Craven's Pharmacy John Clifforth Interview

Craven's Pharmacy John Clifforth Interview

The album Craven's Pharmacy has been released and is the result of the long time collaboration between musician John Clifforth and drummer Paul Hester, both former members of Australian 80's band Deckchairs Overboard and long time friends. After Hester's death in 2005, John Clifforth decided to finish and build on the work they had done together, finalising tracks with contributions from drummer George Servanis and guitarist Kevin Garrant from Paul Hester's band 'The Largest Living Things' and adding new material of his own. The Craven's Pharmacy songs are about life - addiction, empathy, relationships, family, observations, and hope.

John Clifforth says "Paul Hester was a remarkable drummer, with a unique ability to play the song rather than act as a metronome. Paul's death in 2005 had a profound effect on me as I really had no warning that such a thing would enter his mind. He was my best friend and for many years I struggled with the fact that I was unable to intervene. Eventually it dawned on me that the work we did together was something to be shared and celebrated rather than forgotten, so I set about finishing tunes we had recorded and writing new material to complete the work we started. These songs are sometimes very personal, special moments created by a very longstanding friendship between Paul and myself but there are new songs too."

The early tracks Charlotte and Everyday were recorded out in Clifforth's own 16 track studio, 'The Lodge', built at the in the back of a rented house in Elsternwick in 1995. After that house was sold, later material including My Only Fear, That's All You Had, Feel Like I Do, John's No 3 and Ten To Five were recorded then in Hester's Elwood home studio 'Sunshine', a 24 track studio in a brick out-building.

Later tracks Fighting and Living, Moths To The Flame, Nothing Good, Missing Days, Mary Jones and All I Want were recorded with drummer George Servanis and guitarist Kevin Garrant, who encouraged Clifforth to finish the recordings he had started with Hester. These tracks were recorded at home and then fleshed out at Pots and Pans with Joe Hammond. Mixes and mastering were completed by Mark Ingram who had worked with Paul Hester at Sunshine and so had a feel for the overall sound of the project.

John Clifforth has been recording and performing since forming his first band, The Cuckoos, at age 13 in West Ivanhoe. In 1975 he formed True Wheels with Greg Perano (who later formed Hunters and Collectors), performing at inner city venues and University union nights alongside bands such as The Delicatessens and The Primitive Calculators. In 1979, Clifforth and Paul Hester formed The Cheks, playing venues like Martini's and Hearts in Carlton, and in 1981 signed a record deal with Regular Records. They moved to Sydney and became Deckchairs Overboard, establishing themselves with the inner city crowd and recording an EP, singles and an LP. Deckchairs Overboard appeared on Countdown on numerous occasions, and reached Top Ten on the charts with 'Walking In The Dark' and 'Fight For Love'.

Craven's Pharmacy is out now through selected stores and digitally via Reverb Nation, Amazon, I-Tunes and Rare Records.

Interview with John Clifforth

Question: Tell us about Craven's Pharmacy?

John Clifforth: The songs have been recorded over a 15 year period so I'll start with the oldest and work up. "Charlotte" was written in the back of a pick-up truck coming back to Manhattan from a party in Brooklyn. I was in a country music mood and was initially singing Martha as in Martha Washington. The words came pretty quickly and basically concerns addiction… a few of my friends were junkies at the time. Back in Australia, I played the song for Paul one day and he loved the feel of it. We recorded it very quickly one day with bass player Barry Stockley at our studio in Elsternwick, The Lodge. "Everyday" was also done around this time with Barry, and was just a jam. Paul was in a very up mood that day and felt like a good old bash on the drums. The song's about hope and new beginnings and I think the recording captures the energy we had in the room when we put it down.

"My Only Fear", "That's All You Had", "Feel Like I do", "John's No 3" and "Ten To Five" were all recorded at Sunshine, Paul's studio in Elwood. We spent a bit more time on these, trying different sounds and spending more time on harmonies and arrangements. "My Only Fear" has a nice sloppy feel courtesy of Paul's brushes playing. "That's All You Had" is in a similar vein, a song about Mexican illegal immigration and the slave trade. "Feel Like I do" is actually about Paul and talks about empathy. There's even a reference to Paul's pool which had one blue lilo that we used to fight over on hot days! "John's No3" is about a barber I had in Elwood who cut my hair so badly one day as he bitterly complained about his wife, I asked him to just even it all out with a number 3 buzz. " Ten To Five" was another spontaneous jam, actually recorded at 4.50 pm one day with Paul drumming and me on guitar. He added some guitars and bass later and we just left it as an instrumental track.

There was quite a hiatus after Paul died but after a time I came back to listening to the work we had done and decided I should finish what we started. So the remaining tunes were done on my computer at home with George Servanis adding drums later at Pots and Pans studio in Hawthorn. George is a great drummer, capable of any task, and he had played with Paul in The Largest Living Things so was a natural choice for the newer songs. The lyrical content seems to focus on relationships mainly, in families as in "Fighting And Living" or between men and women as in "Moths To The Flame" and "Nothing Good". "Missing Days" is a tune modelled on "Come Up And See Me" by Steve Harley. "Mary Jones" is the exception; about a strange woman I used to see slowly walking about the streets behind Fairfax High in Hollywood. "All I Want" is the most recent song, written last year, and is a bit of a rant about mindless celebrity worship.

Overall the recordings sound like a band playing . I didn't want to do a record that would be impossible to reproduce live. At the launch we'll be playing the tracks in the same order as they appear on the CD and maybe a few extras from way back.


Question: Why did you decide to title the album Craven's Pharmacy?

John Clifforth: I just like the name. It's a working pharmacy in Albert Park and I think it has a certain ring to it… something like Credence Clearwater's "Cosmo's Factory". I also like the way the word Craven suggests a compulsion while Pharmacy implies a concoction, a bringing together of elements to create an effect or beneficial outcome.


Question: How long have you been working on Craven's Pharmacy?

John Clifforth: About 15 years, very much on and off.


Question: Is Craven's Pharmacy a tribute to Paul Hester?

John Clifforth: No, more of a tribute to my friendship with him and the way that songsmithing can create a bond and a strong relationship between people. It's probably an ancestral/tribal thing that has to do with music's frequencies resonating between people especially when they harmonise. If you're not in a band it's a choir or a family that likes to get together around a piano for a bit of fun. I grew up with that, my folks are British and my Dad's whole family of sisters and brothers played piano and sang. It was the way to have fun and entertain yourself. I think in our own way Paul and I became family through music.


Question: Do you write your own songs? What's your inspiration?

John Clifforth: I write my own songs. Sometimes I collaborate and that's great too. I love word play and using imagery, reflecting on life and making little observations about places or feelings, funny things that people do. I love music's power to create mood or motivate too. Coming up with riffs and chord sequences… I've always been fascinated by it.


Question: What music/artists do you listen to when you are not playing your own?

John Clifforth: More recently Broken Bells, MGMT but always old school James Brown, David Bowie, Beatles, Chic, Led Zeppelin.


Question: Was there a moment you contemplated throwing in the towel?

John Clifforth: When Paul died I was pretty devastated…not so much because of our work together but more because of the tragic circumstances. I really lost interest in music after that. Time has a way of healing though and gradually I found myself strumming a guitar and sitting at the piano, letting the spirit back in.


Question: Do you prefer performing live or recording?

John Clifforth: They both have their merits. Recording is tricky sometimes…knowing when to stop! A bit like using too many spices in a dish or getting too fussy with a painting. I love getting things to sit right but often at the end of the day a spontaneous recording has a vibe and energy that no amount of polishing can capture. So playing live is a pleasure for that…the anything can happen excitement that recording can lack because with recording there's always the option of going back for an overdub.


Question: What/who was your inspiration to go into the music industry?

John Clifforth: The Beatles. They had such an infectious sense of humour and winning excitement about their early music that was catnip to a generation. Oh and Jimi Hendrix. Sexy and black


Question: If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?

John Clifforth: Great question. David Bowie.


Interview by Brooke Hunter



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