Watching iconic Australian singer-songwriter Richard Clapton at this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest I was reminded of the deep Australian-ness of his music. A golden, salt-sprayed, surf-haze imbues his best songs, such as ‘Down In The Lucky Country’, ‘Capricorn Dancer’ and ‘Deep Water’ (with its bitterly nostalgic couplet “Sitting out on the Palm Beach Road/I’m so drunk and the car won’t go” – which was sung along to by every throat in that Bluesfest crowd).

‘Iconic’ is such a lazy word to use in music writing but Clapton’s body of work is truly that, in that it stands for a particular feeling and a particular place – perfectly exemplified by 1977’s Goodbye Tiger album. Much the same as Bruce Springsteen writing of his USA and Ray Davies or Jarvis Cocker of their UK, Clapton’s songs are about life here, down in the Lucky Country. What elevates them is their wry, resigned stance, quite different from Springsteen’s heroics or Davies’ sentimentality – a stance very Australian in its own laconic way.

At the 2012 Bluesfest, Clapton and his (lean and mean) band showcased several new songs, announcing that they were to be part of a new album. One song that stood out to me at the time was ‘Vapour Trails’, now one of eleven on that album, his first in over eight years. Called Harlequin Nights, it will be released August 4.

‘Vapour Trails’ has a widescreen breadth that is typical of Clapton’s self-production on Harlequin Nights – lush, rich and cinematic. I had visions of horizon-to-horizon aching blue Australian skies, wind through dead boughs, sand, brown rivers, blue waters… Every song has been given all the colour and drama it needs, yet it never muddies or cloys.

The album was created at a bad time for Clapton: his marriage broke down during its gestation. The timely (and possibly therapeutic) partnering with guitarist and songwriter Danny Spencer has resulted in what he describes as “some of the best songs I have put my mind to for many years”. But despite all the pain and changes it is still very much a Richard Clapton album – in preparing this review I listened to Harlequin Nights back to back with Goodbye Tiger and the creative line is seamless, yet the new one has a different atmosphere.

“Harlequin Nights is in some ways a bookend to Goodbye Tiger,” says Clapton. “Goodbye Tiger was a collection of songs written by a young man in his twenties… this new album is a collection of songs written 35 years later about the world we live in today. There is a noticeable seismic shift between the two albums…”

First single ‘Dancing with The Vampires’ is a soul rocker that contains the typically wry humour of a man who keeps his eye on the madness in the world – “So many things driving me insane/Till I feel like Charlie Sheen” and “I’ve been acting like Polanski/And its bringing me undone…”.

There is ‘Sunny Side Up’s yearning for some peace (“I’ve got to lay my baggage down/Cross on over to the sunny side”), the cold drag of age in ‘Over The Borderline’ and some Dylan-oblique fun (“he came all the way from Ghost Town/Dressed up in his self doubt”).

But, 35 years after Goodbye Tiger they are still indelibly Richard Clapton songs and it is so good to hear that voice and those salty observations again, and those true and timeless melodies that come from a deep deep place.

Harlequin Nights is out August 4 2012.

Richard Clapton will be touring Harlequin Nights nationally August thru November, starting at Sydney’s State Theatre.

Richard Clapton’s website and tour details are here.


Published August 2012 on

  1. Gary Thornton says:

    John I agree with all of the above, I am loving it and so much to do with our prelude ay Byron. Wright on dude.

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