BACKSTAGE PASS Alan Clark: Dire Straits Keyboard Player… And Much More
To Be Published In Goldmine Magazine
LONDON, ENGLAND - Englishman Alan Clark is widely known as the original keyboard player for Dire Straits, joining the band shortly before the recording of Making Movies in 1980. Alan would become an important element of the band's sound, his influence shining through on such classic releases as Love Over Gold, the live album Alchemy and the hugely successful Brothers In Arms.
Along with Dire Straits, however, Clark's resume is quite impressive, having recorded and performed with a "who's-who" of musical legends including Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Van Morrison, Elton John and Roger Daltry. Not to mention numerous musical scores written for films and television.
Most recently, Clark devised the idea of joining forces with two other former members of Dire Straits-guitarist Phil Palmer and saxophonist Chris Wood-to create the one-off band The Straits in 2010. After a successful debut show at the famed Royal Albert Hall in May, The Straits are ready to embark on a 10-date tour of the U.K. in October, billed as The Sound Of Dire Straits". Goldmine recently caught up with Clark as The Straits prepare for their up-coming jaunt across the UK.
Some quick background information please… where are you from and what formal
education might you have?
Alan Clark: I was born in Durham, a city with a magnificent Gothic cathedral in northern England,then I spent most of my youth about ten miles north of there, in Chester-le Street, County Durham. I started piano lessons when I was six, which lasted about three years and almost put me off music altogether.
After a couple of years in the wilderness, I started teaching myself then took some formal training again while I was at college. Being able to read(music)has been a great help at times but other than that, just about everything else that has been of benefit in my career was self-taught.
Who were your musical influences as a youngster?
AC: Anything and everything. We didn't have a record player but I listened to the radio a fair bit. My dad was a big Sinatra fan, so there's a bit of that in me; the Beatles were an influence;"Whiter Shade of Pale" made as much of an impact on me as it did on Paul McCartney, by all accounts;Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" was another memorable influence-I thought at the time it was the wildest thing I'd ever heard. I had the good fortune to be able to tell Tina that some years later when I became her musical director.
You joined Dire Straits just after the recording of "Making Movies" in 1980. How did joining the band come about?
AC: Mark(Knopfler)brought in Roy Bittan from Bruce Springsteen's E Street band to play keyboards on that album and needed someone to play keys on the subsequent Tour. I was recommended by, I believe, Gallagher and Lyle's manager. Once we got into rehearsals and I started messing around with the arrangements, the rest as they say, is history.
Dire Straits' popularity would explode with the subsequent albums "Love Over Gold", "Alchemy" and "Brothers In Arms". How would you describe the influence you brought during this peak time period for the band?
AC: Mark got me involved to expand the band's sound. He and I would arrive at rehearsals an hour or two before the others, to play me(on acoustic guitar)the new song we were going to work on that day. By the time the band arrived, we'd have worked up intros and arrangements and would continue to develop them each time the band played the tunes.
So, Mark wrote the songs; I had a lot to do with the arrangements and instrumental passages that developed thereafter. So, I guess I did have a fair bit to do with the band's sound.
In 1983 you played on Bob Dylan's "Infidels" album and the follow up "Empire Burlesque".How did you connect with Dylan and what stands out about those recording sessions?
AC: Mark was booked to produce Bob's "Infidels" album and brought me in on keyboards. A year or so later, I happened to be in New York when Bob was recording "Empire Burlesque" and I popped into the studio to see him, and ended up playing on a couple of tracks.
I'd spent a fair bit of my time lying on my floor listening to his "Desire" album when it came out in '76, so to be playing on his records was a bit special. I remember closing my eyes when we were recording one of the early "Infidels" tracks, and … well, it was special moment.
I found Bob to be a warm, friendly person… and fascinating. He kept a book on my Hammond organ-which was the nearest flat surface to his vocal mic-in which he would write lines of words of what I presumed was a new song… in tiny handwriting… often immediately after having sung a track. How do you do
You also played a large role in Tina Turner's success as the musical director and arranger for her "Private Dancer " album. How did you come about working with Tina?
AC: Mark wrote and we, Dire Straits, recorded the song "Private Dancer" during the Love Over Gold sessions. Again, I had a lot to do with the arrangement. It sounded a bit weird having a bloke, Mark, singing that song, so he gave it and another song from that album called "Iron Hand", to Tina. Tina asked if we(Dire Straits)would record the tracks with her. We ended up doing them without Mark but with Jeff Beck.
I was musical director for the session and Tina also needed a musical for her forthcoming U.S. tour. She asked me if I'd join her, which I did, and during that tour her album went to number one… it was a special time.
Soon after that Eric Clapton rang me up and asked me to join his band, which meant I couldn't stay with Tina, but I continued as her consultant musical director for some years.
In 2010 you reunited with other former Dire Straits members Phil Palmer and Chris White to form The Straits. How did this reunion come about?
AC: In 2009, Chris White called and asked me if I'd be interested in playing an outdoor gig in December at the top of a ski mountain in the Italian Dolomites. An Italian friend of his had a band that played predominately Dire Straits' music. Initially, I wasn't keen at all but when he told me Dire Straits' bass player John Illsley was also involved I thought what the hell.
Amazingly, even though access to the mountain top was via a cable car, over 1000 people managed to make it up there to see us. Then, some months later, we were persuaded to do another one, this time in a village an hour or so out of Rome, to which about 5000 people turned up. I guess this awakened something in me.
I was then approached to put a band together for a charity show at the Albert Hall, and called a few friends including Steve Ferrone(Tom Petty's band),Phil Palmer and Chris White from Dire Straits and an amazingly talented singer and guitarist named Terence Reis… and The Straits were born.
Are there any thoughts about The Straits entering the studio in the future or perhaps touring the United States?
The response from the Albert Hall audience was so extraordinary that we decided we couldn't leave it there, so we've put together a U.K. tour that starts in October, with a European tour thereafter. We intend to introduce one or two new songs into the set during the UK tour, then make an album next year. A U.S. tour following is uppermost in our minds.
Following The Straits' debut show at the Royal Albert Hall in May 2011, original Dire Straits members Alan Clark(keyboards), Phil Palmer(guitar)and Chris White(saxophone), will embark on a 10-date October UK tour due to the overwhelming demand to hear the band's catalogue of unforgettable songs.
Billed as 'The Sound of Dire Straits', the tour starts at the Birmingham Symphony Hall on October 3rd. 24 Hour Box Office: 0844 811 0051. Book Online: http://www.gigsandtours.com www.gigsandtours.com. Visit the official site: http://www.thestraits.com www.thestraits.com.