By George Matlock
Elton’s sound engineer Clive Franks talks in the third part of our exclusive interview with George Matlock, about his youth, lifestyle, and showcases his great sense of humour
Clive found his paradise in 1990, far away from glitterati, paparazzi and Elton (!) in New Zealand, an under-populated island.
George Matlock: What attracted you to New Zealand? Some say they are more British than the Brits! They have HP Sauce, Coronation Street on TV, and superior wine.
Clive Franks: I fell in love with a New Zealander. End of story. First time I went to NZ in 1974 I met her. We stayed in touch for 6 years by writing, and then we got together. In December 1989, after my daughter was born, and when my son was about 6, we went to visit my children’s grandparents, and escape the British winter. Usually Elton was not touring in December, January and February anyway. We bought ourselves a little colonial cottage. The more I stayed there, the more I wanted not to return to England. Although it’s nice to be in England, I didn’t want to live here anymore. It was a joint decision, although at my instigation. In fact, she loved the sophistication of London, so different to NZ. We had a house in Richmond…
GM: You’re kidding! This is where EJW.com UK is based.
CF: We were in Mount Ararat Road, we got married in the registry office on the corner, and Elton was my best man in there. We lived in Richmond 1980-90. I was going to ask my friend to be best man, but when Elton heard, he wanted to take on this role. He insisted. We got married again four months later in NZ when Elton was on tour there, for the benefit of my wife’s friends, and Elton was best man again! So you see, I’m still married. I only got divorced once, ha!
GM: And a favourite piece, the Carla Etude, is connected with your wedding.
CF: Yes, the secret’s out. The Carla Suite was written by Elton for us. Actually, I was producing his album (The Fox). He played it to us, and it was lovely. I asked him what it was called, and Elton said he was trying to title it in an anagram of our names. I said ‘you’re kidding me’, and he said ‘no, leave it with me for a while.’ And Elton is very clever with words, even though he doesn’t write lyrics. After 10 minutes he came back into the control room where me and my wife, Carla, were sitting and said: ‘I can’t get an anagram of your names, so sod you, I’m just calling it the Carla Suite!’ or whatever it was.
GM: So you’ve now grown into NZ.
CF: I love it and have no intention of leaving it. I’ve even adopted a local accent. People ask me what part of Australia am I from. I say ‘from the New Zealand part’. My kids have grown up there. My son was 17 today [12 July 2000 – date of this interview].
GM: Well, wish him our best!
CF: I’m actually looking at my kids, Aaron and Lara. They’re the screensaver on my laptop computer. In NZ, I’m by the sea, and that’s why I liked Richmond, with the River Thames too. Where I live now in a little village, it’s very arty, with lots of musicians, and they’re having a better winter now than we are having a summer in Europe this year . No traffic jams, but a lot of sheep. Good if you like roast lamb! Although not local, I love Kari-Kari, a great beach. I’ve got a cat at home; it’s difficult when I travel. When I come home, she thinks she’s a dog and follows me everywhere.
GM: When your kids leave the nest, will you have reason to live so far from the Elton machinery?
CF: That’s maybe why I live there, ha! Maybe when they colonise the Moon, I’ll go there! No, that’s not the reason! I’m not really into the business, the parties and so on. The only thing I miss is the band – whether I am in England or NZ. I’ve been close to them for years. Los Angeles (where they are mostly based) is mid way between England and New Zealand, and I stay with them often there. I have few friends in NZ – I don’t find it easy to make new friends. I am a bit of a loner. With travel these days, it doesn’t take more than 24 hours to get anywhere…
GM: Crikey! You make it sound so persuasive. And a role for the NZ Tourist Board!
CF: Ha! Of all the places I’ve visited worldwide, NZ has all the best bits. Scenery, climate, wonderful people.
GM: You can even ski!
CF: Just 1 ½ hours away you can ski. Last year they lost their tourist season, because the bloody mountain blew up, Mount Ruhapehu. Where I live it is more tropical, never too hot, nice sea breezes. People say to me why don’t I move to LA where my friends are. Well, I love visiting LA, but it’s too unreal for me. I like the silly things which go with my job, but I also love to get away from it, sit by a fire and have the dog bring my slippers. Not that I have a dog – I must train the cat to do that!
GM: Sounds like you appreciate the country.
CF: Yes, I’m not a City person. But I like a bit of life, walking around shops, although I’m not a shopaholic, I’m not into material things at all. So I like bush walks and the beach in NZ.
GM: Tell us about Aaron and Lara.
CF: Well, Lara is 12 and a half, and Aaron just passed his driving test. Their names were chosen by my wife. Both doing well at school. Aaron is actually a very good drummer. He wants to be a movie director and idolises Stephen Spielberg. He knows loads about every film. So focussed. After El Dorado I got a Spielberg autograph through Elton (apparently a first because Stephen doesn’t give autographs) which I must give Aaron! Aaron has joined me at the mixing desk when I’m on tour with Elton, and he helps me mix. But he’s a bit of a traitor. He now prefers to be involved with the lighting. Last time, our lighting director was Steve Cohen, from Billy Joel, and Steve had him with him the whole show, and gave him a section of concert to mix. More than half the show!
GM: So it’s a family thing! How about Lara?
CF: She plays piano. And drums. She sings and writes songs. And knows how to use the computer to overdub. Kids have no fears of computers. I wish I had that confidence when I was young.
GM: Take us back to where you were born.
CF: I was born in Hammersmith, west London, 3 January 1950.
GM: You’re kidding. I spoke last year with Charlie Morgan, who was born at Hammersmith Hospital, as was I!
CF: I was born at the other local hospital, Queen Charlotte’s. As was my son! Like me, Aaron and Lara were born in England and have dual citizenship. Lara was born in Hendon, north London. I was brought up for the first three years in Brixton, south London. In those days, it was a quiet area. My dad was a pharmacist, and he managed to open his own business in Stanmore, north London, and we lived above the shop. When I was nine, we stayed in the Middlesex area, moving to Edgware, and I went to Edgware Junior School. We moved to a nice three-bedroom semi-detached house in Edgware, and we stayed there a long, long time. In fact, even when I was with Elton. As I was away so much, there was little point having a flat. I was at home until about 22. Then Carla came over and we moved in together for a while. Then she went back to sort things out, and we corresponded for years.
GM: Long distance is tough. How did you keep it alive?
CF: I telephoned her lots, and wrote a lot at the beginning. There was a magic there, and there still is, and we both know that.
GM: So you’re still good friends.
CF: She lives a quarter mile from my house. We see each other often. Anyway back to the 1970s, my first flat was in Stanmore. When Carla came back in 1978, we got a place in Taplow, Maidenhead, for a year, not far from Elton’s place. We had a Thames river mooring we rented. And that was when Elton and Ray Cooper decided to do this world duo tour, in Russia and other places. I was really worried about mine and Carla’s relationship, because she had only been in the country for a few months, and then I was due to go off for 14 months on tour. Elton had met Carla several times, and knew she was a good make-up artist. Elton had never used make-up, nor had a hair-dresser for stage shows at that time. It was outrageous costumes instead. He called me up and said: ‘listen I’ve decided that because it’s only me and Ray on this tour, I want to be more theatrical and I need make-up. Do you think Carla would come out on the road and do my make-up?’ I was knocked out! He felt for me, and it just seemed a little bit coincidental. Maybe I am dreaming that bit! I’ve never spoken to Elton about it, and he probably wouldn’t tell me. So she came on the road for that whole tour. It was wonderful, just me, Carla, Bob Halley, Elton, and Ray. When we got back in 1980 someone suggested living in Richmond, which I had never visited. We bought the house. We got married middle of 1980, stayed until end of 1989, moving to NZ. We used to dine at Mrs Beeton’s on Richmond Hill, [made more famous by nearby residents Jerry Hall and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger] and although not a pub-goer, sometimes went down the hill to a pub on Richmond Green [made famous by Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood who was evicted by his neighbours for loud parties a few years back]. I visited our old home two years ago, and it seemed reclaimed by London, busier streets, and I realised we made the right decision to bring up the kids in a cleaner environment in NZ.
GM: Close to where I live is the studio of band member Hugh Nicholson from Rocket Record signing Blue. I interviewed them for Hercules in 1996. Do you recall them?
CF: Very much. Me and Elton had a great time producing them. I visited them a few years back and Hugh played me some of his stuff. They repackaged the album on CD, and having only had the vinyl copy, I got some CDs. It’s funny because after you’ve produced something, you get so close to it, you’re sick of it. I never played it since I produced it. But when I heard it again, wow! The recording was open, very basic, organic, but there were three great songs on there. I loved their harmonies and ideas. Shame they weren’t more successful. We had a mini-hit with Capture Your Heart. None of the band played real piano, so Elton made some appearances. You know Elton didn’t want to be credited as Elton John. The band had a Budget rent-a-van outside the studio. He decided to be called Redget Buntavan as opposed to Budget Rentavan – I told you Elton was good with words! And that’s how his guest artist entry is on the album Another Night Time Flight.
GM: We too have fond memories of Blue. They kindly post-mastered the Hercules 10-year CD in 1998. They were really easy to work with. Finally, tell us about The Claggers.
CF: Ha! When I worked at Dick James Music, started as a tea boy, worked my way up. But before I could get into the studio, Dick said I had to find a replacement! My best friend, who was in our school band, Stuart Epps – whose name you will see on many Elton albums and now working for Bill Wyman several years, worked also with Jimmy Paige, and Gus Dudgeon – is someone I’ve known since he was 11, and me 13. He’s the longest friendship I’ve still got going. I got him in to replace me. Then when we both moved up, Stuart chose Jeff Titmus (his uncle a famous cricketer) to replace him. Funny really, as we all went to the same school, Spur Road School in Edgware, although I only knew Jeff from the playground. The three of us started mucking around in the studio in “downtime”. Jeff played drums, Stuart acoustic guitar and piano, and I played acoustic, piano, and bass guitar. Then a guy joined DJM, Kaplan Kaye. He’s the son of an English comedian, Davy Kaye, who recently died. Kaplan came in, playing piano, writing songs and singing. Suddenly, this band came together in our spare time! We produced a lot of stuff. One day Dick walked in, and we freaked, because really we shouldn’t have been doing our own stuff. And he asked ‘What’s that?’ We were lost for words. He asked whether we have any more, and we said a tape. He loved it. He wanted to release it! We couldn’t believe it. We weren’t serious, just for fun. So he asked what we were called. We didn’t have a name. Caleb Quaye had a skill for finding colourful words for ordinary things. Caleb once had an unfortunate case of haemorrhoids, and would say: ‘Man I got a severe case of clagnuts!’ One of us told Dick we’d be called the Clagnuts. I said: ‘we can’t be called the Clagnuts!’ So it got abbreviated to The Claggers.
GM: And I thought it had something to do with the BBC kids programme, The Clangers.
CF: Some people asked us that. Dick liked our material. We put together an album, and they released a couple of singles, which actually got quite a bit of radio airplay. The singles sold a few, one called Train Song. And the album had a daft name too. When younger I read an English schoolboys’ book in which the character was called Chumley. Meanwhile, Caleb used to use a very British expression: ‘Get your laughing gear around this’. So we called the album Chumley’s Laughing Gear. Ridiculous. The album cover was a caricature of us four. From the waist upwards they were drawings if us on springs like Jack-In-The-Boxes, and for some reason in Dick Turpin-style clothes, ruffled short sleeves and collars. A lot of the songs were jokes. The guy that publishes The Beatles wants to release in 1969 an album by The Claggers called…! Seemed a little odd to us at the time. We sold a few copies [which is a few copies more than he said of The Fox in an interview for Hercules in July 1997!].
GM: I’ll look for it in the second-hand record stores.
CF: Ha! Stuart’s got one, but I lost mine in the move. There were several guest spots. Caleb played a lot on there, as none of us were much good on lead guitar, and Elton’s first drummer Roger Pope, and Nigel Olsson played tambourine. That era at DJM, which we refer to as “the gaff”, was a fun time, 1967-72.
GM: And while in England, you are teaming up with another chum next week?
CF: That’s right. Tomorrow I travel to Liverpool for Elton’s show up there, and then down to Cornwall to see Joe Partridge, Kiki Dee’s guitarist, and briefly in the Elton John band – for one night only! He was in Davey Johnstone’s band China, who opened for Elton, and then supported during the show. It was Empire Pool, Wembley, November 1977, and Elton made one of his famous resignation announcements. So his first gig as second guitarist was his last! He’s a wonderful guy, and has a studio. I shall see him before our Port Talbot gig [Margam Park] next week.
Three other parts of this interview:
Cage the songbird – Monday, July 31 2000 at 17:08:13
Make Strange Sounds, Strange Sounds It Seems – Saturday, July 29 2000 at 16:59:41
Marry A Music Man – Friday, July 28 2000 at 16:55:24