Danny Wilson’s Gary Clark on the 30th Anniversary of Bebop Moptop

The genre ‘sophisti-pop’ is bandied about quite a lot these days – mainly ’80s music of an ‘aspirational’, elegantly-appointed variety, jazzy in hue with slinky grooves and dense harmony.

Dundee band Danny Wilson were one of its key practitioners and their second and final album Bebop Moptop, released 30 years ago this week, is a key artefact.

And yet, despite featuring hit single ‘The Second Summer Of Love’ and a host of other superb compositions, Bebop has somehow fallen off the ’80s pop radar – it’s not currently available on streaming (I’m working on it) and has never received the deluxe re-release treatment. (Nor, for that matter, has Danny’s superb debut Meet Danny Wilson...)

But it’s definitely due a critical reappraisal. So we caught up with singer/principal songwriter Gary Clark to discuss the ‘lost’ Danny Wilson album and loads of other stuff.

MP: Preparing for album number two, were there record company expectations? Presumably ‘Mary’s Prayer’ opened the door and Virgin wanted ‘the big hit’? You give (Virgin MD) Simon Draper credit in the liner notes for staying out of the way…

GC: That pressure is there in some form but doesn’t necessarily come from the record label.  It comes from your own desire to be competitive, from management, from peers. The trick is trying to stay true to your artistic vision, and I think we always managed to fall on the artistic side of that seesaw.

There were rumours that a few big American producers almost came onboard for Bebop – is there any truth in that?

Our plan was always to record every song in Dundee with our friend Allan McGlone who had a studio in town, and at some point to bring in an outside influence to tie up the loose ends and add some perspective. We did that and throughout the process were keeping an open mind about that third party. We did meet Don Was. He came to the studio in Dundee. We played him a few tunes and went out on the town. A lovely, talented and very cool gentleman.  Schedules didn’t pan out though and no more came of it. Ged suggested Fred DeFaye as he’d been listening to Eurythmics’ Savage album. We met and hit it off and pretty quickly decided to work together.

Were there any more contemporary influences going into Bebop? I hear some Prince and The Pogues here and there and you play a lot more lead guitar on this than you did on Meet Danny. A conscious decision or just doing what’s right for the songs?

On the guitar, definitely the latter. I probably play just as much guitar on Meet Danny but it’s maybe more upfront on Bebop. On our influences, I guess what people are listening to has a constantly fluctuating and evolving influence, and you had three individuals all with very eclectic taste contributing. We were very open in the creative process so nothing was off limits.

‘The Second Summer Of Love’ was incredibly prescient and the hit single from the album – where did it come from? Was it a late addition?

It was definitely written in the fourth quarter of songs for that record. It was a day where we were all huddled round a phone at my girlfriend’s flat doing phone interview after phone interview. I needed to take a break so walked to the local store to buy snacks for everyone and it came to me in one piece. I had to grab a guitar when I got back, to work out and lay down on a Dictaphone what was in my head. It was originally a-minute-and-a-half long and the US label bosses heard it and asked us to extend it because they believed it was a potential radio hit. We went back into the studio and added a bridge and a harmonica solo. Ironically, it was never released as US single…

Talking of singles, I count ‘I Was Wrong’ as a missed opportunity…

After hearing a demo, the label thought so too and they encouraged us to record an early version with producer Phil Thornally. As often happens with early versions, it was never released and by the time it came to pick singles, everyone had lived with that song for around a year and it fell by the wayside when being held against newer songs that were fresher in peoples’ psyches.

The fantastic ‘Loneliness’ seems to be beamed in from a totally different world. Can you remember the genesis of that song?

Another song that I wrote mainly in my head, and indeed, in my bed.  I remember sitting up with a note pad writing out the lyric like a poem at 2 or 3 in the morning. I had a melody in mind, and hashed out the musical elements on the piano over the following days and weeks.

The ‘Imaginary Girl/Shirley MacLaine’ prologue/epilogue is such a neat touch – did you ever think of Bebop as a ‘concept’ album?

Not the album as a whole, but I was aware in the writing of pockets of songs that were designed, almost like musical theatre, to live together.

Bebop got some great reviews including a rave in Q magazine, but I also remember a snarky interview in the Melody Maker… Did you care about reviews?

The music press was very powerful at that period of time and, of course, bad reviews sting. And very occasionally, when they have the ring of truth, they actually influence your thought process. But generally I would say that by the time of the second album, we had become more hardened to reviews good and bad.

You toured Bebop (I was there at London’s Town & Country Club). Did you enjoy playing this stuff live? There was a rumour that the drummer (whose name escapes me) cost more than the rest of the band put together…

Drummer Bobby Clarke and percussionist Karlos Edwards were cousins, and came as a team. They auditioned for us in London and we knew immediately that we needed them in the band, and they were such wonderful guys and wonderful musicians who brought so much to the DW party.  All of the band were paid equally, but by album two we were playing bigger venues and so that would have meant higher wages than on the first album, just by the nature of economics of playing to more people.

Did you know during its recording that Bebop would be the band’s final album? Were there ever plans for record number three?

We started the songwriting process for number three and even recorded demos for a few songs that became part of my later solo album Ten Short Songs About Love but it became clear that everyone involved wanted a larger part of the writing and that would’ve meant me diminishing my input, which wasn’t going to happen, so I would say that – certainly for me – it was the underlying source of unhappiness that ultimately came to a head and ended the band.

What do you think of the Danny legacy now? Any regrets? Any temptation to do the ’80s nostalgia thing and reform, even just as a one-off?

I’m proud of what we achieved in a short period of time and I miss the creative process of working with Ged and Kit, who were and are exceptionally talented and creative people. Nostalgia is not something that any of us feed off but I would never say no to doing something if it was forward-thinking and creative. On regrets, I don’t really think about it, but if we had been able to take a break from living in each other’s pockets and faces, and stepped back a bit, we might’ve been able to keep the band going in some capacity. We are still great friends – Ged and Kit still occasionally play on music I’m involved in. They also both have amazing and separate careers in music, with a billion things going on (Ged is currently the bass player with Simple Minds – Ed.) so getting us all available at the same time would require a miracle of logistical organisation.

When we last spoke, you had just finished co-writing a lot of excellent songs for the movie ‘Sing Street’. What are you up to at the moment?

I’m executive music producer on John Carney’s new Amazon TV series ‘Modern Love’ and have played a large role in curating, producing, co-writing songs and and doing the score for that series. I even sing a little! ‘Sing Street’ is in production as a stage musical too, and is scheduled to open at the New York Theatre Workshop in their 2019/2020 season. The whole team and cast are incredible and I’m very excited about that. I’ve also been writing the musical ‘Nanny McPhee’ with Emma Thompson, which has been a thrill, and between Emma and John Carney I get to work with the most creative, talented, smart and funny collaborators that anyone could wish for. I feel very blessed and am, quite possibly, having the time of my life.

6 thoughts on “Danny Wilson’s Gary Clark on the 30th Anniversary of Bebop Moptop

  1. Thanks so much for posting this, Matt. Danny Wilson holds a particular place in my heart where I’m instantly transported back to a time & place when each album was in constant rotation. Whenever I play them (which is still fairly frequently) they’re nostalgic & timeless in equal measure. Last year I found a copy of Meet Danny Wilson on vinyl. I’m not a vinyl fetishist but I always thought the CD sounded a bit thin, so it was nice to hear it on wax where the sound packed a bit more punch. It could still use a good remastering but I’m guessing that’s unlikely. I also love Gary’s solo album which you mentioned, as well as the King L “Great Day For Gravity” record. I wish there was more Gary Clark music out there with his wonderful voice, but I also enjoy hearing other people perform his songs (a perfect example being Julia Fordham’s “Hope, Prayer & Time”).
    In my Two And Through post back in 2014 I wrote the following about Bebop Moptop:
    “Sophomore album Bebop Moptop has a fuller and more organic sound, and it’s just as jam-packed with melodies as its predecessor. How the acoustic guitar-based stomper “The Second Summer Of Love” wasn’t at least a minor hit has baffled me for many years, and I don’t know how the trifecta of “I Can’t Wait,” “If Everything You Said Was True” and “Never Gonna Be The Same” managed to slip under the radars of radio programmers at the time. No Danny Wilson song had a bigger impact on me than “I Was Wrong.” Following an intentional scratchy-vinyl intro, its infectious harmonica refrain, bouncy rhythm and apologetic lyrics should have made this a massive hit. Instead the band split up following the album’s commercial failure, with Clark going on to record several albums before striking gold as a songwriter & musical collaborator for other artists. I still play both Danny Wilson albums frequently, and although they make me nostalgic for that era they never sound dated to me.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Rich – glad we’re on the same page re. ‘I Was Wrong’. Seems as if it just wasn’t meant to be as a single, as Gary explains. ‘Second Summer Of Love’ did make the top 30 over here but I was surprised that ‘I Can’t Wait’ and ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’ flopped. I’m pretty happy with the mastering on my ‘Meet Danny’ CD but I agree with you that there should be a decent vinyl version of that and ‘Bebop’. And, finally, thanks for the heads-up on the Julia Fordham track – I didn’t know about that. Will definitely check it out.

      Like

  2. Great article Matt, many thanks. I’ve always been a big fan and Bebop does get a bit of an unfair rap. My brother sent me it on cassette when it came out and we played it constantly travelling around Asia. I think it really hangs together as an album from start to finish, with the Bacharach-like arrangement on Shirley MacClaine giving it a beautiful sign-off.

    I’ve always thought that If Everything You Said Was True would fit right in on side 2 of Can’t Buy A Thrill, and If You Really Loved Me has to be one of the saddest love songs ever written. Desert Hearts is also a high point for me with its searing guitar solo. However I hated Second Summer of Love at the time – it just didn’t seem to reflect anything about Danny Wilson. It’s grown on me over the years with repeated plays but I still don’t think it’s a patch on most of their material.

    I know Gary’s working on all these stage and TV shows now but as a Danny Wilson devotee I wonder if you got to ask if he has any plans to release any new material?

    Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I recorded a wonderful (in-person) conversation with Gary last November for my Virtual Memories podcast. It’s at chimeraobscura.com/vm/episode-300-gary-clark if you’d like to give it a listen.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s