To say the onset of the Covid19 pandemic in early 2020 rocked the music industry at its core would be quite the understatement. Live concerts were brought to a grinding halt. Album releases were delayed. For many artists and bands that have fallen out of favor with the music industry’s most influential gatekeepers (contrary to popular belief, terrestrial radio is still king in the US), the inability to tour to promote a new album significantly undermines the commercial prospects for their new material. Artists had to quickly reinvent connecting with their audiences in varying degrees of lockdown across the world. Their overtures to fans had to blend a purity of connection along with empathy distanced from even the slightest iota of opportunism. This was easier said than done as some celebrities learned the hard way in the first couple of months with tone-deaf outreaches that mixed self-absorption with a lack of sensitivity to the reality of the people they were trying to reach out to. Yet, credit is warranted for those artists that tried and even went the extra mile to create a sense of community among their fans to help alleviate the crippling sense of social isolation that many felt. In 2020, we were full of praise for “Crooner Sessions” – and Instagram-based daily online livestream by Take That frontman Gary Barlow. Each episode featured Gary Barlow performing a duet with some of the world’s biggest popstars. The element of surprise coupled with the exhilaration that each performance undoubtedly generated made the series incredibly addictive. Its entertainment value was undeniable and the commitment to reconnect with fans on a daily basis (except the weekends) undoubtedly inspired fans to add a structure to their lives at a time when days and months blended into each other. This new form of fan connection is likely to outlast the Covid19 pandemic. It has led to the birth of a new era of creativity among artists looking to forge long-lasting connections with their fans via livestreams as the world adjusts to a new normal in which Covid19 is likely to become endemic. 2021’s finest manifestation of this new flavor of live stream comes from a rather unexpected source – Clark Datchler from Johnny Hates Jazz. His live stream titled “Journey Songs” just might be the best music livestream (that you might NOT know you are missing) of 2021.
Many remember Johnny Hates Jazz for their signature single “Shattered Dreams” and their UK #1 album “Turn Back The Clock”. This Anglo-American trio featuring Clark Datchler, Mike Nocito, and Calvin Hayes was the biggest music act to emerge in 1988. Their retreat from the limelight as a creative entity seemed almost as rapid as their meteoric rise propelled by infectious radio fodder in the from of hit singles such as “I don’t want to be a hero”, “Turn back the clock”, and “Shattered Dreams”. This retreat was fueled by the baffling decision of lead singer Clark Datchler to leave Johnny Hates Jazz immediately after the band had become a global phenomenon to pursue a solo career. Most fans and pop music aficionados were quite perplexed by this decision and some may have even viewed it as self-sabotage on the part of Clark Datchler. The band left fans wanting more and yet, the possibilities of a reunion looked slim at best. It seemed like the name Johnny Hates Jazz was destined to be synonymous with a story from the distant past that had ended prematurely. In a stroke of what could only be labelled as divine intervention, the reunion against all odds happened. Clark Datchler and Mike Nocito were back in the studio in 2011 sowing the seeds for what would be the brilliant “Magnetized” album (released in 2013). The album retained all the elements of what made their debut offering “Turn Back The Clock” a timeless classic. There was a rejuvenated interest in both the band as well as in the question of why Clark Datchler would walk away from a good thing in the late 80s and opt to pursue solo endeavors even before recording a second album with Johnny Hates Jazz. By the time the band’s 2020 album “Wide Awake” (in our humble opinion, THIS is the album of 2020) released, some may have been convinced that Clark was out of his mind for his unconventional and baffling choice – especially in light of the musical brilliance that emerged from his reunion with Mike Nocito. Over three decades in the music business had not eroded his songwriting chops one bit. No one could be blamed for thinking of Clark as being an esoteric but brilliant songwriter. Who was this man and what was the guiding motivation for his life-defining choices? Since the band’s comeback in 2013, some interviewers have managed to unearth the answers to some of these questions. Yet, the underlying mindset behind the somewhat complicated Clark Datchler was still a relative mystery. Fortunately, that changed in early 2021 when Clark Datchler launched Series 1 of a weekly live stream called “Journey Songs”.
Each episode of Journey Songs revolves around either a Johnny Hates Jazz song penned by Clark Datchler or a song from his relatively obscure solo catalog (that being said, those that tune in to our online radio broadcast will undoubtedly be familiar with these songs). The episode features Clark in the living room of the home he grew up in. The grand piano in the background has a photo of the Polka Dots – one of the bands his father Fred Datchler was a member of. Right from Episode 1, there is an overt nod to the heritage in which Clark evolved into the brilliant songwriter that he is. Since this is a livestream broadcasted on both Youtube and Facebook simultaneously, Clark has the ability to respond to questions and comments from fans tuned in in real time. He devotes the first ten minutes of each episode to greeting users that span the globe (some of whom stay up at odd hours to catch this show live). The introductions of fans reveal the global reach of the goodwill that Clark enjoys. He then delves into the backstory of the song that the episode is dedicated to. In doing so, he also highlights the music industry dynamics that shaped some of the artistic choices he had to make both as part of Johnny Hates Jazz and as a solo artist. He ends each episode with an acoustic performance of the song that the episode is based on.
Music livestreams are known for their entertainment value but “Journey Songs” goes far beyond mere entertainment. The episodes collectively feel like a delectable mining endeavor in which the thought-provoking symbolism and embryonic beauty of each song is distilled from the studio gloss and ear candy via the rich backstory and acoustic performance of the song. Clark eschews swagger in favor of substance through a penchant for compelling storytelling while digging deep into his sources of inspiration (some of which are quite sorrowful) that span art forms. He also shines a spotlight on the unsung heroes that are the producers, backup singers, and session musicians that play an instrumental role (no pun intended) in weaving together the strands of the exquisite sonic tapestry that is his music. He also highlights groundbreaking songs and albums that these musicians were an integral part of thus emphasizing their pedigree. Noteworthy examples in the production realm include his Johnny Hates Jazz bandmate Mike Nocito, Humberto Gatica (producer of Clark’s solo album “Raindance”), and Rupert Hine (producer of Clark’s solo album “Fishing for Souls”). There is also a mention of hitmakers George Michael and Nile Rodgers as potential production reins holders. We would rather you watch the series (more specifically Episode #9) to find out why those two collaborations did not pan out. In the arena of session musicians, some of the noteworthy contributions (to his music) that Clark highlights include those from:
– JJ Belle (plays guitar on “Don’t say it’s love” by Johnny Hates Jazz)
– Renee Geyer (known for her instantly recognizable “Together” vocal part on “We’ll be together” by Sting)
– Molly Duncan (responsible for the horn arrangement of “Heart of Gold” by Johnny Hates Jazz and a founding member of the Average White Band whose popular hits include “Atlantic Avenue”)
– Candy Dulfer (known for her saxophone contributions to recordings by Dave Stewart from Eurythmics and who also plays on the title track of Clark’s “Raindance” album)
– JR Robinson (famous for his iconic introductory drum solo on “Rock with you” by Michael Jackson).
– Paul Jackson Jr (played guitar on Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, “Thriller”, and “Dangerous” albums).
– Dave Gregory from the band XTC (who plays guitar on the irresistible “Drowning my sorrows” by Clark Datchler)
Rather unsurprisingly, the first eight episodes of Series 1 of Journey Songs are devoted to songs from the groundbreaking “Turn Back The Clock” album. Two of the songs from that album (“Listen” and “Me and my foolish heart”) were NOT written by Clark and hence were omitted from the series given the exclusive focus on songwriting on Journey Songs. It might be tempting to think that Episode 9 is where the series is likely to lose steam given that the series is front-loaded with the most popular songs by Johnny Hates Jazz and Clark. But the reality is quite the opposite. Episode #9 starts with the first song Clark Datchler penned for his post-Johnny Hates Jazz career and it is the first of many episodes that delve into his personal evolution with an album “Raindance” (which focused on the seemingly irreversible damage we as a society are doing to our planet) that was thematically way ahead of its time. These episodes also explore the unsavory side of the music industry with a specific focus on how musicians that enjoy stardom can have their subsequent musical offerings relegated to relative obscurity when they fall out of favor with their record labels. These episodes also offer a glimpse into Clark trying to reconcile with his decision to leave Johnny Hates Jazz at the band’s commercial zenith. In fact, nothing captures the melancholy of his reflections on this decision in the way that the season finale does with the achingly beautiful “Autumn Years”. Clark’s “Raindance” album did not get the attention it rightfully deserved despite being a product of stellar and inspired songwriting, the cream of the crop of session musicians, and the artistic vision of producer Humberto Gatica. That being said, the stories around each of these songs give them a new life and make for a powerful medium to re-introduce them to the public. After all, aren’t art and context inextricably linked? Historically, context has played a non-trivial role in making works of art iconic, instantly recognizable, and worthy of reverence. This especially applies to paintings. Hence, it should not be surprising that context has the same potent power in forcing a re-evaluation of an album that deserved more widespread recognition and promotion. Great storytelling has the ability to create vivid imagery in the minds of those listening to the story. Add a soundtrack to that story in the form of a story-specific song and it has the ability to be lodged into our minds in the same way that iconic music videos served as catalysts to ensure that songs left indelible visual impressions in our memory. In fact, this format of livestream can easily be replicated by other artists that want to re-introduce music of theirs that got lost because of dynamics that have nothing to do with the merit of the music itself. Maybe this is what artists can do instead of leaving the fate of their music to fickle gatekeepers and tastemakers. It also helps that these songs will be featured on a triple disc compilation called Journey Songs Volume 1 (slated for release in January 2022) featuring remastered versions of the “Raindance” and “Fishing for Souls” albums by Clark Datchler – and a third disc of previously unreleased material and B-sides (connected with the Fishing for Souls and Raindance albums). The content of the third disc will NOT be available via streaming services. The release of a 3-disc album seems like a fitting follow-up to the addictive preamble that is Series 1 of the livestream Journey Songs.
Despite having a specific format, this livestream has its fair share of surprises in the form of:
– Guest interviews with Mike Rutherford (of Genesis and Mike & The Mechanics fame), Mike Nocito (Johnny Hates Jazz bandmate and production maestro), and synthwave act Col Bennet (whose stage name is FM84).
– A screen-share of Pro Tools (a Digital audio workstation used by most modern musicians) to deconstruct his song “True Confessions” into its various tracks is an audiophile’s dream episode. The memorable elements here are the focus on the snare drum and orchestral blasts.
– A surprise introduction to the role and history of compression in music remastering in Episode #18.
This review would be incomplete if I did not mention my favorite episodes of the series. “Episode #6: I Don’t want to be a hero” is hands down a winner. Inspired by the battle between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, the song and the episode suggest a reverence for a country’s armed forces while also being a scathing rebuke of leaders that force young soldiers into unjustified wars. The up-tempo performance of the song at the end of the episode has Clark pounding his way through both treble and bass melodies on the keyboards. It reveals the possibilities of the richly layered soundscape that a musician can construct with a single instrument. Any pianists that tuned in to this episode are undoubtedly begging for access to piano sheet music (melody plus the background music) for these songs. As many of them might know, access to sheet music by Johnny Hates Jazz and Clark Datchler is notoriously difficult (translation: impossible) to find online. Hopefully, this is Clark’s cue to make this available at the earliest possible. The icing on the cake of this episode is Clark Datchler giving our online radio broadcast a shout-out. The second-favorite episode is “Episode #16: Magnetized” – devoted to the comeback single of Johnny Hates Jazz after a 25-year hiatus since their first short-lived but impactful stint together. The episode offers a glimpse into Clark’s fascination with the idea of re-incarnation. During this episode, his conversation with bandmate Mike Nocito reveals the difficult decisions that artists need to make in order to shape their songs into a radio-friendly format. Sometimes, this also means jettisoning a bridge section and the hypnotic keyboard solo, which in my opinion, is one of the most quintessentially Johnny Hates Jazz musical moments. It is my sincere hope that they add these sections back for a re-issue of the Magnetized album once it hits a chronological milestone of consequence. It is true that songs are getting shorter these days and that can be an extremely restrictive format for musicians looking to reach the masses while trying to retain their artistic integrity and authenticity. Our third most favorite is the season finale devoted to the song “Autumn Years”. In the past, the artists’ other-worldly picture-perfect persona and seeming inaccessibility relative to the masses is what made them objects of adulation and boosted their star power. The “Autumn years” episode turns this idea on its head by offering a view into Clark’s torment (which related to his departure from Johnny Hates Jazz in the late 80s) and a raw vulnerability that we rarely see in popstars.
For a musician to have a fanbase is a position of privilege. To have a fanbase after a long hiatus from the band that propelled that musician to stardom is both a reflection of music that has endured and an unwavering loyalty of the fanbase that must be rewarded. Clark seems to be acutely aware of the latter and hence takes the trouble to greet every person in real time that tunes in to the livestream that leaves him a message. He has also laid the groundwork for a community to grow around the Journey Songs livestream.
The title of the series “Journey Songs” is an apt one not solely because it is a nod to the journey Clark has embarked on as a songwriter, performer, and climate crisis activist. The livestream also offers an addictive blend of education (laced with humility) and entertainment while being a catalyst for a discovery that spans art forms – new music, new movies, and new books. In a sense, it is the spark that is bound to lead many of us down our own journey of artistic exploration. The songs and their associated stories in the livestream are just vehicles for something much bigger. In fact, here is a Spotify playlist of EVERY song Clark Datchler mentions during the Journey Songs livestream:
As youngsters, we worshipped some of our favorite popstars for their talent and unshackled hedonism – but as we get older and wiser, the magnetic pull towards artists with authenticity and depth (something Clark showcases in abundance via this livestream) is irresistible. Over a span of 24 episodes, Series 1 of Journey Songs has become the gift that keeps giving and I can barely wait for Season 2 of this fantastic livestream that many may have missed but can play catch-up on via the Youtube channel of Clark Datchler. A world of discovery awaits those that have not watched this livestream and I sure envy them for what they are about to experience for the first time. As a blogger and radio playlist curator, I cannot help but wonder if the music industry deserves someone as multi-faceted as Clark Datchler. I hope he never loses the desire to continue the wonderful tradition that is this livestream. I am confident that there is still a treasure trove of stories accompanying great songs from his solo album “Tomorrow” and Johnny Hates Jazz album “Wide Awake”. Until then, there are always the recorded versions of these episodes available for viewing on Youtube. And if you have not watched this fantastic series yet, what are you waiting for?
STAR RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s,90s, and the 00s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Dubstar, Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Suede, The Corrs, Jamiroquai, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.
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