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Tangled up in Prussian Blue


The reissuing of a record is not just news for the record, it’s also a reissuing of that part of the life of the listener who knew the original. Thus it is with Richard Clapton, his debut album Prussian Blue and me. Clapton is about to send into the world anew the album Prussian Blue along with Goodbye Tiger and The Great Escape.

And in this rebirth, there rises memories like mist on the lake for myself. It was 1973 and I was a teenager just awakening to music. It was not quite like the scene in Almost Famous when William Miller’s sister Anita bequeaths her albums to him when she leaves home. But for a young Newcastle lad there were mysteries within the record sleeves, more mysteries in a gatefold, of course and a triple album? Good lord. And there was wonder.

It is here that I thank David Jones for its records section and those half bubble listening booths. Looking back I’m sure whoever was the buyer for the store had not really a clue about the music they were supplying. Bless them. Among the top 10 chartbusters in the racks was an array of music unknown to the radio stations nor I would offer a guess most of the public. How else to explain Tony Orlando and Dawn (Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree) next to Lynyrd Skynrd (Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd). I bought the latter. Or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon next to Frank Zappa’s Overnite Sensation? I bought the latter.

I’ll admit a cover could be enough to persuade a young McFadyen to part with his $5.95. I took Supertramp’s debut album Crime of the Century (admittedly in 1974) into the half bubble, purely on the ultra-cool cover art of a pair of hands gripping cell bars in space, listened to it, was in turn gripped by it and bought it instantly (I like to think I was the one of the first in the country to buy it.) I did the same with Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery, after having bought its predecessor Trilogy purely on its cover - and then spent countless hours trying to work out what it meant.  

And so it was in 1973. The half bubble listening booth was the portal into the music of Richard Clapton. At a time when a driver in the mark of success of pop music in this country was to sound like an American, Clapton was a burst of fresh air. Here was an Australian singing in an unadorned Australian accent. He was singing of the heart and the street. He was singing from just 100 miles away and I could hear in his voice that he was singing to me. That is a mark of music transcending. I played the record to death. 

Not quite. I still have it. And it has Clapton’s signature on it, too. (When I interviewed him, like the fan from decades earlier, I took the album with me.) People are now asking more than $1000 for an original pressing. Mine’s not for sale. 

Prussian Blue is a time capsule. In 1973, the world was school, sport, family and friends. Life was generally smooth waters that was barely disturbed from a gust of the affairs of the wider world. To listen to the album these days takes me back to a place and time before I stepped out into that world.

Clapton’s voice then was more nasally and reedier than what it became down his career. It was the green reed bending with rhythm of the lyrics and melodies. And what he was singing turned my head, opened my mind to the possibilities of art. On the title track Clapton sings that he feels ‘like I’m in a Bunuel movie, right here at home/Surreal as Ornette Coleman’s saxophone/Playing on my broken gramophone/Oh baby, don’t you leave me here alone’.

Wikipedia baldly states: Prussian Blue failed to appear on the Kent Music Chart. This is true.

The world was yet to catch up.




Warwick McFadyen is an award-winning journalist. He has won two Walkley Awards and four Quill Awards. He has published several books of poetry. The latest is 21+4 Poems. His prose and poems have also appeared in Quadrant, Overland and Dissent.

Main image: Prussian Blue album cover. (Wikipedia)

Topic tags: Warwick McFadyen, Richard Clapton, Music, 70s, Album, Prussian Blue



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Existing comments

At this time of the year I usually play Wintertime In Amsterdam, from Goodbye Tiger, but methinks I should be tracking down Prussian Blue. Thanks for the story.

Vin Maskell | 24 May 2024  

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