Carol Clerk, RIP
Classic Rock is shocked and saddened to hear of the death of music journalist Carol Clerk.
Carol’s death from breast cancer has robbed the rock world of a truly unique personality – an individual spirit who always told it as she saw it, and was never afraid of the consequences.
Malcolm Dome writes:
If you wanna learn more about Carol’s factual background, there’s plenty of info online such as here, here and here. I just want to take a minute or two to celebrate the person, because Carol was one of the brightest sparks on the music journalism front, someone who combined a passion for music with a brilliant turn of phrase. To her what mattered was to bring to the written page the beauty, grace, impudence and power of the music and the musicians she loved. Not one to suffer fools, her writing was never about narcissistic self-publicity, but rather to provide a conduit for what she believed to be the truth. And if if meant being critical of a band or an album or a gig, then so be it – and damn the ramifications.
Carol was old school in the best possible sense, prepared to raise hell in defence of those who’s talents she felt deserved greater recognition, yet also never ready to accept such talents compromising their own principles for commercial expediency. All done witha great sense of humour.
I first met Carol in 1981, when she reviewed a book I’d co-written with one Brian Harrigan called Encyclopedia Metallica. It was for the Kingsbury Times, a local paper in North West London. She was very kind about the book, and I sent her a Mother’s Day card to say thanks – don’t ask me why, I have no clue now. But it amused her.
Over the years, our paths crossed often. Sometimes at gigs, and occasionally at the Oporto pub in Holborn, London, just round the corner from the offices of Melody Maker, where she was on the staff for a number of years. One time, she introduced me to former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan, whom she had befriended. Then homeless and suffering from schizophrenia, he was a frighteningly disturbed person, yet Carol took him under her wing. It was interesting evening!
While we will miss her insights and abilities as a writer, it’s as a person that Carol will be most missed. Unfussy, uncomplicated and always great fun to be with, she is irreplaceable. RIP Carol. Somewhere up there, you’re doubtless already holding court, Which is at it should be!
Geoff Barton writes:
I first met Carol way back when she was a no-nonsense journo on Melody Maker. She was fierce, independent and opinionated. In a (then) male-dominated trade, she was as tough as nails. I remember feeling quite intimidated by her when she mocked my Uriah Heep ‘Wonderworld’ satin tour jacket in front of a pub full of serious drinkers and smokers. One of those great old pubs that smelled of shepherd’s pie and piss, where Carol would frequently hold court. But, hell… I probably deserved it.
Carol walked it like she talked it, and wrote what she damn well pleased. She was the kind of person bands loved and record company lackeys hated. She grew up the right way, learning her trade on local newspapers, which honed her hard-nosed approach. She was the bête noire of sweet-talking PRs and, as News Editor on MM, she used to scoop us laggardly, Heep-jacket-wearing dunderheads on Sounds on a regular basis.
It was a great pleasure to deal with Carol again recently when I put together Classic Rock‘s cover story on AC/DC (issue 132). Much to my surprise, she had mellowed. Just a bit.
Malc has summed up Carol’s life and times very well in his piece, so perhaps we should close with some wise words from Ms Clerk herself.
Below is the piece Carol wrote for Classic Rock about her close encounters with a fledgling AC/DC – schoolgirl uniform and all!
Rest in peace, Carol. The world of music journalism has lost not only a very special character but an honest-to-goodness legend.
SCHOOL OF ROCK
When AC/DC headed off on their Sounds-sponsored Lock Up Your Daughters Tour in summer 1976, a future Classic Rock writer was there every step – and gymslip – of the way…
Words: Carol Clerk
May 16, 1976 started out like any other Sunday but it ended with one of those really happy accidents, the sort that happen all too rarely. It was the day I went out expecting to see Kiss at the Hammersmith Odeon and instead spent the evening in a pub with Bon Scott and Angus Young.
My flatmate Brian and I were not huge Kiss fans, but we’d bought our tickets purely for the theatre: the flame-blowing, the blood-dribbling and the tongue-lolling. And it was all very exciting to begin with, but the novelty wore off quickly, and once we’d heard Rock And Roll All Nite, we got seriously bored.
We decided to go for a drink. The Britannia – long gone now – was right across the road. At 9.30pm, with Kiss still capering around on stage at the Odeon, the pub was deserted, except for two guys at the bar. Coincidentally, we’d noticed them earlier, on their way into the concert.
One was dark-haired, good-looking and wearing a flamboyant jacket with leopard- or tiger-print patterns. That was Bon. The other was tiny, childlike, with a mass of curls and blue denim jeans. That was Angus. Clearly, their patience with Kiss had run out before ours.
We struck up a conversation about the gig, and what a relief it was to escape it. Bon and Angus told us that they had a band called AC/DC, they were pretty big in Australia and they’d moved to London only a few weeks earlier.
“And we’re not leaving ’til we’ve headlined over there!” They meant the Odeon.
They would indeed be headlining ‘over there’ before the year was out, but they didn’t seem too serious about themselves that night. They were friendly and funny, and the laughs kept coming and the drinks kept flowing, even if for Angus, they were glasses of Coke.
Angus was determinedly teetotal, although he smoked loads of cigarettes. This seemed adorably naughty, given that he was pretending to be 16 and looked more like 13. Angus was quieter than Bon although equally mischievous, a slow smile spreading across his face as, like a ringmaster, he encouraged the singer’s outrageous anecdotes and flirtatiousness. They were a good team.
Bon, with his tattooed arms, chipped-tooth grin and earthy humour, was the archetypal life and soul of the party, and come closing time, he asked us back to the band’s house in Barnes, just across the river, to carry on drinking. Insanely, we declined that invitation, but accepted another: to see AC/DC playing locally the coming weekend, at a pub called the Red Cow.
It’s hard to say what was most astonishing about that first experience of AC/DC: the ferocious kick of their rock’n’roll, which opened with the perfect, crashing dynamics of Live Wire, or Scott’s rasping, rascally delivery, or the transformation of Angus into the frothing, mooning, satanic schoolboy we never knew he was, convulsing, drooling and shaking sweat all over the room as Bon carried him and his guitar on his shoulders, from table to table, during a frenzied Baby Please Don’t Go.
“Over here, Angus!” we yelled, desperately hoping to catch a globule or two of the precious DNA. “Over here!”
Subsequently, I wrote a gig review for the Acton Gazette, where I worked as a reporter, hyperventilating over the highlights, a particular favourite being The Jack – not the clever, recorded version filled with coy allusions to kings, queens and packs of cards, but the live, fun-filled, filthy original.
And as a result of that small and undoubtedly insignificant review, I was befriended by Coral Browning, who was AC/DC’s publicist and the sister of their then manager, Michael Browning.
Coral encouraged the friendships and loyalties growing between the band and their merry band of followers, put our names on guest lists, and gave us T-shirts. One regular was a cheeky chap we called Australian John, who had spiky blond hair and at all times carried a doctor’s bag filled with sex toys. That was considered very strange in 1976.
Coral was happy to welcome everyone along to AC/DC’s first major dates on the Sounds-sponsored Lock Up Your Daughters tour, where at Guildford Civic Hall on June 26, I managed to come second in the local heat of the band’s Best-Dressed Schoolgirl competition and won a Neil Young album (On The Beach).
The summer of 1976 was famous for a prolonged and intense heatwave, and AC/DC contributed to it by packing unprecedented numbers into London’s legendary Marquee club during a Monday-night residency in July and August. Still, Bon, Angus and the cheery Malcolm Young could reliably be found holding court at the bar before and after their performances.
On one particular Monday, Angus greeted us with glee. “It’s Bon’s 21st!” he informed us, delightedly. Bon was already closer to 30 than to 21, but it turned out to be his 21st dose of gonorrhoea. He celebrated this particular milestone not with his usual brandy but with soft drinks, due to the antibiotics, and The Jack took on an hilariously personal significance that night.
By contrast, AC/DC’s Reading Festival appearance on Sunday, August 29 was an unusually flat affair. Walking round the backstage pastures in the rain, taking in the extraordinary sight of Ted Nugent in his cowboy boots and fringes, Angus seemed subdued, almost as though he could tell this wasn’t going to be AC/DC’s day. They took the stage at around 6pm, and tried their hardest to conquer a largely apathetic audience, but it was a losing battle.
Still, it was clear that despite this minor setback, AC/DC were on the highway to superstardom. That had been obvious back in the Marquee, where I remember remarking to Coral, “Well, we’ve lost them now.” These boys would not be hanging out in bars with their fans for much longer.
“Don’t worry, they won’t forget their friends,” scolded Coral, and she was right. Angus and Malcolm never have forgotten the good old days before they were famous.