Kansas City, in Bonner Springs, at the house Gene lived in when he was in his teens. We were filming wind chimes that were hanging from the porch and a hummingbird flew into shot and hovered, looking down the camera. Someone told me that hummingbirds are –  if you believe in that kind of thing – the souls of people who’ve passed away. So that was probably Gene coming to keep an eye on us.

If it had been a silver raven [the title of a Gene Clark song], that would’ve been even stranger…

PK: Well, a while later, I was sitting in the back garden, having a beer at the end of a busy day and a black raven flew past, perched on a branch and eyeballed me…

After Gene died in 1991, there was lot of bitterness and wrangling between his friends, girlfriend and family, wasn’t there? It ended up being quite a nasty situation, didn’t it?

PK: Yes and it dragged on for ages. We decided that we weren’t interested in that. Our story was going to be about Gene Clark’s life and his music and a celebration of it. There is a story to be told about what happened after he died, but it would be difficult to get to the bottom of it.

I must admit that I cried at the end of the film, when there’s amateur video footage of Gene playing I Shall Be Released…

PK: As soon as we found that, we knew we had to use it at the end. It’s a lovely version of the song – especially the harmonies. There’s real feeling to it. I like the fact that Gene’s presence throughout the film – in the footage and archive audio – is almost spectral. There’s something ethereal about it, which works. Between him leaving The Byrds in early ’66 and doing McGuinn, Clark and Hillman in ’79, there is literally no footage.

From making the film, what have you learned about Gene Clark?

PK: He was clearly a man with at least two sides to his story – there was Gene, the shy, retiring mystical poet guy and then there was the Gene Clark who could be an out of control nightmare. He was a very complex man and if you’d put him in front of a psychoanalyst, they’d have had a field day. Great artists invariably are very complex people.

What’s the reaction to the film been like?

JK: Everyone seems to love it.

PK: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve had people in their twenties and thirties who’ve heard of The Byrds, but know nothing about Gene Clark, coming up to me and saying they’re going to find out more about his music. The whole motivation for the film wasn’t to preach to the converted – it was to try and spread the word and get Gene more of the recognition he deserves.

The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark will be available on DVD in November.

To order a copy and for more information on the film, please visit:

INTERVIEW – Nev Cottee: “My album took five years to write and a week to record”


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Manchester singer/songwriter and guitarist Nev Cottee has made one of the best debut albums of 2013. Describing his sound as ‘Lee Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized’, his atmospheric, late night laments are steeped in Northern melancholy and laced with psychedelic effects and gorgeous string arrangements. 

I spoke to him about writing and recording the record, hanging out with Noel Gallagher at The Hacienda, supporting Neil Young, stealing a bottle of rum from Richard Hawley’s dressing room and why he’s a brown sauce man…

Congratulations on your great debut album Stations and the single, Oslo, which is one of my favourite songs of this year. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind Oslo?

Nev Cottee: Thanks for the kind words, Sean. Oslo was written about five years ago. I’d been out there in 2006 to visit a Norwegian girl I’d met while I was travelling in India. It was a disaster.

When we’d been in India, being on the beach and swimming in the sea every day, everything was easy, but reality hit when I landed in Oslo in January and it was  -17 degrees! We quickly discovered that we had little in common and so it was quite a sad time. I was just wandering around on my own for three days. I guess that’s the basis of it – being really down, melancholy and thinking ‘what am I doing here?’, yet, at the same time, being confronted with this weird, magical place, full of bizarre buildings and a frozen sea. Lyrically, I was trying to write something that was a bit more abstract and non-linear. I was trying to get away from the standard love song thing.

I’d love to go to Oslo – it’s on my list….

NC: You should definitely go, although it’s £9 for a beer. Everyone goes to the shop for some bottles, then sits at home and has these little gatherings. It’s cool, actually. Everyone I met was extremely friendly and helpful – even that girl. Cool people, beautiful place.

Your deep, rich singing voice reminds me of Lee Hazlewood and Leonard Cohen. Are they big influences on you? I can imagine Lee singing Oslo…

NC:  That’s a big compliment. Who doesn’t like Laughing Len? I saw him in Manchester a few weeks ago and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. What a lyricist, what a songwriter and what a performer!

I couldn’t believe it – the guy’s almost 80 and he’s down on his knees giving it his all. He’s not belting it out, but he’s putting it all in there. There were about 20,000 people there and he was almost whispering. He is the man and he has an amazing voice, which is so low these days, you almost can’t hear it. It’s not as easy at it seems – the low singing thing – and Cohen and Hazlewood are two of the best.

I’m a huge fan of Lee Hazlewood and I’m looking forward to hearing the new deluxe box set that’s coming out later this year. What do you love about him?

NC: Hazlewood was just a freak and I mean that in the kindest way – his look, the moustache, and his whole vibe. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Something like Nancy & Me – it’s just really honest and poetic and all beautifully put together with the strings and the guitars. The guy was a musical genius and he passed it off with an air of panache. It’s all there in the voice. Listen to Some Velvet Morning – it’s totally unique.

Tell me about your album Stations? How was it written and recorded?

NC: It took five years to write and a week to record. I’m a slow writer. I’m working on it. The next one won’t be so long. It was recorded inside The Magic Lantern, which is a small space in [musician] Carwyn Ellis’s home in Cardiff. I think that comes across in the sound – the intimacy of it. Mason Neely [who produced the album] and Carwyn are very talented musicians – they can play pretty much anything and they both know when not to play too much. After I’d sent them my demos, they came up to Manchester and the first thing they said was ‘Why are you singing so high?’ I’d never even thought about it too much – I just sang as I thought I should. They said ‘just sing like you’re talking’ and that was really a breakthrough moment, because I found my voice, which is quite low.

I saw Carwyn the other day and I said to him: ‘thanks for introducing me to myself…’ I’m basically a vocalist, guitar player, and sometime bassist – Mason can put together a string arrangement to melt your heart, or pick out an instrument that defines the mood of a song. I owe those two a lot. They gave me my sound.

It’s a very atmospheric record – often melancholy in tone…

NC: You just have to follow your instinct and use everything you’ve soaked up. As the record was developing, I said to Mason, ‘this is pretty sad stuff,’ and he said, ‘Yeah – great!’

I’m not 21 anymore. Those days are over for me, you know. I’m not into fake rebellion anymore –  ‘I don’t need an attitude/Rebellion’s a platitude.’ I was just trying to make an honest record with no tricks. I wanted to make an album that might stand up with some of the people we’ve spoken about [Lee Hazlewood and Leonard Cohen].

The album has been described as sounding like ‘Lee Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized’, which is a brilliant comparison. It also reminds me of Richard Hawley at times…

NC: Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized? Now, that would be worth hearing. That’s just an in to get people’s attention. Hawley’s ace. I’ve met him a few times and he’s hilarious – a proper comedian. I was in his dressing room and he caught me nicking a bottle of rum. He was just laughing, saying: ‘Go for it’. He’d just sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire and was driving home to Sheffield to take his kids to school in the morning. He’s a true gent. Everything he’s ever released is brilliant. The other time I met him he gave me a bottle of limited edition Richard Hawley Henderson’s Relish. Apparently it’s been made in Sheffield for over 100 years. It tasted awful. I’m a brown sauce man myself…

What other music are you into?

NC: Tom Waits, Scott Walker, Cohen and then people like Tony Joe White and Link Wray – old school, hard living dudes. That’s for vocals and songwriting. Musically, I love Jason Pierce and anything he’s ever done – i.e Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. I also like The Byrds, The Flaming Lips, John Barry, Bill Callahan… plus all the big guns…

Close Your Eyes is one of the album highlights for me. Can you tell me more about that song? I think it’s beautiful. It has a ‘60s Scott Walker vibe, with gorgeous strings and rain sound effects.

NC: Yeah – I can see the Walker influence. It’s just a simple riff that builds and builds. Mason did a great job arranging it, with the bells at the end and the Mellotron choir. Wonderful stuff. It’s this idea of sweet melancholy. I’ve got a love/hate thing with Manchester and it’s just saying… the rain – it’s just a state of mind, don’t let it get to you.

Hot Air and Devils have a folk feel to them….

NC: Hot Air started off as a John Martyn guitar echo thing that just developed as we went along. Devils is a tune that we used to do with my old band, which we completely reworked.

Some of the songs, like I Want You and Nothing Is Certain, are quite psychedelic….

NC: That’s the Spacemen 3 thing. I got really into the repetitive psyche/trance/call it what you want thing a few years ago. I saw a band called Black Mountain at The Green Man Festival in Wales and it was like a door opening. I was in the zone – completely sober and straight, of course… Then there was my mate Nolan who played with Spectrum (Pete Kember from Spacemen 3) for a few years. I used to go to see them and I really got into his whole aesthetic. He’s a genius. Then I started listening to Suicide, 808 State and loads of other stuff… It all goes back to Kraftwerk, of course. I think my brother must have played Trans-Europe Express for about two years continually, when I was growing up.

You were in Proud Mary, weren’t you? What was that like? They were a Noel Gallagher-endorsed, country rock band as I recall…

NC: Yeah – a country rock band from Oldham! Get on it! Everyone was going to crappy nightclubs and listening to bad dance music, but we were at home listening to The Band, Gram Parsons and Creedence. We used to go to the Hacienda and be stood with Noel in the bar, having a beer and talking about T-Rex and Crosby, Stills and Nash, while everyone else was gurning and dancing very badly to something or other. We were very set in our ways. We did ok, but we should have gone to America. We supported Neil Young and he came over, shook our hands and said he’d been listening to the album. That was enough for me! We went out with Crazy Horse after the gig and they were these gnarly old dudes in baseball caps saying: ‘You gotta keep the flame burning, man. We’re getting old…’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, we can do that…’ Noel was very supportive – another true gent – and it was great gigging all over the place, thinking we were in The Faces. We were a good band and Greg Griffin [from Proud Mary] was – and still is – an amazing front man. He’s a natural.

After playing in bands for so long, why have you decided to go solo?

NC: I’ve been in various bands over the years – Proud Mary, The Second Floor – that’s Nolan’s band, who I mentioned before – and Folks, whose guitarist and songwriter Michael Beasley directed the video for Oslo. He’s a good friend and a very talented songwriter. Their debut album I See Cathedrals is a classic. I only work with the best…

I did a solo record because it was time. The band thing is over for me. I’m on my own now and I’m just getting going. I’m in it for the long haul…

So, what’s next? Can we expect a tour and some live dates?

NC: Not a tour, but some choice dates for the album launch. I’ve got a couple of excellent musicians backing me up and I’ll hopefully be playing some festivals next year. Watch this space.

 What would you like to achieve with this record and in the future? Have you got big ambitions?

NC: Like I said before  – I just want to make some music that’s true, which has something to say and that sounds amazing. I’m under no illusions about the state of the music industry. So long as people like you are digging it and spreading the word, then let’s see where it goes…

Nev Cottee’s debut album Stations is released on October 28.