This is exciting for me.
And, not because of Claire (no disrespect intended), but because it was produced by Ray Davies of the Kinks, who I love.
In 1973 Ray decided to get into production utilising his new studio (and label) Konk in London and was fishing around for acts he liked. Claire was found and he produced this and her next album, “Abracadabra” (1975).
Oddly, despite the fact that Claire has been in the music industry continually since her debut, there is little in the way of decent biography about her. Everything is piecemeal.
(Apparently) Precocious and talented, Josephine Claire Hamill (born 4 August 1954 in Port Clarence, County Durham, in northern England) into an Irish Catholic family.
(Apparently) She sat in her room and played her guitar and also played coffee shops before successfully auditioning for Chris Blackwell, founder of Island records. She immediately went to London and began work on her first album, “One House Left Standing” (1972).
(Clearly) Island records were looking for the next Joni Mitchell or perhaps Melanie. She had more in common with Mitchell, who she cited as an influence, and she even covered her “Urge for Going” on her debut album.
Money was thrown at the album, which featured contributions from John Martyn, Free, Terry Reid and David Lindley (who was in the UK playing for Terry Reid). She and the album were given the build-up and she was labelled the “British Melanie” probably because of her youth.
She followed it up with the album “October” (1973), again on Island records, and again with some money thrown at it. It was recorded by Cat Stevens maestro Paul Samwell Smith with Pat Donaldson of Fotheringay, Jean Roussel and Gerald Conway (Cat Stevens regulars), Alan White from Yes, and American Muscle Shoals guitarist Wayne Perkins
She toured (opened for) with Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, King Crimson in the Britain, the United States and Canada.
Critical success came but no commercial sales.
She signed with Ray Davies, which increased her profile but didn’t increase her sales.
Claire never became a big star, or even an enduring cult on the level of Martyn, Reid or Island records label mate Nick Drake, instead she has a solid reputation as a seventies singer-songwriter (with detours into musical hall, rootsy Americana, jazz, pre-rock theatrical styles, New Age) with some influence: Eva Cassidy and Kate Bush have name checked her.
“Stagedoor Johnnies” was her third album and she was 20 years old. The album was heavy on covers (for a singer-songwriter). Perhaps she was short on material (her first two albums were mainly self-penned), or perhaps they were trying to broaden on her appeal.
The attraction was her voice. Her writing ability and precociousness were ancillary benefits.
This, I think, Ray saw in her.
She says about Ray Davies. “I was in awe of him,” says Claire, “but also frustrated because he was very hard to get hold of. I wanted to get a band together to tour but he wouldn’t put up the money and I didn’t know how to get things for myself at that stage as I had been looked after for so long by managers, I didn’t know what I should do on my own”. Those difficulties aside, both albums frame Claire’s writing within a slightly more conventional folk-rock setting, with some tracks, such as ‘Forbidden Fruit’ from Abracadabra, evincing qualities of Maria Muldaur. Konk also gave Claire the freedom to co-produce. “By the time Abracadabra was made, I had toured the USA twice and was really into being a rock diva. I was hanging out with Yes, pushing my voice to its limits, smoking a lot of pot and drinking. You can hear the rock edges and graininess in my voice on that album. What a little madam I was! I was barely 21. I thought I knew it all. How wrong can you be?” …Wrong indeed. because Claire’s solo career was about to go into a hiatus. “Sales weren’t terribly good. Of course, I wanted to be at the top of my profession but Konk wanted me to record a cover song, a single. They were not about to fund another album and I was very disappointed. Ray didn’t want me to leave, so I just didn’t do anything for some time. Then punk happened and it was looking tricky for me”. http://www.charlesdonovan.com/2015/07/02/claire-hamillrock-n-roll-survivor/
This album is interesting though fairly derivative … England’s Joni Mitchell was still, clearly, a goal.
The argument that people matured earlier in those days, is, perhaps, valid, but there is danger (in strained seriousness) in a lyric for a 20 year old singer-songwriter into Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Claire has subsequently said (I suspect, specifically, about the first two albums) that she was young and that her boyfriend (a young aspiring poet Mike Coles) wrote many of the lyrics for her.
On this album there was more rock “n’ roll in the mix as well as some quirky asides (and, no doubt, this was encouraged by Ray Davies, who was quite quirky himself). Claire has said that her lack of success throughout her career has allowed her to experiment with music as she always wanted to, and here, where a mainstream career was still a possibility, she already embarks down that path.
All songs by Claire unless otherwise noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- We Gotta Get Out Of This Place – (Mann, Weil) – the Animals worldwide hit from 1965 (UK #2, US #13, #2 Canada). Nothing can top that but this is suitably agrressive and angry. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Gotta_Get_out_of_This_Place
- Oh Daddy (Blues) (You Don't Have No Mamma At All) – (Herbert, Russell) – First recording by Ethel Waters, Cordy Williams' Jazz Masters (1921) but associated with Bessie Smith (Clarence Williams at the Piano) from 1923. It has been done by a lot of folk blues jazz types in both instrumental and vocal versions. This is a good version and not dissimilar to what Ray was doing on some tracks of the Kinks "Muswell Hillbillies" (1971) album.
- All The Cakes She Baked Him – very Joni Mitchell but very good.
- Trying To Work It Out – more Joni …
- Geronimo's Cadillac – (C. Quarto, M. Murphy) – Co-written and recorded by American country singer Michael Martin Murphey in 1972 (also the title cut of his 1972 debut album) the song went to #37 in the US pop charts. The song has been often covered. Here, it sounds like a sister piece (in mood) to The Kinks' circa 1971. Very good.
- Something To Believe In – (S. Miller) – An album track from "The Joker" (1973) by The Steve Miller Band. Pleasant and laid back.
- You Know How Ladies Are – quite beautiful with a touch of Ray Davies.
- You Take My Breath Away – Melanie being channelled here.
- Go Now – (L. Banks, M. Bennett) – An American R&B song by Bessie Banks (1964) but associated with the Moody Blues who had a hit with it in 1965 (#1 UK, #10US, #2 Canada, #4 Ireland, #10 Netherlands). Dull-ish but then ther original was dull-ish. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_Now
- Luck Of The Draw – very good with some nice up front twangy guitar and some hard lyrics.
- Stage Door Johnnies – Ray would love this … and so do I. Stage Door Johnnies was a English theatre reference to wealthy gentlemen who would wait outside the stage door hoping to escort chorus girls hem to dinner. The attract for the girls was (hopefully) marriage into the upper class, society and nobility.
Not perfect but some good tunes and I do like its time, place and pedigree … I'm keeping it.
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
Oh Daddy (Blues) (You Don't Have No Mamma At All)
Something To Believe In
You Know How Ladies Are
You Take My Breath Away
Stage Door Johnnies
the story of Claire and Ray:
- Personnel: Arranged By [Strings] – Lou Warburton / Bass – Nick South, Paul Westwood, Phil Chen / Drums – Clem Cattini, Jim Franks, Neil McBane / Flute – Alan Holmes / Guitar – Claire Hamill, Diz Disley (tracks: A2), Roy Neve / Guitar [Electric Lead] – Phil Palmer / Keyboards – Dave Roweberry, Tim Hinkley (tracks: B6) / Trumpet – Laurie Brown / Producer – Raymond Douglas Davies. Mick Avory )of the Kinks) drums on "Trying to Work it Out", Ray Davies plays some keyboards and guitar. Recorded at Konk West Studios, London, 1974.
- Claire sang vocals with English rock band Wishbone Ash, 1981-82.