‘We haven’t got the budget for playing in full, late ‘60s West Coast regalia and Roger McGuinn wigs!’

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The Raving Beauties – photograph by John Morgan

Late last year, jangle-pop project The Raving Beauties, the brainchild of Belfast writer Brian Bell, who is now based in Brighton, teamed up with Oxford band The Dreaming Spires to release Raving For Bap, a 10in limited vinyl EP dedicated to singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy, who died in late 2016.

The record features five of Bap’s songs, which The Raving Beauties have made their own. The opening track, Walk In Love, is a joyous, chiming guitar anthem that’s befitting of The Byrds, while Moriarty’s Blues is a gorgeous, folky shuffle. The Way I Love Her is infectious, organ-driven power-pop, Hard Street is a down and out ballad with a country feel and Lonesome Lullaby is another Byrdsian belter – 12-string guitars, heavenly harmonies and a life-affirming chorus.

I spoke to Brian to find out more about the EP and to clear up some confusion over how the mysterious ‘fictitious’ band, The Raving Beauties, came into being…

Q & A

Let’s talk about your recent five-track EP, Raving For Bap, which was a tribute to Belfast singer-songwriter, Bap Kennedy (Energy Orchard), who died from cancer in 2016. Proceeds from the record are being donated to Belfast’s Marie Curie Hospice. How did the EP come about?

Brian Bell: I’d known Bap since the early Noughties, when a mutual friend, James Walbourne [The Rails, The Pretenders] introduced us on the basis that because we both came from Belfast, we’d probably get on, which we did, very much so. Aside from being such a talented guy, Bap was a very genuine, kind person and great company – his self-deprecating wit and killer one-liners were something to behold.

Before meeting him, I’d been aware of his music and really admired it. I really loved and connected with songs like Sailortown and Sweet Irish Rose, off the first Energy Orchard album, and I’d bought his Domestic Blues album when it first came out.

In the years that I was seeing Bap most regularly, I’ve fond memories of his legendary Sunday gigs at the Boogaloo in Highgate, North London, where he’d be mixing up his own stuff with Elvis and Hank Williams covers. Everybody would be lapping it up and the craic was tremendous.

In more recent years, I’d kept in touch with Bap when he moved back to Holywood in Northern Ireland and always looked forward to meeting up with him whenever I was back home visiting family.

‘I’ve fond memories of Bap’s legendary Sunday gigs at the Boogaloo in Highgate, where he’d be mixing up his own stuff with Elvis and Hank Williams covers’

When we lost Bap to cancer, in November 2016, it was obviously a very upsetting and difficult time for everyone who knew and loved him. In the months after his passing, he was on my mind a lot and I guess my appreciation of his songs had deepened, which is probably when the idea for a tribute record started hatching. Bap’s widow Brenda has been doing an amazing job of looking after his legacy and continuing to share and celebrate his music, so I hope we can add to that in some way. It was also important from the outset that the record would be a fundraiser for the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast, as Bap’s family think the world of the staff there for the care they gave Bap towards the end of his life.

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The EP is a collaboration between The Raving Beauties and Oxford band The Dreaming Spires. What’s your relationship? How did you end up working together? 

BB: In 2016, The Dreaming Spires included The Raving Beauties track Arrows on the guest artist side of their Paisley Overground 12in mini album and we were on the same label – At The Helm – at the time. We did a launch gig for the record together in Brighton, which went really well.

My friendship with the guys started there and we ended up doing another gig together as The Raving Beauties at Truck Festival in 2016, which was a lot of fun. I’d chatted with Joe Bennett [from The Dreaming Spires] about recording some new songs together, but with Bap being on my mind so much, I felt a tribute EP was what we should do next.

Luckily, Joe and the rest of the guys – Robin Bennett, Tom Collison and Fin Kenny – were well up for it, so we all got together at Joe’s studio in Oxford last Spring to start working on it, with Joe producing. There was a great vibe and a lovely spirit of camaraderie, which I hope comes across on the record.

With the EP, you and The Dreaming Spires have put your own spin on Bap’s songs – there’s a US West Coast, ‘60s jangle-pop feel to some of the songs. How did you approach the tracks and how did you decide which ones to cover?

BB: Joe, wisely I think, didn’t want to get too swayed by listening to Bap’s originals – he just wanted me to turn up with the chords and lyrics, so we could try to put our own stamp on them. You’re right about the American West Coast influence, and I suppose the idea was broadly along the lines of imagining how Bap’s songs might have been interpreted by a Californian guitar band in the late ‘60s. I can’t be too coy about the likes of Spirit, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Monkees, Love and The Youngbloods all being an influence.

In terms of choosing songs, it was a case of picking songs I particularly loved that I imagined could also lend themselves to being done in a different way. There are other Bap songs that I love just as much, but I don’t feel would necessarily suit being re-worked in that style.

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I want to ask you about the origins of The Raving Beauties. I’ve heard a rumour that the band doesn’t really exist – it’s fictitious… Can you clear this up?

BB: In the last 10 years, I’ve got into writing fiction – I did a Creative Writing MA and had a pulp fiction novella – Die Hard Mod – published under the pen name Charlie McQuaker.

One of my short stories that I’d read at spoken word nights in Brighton was called The Unsung Classic, which was about an ill-fated retro band of the ‘90s called The Raving Beauties. I remember a lot of ‘60s time warp guys hanging around Brighton, who’d based their whole image on Gene Clark circa 1967 – that scene inspired the story. I then had the idea to make an EP of what this fictitious band might have sounded like and managed to convince Gordon Grahame – an incredibly gifted Scottish singer-songwriter/producer – to collaborate with me on some recordings.

‘I remember a lot of ‘60s time warp guys hanging around Brighton, who’d based their whole image on Gene Clark circa 1967’

In 2015, The Raving Beauties released their debut album of ‘60s-inspired guitar pop….

BB: The original plan was to put a vinyl EP out as a ‘benign hoax’, purporting to be the lost recordings of some long-forgotten retro band called The Raving Beauties, but when I sent the tracks to Jim Walker, after his At The Helm label had just been launched, he said he loved the songs, but would only release something if we made a full album.

That gave myself and Gordon the impetus to go back into his home studio and, in a relatively short time, we came up with something that I’m still pretty proud of.

The finished album was a mix of my songs, Gordon’s songs and a few co-writes that came together really quickly. My abiding memory is of it being a huge buzz, like being a teenager again. We had this in-joke when something was going particularly well, when we’d just look at each other, do the double thumbs-up and say ”Brilliant!” in a comedy Scottish accent.

I knew at the time that Gordon was doing me a big favour by indulging me with this strange project and it was always pretty much with the understanding that it would be a one-off for him, but we’re still mates and it’s totally got his blessing that I’m keeping the project going. The plan is to make another album this year with the musicians from Raving For Bap and other collaborators.

The Raving Beauties have a gig coming up. You’re playing the Ramblin’ Roots Revue festival in April (6-8, Bucks Students Union, High Wycombe). What can we expect?

BB: The plan is to do the Raving For Bap EP, plus some songs from the first album – The ‘Spires boys have kindly signed up to be honorary Raving Beauties.

I wish I could say we’ll be doing the set in full, late ‘60s West Coast regalia and we’ll all be sporting Roger McGuinn wigs, but, unfortunately, we haven’t budgeted for that!

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The Raving Beauties – photograph by John Morgan

Any plans to hold a tribute gig for Bap?

BB: Yes – we’re hatching a plan and hopefully will be able to confirm something soon. Fundraising-wise, we’ve joined forces with Bap’s sister, Marian, who has already raised over £2,000 for the hospice, and we’ve set ourselves the target of raising a grand total of £5,600 by June 17,when Bap would have been 56

What does the rest of 2018 hold for The Raving Beauties?

BB: Some Girls from The Raving Beauties’ first album is getting another lease of life thanks to You Are The Cosmos including it on their next 12 String High vinyl compilation. which is due out in April/May. I always felt that song could make an impact if it reached the right ears, so fingers crossed, it will happen this time around… I’ll also soon be starting work with the guys on the new Raving Beauties album. We want to retain some of the jangle, but get a lot more adventurous, too.

Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently digging?

BB: I tend to mainly listen to instrumental stuff, particularly ‘50s jazz, so the likes of John Coltrane, Oliver Nelson, Miles Davis and Chet Baker are on the stereo a lot. For anyone who likes that kind of thing, I’d recommend the soundtrack to Listen Up Philip by Keegan DeWitt.

‘We want to retain some of the jangle, but get a lot more adventurous, too’

Another soundtrack that I keep coming back to is The Hired Hand by Bruce Langhorne, which is such a sparse, haunting and beautiful piece of music.

I’m always hoping to hear a new killer pop song on the radio, but, to be honest, the last one that really jumped out at me was Mean Streets by Tennis from a few year back.

I think Fleet Foxes are probably the band that has impressed me most in recent years, closely followed by Temples. I’ve loved Nick Drake and John Martyn since I was a teenager and that’s something I’ve been coming back to a lot recently too.

Bap’s album The Sailor’s Revenge has been another constant. It’s his masterpiece and deserves to be in any ‘Top 10 Greatest Irish Albums of All Time’ list.

 

Raving For Bap by The Raving Beauties is out now on Farm Music – more info here.

The band’s self-titled debut album is currently available from At The Helm Records. 

The Raving Beauties will be playing at The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe: April 6-8.

More information here:  https://www.bucksstudentsunion.org/ramblinrootsrevue/ 

 

 

It’s a jangle out there…

The Hanging Stars

The Hanging Stars

What better way to banish the post-Christmas winter blues than by blasting out some sublime jangle-pop… and there’s plenty of it about.

Three of my favourite new albums of 2018 so far ring like the Bells of Rhymney and owe a large debt to the chiming, 12-string Rickenbacker sound of The Byrds.

Coincidentally, as I’m sitting down to write this article, it happens to be ‘Blue Monday’ – (January 15), supposedly the most depressing day of the year, so it’s a perfect time to lose myself in some gorgeous, shimmering sounds.

Songs For Somewhere Else, the brilliant second album by London psych-folk-country band – and Say It With Garage Flowers favourites –  The Hanging Stars – opens with the beautiful On A Sweet Summer’s Day, which creeps up on you like the first rays of the morning sun – a hazy, lazy ballad with pedal steel guitar and a hypnotic, Spiritualized-like groove.

The album’s first single, Honeywater, has a Big Star feel, the galloping Gram Parsons country-rock of For You (My Blue Eyed Son) could easily sit on The Byrds’ cult classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo, while Mean Old Man doffs its cowboy hat to Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks.

Look out for an interview with The Hanging Stars – and a more in-depth piece about the album – on Say It With Garage Flowers soon.

Staffordshire four-piece Alfa 9 could be cosmic cousins of The Hanging Stars – they both share a love of psychedelic sounds and if you compared their record collections, I’m sure you’d find they both own plenty of albums by The Byrds and The Beatles, as well as cool, cult ‘60s film scores.

My Sweet Movida, the third album by Alfa 9, immediately takes the listener on a trip back to 1966 with the first song Smile Dog – think Revolver-era Fab Four, but with a harder, rockier edge.

Different Corner is a killer jangle-pop song and the moody Movida is The Byrds doing a Spaghetti Western theme – McGuinn meets Morricone. You certainly get your fistful of dollars’ worth with this album – there are yet more cinematic cowboy sounds on Darkest Sea, which is haunting gothic country.

The Byrds are also circling over the superb self-titled debut record by Bennett Wilson Poole – a supergroup formed by Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and The Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (Starry Eyed and Laughing, who have been called ‘the English Byrds’).

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Bennett Wilson Poole

Created in rural Oxfordshire, it was produced by 12-string Rickenbacker maestro Poole. High on harmonies and brimming with backwards guitar effects and soulful songs, it’s a shining light in these dark times that we’re living in, but it doesn’t shy away from tackling social issues – the blistering, anthemic protest rock of Hate Won’t Win addresses the murder of politician Jo Cox and brings to mind Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Ohio, while the beautiful, sensitive, stripped-down ballad Hide Behind A Smile deals with depression.

High on harmonies and brimming with backwards guitar effects and soulful songs, it’s a shining light in these dark times, but it doesn’t shy away from tackling social issues – the blistering, anthemic protest rock of Hate Won’t Win addresses the murder of politician Jo Cox’

Things lighten up with the irresistible, bouncy sunshine pop of Wilson General Store, but the record ends with a brooding, dark and stormy, ragged Neil Young-style epic guitar workout called Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself) – its lyric even name-checks Young’s 1974 album On The Beach.

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It would be wrong to write an article on jangle-pop without mentioning UK label Sugarbush Records, which continues to put out great, vinyl-only releases by bands whose ‘60s and ‘70s musical influences tend to be found in the ‘B’ section of a record shop – namely The Byrds, Big Star, The Beatles and The Beachboys.

Carlisle group Kontiki Suite fall firmly into that category – their 2015 album, The Greatest Show On Earth, which is the follow-up to their 2013 debut, On Sunset Lake, has been re-released on limited edition vinyl by Sugarbush, and is an essential listen if you dig psychedelic jangle-pop.

Harking back to the 1968 masterpiece The Notorious Byrd Brothers, there are gleaming guitar lines (Bring Our Empire Down), cool, country-rock cuts (the harmonica and pedal steel-flavoured My Own Little World and Pages of My Mind) and cosmic voyages (Burned), but also a hint of late ‘80s indie with the sweet, blissed-out Here For You Now, which sounds like it’s been hanging out in The Stone Roses’ Mersey Paradise.

Set the Rickenbackers for the heart of the sun and welcome to the jangle…

Songs For Somewhere Else by The Hanging Stars is out on February 16, on Crimson Crow: http://thehangingstars.com/

My Sweet Movida by Alfa 9 will be available from March 9. It’s on Blow Up Records: http://www.blowup.co.uk/records

Bennett Wilson Poole is released on April 6 on Aurora Records: More info at https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/bennett-wilson-poole

The Greatest Show On Earth by Kontiki Suite is available now on limited edition vinyl [only 300 copies]: Sugarbush Records: http://www.sugarbushrecords.com/2017/06/kontiki-suite-greatest-show-on-earth.html

https://kontikisuite.bandcamp.com/

 

Cosmic Americana Music

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London’s The Hanging Stars have made one of the best albums of this year.

Recorded in LA, Nashville and, er, Walthamstow,  Over The Silvery Lake – their debut record – is a gorgeous psych-folk-pop-country-rock masterpiece that owes a debt to The Byrds and the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons, but also Fairport Convention’s pastoral ’60s English tune-smithery.

Willows weep, ships set sail on the sea and songs are laced with pedal steel guitar and shot through with blissed-out harmonies. There are hazy, lazy, shimmering summer sounds  (I’m No Good Without You and Crippled Shining Blues), as well as brooding desert-rock (The House On The Hill], trippy mystical adventures (Golden Vanity) and, on the closing track, the beautiful Running Waters Wide, rippling piano is accompanied by bursts of groovy flute. 

In an exclusive interview, I spoke to singer, guitarist and songwriter Richard Olson (The See See, Eighteenth Day of May) and bassist Sam Ferman (The See See and The Lightshines) about the making of Over The Silvery Lake and found out that its follow-up – due out next year – is almost done and dusted. Cosmic, eh?

Your debut album, Over The Silvery Lake, was released in March 2016. It’s one of my favourite records of the last 12 months. This year has been a bad one for the wider world, but how’s it been for The Hanging Stars?

Sam Ferman: We’re going to be a footnote to Trump…. It feels like 2016’s been a bit of a whirlwind. It doesn’t feel that long ago that Rich had an idea about taking the music that we were doing at the time somewhere different and creating a new band. From recording the album in LA, finishing it off, having it released and going round France and Spain and heading to Germany… We’ve packed a lot in.

Richard Olson: To be honest, I didn’t expect for us to get the kind of reception that we’ve been getting. There were so many bits that fell into place with the album. I’ve been in quite a few bands and projects and the best ones haven’t been too try-hard. Don’t get me wrong, we work very hard, but it’s a natural harmony.

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Can you tell me about the songwriting process behind the album? Do you all write songs?

Sam: Most of the record was ideas that Rich brought to us. We had the benefit of spending quite a lot of time working out what we wanted to do with them. Rich was quite keen on taking it somewhere different, which is where the pedal steel, violin and flute got involved. We broadened our horizons and didn’t restrict it to just a three person, guitar pop band. We made it more pastoral, folky and country-infused, which was really exciting.

Are you guys into the classic country-rock bands?

Richard: Of course – I’ve always been obsessed with The Byrds and Gram Parsons. Our guitar player, Patrick [Ralla  – banjo, guitar and assorted instruments] is a real country connoisseur – he really knows his shit.

Sam: It’s been exciting for me. As a kid, I was never that into country stuff – Rich got me into it. Me and Rich and Paulie  [Cobra – drummer] – and, maybe to a lesser extent, Patrick  and Joe  [Harvey White – pedal steel] are interested in psychedelic music. It’s been really interesting trying to see what you can do with a psychedelic twist on the country thing. When I was playing music seven or eight years ago, there were no psych bands around, apart from my one and Rich’s one – now there are dozens. It’s interesting to see how far you can push it and mix it with prog-folk and the Fairport Convention thing.

Richard: As much as we like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the English folk revival of the late ‘60s is just as important for us – Fairport Convention, Pentangle and John Renbourn.

Your album was made in LA, Nashville and Walthamstow. Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

Richard: We went to LA and said, ‘let’s do some recording’.

Sam: A lot of it crystallised there. There was a lot of talking about what we wanted it to sound like – quite often, it’s very easy to stumble into recording a lot of stuff and then it comes together in a patchwork at the end. We had a coherent vision for the album right from the outset.

‘As much as we like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the English folk revival of the late ‘60s is just as important for us – Fairport Convention, Pentangle and John Renbourn’

 

 

Did you write any of the album in LA?

Sam: We wrote a lot of the parts there. One of the songs – Ruby Red – is based on me and Rich having a jam on a porch in Hollywood. I came up with a riff – we thought it was going to be an acoustic instrumental, but we started messing around with it in rehearsals and it sounded good when it was heavy and electric. Rich went away and wrote the melody and the words.

 

The House On The Hill is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track? I love the twangy guitar riff and the Spaghetti Western vibe…

Richard: Our friend Christof [Certik], who is a bit of a LA/San Francisco legend, wrote that riff. The guys went out on the porch and drank beer and smoked weed, while I had to coach him for four hours. It was hard to get it out of him, but once he did it, it was incredible.

Sam: Like every brilliant guitarist, he’s a perfectionist, but we got there in the end.

Crippled Shining Blues is another highlight of the album. It was also featured on an EP with Oxford band The Dreaming Spires earlier this year…

Richard: I’m really pleased with the way that song came out – it was all done in Walthamstow.

Sam: Rich had the two-chord riff at the start and we just jammed over it and he came up with the guitar riff. There’s a lovely complementary pedal steel riff, too.

 

You’ve been recording your new album? How’s it going?

Richard: We’re almost done – we’re putting the finishing touches to it. We’ve got about 20 songs, we’ll whittle that down to about 11 and then we’ll see if it’s any good…

When do you hope to release it?

Richard: Only the gods know that. Everything is a bit up in the air regarding when the album’s coming out.  It’s a weird time – everything takes absolutely ages, because of bloody Record Store Day. We need to have our stuff out on vinyl. The people who buy our records like vinyl and it’s how we survive on the road – not by eating vinyl, but by selling it.

Your next record will be quite a quick follow-up to your first one…

Sam: I think we started recording the new one before the last one was even out – we like to keep things ticking over. We’ve been busy this year.

What can we expect the new record to sound like?

Richard: I think we’ve found our feet to be honest. The first album was a bit of a stab in the dark and it was very much me, Paulie and Sam…

Sam: We were the genesis of it.

Not the Genesis?

Sam: There’s no Phil Collins…

Richard: Even though I do like Genesis… We’ve taken shape as a live band, with Patrick and Joe on pedal steel. They’ve been very involved with the new album – Patrick’s been co-writing. It’s been much more of a collaborative effort. I do think that the new album is very different, but it’s very much in the same vein musically, I suppose.

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Sam: We’ve done all of it at Bark Studio in Walthamstow, which is where we did about a third of the first album. We’re working with Brian O’Shaughnessy – he’s fantastic. Me, Paulie and Rich live in Walthamstow.

It’s sounding really nice. We had the majority of the album – the core bits – done about nine months ago. We’ve spent the last few months sprinkling the fairy dust on it.  It’s been really nice to see how it’s come together.

Richard: A lot of the recording for the first album was done in LA and we did some overdubs in Nashville. This album has been purely E17, which has been great. Due to the way of the world, it’s so hard to get a two-week chunk of time for recording, so we do a weekend of basics and then we drop in with some other ideas. I’m so chuffed with some of the stuff that we’ve done for the new record. I think it’s bloody good and I really hope that people will be blown away by it.

If you’ll pardon the pun, Christmas is a good time for hanging stars… What are your plans for the festive season?

Sam: Our drummer will be on the other side of the world, but for New Year’s Eve we’ll probably be at the What’s Cookin’ night in Leytonstone, sinking in a Yuletide country vibe.

Richard: We’ll probably be getting slightly off our nuts in some way or another – we don’t mind that at all.

 

Over The Silvery Lake by The Hanging Stars is out now on The Great Pop Supplement/Crimson Crow.

http://www.thehangingstars.com/

https://thehangingstars.bandcamp.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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(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.

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(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.

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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.

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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:  http://foursunsproductions.com/