Remembering Coventry-born Moody Blues producer Tony Clarke
‘A true gentleman with a fast wit and great sense of humour’. These are the words of Mike Pinder, most famously remembered for being a member of pioneering rock band The Moody Blues.
Mike was writing about Coventry born record producer, Tony Clarke, who passed away during January 2010.
Tony was born during the time that the Second World War was affecting the city. During his teens he discovered skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll. This led to him playing in bands like Danny Storm and the Strollers who, at that time, were being managed by Reg Calvert.
Tony found work as an artists and repertoire (A&R) staff member for Decca Records. The A&R division of a record label is also responsible for overseeing the recording process. Functions include finding the right producer and generally working alongside the artist and guiding them through the whole music publishing side of things.
And I am guessing that it was these early associations with Reg Calvert that led to Tony teaming up with Rugby band Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours where he produced the single ‘Mirror Mirror’. This was his and their first chart success.The Moody Blues announce Timeless Flight 2015 tour.
But it is with The Moody Blues and his 12 year association with the band that Tony will long be remembered for. Between them the created seven of the most remarkable records you are ever likely to hear.
And this association began 50 years ago, during 1966, when Decca Records assigned Tony as producer to the ‘new’ line up of the band that now included Justin Hayward and John Lodge alongside core members Graeme Edge, Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder.
Despite receiving no formal training Tony, by all accounts, was inquisitive and eager to learn. He set about personalising his allocated studio to the point that it became specific to the requirements of the ‘Moodies’.
Graeme Edge was quoted as saying that ‘Like the band, Tony was young and enthusiastic. We could have stuck with traditional guys but tony was open to the music and hearing our ideas’.The Moody Blues.
‘1967 Decca Studio 1,was equipped with a custom, 20-channel, wrap-around console,15-inch Tannoy monitors in Lockwood cabinets, and a Studer J37 four-track tape machine and Ampex half-inch four-track. The live area did have swinging panels, where we could have a hardwood surface or absorbent wall tiles, yet part of the key to the sound there was the echo chamber on the roof, there was another one for Studio 2, but none for the big Studio 3, which had been built in 1961 or 1962 and was a bit of a failure. Because of muti-track, there were also four EMT echo plates in the basement that could be switched between Studio 1 and Studio 2, and we had to plug them in to tie lines, as we did for the echo chambers. That meant there were six echo sources for the two studios, and another pair were installed for the remix room that was very close to Studio 3’
For the Moody Blues first LP release with Tony at the helm, ‘Days of Future Past’ Tony introduced cross fading. This is a technique where as one song fades out the next fades in and overlaps for a short period and gives the impression that you are listening to a continuous piece. And this would become a feature for the Moody Blues music.
During 1968 The Moodies encamped themselves in Decca’s Studio One with Tony Clarke and engineer Derek Varnals. They reappeared with ‘In Search Of the Lost Chord’ which was the product of a highly inventive period.The Moody Blues play at the NEC Arena.
Mike Pinder mentioned at the time that ‘Tony was a calm and collected man with musical talents and great ideas. We soon realized that Tony was playing an equal part in our recordings. He was the right man to complete our recording team. We really were a team and Tony was the captain of our ship.
The creative channels were open and we shared our musical ideas and much laughter’.
“Tony really understood the Moodies,” said Ray Thomas. “We were talking with Tony 24 hours a day, not just music but philosophy and astronomy too. He had a huge telescope on the roof of his house and we’d go up there, look at the moon and stars, and talk about everything. He knew the lyrics of our songs always had other connotations, and was really good at seeing the broader picture.”
An example of how Tony understood the feel of The Moodies music happened during 1969, at the start of the recording of the bands next album ‘On the Threshold of a Dream’. Even from demo’s he had already picked up on the spiritual feeling that this album would bring.
These feelings would be relayed to engineer Derek Varnals who would, in turn, provide the sounds for the atmospheric beginnings to the album.
The next album up was ‘To Our Childrens Childrens Children’, also released in 1969. Apart from the obvious subject matter, as depicted by the album’s title, a major inspiration for this record was created by the moon landings. And that was time and space. Again Tony Clarke and his team were instrumental in provided the atmosphere behind the songs.
And this successful and creative formula continued with the albums ‘A Question of Balance ‘and ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’. Right through to ‘Seventh Sojourn’ in fact. The band delivered beautifully crafted songs while Tony added the warmth and depth to them. ‘Seventh Sojourn’ was actually the bands final album, before their well publicised hiatus.
The final Moody Blues album that included Tony’s production talents was titled ‘Octave’ released in 1978. It was a difficult album to release due to logistical issues amongst other things.
Although it was a very welcome release for the fans it had been, apparently, a stressful time for all involved. But the album itself still stands up well and had its really good moments.
But that was the end of Tony Clarke’s involvement with the Moody Blues. Although he remained friends of the band members he moved on to pastures new. But those twelve years with the band ensured that Tony’s legacy was cemented forever in popular music history.