Dave Clemo - Too Old For Punk

Published Thursday 15th June 2023
Dave Clemo - Too Old For Punk
Dave Clemo - Too Old For Punk

STYLE: Biography and Autobiography
RATING 5 5 5 5 5
FORMAT: Book General book

Reviewed by Tony Cummings

If you've read Dave's early years autobiography Too Young For Rock & Roll you'll know that Cornwall-born semi-pro guitarist Clemo moved from London to Northampton in 1974. The first part of this volume recounts how Dave, with fellow guitarist Jack Swann, started a band, the Left Hand Drive. Dave writes, "We had one aim - to make some good music. We didn't have any plans beyond that. We were utterly naïve about the business of music; we had no contacts within the industry, no agent or management, and hadn't the faintest idea where to get a gig, let alone a recording contract. We simply played the music we liked." The music Dave and Jack Swann liked was Deep Purple, Clapton and HEAVY rock. The live music scene was thriving in Britain in 1974. Every sizeable UK town had at least one pub and club where you could see and hear live rock music. By the time Clemo and Swann had written their first songs and a set of originals had been put together, gigs quickly followed after they had made trips to London to buy new guitars. The next hundred pages we get a detailed account of Left Hand Drive's smalltime gigs and continually shifting personnel. Most gigs were, of course, in and around Northampton (including one as support act to pop hitmaker Leo Sayer), but they did manage to land a booking at the renowned London pub The Greyhound - well known for groups on the cusp of breaking through to bigger things. The gig was reviewed in NME. It read, "Is this Black Sabbath speeded up, or Deep Purple slowed down, or perhaps a nascent Queen? The four guys who make up the bonzer combo all look incredibly young and come across real sharp in their black T-shirts and C&A shirts. The lead singer's claim to fame is that he is the brother of Ducks Deluxe guitarist (ultimate sandpaper larynx vocalist) and leader Sean Tyla, but his voice is as unsullied as new fallen snow, with a lot of power. One of the guitarists plays left-handed and in the dimness and rather basic atmosphere of the above named nitery one could be forgiven for dreaming of the Cavern. It was only the volume that caused complaint. In a room about 30x20 it is not pleasant to have the sound of Concorde taking off recreated. In fact, a pub is just the wrong place for Left Hand Drive (great moniker) to play. They belong in clubs and discos and supporting killer rock bands. Who can drink to a heavy metal 'Greensleeves'?... These guys have potential. Wait a few months and check them out."

But somehow that potential to make the bigtime was never fulfilled. And though there's a tantalising grainy photo of the only surviving LHD recordings (four cassettes), these never reached Joe Public. The book's Clemo history then takes a bit of a detour, telling the story of The Russians, a punk-styled outfit consisting of Left Hand Drive's John Brassett and Jack Swann and with a female punk singer. A John Peel session for The Russians got them onto the uni circuit and they went on to headline a Willen Lake protest festival in Milton Keynes before a 2,000 plus crowd. But things finally petered out for The Russians four-piece in 1982. Then Too Old For Punk returns to the Clemo proper story. Clemo married his first wife Rosa in 1977 and a new group emerged, Conspiracy, playing "pop harmony, chart songs, Top 40 hits and funky music for dancing around your handbag to." A female singer and keyboard player, one Karla Bryan, joined. Dave writes, "I'm not sure what stage outfit we wore before Karla joined but for the new incarnation of the band we decided on red jeans with blue short sleeve shirts. Karla wore red skin-tight slacks that showed off her long legs and slim figure. We also had an alternative outfit of red shirts and blue jeans." Clemo's Conspiracy history spares us full colour pics of this decidedly cheesy-sounding attire (like most privately printed volumes the pics inserted liberally into the copy are unfortunately grainy). In June 1982 Clemo quit Conspiracy. He recounts, "I had to ring around our agents and venues to tell them the band was no more. We had to cancel twenty-seven dates including well paid ones on military bases. Ah well. It was good while it lasted."

Dave's day job situation changed and after some more grim-sounding gigs he and his second wife Sue planned to relocate to Somerset. And this is how the book ends - though there are a few pages of where-are-they-now notes (Too Old For Punk was published in 2018) as Dave gives interested readers pieces and photos on one-time members of Left Hand Drive and Conspiracy. Interested readers? Well, there's the rub. How many readers will be interested in a history of a heavy rock band who never got well known outside of Northampton or a covers band who did hundreds of gigs but by their chosen musical direction cloaked themselves in anonymity? But if you are interested, Clemo's painstakingly researched volume is available on the internet.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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