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Guy Clark: There It Is

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard Pet Sounds. And Blonde on Blonde. And Meet on the Ledge.

And I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard Guy Clark. In a flat somewhere between Highgate and Crouch End, in 1976. Desperadoes Waiting for a Train, to be specific.

I hadn’t taken too much notice of ‘country’ music up to that point. Maybe a little Pure Prairie League, but I was ambivalent. 

That was when I got it. And I’m still listening today. Matter of fact, I was playing Guy Clark in the car this morning.

It’s not really ‘country’. It’s folk music, I suppose. People love to hang stuff on a category. All I know is that Guy Clark was the finest songwriter I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to. If I could get myself transported back in time, I’d choose Guy and Susanna’s house in Nashville in the mid-70s. With Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle over for dinner. And Townes. Of course Townes.

Great American men of letters, every one. I mean that, anyone who still thinks songwriting’s just a popular art.

When I got serious about the guitar in the late 70s, after a long layoff, Old No 1 was the first album I took anything off. I sang She Ain’t Going Nowhere with the Dewhursts in the Red Lion at Stansted. Nobody knew what the hell it was.

When I was staying out late at lock-ins in the 90s (with David Hardie, rest his soul) we jammed on Guy Clark tunes so often that the drunken clientele took to calling out for ‘the tart’ because none of them could remember the title of Rita Ballou.

When my marriage was falling apart, Boats to Build helped me through. I owe that song. I owe Guy Clark.

I’ve sung Desperadoes Waiting for a Train for nigh on four decades. It’s about an old man Clark hung out with when he was a kid. I sing it for my grandfather every time. That’s how the great songs work.

Right now, today, we’re doing Nickel for the Fiddler and Rain in Durango from time to time with Thursday’s Band. One from each end of Guy’s career. I’m proud to know them.

I’ve admired Bob Dylan all my life. I admire Steve Earle and Tom Waits and Townes van Zandt and especially Bruce Springsteen. But with Guy Clark… 

With Guy Clark I’m a fan. I cherish the three precious times I saw him live, and the brief moment when I queued up at Cambridge Folk Festival to get his signature on a copy of Old Friends. No-one understood better than him how to turn a song on a single detail; how to walk the tightrope between emotion and sentimentality; how to make every single word ring out clear and pure.

Thank you, Guy Charles Clark. Rest in peace. 

‘Shores, distant shores

That’s where I’m headed for

Got the stars to guide my way

Sail into the light of day…’

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