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Darcy Clay – Songs for Beethoven

1998, Antenna Recordings, ANT012

Originally published as a retrospective feature review for Stylus Magazine

There’s a distinct possibility that you may never see this album in even your most reliable of indie music stores. Darcy Clay was an unusual talent, a young guy with a cog loose upstairs who reveled in being challenging and ad hoc.

In late 1997 Darcy sent a four-track recording of his latest track entitled ‘Jesus I was evil’ to the Bfm college radio station in Auckland, New Zealand to ask what they thought of the track. The quirky little number which sounded somewhere between ween and the tall dwarfs was immediately play listed and became an underground phenomenon. Bfm used their promotional power to release the track as an EP, still in its crude 4-track recorded form, and within 2 weeks of release the track hit number 5 on the New Zealand charts.

This success had never been achieved by an independently recorded release since The Clean‘s ‘Tally Ho!’ back in 1981. All of a sudden Darcy was a celebrity, he appeared on New Zealand’s (then local) MTV station in his signature Evil Kinevil outfit and formed a high profile backing band for the live shows that he now was being asked to perform.

Darcy Clay (born Daniel Bolton) only managed to complete 5 of those gigs, which were usually beautifully chaotic messes, before taking his own life in March 1998. Darcy was only 20 years old and left scores of people asking why.

The recording here makes up half of Darcy’s tragically short career-output, a live recording of his last gig, which happened to be opening for Blur during their New Zealand tour. The crowd is enormous, Darcy’s only been on stage a handful of times before, and absolutely everyone in the audience go crazy when he breaks into the opening bars of ‘English Rose’ in a haphazard casio-toned keyboard style (and comical finishes by proclaiming ‘Bold move’). No other truly creative and independent musician has ever met with this complete an approval from a mainstream audience.

Moving into a full-band configuration, the band plays Darcy’s unusual mix of country-fried guitar-punk with vigor and chaotic glee, including the obligatory cover of Dolly Parton’s classic ‘Jolene’ late in the set. Rounding off the night Darcy announces they have one last song, his one true hit, ‘Jesus I was evil’. it’s a loose and heavy track, awash in guitar-feedback and sing-shout vocals proclaiming the evils of his former past. The track makes a slick reference to Joe Walsh – ‘I used to crash parties and Maserati’s, and I was evil’ and has a demented shine that is indescribable.

And so his performance ends. later, Blur came on stage and proclaimed that he was the most enjoyable opening act they had ever seen. Darcy touched people. he showed that you didn’t have to be a brilliant and slick musician to be successful, he did it merely on the fun and drive of his music and mere weeks after his death was voted the ‘most promising’ of New Zealand musicians, in a sad posthumous conclusion.

I recommend anyone who has the opportunity to purchase this recording, or his studio EP for ‘Jesus I was evil’, to pick them up immediately, so you may be able to understand what people saw in Darcy, and why those of us who cherished his music miss him so much.

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