These days semi-retired university lecturer Alan Clark is married with two grown up kids and lives near BBC studios in Borehamwood, London. But back in the late ’70s he was on the dole living in a house full of punks in Jesmond, Newcastle…
We lived in Chester Crescent which must have been grand at one time but some of the houses were decaying, and the council took them over and let them out cheaply.
One of the first Northern punk bands, the Big G used to practice in our living room. I think we lived next door to a vicar and he may have complained from time to time.
When the Big G split in 1979, The Weights formed and played Newcastle, the Edinburgh festival and gigs in London…
I used to perform at their gigs and then got opportunities all over the place, including the telly.
Who were your influences ?
I was really interested in the Liverpool Poets, especially Adrian Henri. I thought that punk needed poetry as Adrian Henris generation of freaks and hippies did. I was also reading Allen Ginsberg poems and in fact met him at Newcastle Uni when he did a gig there.
I always liked writing at school and wrote daft things just to amuse my mates. About ‘78 I wrote a poem about Daz and one of my housemates Walter from The Weights said I should come and do a gig.
Where was your first gig ?
That was at The Guildhall on the Quayside. It was a Weights gig with other bands on too. They played backing for some of my poems, including 12 bar blues for Daz and a trippy poem about magic mushrooms.
We were all into Frank Zappa. Micky Emerson aka Red Helmet was the experimental lead guitarist. Norman, his brother, was the drummer, Walter aka Peter Howard was and still is a well-known man about the Toon and Anth Martin was the singer and main songwriter. He went on to do a literature degree at Oxford.
As for my experience, well I was quite nervous, but the alcohol and herb helped. I remember I nearly got in a fight with some squaddies for being critical of the government and the army!
You supported The Clash at Newcastle City Hall in 1982. Was this the highlight ?
I enjoyed doing the gig with The Clash and meeting and joking around with them afterwards. But they were strange times for me. I was badly beaten trying to get in to the City Hall. I explained on the door that I was the support act and they didn’t believe me.
I saw one of the roadies and lurched in to get his attention but was set upon by a mob of City Hall stewards. They got me on the floor and kicked the shit out of me.
By the time I got on stage I was bruised and bewildered. I performed mostly with a backing track. One poem was War On The Scroungers, and in parts, I mimicked a posh Tory accent. I had a distinct impression that people didn’t really get the satire!
Curiously, I’d worked at the City Hall as a steward in the early ’70s and knew the head guy Ivor, who looked very apologetic afterward, but wouldn’t say so. I took a case all the way to the council committee in charge of the Hall and explained to them I had done some non-violence training.
The stewards said I was foaming at the mouth and that was their excuse. The council committee agreed and I never got an apology.
You mentioned TV opportunities…
I was on John Walters programme on BBC Radio 1, you may remember him as John Peel’s producer. I was on local culture programmes for BBC North East and Tyne Tees around 1980-82.
I performed Daz on location in Wallsend. They filmed me in front of an old washing machine with Swan Hunters shipyard in the background.
Then I recorded some work in the BBC studio, and a performance for Come In If You Can Get In on Tyne Tees. I was pursued by The Tube at one stage, but didn’t have a manager and was a bit too disorganised to follow up.
What were your poems dealing with ?
I was quite political and involved in anti-nuke politics. I was fascinated by nuclear issues and went to CND meetings in Newcastle, but also got involved in the campaign to stop Torness nuclear reactor which is just over the England-Scotland border.
I lived as part of the occupation for a while and travelled up and down to Newcastle. I also went on big marches in London and actually got invited to play at the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common.
What was the attraction to nuclear issues ?
I had a strange experience when I was young. I was standing at a bus stop waiting to go to school when the whole sky lit up bright pink. I traced the date and it looks like I was seeing effects from what is called the Tsar Bomba. The 50 megaton largest nuke ever let off in Russia.
Tyneside is nearly 2,000 miles from where it was set off on Novaya-Zemlya island. Neither the UK nor any other European nations set off a nuke in Europe.
The Tsar Bomba was the only explanation I could ever find for what happened. I have yet to meet another person who can confirm that they saw it.
Was performing taking a back seat to protest ?
I moved to Whitby in pursuit of love, then after falling out of love, moved to Corbridge. I was living in an old pottery and used to practice guitar and singing in the large kiln chimneys. I was busking all over the North East, and made good money in the Monument Metro in Newcastle.
I kept on performing in various venues and events and would regularly work at The Cooperage and did some recording with The Weights.
By 1984 the rock and roll lifestyle was taking its toll. I decided to give up the material world and ran away to join Hare Krishna who I’d met when doing a gig in Suffolk. I went cold turkey working in a restaurant at the Krishna temple in Leicester.
Being a Hare Krishna involved a lot more than chanting on Oxford Street and I was eventually involved in the running of the movement in the UK. I met some very kind and thoughtful people, but also, some people for whom the religion seemed to be a cover for extreme selfishness.
I was lucky to make friends with some of the original devotees who came to the UK in 1968. Through them I met George Harrison a few times at his house in Henley and we had a few chats about gardening.
I began to have doubts about the philosophy of the movement and after an extended period in India I stopped being so involved. One of the main benefits was meeting my wife Akinchana, who is Indian. We have a daughter who is 27 now and a son who is 21.
When I left the movement, I ended up doing a degree, as a very mature student and then an MA, getting work as a lecturer in media at the University of Hertfordshire.
What are you doing now ?
I’m still teaching, although cutting back as I’m close to retirement. It means I have more time for writing and recording. I’d like to do some performing one day. The most recent track I recorded and mixed was just over a year ago and is on soundcloud.
Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.