Date: April 27, 2018
Venue: Indigo (O2 complex) – London (UK)
“The chapter has ended a story; That only just begun; First the rise and then the fall“. These are lyrics from “Don’t let it this end way“, one of the last songs recorded for Johnny Hates Jazz’s timeless album “Turn Back The Clock“. They bear a striking resemblance to the trajectory of the band’s first incarnation featuring Clark Datchler, Mike Nocito, and Calvin Hayes. The band showed immense promise with their stellar debut album and seemed poised for bigger and better things. “Turn Back The Clock” was a labor of love and a manifestation of superior artistry that had been honed over years. This is at odds with the widely held belief (at the time) that the trio became overnight popstars. The fact that their signature single “Shattered Dreams” peaked at #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles ensured that the band left an indelible footprint in the global pop music landscape. Yet, they never toured to promote the album and the story of the band’s first incarnation ended soon after it began. Their return (as a duo featuring Clark Datchler and Mike Nocito) 25 years later with “Magnetized” (2013)- a brilliant album that embodied the ingredients that made “Turn Back The Clock” a masterpiece, seemed unbelievable. Yet, to the surprise of fans, it happened. Clark Datchler’s competence as a songwriter had not eroded one bit since his first sonic tryst with Johnny Hates Jazz. Mike Nocito’s ability to create a soundscape with his trademark shimmer of goosebump-inducing sophistication had remained intact. In an interview with us back in 2011, the duo revealed that their return was fueled by a realization that they never finished what they had embarked upon as a band. This year marks 30 years since “Turn Back The Clock” reached #1 on the UK album charts. The singles have survived and continue to get played on radio stations across the world – a sheer testament to the timelessness and global appeal of the album. A milestone anniversary, is as good a reason as any to complete some of the unfinished business from 1988. Last year, Johnny Hates Jazz announced that they were going to do exactly this. More specifically, they would perform the “Turn Back The Clock” album in its entirety at the Indigo (O2 complex) in London. For many, this felt like a golden opportunity to experience the completion of an unfinished, fleeting, but glorious moment of essential pop music history.
The straightforward approach to this concert would have been to play the album in its entirety from start to finish. As an idea, this would undoubtedly please those that attribute the merit of an album to the sequencing of songs in addition to their thematic and sonic cohesiveness. Instead, Johnny Hates Jazz took a rather novel approach. They treated “Turn Back The Clock” as a slice of pop history and explored it from various angles that go beyond the collection of songs on the album. This was done via an apt inclusion of songs NOT on the album to set the broader context of the album’s relevance to their unusual trajectory as a band.
The stellar performances of “Broken Spirit” (from Clark’s “Raindance” album), “Crown of Thorns” (also from Clark’s “Raindance” album) and “Let me change your mind tonight” (from the sophomore Johnny Hates Jazz album “Tall Stories” featuring Phil Thornalley as the band’s lead singer) focused on “Turn Back The Clock” being a precursor to a splintering of the band into two separate creative entities. Furthermore, Clark singing a song originally performed by Phil Thornalley undoubtedly helped neutralize criticism that the band was trying to erase the “Tall Stories” chapter from their history altogether. It also suggested a mutual reverence as opposed to a bitter rivalry between the two lead singers.
The concert’s most poignant moment was the band’s performance of “Road Not Taken” featuring Clark both on vocals as well as on the keyboard. Its melancholic mood was accentuated by guitarist Dave Munday’s harmonica solo. It addressed Clark Datchler’s reconciliation with his choice to leave Johnny Hates Jazz right after the larger than life success of “Turn Back The Clock” and his catharsis from the dark cloud hanging over that decision of his. The inclusion of this song in the Johnny Hates Jazz catalog suggests a nod of acknowledgment from Mike Nocito.
“Magnetized” (the “Shattered Dreams” of 2013) was the catalyst for the resurrection of the original incarnation of Johnny Hates Jazz and the band performed it with the same gusto that propelled them to stardom.
An acoustic performance of a soon to be released mid-tempo sonic gem titled “Spirit of Love” served as an effective counterpoint to the criticism that was often heaped on “Turn Back The Clock” (despite its commercial success). Back in 1988, many critics suggested that the album was overproduced and too polished. The decision to shed studio gloss to showcase the embroynic beauty of Johnny Hates Jazz’s artistry was effective to say the least with “Spirit of Love”. Furthermore, it has successfully kindled the flame of anticipation for future material from the band. This experiment has been explored further on a “soon to be released” 30th anniversary of edition of “Turn Back The Clock” which will feature acoustic renditions of all the songs on the original album.
These songs that were not on their debut album were interspersed between songs from the album and the flow from one to the next absolutely worked. Given what the band was likely attempting to do, the only missed opportunity here, in my opinion, stemmed from the exclusion of “The Last Emotion” (the most Johnny Hates Jazz-esque song from Clark Datchler’s first solo album post Johnny Hates Jazz).
The songs from the album could not have sounded any better – with the performances of “Don’t let it end this way” and “Turn Back the clock” being dramatic improvements over the studio versions of the songs. “Different Seasons” tugged at the heartstrings even harder in this concert environment. “I Don’t want to be a hero” (an anti-war song lampooning unjust wars) forced the crowd off their seats and had them dancing. The electric guitar solo by Dave Munday on “Don’t Say it’s love” gave the song a modern rock track feel. The band ended the show with an exhilarating performance of “Shattered Dreams” that stayed true to the original after Clark Datchler teased a little subdued intro on the keyboard.
Clark Datchler continues to be a dynamic, charismatic, and humorous frontman. His on-stage swagger combined with a humble personality reveals a rather fascinating incongruity. One cannot help but notice just how difficult these songs are to sing but Clark managed to do so with seeming ease while flitting back and forth between the microphone in his hand and behind one of the keyboards. His interaction with the audience was exemplary. Some of the noteworthy moments in his audience interaction include:
a. His narrative around the genesis of Johnny Hates Jazz being a result of the foresight of Mickie Most (legendary A&R man and father of former band-member Calvin Hayes) and Most’s belief that there was immense potential in the creative chemistry between Clark and Mike.
b. His poll on the audience demographic wherein he asked people from various age groups to identify themselves and where they were from. I found his mention of 40-100 as an age range quite amusing. The fact that people had traveled from countries such as the US, Chile, and Australia demonstrate that the album’s appeal crossed geographical boundaries and cultural contexts. At the end of his poll, Clark assured the crowd that he would not share this “data” with any organization whose aim was to benefit a political candidate (a not-so-subtle dig at the widely publicized scandal involving Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Donald Trump presidential campaign). While being funny, it also offered a tiny glimpse into the streak of activism that has defined Clark Datchler’s personal evolution.
Prior to the concert, I met Mike Nocito at a pub right opposite the venue. He said something that at first seemed surprising but then made sense a few minutes later. He said he wasn’t a performer. He was just there to play music. That statement reveals the stark contrast in the difference in musical pedigrees that Mike and Clark come from. Mike’s evolution as a production maestro was nurtured over many years as an audio engineer at RAK studios. His technical genius and tenacity towards sonic perfection has more than a little to do with the songs sounding just as timeless as they do. Clark, on the other hand honed his musical acumen primarily in a songwriting capacity. Their complementarity is their greatest asset. The opportunity to see it being explored on stage was an absolute privilege. 30 years may have elapsed since “Turn Back The Clock” topped the UK album charts, but this concert revealed the spunk, magic, and youth-like hunger of a band looking towards the future. Needless to say, I cannot wait to turn the clock forward to experience the next chapter of Johnny Hates Jazz.
Here is a 10-minute clip capturing some of my favorite moments from the concert:
STAR RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
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