Lately, there’s been a lot of justified hoopla over the Beatles coming to the states 50 years ago. Overlooked in the celebration of that British Invasion was the Dave Clark Five.
They were incredibly popular, selling more than 100 million records. And for anyone who was a fan, PBS’ “Great Performances: The Dave Clark Five – Glad All Over” premiering Tuesday, April 8 (check local listings), is a must. It’s a fun film and also works well for those who never knew the joys of buying 45s and getting change back from a dollar.
The documentary weaves footage from performances, home movies of Clark, Mike Smith, Lenny Davidson, Denis Payton and Rick Huxley goofing around, and celebrities recalling how much the Dave Clark Five meant to them.
To place them in context, “Glad All Over” knocked the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” out of the No. 1 slot in 1964. And over the years, they had 30 hit singles internationally.
Now 71, Clark does not seek the spotlight. He had to be persuaded to make this film, which he produced and directed. Though he will talk about himself, it clearly isn’t his favorite subject.
“I said I’d never write a book or do a documentary, and I relished every moment,” Clark tells Zap2it. “I lost my best mate in the group, Denis. My sister had an aneurysm. Mike, sadly, broke his neck, and I wasn’t in a good place.
“I lost a brother when he was 10, and my older sister when I got my first No. 1 record,” Clark continues. “When your number is up, it’s up. You have to enjoy every moment. When I did the (Rock and Roll) Hall of Fame, Tom Hanks said, ‘You’ve got to write a book, do a documentary.’ Bruce Springsteen said, ‘You owe it to yourself, to history and to your fans.’ And they said, ‘We’ll do it for you.’
“After seeing the first few interviews, I felt embarrassed,” Clark continues. “I was going to take my name off. It was so complimentary. It’s not that you can get people to say those things if they don’t mean it. I was hoping people would contradict or say I was lousy.”
But the truth is the Dave Clark Five were about as far from lousy as possible. They made music that was happy.
“Our music wasn’t a message song,” Clark says. “It was feel-good music.”
Today singers have “American Idol,” and “X Factor,” Clark notes. If they do well, those appearances can lead to tours. When the Dave Clark Five started, the career trajectory was the other way around.
They toured endlessly, beginning on military bases. They played for a while before being invited onto “The Ed Sullivan Show,” which, over their 18 appearances, projected them to even greater fame. They also played with Frank Sinatra, did a TV special with Lucille Ball and made a movie.
In the documentary, Clark says that in 1967 he thought it was time to stop and rediscover himself. But over the next three years, they had 10 consecutive hit singles and kept going, making fans everywhere.
Among them was Laurence Olivier, who says, “The Dave Clark Five was as well known as the English dictionary.”
“They were hot,” Dionne Warwick says.
Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt talk about how the Dave Clark Five’s sound was bigger than those of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, though Paul McCartney says the Beatles were better, adding, “Come on, I had to say that.”
Clark, the leader and drummer, was also a sharp businessman and held onto the group’s copyrights. Elton John talks about how so many artists, including him, were in protracted fights with unscrupulous managers and agents. But not the Dave Clark Five, because Clark was savvy.
“At the time you want control over the creative output,” Clark says simply.
Sitting alone in a bare conference room in a Pasadena, Calif., hotel, Clark pours water into a glass, silver rings bedecking fingers worse for wear after an accident broke three and stopped him from drumming and even writing checks for years.
Clark’s focus is nearly tangible, and it was his vision that shaped the band from fashion to sound. Clips from performances from 50 years ago show vibrant young men having a blast.
This isn’t a tell-all, and there’s no whining about the downside of fame.
“We enjoyed every moment,” he says. “We were mates. No outside influences with managers.”
Yet as much as he loved the life, it was an accidental one that brought the screaming hordes.
“I never wanted to be a musician,” Clark says. “I wanted to be an actor.”
He played in skiffle bands, which he likens to American folk, and did so to raise money for a soccer team.
“My friend’s mum was a maid at Buckingham Palace, and she slipped a few cards around,” he says, still shaking his head at the randomness of how this happened. “We were asked to play at a ball. I thought it was a joke.”
The guys took the subway as close as possible then hailed a taxi to get to the palace. They spent the last of their money on that fare.
They weren’t cash-strapped for long. And they went on to make millions from their joyful sound, eventually being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is shown at the end of the documentary.
With only Davidson and Clark surviving, Clark considers how the film can resonate with viewers.
“I hope the audience, especially the younger audience, will experience the freedom and that anything is possible,” he says. “And for people my age, I hope it will bring back some memories.