Keys And Chords
On a sunny city road, at the back of a red-bricked terraced house, through long grass in a garden, you’ll find Studio Clark. Here, she wrote melodies and harmonies on the piano, and grafted on the production of her songs. Glossy electronica weaved its magic spells here, loops of vocals were mixed and meshed, guitars chimed and burned.
This petite, creative hothouse in the west of London, owned by Clark’s producer John Owen Williams, became one of the favourite studios this artist has known, at times even better than in Memphis in 1970, or in those huge rooms where she’d record with full orchestras, filling the air with huge sound.
In the 21st century Petula Clark works with decidedly modern approach. Following 2013 album "Lost In You", led by its Saint Etienne-alike slice of perfect pop melancholy, Cut Copy Me, she now writes cheek by jowl, literally, with her team: producer John Owen Williams, the Peel session producer who mentored the careers of The Housemartins and The Proclaimers in the 1980s and more recently producing the latest work of Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. “It’s all very hands-on, but it’s a very stressless way of recording,” she explains. It’s also because Clark’s at the heart of the creativity, although she's too humble to say that. A writer for most of her life, since her first composition, "You’re The One", became a hit in 1965, she’s nevertheless rarely been in the mix as thickly as this.
And from that starting point, what songs have emerged. Take " Sacrifice My Heart", another electronically-charged, shimmering gem of a song, where Clark’s voice is allowed to breathe freely; you hear the joy in her doing backing vocals with herself, enjoying getting lost in her own voice.
That she is: like a breeze, like a feeling, pure, loose, free. You hear that mood when Clark sings "Miracle To Me", another of her own compositions, written in the French mountains, embellished later by her writing on her piano. You hear it on her cover of The Beatles’ Blackbird, in which she gives the song a very different pair of wings. You even hear it on songs which flirt with other genres, like in the country swing of Endgame, and in the subtle dance music sensibilities of Sincerely.
There are other covers on the record too, all tackled in searching new ways. Peggy Lee’s "Fever" that gains an interesting, and sly, rocky edge. Steve Winwood’s 1980 hit "While You See A Chance" also gains a choir, created quite by accident by the people working in the studio - John and Paul even join in.
Clark’s French connections are also explored in fascinating ways. "Pour Etre Aime De Toi" is a new collaboration between her and Charles Aznavour: the latter demanding that the former fit his lyrics to her own music when they last met. Then there’s Happiness, with Clark on piano again, and a lyric she wrote, which she describes as “very depouillé” – bare and stark. Its tiny fragment of French added by Alain Boublil, who wrote the lyrics for "Les Miserables "in French. Here’s Clark reaching out into the world, once more, as ever, looking for soulmates to chime with, for new avenues to navigate.
Clark is also someone free of nostalgia, as her album title makes very clear. “The world has changed, and it’s only natural that music and the way it’s made should change too. When people say, ‘Oh, they don’t write songs like that any more, well, there was a lot of rubbish being written years ago too!’. In its spirit, its power, its lyrics, its melodies, "From Now On" tells us, directly, where this artist is, and where she wants to be. Yes, on a sunny, city road, behind a red-bricked terraced house, watching the cat lope around the flowers, but also here in our glorious present, right here, right now.