I met Clive at university. He had a background in psychology but had decided to go back to uni to study acting. I was playing a ‘Lord’ in A Winter’s Tale. I was effectively an extra in the play, and had limited my character development to growing a beard, so my attention tended to wander and I for some reason distinctly recall Clive (playing Polixenes) saying the line “Make me not sighted like the basilisk.” I used to look forward to that line. It was a highlight, along with Barbara Fordham metamorphosing from a statue back into a woman.
Clive was aware I was a musician as well as a later-adolescent ‘Lord’ so we must have talked and played together in the basement dressing room of the Princess Theatre. He had a lovely tenor voice: warm and bright. My voice, as ever, was less interesting, but slotted in as a harmonist. As university came to a close and the likelihood of us all being unemployed came into sharp focus, we talked about getting work as a duo.
We worked up a set, really just drawing on material that we liked and that would work with two voices and jangly 12-string guitar accompaniment. Singer-songwriter material dominated, but we took a bower-bird approach, collecting anything that would work. Simon and Garfunkel. Crowded House. I knew we were OK when I heard Clive sing Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’. It’s quite possible that k.d. lang’s version was the reason it ended up in our set. While we shared a lot of reference points, we learned a lot from each other. I’d never heard of Joni Mitchell before.
We were at our best playing big-melodied, harmony-soaked west-coast strumalongs from the commercial end of the spectrum: things that drew on the singer-songwriter genre without getting too complicated. We used to play a lot of America, which, while it’s pretty daggy, is hard to dislike.
Once we had a half-hour set, we did a gig out at St Lucia in a café called The Cat’s Tango on spec but nothing happened with that. Clive, being a bit older than me, and a local, actually knew one or two people and he arranged for us to play acoustically at a coffee shop called Aromas.
Many interesting buildings in Brisbane had been knocked down by the conservative government, but this one survived, in part. Nestled in the mezzanine foyer of the Regent Theatre, built in the 1920’s, it was on the way into a cinema, surrounded by gold columns and a tacky, but opulent rendering of a kind of gothic cathedral. I drank instant coffee, and had no idea that this shop was one of the first in what would become a wave of coffee houses that would fill the city, simultaneously exploiting both the third-world coffee-growers and the mugs who pay $4 for a warm drink and a sit on a chair. Anyway, Clive and Dave stood in the corner and sang our stuff acoustically at first, shifting out of the way when people came out of the lift and taking instrumental breaks when the coffee grinder screamed.
We recorded a live demo in a studio underneath a guy called Leigh Wayper’s house. Reel to reel. Reverb. I thought it sounded good. The reverb. I wasn’t sure about us at the time. We did a Tracy Chapman song, a Eurythmics song, a Seekers song, and of course, ‘Crying’. Quite daggy, mushy, sensitive material in the scheme of things. We were pretty square but then we weren’t trying to ‘be’ anything in particular other than ourselves. Hence the name, or lack thereof, as it appeared in gig listings. I don’t recall deciding to call ourselves anything. I like the name ‘Clive’. It’s a strong name. Here are a couple of the tracks from the demo, dubbed from cassette: The tape and free gigs must have worked. Before long we were offered money to play – what seemed like quite a lot at the time. Each time we’d hire a small PA off our friend Linus, set it up, play our sets, pack it up, drop it off and go home. Two or three sets. A night’s work. It came close to paying the rent.
Coffee got ‘hotter’ and Aromas was expanding, both in the city, and with branches at both the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. We played all these places as well, driving up and down in Clive’s old orange Renault. We kept rehearsing, working up new material over at his big old house on Rouen Road. We’d work out how to arrange it into ‘sets’ that worked and allowed us to sustain both our energy and the audience’s interest over a night. I’d type them up. The setlist. Lyrics would go into a plastic-sleeve folder, but I carried the chords in my head.
Regulars started coming to see us. We learned about tuning into each other musically as well as getting used to shifting in and out of the sonic background as appropriate. I liked the long drive to work and chatting in the car with Clive. It was a relaxed relationship, with defined roles. And I was getting inside dozens and dozens of songs, working out how they were put together, and what it meant to ‘put them over’ live.
My best friend Susan worked at a grim nursing home on Gregory Terrace and thought a bit of music might brighten the place up a bit, so we did a free gig for the residents. I felt awkward, like we didn’t belong. Even more so when an old blind lady in a night-dress decided to dance. I think we were playing a Seekers song. Packing up, I had no way of reflecting on how the performance might have been received. We were used to very different audiences. Susan told us after our departure that we were the talk of the home. And that Ivy, the lady in the nightie, hadn’t moved or expressed much at all in the months prior to our mini-concert, so her participation/performance was remarkable for reasons we couldn’t have known. We later played a very quiet gig for a crowd of one – Clive’s ailing dad, on his eightieth. Older people liked our music.
I sometimes wonder what kind of entertainers will come our way when my generation’s confined to aged care facilities. Will young musicians come and play us Oasis songs and think we’ll like them? Or will we be plugged into some kind of apparatus that keeps us musically sedated? I hope there’s a broadcasting service similar to 4MBS’s Silver Memories that plays Smiths songs. I wonder if ‘I Know it’s Over’ will be on the playlist. Music and memory are so intertwined. Certainly our recollections of record collections had been a major driver of Clive and Daves’ repertoire, which was rooted in the singer-songwriter tradition of the 1960’s and 70’s.
By 1992 my work as an actor/musician looked like it was going to keep going. I was often in rehearsals. Clive had attempted to gather together a collective of performers and others to create work. I’d been involved, but it had been a bit of a fizzer, with everybody pulling in different directions, but nobody being experienced enough to articulate why. He continued with his sideline in counseling/psychology, performing and making theatre as able. I’d started getting touring work as a performer, so I was away a lot, which probably contributed to our ceasing work as a duo. I had started writing songs, but had a sense that they wouldn’t work in this setting. Neither of us wanted to push it further.
Through this work, and it was ‘work’, I’d started to learn about harmony and accompaniment. Musical and otherwise.