Gold Heart by Rachel Pico
Sleevenotes for The Heart Sings
Walking The Celtic Line With Terry Clarke by Stuart Bailie
It's Christmas in Belfast, 1991 and you're drinking late into the night with your pal Terri Hooley - the owner of the Good Vibrations record label, the man who put out The Undertones' first single way back in '78, the only person you know who rhymes "Rastafari" with "Ulster Fry". But there's no punk music tonight - Hooley's rampaging through his house, pulling out dub reggae, folk and spoken word LPs, riffing between Richard Harris, The Mighty Diamonds, Elvis and Judy Collins, revealing lots of cool musical possibilities, laughing, smoking and gassing off. Suddenly, he pulls a CD out of the pile and grins. You realise that he's about to drop something special into your life.
"Remember that guy we saw at the Weavers Arms in London, Terry Clarke?"
Sure, you say. He was supporting Darden Smith, the country singer. Terry Clarke was from Reading, Berkshire, but he sang like his heart belonged in Sligo, Ireland, and his bones were happiest in Austin, Texas. He had the twang and the croon of a good rockin' boy. He told story songs about loners, free-wheelers and passionate homecomings. He was a sentimental soul and wasn't the least embarrassed about it -instead, he wanted you to feel all of those emotional possibilities too. He got you thinking of bloodlines and relations, of epic sessions and shorelines, expanses of space and time.
"Here, listen to this."
You're hearing Terry Clarke's just released album, 'The Shelley River', and already those songs are moving your imagination. 'Detroit To Dingle' is potent like a short story, as the old priest thinks about solitude and escape from his fierce, violent life in Michigan. Somehow, you're thinking of Karl Maiden in 'On The Waterfront'. There's another song called 'American Lipstick' that just slays you, it's so sadly observed. The emigrants have a better lifestyle outside of Ireland, but they leave a hole in the lives of their people back East. Terry captures the tale with bits of dialogue, shifting scenes and reminiscing voices. It's reminds you of the first time you heard Bruce winding through 'Nebraska', Van's 'Veedon Fleece' or Shane's 'Poguetry In Motion'. Deep and strange and affecting. You're thinking too of that Bob Dylan line about "road maps of the soul", because that's definitely part of the deal as well.
For the next few years, you keep this record dear to you. You pick up on his theme of the "Celtic line" - some imaginary marker that draws you back to the old places, even though oceans and mountain ranges may get in the way. You see Terry play live on many occasions, and you realise that he's a prodigious writer. At every gig, he's introducing new songs - stories about his career and his travels and chance meetings. He's like an old-fashioned almanac writer - singing his life as it unravels.
The details of Terry's career begin to emerge. Born just after the war in Reading, to Irish parents. Raised on the Everlys, Eddie Cochran and Johnny Cash. After wood-shedding in rock groups, folk clubs and soul bands, he finds himself playing the Radcliffe Arms, Oxford, with American strummers like Steve Young, Guy Clarke and Flaco Jiminez. By the late '80s, he's become friends with word-spinning Texans such as Butch Hancock and Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and he's working on his first LP, 'Call Up A Hurricane' in Austin, which is eventually released in 1990. Terry understands the idiom of the music and the humour of the people over there. It's a fine record.
After 'The Shelley River' in '91, Terry tours plenty and works on a rowdy tribute album with his friend, Michael Messer, a cool man on the slide guitar. They bring the blues of Muddy Waters and Mississippi Fred McDowell up the Thames Valley, adding their own personalities to the trip. They call it 'Rhythm Oil' in honour of the classic Southern writer Stanley Booth, who eventually comes across it and declares that it's "really good". A pre-release tape of the album also makes it over to Nashville. Johnny Cash hears it, likes it, and agrees to write the sleeve-notes. "What I hear is the real thing," Johnny reckons. "This record carried me down away to a long time ago, down a Delta dirt road to a land of musical good-old-daysing."
Fast forward to Saint Patrick's Night, 1996, and Terry's playing a gig at the Mean Fiddler in Dublin. He's supporting his old amigo Joe Ely, and is thoroughly enjoying the chance to play a lot of new songs. He finishes off and walks backstage. There, he meets Bruce Springsteen., who's dropped by to see his friend Ely. The New Jersey boy has actually been listening to the show. Bruce says a lot of encouraging stuff and talks to Terry about technique and songwriting and 12 string Gibsons. He invites him to meet up again at the Albert Hall later in the year, and on this occasion, he's even more friendly and forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Terry's working on his new album, 'The Heart Sings'. Some of the songs are re-recordings of favourites from 'The Shelly River'. On 'American Lipstick', he shares a duet with Rosie Flores, emphasising the transatlantic theme. The new tracks carry the degree of skill and soul-power you've come to expect from his writing by now.
Another Bob Dylan phrase comes to mind when you think of Terry Clarke. It's the idea of a "secret hero" - an artist who might not have an immediate hip value - who stands outside the ephemeral nature of the music industry. But still this person matters to those that hear and admire the songs. Terry Clarke matters because he writes beautiful songs that take you places. And because he sings it all from the heart.
By Stuart Bailie
Photograph by Alan Messer
Song notes for The Heart Sings
The Rocks of Ireland
I picked up a Sunburst 1963 Gibson 12 string guitar a few years ago, all of the new songs on this record were written on it ... the old songs sound better on it too ... miles and miles of Irish road ... with Henry McCullough who kept me safe and showed me secret places in the rocks ... shared stories of the old days in Dublin and of drinks in Morrisey’s in Abbeyleix ....wish that Blind Willie McTell could have seen Connemara ... this song’s for him.
Simon Price has kicked drums and spun rhythms through my songs for a long, long time now ... his percussion solo on this is one of my favourite moments on anything I’ve recorded.
Detroit to Dingle
For Father Daniel O’Sullivan.
Back to the Well
Played a lot of sessions with Ron Kavana and piper Paddy Keenan during the Edmonton Festival in 94 ... this song was born from a conversation with Paddy and was written in the departure lounge of Calgary airport ... Rosie poured water on the baby’s head.
The Shelly River
My father and his family are from the banks of the River Moly, just outside Tobercurry in County Sligo. The Irish spelling of Sligo is Sligeach meaning ‘shelly place’ from when the waters contained plentiful mussels. The song Sligo Honeymoon 1946 on the original album The Shelly River was based upon a photograph of my parents on honeymoon, picking cockles off the beach at Strand Hill, Sligo Bay.
Walk With Me
As I remember this was the last new song of mine that a good friend heard me sing before she passed away in the summer of 95. It’s for Ann Moore and my wish is that it reaches her now.
Looking for You, The Heart Sings and Blue Honey
These three songs are the heart and motor of the record. The west coast of Ireland, Sicily and the American south & southwest ... real and imagined, are my favourite places to visit. The voice of Elvis , the shimmer of Gene Vincent’s records, Bo Diddley’s rhythms, the harmonies of Don & Phil Everly feel like extra characters in the alphabet now.
I saw Bo Diddley play in Dublin during the summer of 95 while on tour with Rosie Flores. She had sat in with him on guitar before and took me backstage to meet him afterwards.
I was working on The Heart Sings at the time.
There was a lot of love in that room on Wexford Street that night ... in the rhythm ... in the people ... hear Bo Diddley sing Mona on a hot summer night in Dublin and you’ve got to believe ... in love ... the possibility of love ... sometimes it hurts but it’s always worth it.
With this record I wanted to make a thing of beauty ... in the midst of violence, the blues, deprivation, hard work and debts ... to try and speak for and of beauty ... of the big blue beautiful dark honeycomb of love.
Bruce Channel In This Town
I say Bruce Channel play at the Majestic ballroom in Reading when I was still at school ... his single Hey! Baby was and he came over to the UK to tour. I wanted to write the event into the song Hometown on The Shelly River but could never make it work.
Then a few years later in 93 while on tour with Michael Messer and Jesse Taylor to promote Rhythm Oil - the album we did together, we did a low key acoustic show in a little backstreet bar called The Dove in Reading.
Afterwards I drove Jesse around town , showing him where I grew up ... showing him where I’d seen Johnny Burnette play ... Gene Vincent ... Cream ... Freddie Cannon ... and Bruce Channel with Delbert McClinton on harmonica ... I think by the time we got back home the song was done.
Bruce Channel has a great track called Roller Coaster on a 95 release by the Memphis Horns which I love as much as Hey! Baby.
The Edge of Shamrock City, American Lipstick & Irish Rockabilly Blues
Songs of the American Wake ... songs of the Shebeen ... these songs have made a lot of friends since I first wrote and recorded them on The Shelly River ... they seem to swagger when they walk and laugh when they talk a lot more now ... in the hands of the Rising Sun Conjurors they rock & reel & roll.
I carried on writing Irish Rockabilly Blues after I cut it the first time ... so this version has a lot more verses not heard before and it’s still not finished.
My friend Ron Kavana from Fermoy, County Cork has done a great version of The Edge of Shamrock City on his album Galway to Graceland ... this new recording of it was coloured by his treatment.
American Lipstick ... Rosie Flores wears a Claddagh ring, she loves Ireland and it loves her.
The Last Rhythm
Goodnight, sleep tight, God bless ... the heart sings.
Dedicated to the memory of John Delahunty