Liverpool native tells FBPO about his days with the legendary Colosseum, Uriah Heep, Davy Jones, new solo release and much more!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
May 16, 2011
Mark Clarke was born in Liverpool, England in 1950. After establishing himself as what one newspaper described as “Liverpool’s Joe Cocker,” Mark moved south to London to further his musical career. While in the big city, Mark got the gig with one of the most well-known groups of the time, Colosseum, which opened many doors for the young aspiring player and vocalist.
Mark would eventually perform with some of the biggest names in rock, including Uriah Heep, Tempest, Manfred Mann and Natural Gas. He has also recorded and/or toured with Billy Squier, Mountain (with Leslie West), The Monkees, Roger Daltry, Alice Cooper, Peter Frampton and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. In 2010, Mark released his first-ever solo album, Moving To The Moon.
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing.
MC: Just like any other kid, piano lessons, singing in the choir at school… You see, my mother played violin in the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and she was the one who got me into this. I’m glad she did, believe me. But growing up and having to do piano lessons instead of playing with your mates sometimes sucked! But from the piano, I went right to the bass guitar.
FBPO: When most people hear “Liverpool,” they immediately think of the Beatles. How did growing up in Liverpool influence you, musically?
MC: Directly. In fact, it was because of the “Liverpool scene” that I got into it. Before the Beatles, there was The Big Three! Now there was a three-piece for you! They were amazing! I remember seeing them one Sunday afternoon in Southport, a small resort near Liverpool, and it just hit me right in the head that that’s what I wanted to do. So I started playing around with local bands from age 13-ish and got into my first real band at 16.
Outside of the Beatles there and The Big Three, we also had The Merseys, The Formost, Faron’s Flamingos, The Undertakers, Badfinger, etc. Loads of great music played by some great players. I still have some great friends back there. In fact, I still speak pretty regularly with Joey Molland of Badfinger. Liverpool had such a huge influence on my way of thinking, musically, and always will!
FBPO: What made you choose the bass as your main instrument?
MC: I just loved hearing the bass and when I saw people like Paul McCartney and Johnny Gustafson play, I thought, “This is for me.” Then I heard Jack Bruce. Wow! That was it for me! Jack’s now a friend and I still get chills when I hear him play.
When I play with Colosseum, we do two of Jack’s tunes, “Theme for an Imaginary Western” and “Morning Story,” two brilliant songs. And if you listen to the bass parts played by Jack, you will see what I’m talking about. Over the years, I have really fallen in love with the bass. I really love playing it, but it’s funny because all of my writing is done on the piano, which I play every day!
FBPO: You’ve played with some of the most influential bands in the history of rock & roll. Can you identify a defining moment when your career moved into high gear? When did you first realize that you were going to be a professional musician?
MC: Well, the defining moment was when I was asked to play with Colosseum, one of the biggest bands in Europe. They were looking for a bass player and, after auditioning some of England’s best-known bass players and having no luck, Clem Clempson, a friend of mine, conned me into doing a session for vocals on their new album. When I got down there, though, I found my bass was sitting there in the corner. Instead of singing, I was asked to play a song that turned out to be Jack Bruce’s “Rope Ladder to the Moon.” We played for about fifteen minutes and Jon Hiseman turned and asked me, “So, do you want the gig?” That was my defining moment. I also then realized that I could be a professional musician.
FBPO: Tell me about your experience with Uriah Heep. I used to love that band!
MC: Well, Colosseum broke up on a Monday morning after a meeting in our office in London. Talk about hating Mondays! Now, this is a true story: On Monday night, I went to a club, the legendary Speakeasy, and at about 1:00 in the morning, Ken Hensley came in saying he had been looking for me. I was asked to help out and do a gig with them on Thursday in Scotland. So off we go, and on the train we go through some songs and that was the rehearsal. Now I had just been on the road with Colosseum for two years straight and my nerves were fried, so going right into Uriah Heep made them even worse. The touring was brutal and after just one year, I just lost it. I must have been so hard to get on with back then, but one thing I didn’t know was that I was going though a breakdown. Thank God I stayed close with Ken. We did quite a few albums together and he did a couple of my songs. We’re still close to this day.
FBPO: I saw you with the Monkees in 1986 at a dog track in Miami! I think Herman’s Hermits and the Grassroots were on the bill, too. Remember that tour?
MC: Remember that tour! Of course I do. That period was great for me. It was completely different musically, but yet it was really interesting as well. And because of that tour I became very close friends with Davy Jones, whom I worked with for another twenty-four years, playing, producing and writing. God bless him. By the way, the Monkees recorded and released as a single a song co-written by Ian Hunter and me called, “Every step of the way.”
FBPO: Tell me about Moving To The Moon. What prompted you to release a solo album after so many years as a sideman?
MC: I wanted to sing my songs for a change. And also I had these songs in me that had to come out. I just knew they were there. And there are plenty more. Also, I have to make a living, just like everyone else, so I needed to put this out. So many people for so many years had asked me, “When are you going to do your album?” Well, here it is! I hope you all like it as much as I do. It has my heart, my soul and my guts in it. That’s all I can give.
FBPO: How would you describe the music?
MC: It’s a hard-rocking collection of songs. Some soft, others not, but all of them mean something to me. Every song is about a part of my life. I know many people aren’t interested in that aspect of a record, but one thing people do know is that when a song comes from the heart and soul, it comes across on the speakers and earphones. And that’s just what I’ve put into this CD, heart and soul. I’d rather let the people who listen to it describe it, but I’ve never loved a project more than this. Ever.
FBPO: What lies ahead for you and your career? What else can we look forward to seeing and hearing from Mark Clarke in the future?
MC: Well, I’m just finishing a new CD with Colosseum over in London, with a tour to follow in June. Ray, my co-producer, and I are also talking about making a video of a couple of my tracks and maybe doing a few shows. Hell, I’d love to tour with this album, so now I’m looking for a manager to get this all started. Know anyone?
FBPO: I’ll let you know! One last question: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
MC: Having done only this for the last forty-five years, there’s not much else I was trained to do. So I think I’ll just carry on with people’s help. But if I could do anything, I think I’d be a pilot. I love flying! I’ve flown around this country, to every state, at least a thousand times. I’ve flown the Atlantic over 450 times and around the world too. And I still enjoy a nice plane.