Rummaging through the bargain bins in the second hand record shops in the west end of Glasgow can be an invigorating experience and no more so than when you encounter a classic sleeve, the likes of which you are unlikely to see again. “Speedway Rider” by Phil Clarke was therefore no more than an impulse purchase but it was with some enthusiasm, and no small amount of curiosity, that the proverbial needle was duly put into the groove.
Before the music, however, let us reflect upon the sleeve. The time was 1978 and all you needed for musical success – and we are talking mainstream success here – was chest hair, some ostentatious gold bling (some things never change…) and couple of righteous babes in hot pants at your side. Hot pants? Again nothing changes! Let’s face it, the sleeve was a winner then and now.
Back to the music. Did Phil Clarke have the pipes to pull off the macho posturing that the cover promises? The choice of songs is pretty middle of the road with “In the Midnight hour”, Sweet Talkin’ Dan” and “Alright Now” being hardly surprising when you hear our Phil’s rich, soulful tones. Credit must be given too as he also easily takes control of Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” and turns it into something more a bit, well, showband. It might sound cheesy but, trust me, it’s better than you think.
From a collector’s point of view, this album was released on the Emerald Gem label. Emerald Gem seems to have been flying the flag for Mervyn Solomon and, unsurprisingly, had a catalogue that consisted mainly of Irish showbands that, incidentally, are distinctly collectable these days.
Curiosity cut in at that point and a search for whatever happened to Phil began on the mighty Google. Apart from another album of covers and the fact that he hailed from Edinburgh, there wasn’t much to find. YouTube provided a few useful clues as he seems to have starred in a couple of STV series in the eighties (Hear Here and All Kinds of Country) as Phil Clarke Jr. Maybe he disappeared into the Irish country circuit – possible given his record label – in search of that elusive rhinestone shamrock? When I get some time, I reckon I will have to go old school and search the old trade papers in the Mitchell library for some actual facts.
Anyway, Phil Clarke certainly had the pipes to carry off the songs on this album and also to justify that great smell of Brut cover. If you find a copy the grab it for Phil Clarke is a cult waiting to happen.