Alan Clark

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It is far more important who the elementary music teacher is in a small town than who the director of an opera house is because if the opera house director is not good, he will be dismissed in a year, but a poor music teacher in a small town can kill off the love of music for thirty years from thirty classes of children. This is an enormous responsibility.
— Zoltan Kodaly

If you have a child who shows an interest in playing the piano, think carefully before you send him/her to piano lessons because that's what happened to me when I was 6yrs old and I hated it. I stopped after a couple of years and might never have played again if I hadn't been recovering from an appendicitis operation at the same time as my father was recovering from a heart attack, which meant we were house-bound together for a few weeks with nothing to do but mess about on the piano. Back then, there was no daytime tv and, besides the radio, the only source of entertainment we in the house was the piano. Dad fancied himself as a crooner, a singer in the mould of Frank Sinatra (I love Frank Sinatra, by the way), and he could knock out a few tunes on the piano, albeit in a very basic manner. But he could play well enough to teach me how to play the song Blue Moon, using the chords C major, A minor, F and G (the only chords he knew and which he used in that order for every tune). I was hooked. I was playing "by ear" and quickly discovered new chords and how to make them work in other tunes.

A few months later, something amazing happened: a Hammond organ shop opened in nearby Chester-le-Street. I remember like it was yesterday, peering through misty windows at these fabulous instruments, dying to have a go but thinking it would never happen. But Dad had other ideas and a few days later he'd arranged for me to do go in one evening. From then on, I was in there during school lunchtimes, after school, all day Saturday, and within a few weeks I was playing better than the shop manager. Fridays in Chester-le-Street was market day which meant there were lots of people there and crowds of people would gather in the doorway of the shop and spill onto the road to watch and listen to this little kid playing epic themes like the Dam Busters and South Rampart Street Parade. My first audience; I'd caught the bug.
20081206_MMW Rehearsal_1255 2.jpg

I got lucky. Chester-le Street might strike you as an unlikely place to set up a shop that sells expensive organs that were made in Chicago, USA, but workingman's clubs were springing up all over the North East of England back then, and they all wanted these high-tech instruments from America in their concert rooms and Chester-le Street happened to be the best place to distribute them from. They sold so quickly there weren't enough organists around to play them ( the clubs had piano players but most struggled to come to terms with organs) so it wasn't long until the shop manager was asking my dad if I could join the pool of players he was sending out to the clubs. That weekend, aged 12, I played my first professional gig, watched by my proud mother and father and soon I was making more by playing a couple of nights at a weekend in the clubs than Dad was making for working a  week as a supervisor at a cable factory. I had found my vocation.

My proud, wonderful father passed away when I was sixteen. By then, I was resident organist at one of the better clubs and had bought a car that I couldn't drive until I became old enough to have a licence.
That's me, second from the right, circa 1975. 

That's me, second from the right, circa 1975. 

In my early 20's, after year long stint in a band on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean, I decided it was time to take it all a bit more seriously and I became involved with a few local bands, one of which's singer was Brian Johnson (see above, far right) who would soon after join ACDC. Then I joined up with Splinter who were signed to George Harrison's Dark Horse label. I met George when we played Hammersmith Odeon and would see him quite often when, 10 yrs later, I joined Eric Clapton's band, I played with Newcastle band Lindesfarne for a UK tour that took in several UK festivals including Knebworth and Glastonbury, and also joined Glallagher and Lyle for a tour and album, which led me to be head-hunted by Dire Straits who I joined as their first keyboard player and I remained with them until the band broke up in 1992. 

People point out that when I joined Dire Straits, the band turned into the huge, stadium-filling phenomena that people remember and ask how much of a part I played in that. Before I joined, Mark's songs were written for a guitar only band and he wanted to introduce another dynamic which would allow him to expand musically. Enter yours truly. I gave him a whole new bunch of colours for his musical palate and opened up another world to him. He used it very well. I'm a huge fan of MK's work.

A couple of years after I joined, we brought in a second keyboard player (Tommy Mandel)  for the Love over Gold tour to help with the extensive keyboard parts I'd created on the record. One of the songs we recorded when we were making Love over Gold was Private Dancer which didn't make the record because it sounded daft being sung by a bloke. But it was perfect for Tina Turner. I recorded it with her, which led to me becoming her musical director for the few years (for a while, I was juggling with being in Tina's band, Dire Straits and Eric Clapton's band). The Private Dancer album went to number one in the US while I was touring there with her. The party that night in San Antonio, Texas, is one I won't forget.

AS mentioned, while with Dire Straits, I found time to work with other people, perhaps the most memorable being Eric Clapton whose band I joined in 1987. And what a band it was: Steve Ferrone, Nathan East, Greg Phillingaines,  Ray Cooper, Tessa Niles, Katy Kassoon, and Phil Palmer. Mark Knopfler joined us for a while as 2nd guitarist. It was a brilliant band - people still tell me it was Eric's best ever - and a brilliant few years. Eric recently described the Journeyman album, which I played on with that band, as his favourite of any he's made. I very reluctantly left the band in 1990 to rejoin Dire Straits and co-produce the On Every Street album. 
What a band!

What a band!

 

Since then, I've continued working with other people and bands and made music for TV, films and commercials. Here's some of the people I've played and recorded with:

 Dire Straits  Eric Clapton  Bob Dylan Tina Turner  Bee Gees  Gerry Rafferty Splinter  Prefab Spout The Blessing  Escape Club  Bo Diddley  Buddy Guy  Billy Joel  Lou Reed  Dave Stewart  David Knopfler  Gallagher and Lyle  Mary Hopkins  Shakin Stevens  Matt Monroe  Mark Knopfler  Rory Block  Westernhagen  Della Miles  Mick Hucknall  Sky  Joan Armatrading  Lindesfarne  Geordie  Brian Johnson  Jimmy Nail  Robert Cray  Al Green  George Harrison Pacifico