Richard Clapton as one of Australia’s foremost singer/songwriters, paved the way for subsequent generations of songwriters to write about the experience of being Australian.
When Richard began his recording career in 1974, Australia was still in the grip of the cultural cringe. He plunged into the “deep water” and legends like Skyhooks and Paul Kelly, Cold Chisel, INXS, Midnight Oil, and hundreds of others, followed in his wake.
Clapton grew up in Sydney in the 1960s before hopping a plane for London, and then later to Germany, where he wrote a first album, Prussian Blue (1973) which was one of the first major Australian “singer-songwriter” albums.
One of the most popular songs from Prussian Blue was I Wanna Be A Survivor. I doubt he imagined then, how true that message would turn out to be. His songs are still omnipresent on the radio to this day; his records charting the political landscape of the nation and the turbulent lives of two generations.
Like Americans Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen, Richard Clapton developed a sound based on melodic rock while his lyrics were poetic musings on his state of mind or the state of the nation.
By 1975, when he released his highly acclaimed, No.1 hit Girls On The Avenue, Clapton had set the themes he was to explore for the coming decades. There were frequent escapes to his spiritual second home in Berlin, a haven for music and the arts at the time, to recharge and get a fresh perspective on Australia.
Richard mastered that most difficult of show business acts – the highwire that requires the balance of radio-friendly tunes and candid, from-the-heart, lyrics.
These dichotomies came together on the Goodbye Tiger album which was, at that time, Clapton’s most successful to date. The record was a new highpoint and there was significant international interest in Richard as a recording artist. A period living overseas in Los Angeles brought forth the sophisticated Hearts on the Nightline album in 1979.
Back in Australia in 1980 he released the searing Dark Spaces album, an indictment on the meanness and mendacity that would blow through the 1980s. Ten years after his first release, Richard Clapton was a tribal elder to whom younger artists like Jimmy Barnes, INXS and Cold Chisel turned as a mentor.
INXS asked Clapton to produce their second album, Underneath the Colours, and they became firm friends. They, and Cold Chisel, returned the favour on Clapton’s The Great Escape album with INXS drummer Jon Farriss going on to produce his Glory Road album. Few records of that time captured the roller coaster ride of the late 1980s as well as Glory Road.
These albums brought Clapton’s melodic gifts and his love of electric rock & roll into lockstep.
There were always the words though – no one better documented the 1980s than Richard Clapton. He frequently went to the edge — emotionally, politically, financially — and sent back his incisive postcards.
In the 1990s Richard continued to write and record and tour and his 1990s songs reflect a hard-won maturity. Indeed, He counts 2003’s Diamond Mine as amongst his best albums – and the critics unanimously agreed.
In 2005 he set about making the first acoustic album of his career. Clapton stripped back some of his favourite songs – reimagining them in a different environment. The result was his acoustic album – REWIRED. This project was never intended to be a greatest hits record – and indeed many of his greatest hits aren’t here. It was an experiment in hearing Richard Clapton in a new way.
Since his first album in 1973, Richard has shown no signs of slowing down. He has released over 20 albums which have cumulatively sold over one million copies. He is the only rock artist to have received an Australia Council arts grant from the government which enabled him to travel around the world and write the songs for “Goodbye Tiger”.
In 1999 Richard Clapton was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
In 2008, Richard played his first sold out concert at Sydney’s iconic State Theatre, and every year since continues to sell out his annual Richard Clapton series of concerts in the nation’s biggest city. The intention is, of course, to continue the tradition this year, of what has now become an annual pilgrimage by fans from all over Australia, though with the uncertainty caused by the current pandemic we can only hope.
In August 2012 Richard released “Harlequin Nights”, which is perhaps his most personal and cathartic album ever. Once again, the album received excellent reviews across the board and showed that Clapton was still at the peak of his powers, showing no signs of slowing down.
In 2014, his first memoir “The Best Years of Our Lives” was published by Allen and Unwin. The book connected with people of all generations because it was not only a story of Clapton’s journey, but it also documented the story of the lives of thousands of fans who had travelled the same road. Young people – fascinated by how it was “back in the day” also became a new generation of fans. The book continues to flourish, resonating with so many people in so many ways.
In 2015, Richard travelled to the U.S. to record a new album with acclaimed producer Mark Moffatt. This had come to fruition after a few years of Moffatt urging Clapton to get over to Nashville and record with the finest musicians available. Moffatt (originally from Queensland) had by this stage been living in Nashville for over twenty years and had become an integral part of Americana Musicfest (held in Nashville every year).
The result was The House Of Orange, an album which many have wanted Clapton to make for a long time. It is simply some of the finest songs he has written – old and new – recorded with some of the best musicians in Music City. The album features the legendary Dan Dugmore (longtime guitarist with Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Stevie Nicks and so many others), and David La Bruyere from John Mayer’s band, along with a band of Nashville’s finest.
In a career that now spans over 40 years Richard hasn’t passed through life in a luxurious rock star bubble. He has battled and succeeded at every step of the way and come through it intact as one of the world’s most cherished singer/songwriters with his legions of fans. He is a survivor, with a tale to tell.
Now, in 2021 Richard is releasing his first cover album, entitled Music Is Love (1966-1970). A timely homage to the music of peace love & understanding; tunes of the American hippies from the late 1960’s; Richard Clapton’s unique versions of songs recorded by The Byrds, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Bob Dylan, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, Lovin’ Spoonful and more, sung as only Richard can.
It is time for these songs to be resurrected lest they and the message they bear is lost for all time, and who better than Australia’s favourite hippie, Richard Clapton!