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Martin Clarke

Founder of the Perth-based Clarion label. From milesago The Perth-based Clarion label, established ca. 1962, was co-owned by Martin Clarke and 6PR DJ Keith MacGowan. Like his Sydney namesake and contemporary Martin Erdman, Clarke developed a passion for music and sound recording as a youngster. His built his first recording studio in his mother's home as a teenager; he began his career working as a turntable-panel operator with Perth radio stations in the 1950s, while still at school. At the age of 21 he set up Western Australia's first purpose-built recording studio in North Fremantle; a few years later he sold that facility and purchased an old house at 272 Hay Street, East Perth, which he converted into the Martin Clarke Recording Studio. Clarke installed the best recording equipment he could buy, including a top-of-the-line Neumann record cutting lathe imported from Germany. The ability to produce his own master discs was a crucial advantage, giving Clarke total control of the final sound -- it ensured that sub-standard masters were not being used for pressing Clarion's records, and avoiding the risks of damage or loss of master tapes in transit and production. "No one in Australia did that, it hadn't been done before and hasn't been done since." Just like Erdman's Du Monde label in Sydney, Clarion was dedicated to local Perth acts and it did much to support the thriving local music scene there in the Sixties and Seventies, but it had a wider national impact thanks to the national breakthrough of several of its acts, notably Johnny Young. The first single issued on Clarion was "Jag Drag" b/w "Little White Star" (right) by Peter Piccini & His Orchestra, released in 1962. The A-side was an instrumental; the b-side was a song with monologue, about the recent space flight of John Glenn, which made reference to Glen having seen the lights of Perth from orbit. Piccini was a noted accordionist, keyboard player and composer-arranger, who later became musical director for the Nine Network. He did arrangements, conducted and played on many Clarion recordings. Clarion evidently went into abeyance for several years until 1966, when it was revived, with Clarke acting as producer, engineer, A&R manager and (in the early days) distributor. Prior to reactivating Clarion, Clarke set up the shortlived Action label, but only three singles were released on this imprint. The first group of releases from the mid-Sixties (personally distributed by Clarke) were mostly recordings by local Perth TV personalities, and these had only limited success. When Clarke began tapping into the booming Perth pop scene sales began to rise as he recorded and released local acts such as The Times, Russ Kennedy & The Little Wheels, Roy Hoff & The Off Beats, Glen Ingram, Clem Croft, The Times, the early singles by The Valentines, and Clarion's most successful artists, Johnny & The Strangers, who became nationally known under their later name, Johnny Young & Kompany. A distribution deal with Festival Records deal led to a national release of some of the singles that had already been successful in Western Australia, like "The Skye Boat Song" by Glen Ingram, and songs by Robby Snowden, Johnny Young and others. Over the next few years sales were strong and the label earned three gold record awards, including a Gold Album award for the Johnny Young LP Young Happening. Clarion was one of the most productive independent labels of the period, with 120 singles, 20 EPs and 20 LPs issued between 1962 and 1978. Clarke also released about fifty singles on the Martin Clarke Recording Studios label, as well as countless one-off specialty recordings. The label's biggest national hit was Johnny Young's double-sided hit "Cara-Lynn" / "Step Back" (May 1966), which went to #1 in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney and topped the new Go-Set national Top 10, shooting Johnny to national stardom. Young's recordings featured prominently on the Clarion catalogue until mid-1969 and releases include several tracks written by the Bee Gees, with whom Johnny became good friends. Among other notable releases was Ray Hoff & The Offbeats' "Tossin' and Turnin'" -- which must rank as one of the wildest Australian pop singles of the Sixties -- Glen Ingram, Toni Lamond, Perth's "pop prince" Robbie Snowden, folk singer, Play School host and children's entertainer Don Spencer, Perth band Fatty Lumpkin (which included ex members of Bakery) and songwriter Bill Millar. Clarke and Millar also collaborated on one of Clarion's most remarkable singles, the outrageous pyschedelic confection "Even Stevens" / "Hypnotic Suggestion", which they released under the pseudonym 'The Vegetable Garden'. Clarion also recorded the first singles by The Valentines, which featured future AC/DC frontman Bon Scott and singer and music journo Vince Lovegrove as co-vocalists. During 1970 Clarion released two singles by Perth band The Birds. According to Alec Palao's liner notes for the Clarion Call CD, this group was a trio that included a couple of English roadie-musicians who had previously worked with guitarist Ron Wood, who (with brother Art) had played in a UK band of the same name in the mid-60s. Apparently the Perth Birds simply appropriated the name and passed themselves off as the (emigrated) UK Birds in order to get a contract with Clarion, and they even recorded two tunes that the UK Birds had already covered. Clarion's releases tapered off sharply after 1970, with only a handful of singles issued each year in 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974. The label was briefly reactivated for one final single in February 1978, after which the label was wound up. Martin Clarke left Perth in 1989 and moved to England, where he had family. In the early 2000s he licensed the rights to Clarion/Action catalogue to the British reissue label Cherry Red, who compiled the CD The Clarion Call. It's an excellent overview of the Clarion singles of the Sixties, mixing well-known hits with more obscure material, including the demo version of Johnny Young's breakthrough hit "Step Back", recorded in a Perth hotel room by Johnny, and accompanied by The Easybeats. Martin Clarke was inducted into the WAM Hall of Fame in 2005 for his contributions to Western Australian music. Sadly, he died in London from a heart attack on Tuesday 28 March, 2006. Later that year the Western Australian Museum's Light and Sound Discovery Centre mounted the Clarion Gold exhibition, co-ordinated by Richard Rennie, which commemorated Martin's work with Clarion, and was staged to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Clarion's first national hit. The exhibition displayed a number of significant items, including Martin Clarke's first record cutting lathe, ca. 1957, a gold record he was awarded in 1966, and many rare records, photographs and documents and some magnificent 1960's record players.

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