One of Australian singer/songwriter Richard Clapton’s most popular songs is ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ and, with all that’s going on now with COVID 19, don’t we all remember those days with a longing fondness?
Just two days before the Government shut down all pubs and clubs, Richard Clapton’s concert at Belmont 16s snuck in, just beating the curfew, and it was a night to remember for so many reasons. Ralph, as he is fondly monikered by some, is back.
Firstly, it is Clapton’s first gig at the popular venue for a good number of years, primarily because he’s been doing a string of outdoor festivals such as Day on The Green and similar shows at wineries and other sites under the stars. And, after being on stage at 16s for only a short time, Clapton acknowledges this fact, remembering previous gigs at the club and preparing punters for a night where, as he says, “the party never ends”.
The show opens with two tracks from his most recent album, 2016’s The House of Orange, recorded in Nashville. While unfamiliar to some of the audience, the songs are classic Clapton and the brilliant intro guitar lines of ‘Something About You’ energise the crowd immediately and the song, with its follow-up ‘Here Inside of Me’, get things started perfectly. People, in big numbers, should really buy this album.
On stage, Clapton is in glorious form. His ubiquitous black t-shirt and sunglasses exude rockstar cool, in his unique Clapton style, and are as endearing as his acerbic, irreverent humour and slightly awkward yet completely appropriate stage presence. There’s no showbiz pretence here. Just a thinking person’s hedonism.
As Clapton attacks the microphone with venom and prowls the stage, the iconic opening chords of ‘Capricorn Dancer’ transport the crowd, many of whom are at the foot of the stage now, into more familiar territory. What follows is bliss. Clapton takes us through a journey of his hits and masterpieces: ‘Get Back To The Shelter’, ‘Distant Thunder’, ‘Glory Road’, ‘Ace Of Hearts’, and the iconic ‘Deep Water’, which ignites the crowd to join in unison for the memorable middle eight . . . “Sittin’ out on the Palm Beach Road, I’m so drunk and the car won’t go, my crazy eyes keep lookin’ out to sea”. Clapton’s songs are so much a part of the Australian 70’s psyche that he immediately takes you back there, and tonight he evokes the beach, the sun, the cars, the carefree music-filled summer days and the warmth of nostalgia.
Also included in the set are two more tracks from The House Of Orange: ‘Stay With Me’ & ‘Liberty Bell’, as well as ‘Dancing With The Vampires’, the single from the lesser-known 2012 Harlequin Nights album, all-powerful songs and testament to the fact that Clapton – the songwriter – is still as gifted and relevant as ever. The show proper finishes with a crunching rendition of ‘I Am An Island’, the big hit from 1982’s The Great Escape, another powerful song delivered with angst and rock grit.
Naturally, the audience wants more. After a long period of chanting, clapping and cries for “MORE. “MORE”, Clapton reappears with just the piano for accompaniment and delivers a soulful rendition of ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’. The realisation of the loss of those years and the jolting clarity of the fact that it is unlikely they will ever return, is palpable among the audience. But it’s balanced by Clapton’s blasé, accepting and ‘let’s party’ attitude, the attitude of the 70s, the attitude of youth.
The finale, of course, is Clapton’s signature hit from 1975, ‘Girls On The Avenue’, the iconic guitar riffs deftly pronounced and the “Fri-day night, see -the girls on the a-ven-ue” refrain is freely offered up by the audience. Clapton, seemingly taken a little by surprise, steps back and lets the crowd-chorus fill the room, before steering the song to its mighty end.
The songs themselves, and Clapton’s idiosyncratic vocal sound, are the highlights of the evening. As are drummer Gordon Rytmeister’s perfect grooves. Sure, there were some favourites not played: like the carefree ‘Blue Bay Blues’, the classic ‘Goodbye Tiger’, ‘Down In The Lucky Country’ and the very-rarely-performed-live ‘Hearts On The Nightline’, but he needs the perform the newer songs. They deserve to be heard. The House Of Orange deserves to sell a truckloads and be in the charts. Maybe after hearing these songs tonight, some of the individuals present will chase the album down and buy it.
Clapton remains a storyteller, chronicling our lives. And tonight, he transported us across decades as he showed that we can still live them. A timely reminder as, two days later, the opportunity to even go to a concert like this disappears and we all find ourselves in a new reality. And there’s an opportunity, too, that the new reality we create will indeed be the best years of our lives. And the storyline of Richard Clapton’s next album.
Thanks Ralph. It was, and will forever be, a night to remember.