Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Clare Grogan & Richard Klein

Kerensa Bryant meets Clare Grogan at The Space, Komedia
Richard Klein and Clare Grogan joined us this month for our February event in the intimate Studio Bar at Komedia. Juice Radio’s Guy Lloyd kindly stepped up to the mic, presenting the event which also marked Richard as our 100th Space guest! A truly engaging acumen of an evening transpired…

Young And The Restless
Researching Clare was easy. Let’s see, there’s the repeated success with 80s pop band Altered Images. Check. Then there’s her part she played in the cult 80s coming-of-age Brit-flick; Gregory’s Girl (rated 30 in the BFI Top 100 British films). Check. Most currently, there’s her second children’s book to come out of the trilogy; Tallulah and the TeenStars. Check. And to mirror her original rise to fame, you can now catch her cameo in the latest series of Skins on E4; the gritty teen-ripening drama, she plays cheeky-stop-out anti-role model mum to the main character Mini. Check.

I get it. She’s one multi-talented lady. But this dainty doll before me barely seems to have aged from what I witnessed as I journeyed through YouTube interview clips and many a pop video from yesteryear. Everything about Clare is femme. Her voice, her pint-sized stature, her cheeky nods to her band-mate husband and anecdotes about trying to meet boys as a teen, with ladylike composure sitting on stage. Bound by youth, Clare let us in on her lottery-kismet to fame, and how she originally became the sylphlike quarter of Altered Images and falling into her first attempt as a singer: “I went to an all-girls school so meeting boys wasn’t easy. [On attending her first band audition] None of the boys were brave enough to sing, so I thought being in a band, well this could be the first step into meeting boys. We didn’t do very much other than pretend we were Siouxsie and the Banshees in the hope we would pull something off – which we did! Tony was the talent and I had the ambition, you could say.”

Indeed, from that tender naive spirit of ‘anything’s possible’, they did quite avail: “Johnny and I were members of the Siouxsie and the Banshees Fan Club and we sent them a demo, asked if we could tour with them. The fan club organiser passed our demo on to her and she though ‘yep, let’s get them on tour’. I have this amazing photo of me sitting on Siouxsie’s knee. She was an adult to me, but she was probably only a couple of years older than me. I think alcohol might have been involved.”
Having just left school, Clare and the other band members were living the epitome of the teen-dream. So fresh and free spirited, this new life came with a couple of embarrassing bumps: “Our parents had to sign the record deal for us as we were all too young. So just at the point of wanting to be grownup – we had to get them involved! But the weird thing about being young is you take things in your stride. Fear isn’t part of it. I was a schoolgirl when this was happening. We signed to Epic and honestly to this day I’m still not sure what was expected of us. There was a bidding war from other labels. Our first single, Dead Pop Stars, was released on the day John Lennon was assassinated. We weren’t going to be put off by the first hurdle though.”

Blonde Ambition

A little disheartened perhaps, but always on the bounce-back offensive teeming with juvenile stoicism, the band had their sights set tenaciously on fame: “John Peel was instrumental in the success of Altered Images. After Siouxsie, John was our next target at the Leeds Futurama, and we were determined to get him to see us. I was wearing a costume borrowed from my school drama department to stand out.”

On a more personal note, Clare flashed back to her parents take on the whirling-dervish world she’d catapulted herself into: “My parents were devout Catholics and I remember asking them why they didn’t stop me – their response was ‘We didn’t know how, you were so determined’. I had a very clear notion of what I wanted to do and that I wanted to be part of a gang. I didn’t want to be ordinary.”

Asked about being a young girl in such a fast paced and nowadays, harshly-perceived music industry, I was genuinely relieved to hear that it was all once-upon-a-time as rosy as all class-room daydreams lead us to believe: “I was still very scared of the Virgin Mary so that kept me safe for a long time. It wasn’t that people were trying to lead you astray, there was a genuine innocence. Quite often after a gig I would come back to my hotel room and there would be a male fan there, just waiting. Luckily, there would always be someone to take care of them, I never felt threatened.” And quick to follow up her innocence in the whole matter of groupies, Clare protested: “I didn’t take any of them up on their offers, either!”

After three albums, Altered Images disbanded. “I have since worked out that most bands have 5 years. Five years of being very creative, very productive, very fun. Then you fall out with each other. [During US tour] I felt very homesick for Glasgow. People were telling me to be careful what you wish for, as the next thing I was asked to do meant me heading back to Glasgow for filming of Comfort and Joy, and I decided I couldn’t be in the band anymore.”

“When I was 24/25, I was described as a has-been; because I had started at the top. But I didn’t notice it, I just think if you like what you’re doing – keep doing it. The schoolgirl in me just loves being part of a world that’s so passionate and I love that I can engage with people. It’s all been hugely satisfying, thirty years down the line being sat here, and people still being interested. Doing events such as this for The Space always feels like an out of body experience. Still, as much as I love it, it’s never been my whole world. I love my family. I’m almost 50, so I’ve had more that my 5 years. You can have all the plans in the world, but life will get in the way. I still have ambition; I’ll still practice my Oscar speech. You have to fantasise.”

Being a lass born in the 80s, I missed out on Clare’s glory days. Yes, I can rifle through old copies of Smash Hits and borrow a copy of Gregory’s Girl from Blockbuster again, but I wanted a final understanding of the Clare Grogan that makes every 30-40 something man in my social circle melt into a puppy dog utterance of ‘OhmygodClareGrogan’. So, the last avenue I felt needed to be explored was that of the adolescent teen male with posters of Clare pasted on every wall the length and breadth of the pop-pore domain. So I asked my friend what it was about Clare that made her so irresistible…

“She was accessible, the girl next door compared to Debbie Harry's girl next continent. And the voice could melt you, capable of breaking your heart by declaring yesterday’s shatter, tomorrows don't matter.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this has been my introduction to Clare Grogan. Long live the pop princess.

And here’s a little taster of Clare in the latest series of Skins on E4:

Kerensa Creswell meets Richard Klein at The Space, KomediaHe Sells Sanctuary

Controller for BBC Four, Richard Klein, like many of us finding our paths in life, stumbled across his passion by pointed chance. With a background in print journalism and an interim in film-making, he was obviously drawn to the world of expression and concept. Not scared of a little confrontation in the name of belief also (he was once banned from talking to Haringey Council while working for a Haringey local paper) was another affection that stood him in good stead to be noticed.

“I didn’t come into journalism with a plan; I guess I fell into the world of story. I had no idea what commissioning was. I was a film director and made a couple of short films. But no one was calling me, I didn’t have the vision. But I had an idea about a story; The Lost Race. Someone from commissioning saw it and asked me if I wanted to get involved. Working with new ideas and finding homes for them on different channels. I wouldn’t help make them, but I would help steer them.”

So, the conductor of an orchestra of allegory and verity, Richard has since set to work making BBC Four “the premier arts, music and culture channel through preposition and passion.”

“Channel controllers are tarts, let’s be honest. Ultimately my job is to give people who watch my channel a good time. I thought BBC Four had to have a place bringing perspective underpinned by credibility; an opinion, a new lens. I think that’s quite empowering.”

But what is it that makes a good idea? What chimes out to him above the cacophony of average?

“Sometimes a good idea can come straight away and you can see where it can go – quite prosaic, in a way. But sometimes an idea can almost come too early. First of all introduce yourself, tell me more about yourself and build up a relationship, first. I get 8,000 ideas via email a year. I have maybe 100 slots to fill. Add to this, the verbal discussions I have and the personal approaches…well, you wouldn’t just buy a house off someone you just met. Give me an idea of who you are and what your angle is. I’m quite open, I reply to all emails I receive the same day.”

“We’re not a channel where you would have on all the time like BBC1. Our audience comes and goes, they like to think. We reach the parts of your brain that others don’t. We are appealing to a broader audience. You can’t necessarily bring as much opinion to BBC2, for example, we are very distinctive.”

Distinctive indeed, you may not be aware that BBC Four was the channel to originally bring to the fore the likes of Gavin and Stacey and Flight of the Conchords, before they were then moved over to BBC 2. Even the critically acclaimed Madmen was given the screening opportunity first on BBC Four.

“I guess we’re possibly a testing area? It might encourage some experimentation and risk. You can fail on BBC Four and regroup. Not that we ever fail.” Laughing quite rightly with confidence at this last comment as the channel goes from strength to strength; there must surely be a level of annoyance that comes with such thwarting?

Madmen was originally on BBC Four, but Sky Atlantic have just taken it from us ready for the fifth series. I wouldn’t say this was frustrating, I don’t have a strong view about things moving. We bought the show, took the risk, but then Sky bid a phenomenal amount and we couldn’t compete. So, yes, it was disappointing, but it’s the way it is. I generally see it as an opportunity to find something else different.”

“Channels like Dave, Bravo, ITV3; you know what you’re getting, repeated again and again and again. BBC Four is a completely different model. In some aspects it looks like a terrestrial channel. That shape changes every day. We are trying to be big in a very small way. You wouldn’t know BBC Four was skint.”

Richard took over control of BBC Four in 2008 with a budget of roughly £37.5 million. Putting this into context, BBC 2 had £250-300 million to play with. If a programme moves channel, the original channel doesn’t get any money back as it’s already seen as paid for by the tax-payer. So how does a channel on a strict budget succeed in producing quality programme after quality programme?

“It is hard work. My hat is off to the people who make programmes, they work very hard. We are an interesting channel to make programmes for. The idea is as central as the ratings, though the ratings are still very important. We’re on a five year efficiency programme; we know there will be a knock on effect to broadcasting hours. I’m convinced that BBC Four will be safe.”

The questions are thrown to the floor to the audience and the interesting idea of sponsorship adverts is addressed as a means of extra funding; ‘This next hour is brought to you by Waitrose’, for example. Would this harm the BBC?

“Yes. One of the great British strengths is that we fully fund, so we have control and input. I would find it a shame to go down such a route; plus I’d be out of a job!”

Listening to Richard speak about BBC Four, he sounds like a craftsman doting after his favourite instrument, honed and shaped with practice and commitment and the utmost respect for its capabilities when combined. His noted programmes of personal endearment include:

Coronation Street - A Star is Born [following the birth of the soap opera], Christopher Eccleston as John Lennon in Lennon Naked, plus the Fatherhood season and of course the German season [as Richard is half German]. Then of course I can’t miss out the clog dancing flash mob [Come Clog Dancing: Treasures of English Folk Dance]. I’m very proud of the channel with its sharp eyed place that will entertain you.”
Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 18:09