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Boyd Clack interview

(September 01, 2011)

Interview with Boyd Clack

A BAFTA Cymru award winner, Boyd Clack is a writer, actor, singer and musician. He is probably most famous for putting the Welsh onto Welsh television, having co-written (with his partner Kirsten Jones) and acted in the sitcoms Satellite City and High Hopes. Only graduating from the Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1986 (at the tender age of 35), he has worked on some iconic projects, including: Twin Town; (Rob Brydon's) Marion and Geoff; and Pirates of the Caribbean. Just over the last year he has appeared in Baker Boys, Being Human and New Tricks.

Born in Vancouver, Boyd returned to Wales at three years old. His dad, who had been in the Royal Regiment of Canada, died of leukemia at only 45, and Boyd was brought up with his mother's sister and brother-in-law in the the village of Tonyrefail, in the south Wales valleys. Before becoming an actor, Boyd had led a rather adventurous life, involving a dozen or so different jobs, a religious cult in Australia, the band 'Boyd Clack and the Lemmings' and a 'squat' in Amsterdam. Boyd kindly agreed to tell us more ...

Portrait of Boyd Clack Boyd Clack (Photo: Ben Hussain)


CC … Calling your childhood 'challenging' doesn't quite cover it. How has your upbringing most affected your adult life?

BC … I felt paranoid and claustrophobic in my teens. I was a delicate, bespectacled hippy and was out of place in the testosterone-charged, violent, alcohol fueled enclave of the valleys. I thought I'd die. I had to get away. The girls fancied the muscle bound, chisel jawed guys who were tough and shaved when they were ten. I wanted to be with dreamers and romantics. I wanted magic, in fact. I wanted mystical couplings on exotic beaches. I wanted sex!


CC … The Head Chef at Tŵr Cymru Culture Towers' family live in Tonyrefail. Would you tell them which part of 'Ton' you are from? We're thinking 'blue plaque', here.

BC … I was brought up in 10 the Avenue 'till I was ten, then 133 High Street.


CC … You had an extraordinary variety of jobs as a young man, including: tax officer; hotel porter; builder; waiter; park keeper; psychiatric nurse; telephonist; door to door vacuum cleaner salesman; and porn shop assistant. What ambitions did you have at school? Did you have any idea what you wanted to do once you had left? Would you do any of those jobs again?

BC … I wanted to be a hippy, travel the world having fun and chasing after beautiful girls. I had no other ambitions. I'd work in the porn shop again - 'Venus Erotic Supplies'. Apparently I showed an aptitude for it!


CC … How did you come to travel so widely?

BC … I grew up in the valleys in the fifties and sixties. The fifties was dreams and fear all mixed up in sunshine and rain. The world was small, like one of those Christmas things you turn upside down and snowflakes fall. The sixties, the later sixties, was the time that shaped me. The outside world filtered in at first, then with Telstar and other satellites, it gushed in. I became the poet laureate of despair. The nights were cold and hung with fists full of diamond stars. I kissed girls outside in the cold and saw their breath rise up in clouds like angels. This intense romance and heart chilling excitement shaped me as clearly as Michelangelo shaped David. Everything I am comes from this. It will be the last image in my head as I die. Life is too weird to try to understand all of it. All I can do is live in frozen images. I think that the valleys in the late sixties was a magical experiment conducted by dead wizards. I sometimes feel so intense about it that it makes me cry. Mais, où sont les neiges d'antan? (But, where are the snows of yesteryear?)


CC … What led to you to form the original Boyd Clack and the Lemmings? How long did you stay together?

BC … I moved back from Australia to South Wales in 1977; into a shared house in Cardiff. The other residents were fellow zombies and we decided to form a band to do my songs. None of the others played instruments, so we had to start from scratch. It was the time of punk, so it wasn't that difficult. We were magical and sparkling in a hellish way, our songs were Doom Rock and space/time travel romance. Sanity was not our strong point. We were intense and theatrical. We were apocalyptic explorers, the world was being sucked into the pit. Amsterdam was Dead. Dark times were coming. Twilights were ominous.


CC … When you re-formed the band in 2007, did you contact any of the original line-up?

BC … When I did Welsh Bitter last year I called the band The Lemmings as a tribute to the original band. But that's where the similarity ended, except for a few of the songs, which were done by the original band.


CCWho are your musical influences?

BC … My musical influences are essentially mainstream sixties psychadelic pop e.g. Pink Floyd; Small Faces; Badfinger; Amen Corner; The Move; The Beatles of course; The Kinks; Donovan; Neil Young; Cat Stevens; and The Searchers (not psychadelic but great) etc. Also, Dr. Feelgood; early The Who; Bowie (up to Station to Station); and scattered one hit wonders from the sixties. I love The Monkees too. Then there's Leonard Cohen; Joni Mitchell; Jacques Brel; Alex Harvey; Kate Bush; and Gabriel-era Genesis. My pop musical likes ended in 1975. The post-punk, late 70s band Killing Joke are cool. I love the soundtracks of Blade Runner - Vangelis; and The Last of the Mohicans – Clannad. And Mike Oldfield, paticularly Ommadawn and Voyager. No-one now; I am into Mahler.


CC … How extensively did you tour before your second album, Welsh Bitter, was released? Do you have any dates planned now?

BC … We didn't gig much in the new band, just a handful to get tight before recording and one at The Globe to release the album. I am at present recording a new album to be released hopefully at the end of the year. It's called  Labourer of Love and I’ll do a couple of gigs to promote it.


Boyd Clack - KissesSweeterThanWineCover-Cover of Boyd Clack's autobiography (Photo: Kirsten Jones)


CC … Your autobiography, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine*, published late last year, discusses you dealing with the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of your clinical depression. Have you noticed any change in attitudes to mental health issues since you first became aware of them?

BC … I think society's attitudes to mental illness has changed little. It's like racism, sexism etc. - always there, but fashionably empathetic at the moment. Suffering is ugly and the world worships prettiness. Mental illness is marked out by terrifying loneliness. It brings the vibe down. People despise their own imperfect reflections.


CC … Who were your contemporaries at the Welsh College of Music and Drama (WCMD)? Have they ever forgiven you for winning the WCMD's 'Best Actor' award?

BC … My most successful contemporaries at the Welsh College are Dougray Scott, Rob Brydon, Mark Lewis Jones, Bethan Morris and Maldwyn John. I don't think any of them think about me other than in a general thinking of the past way, except Mark who is a little puppy dog, and I am happy for their success. Proud in some cases. I have no competitiveness. It would be silly in an unreal profession where lack of logic is the norm. I just do what I do and seek to make it beautiful. Let the Gods do what they do.


CC … Had you not been walking past the WCMD, on the last day available to apply for their auditions, what do you think you would have been doing for the last 25 years? Would you still have written Satellite City for the Chapter Arts Centre?

BC … Had I not strolled past the Welsh College on that far off summer morn, and not become an actor, I would have retired from the world and become a hermit or a monk.


Cast portrait Satellite City series_2Cast of Satellite City (seies 2)

CC … What insipred you to write the sit-coms Satellite City and High Hopes?

BC … The inspiration behind all of my work is to celebrate and analyse the human condition. In Satellite City and High Hopes it is done through the medium of comedy within family relationships. The comedy is natural. I have never forced a word. It comes from character and situation. Both shows also demonstrate human fallibility and kindness. There are no bad guys. Being Welsh and using a Welsh setting is perfectly natural don't you think. An American wouldn't be asked why his work was based in American society, with American accents, neither would an English writer. We are every bit as significant and interesting as any other culture.

At the time Satellite City came out, there had been no previous indigenous sit-com in English, so it seemed to be making a point; but it wasn't. It was just real. One thing I have learned in life is that all people in all nations are exactly the same. We all want safety, warmth, love and happiness. This is as true of a loin cloth wearing Amazonian native as a Russian prince. There is a commonality, a collective unconscious, as Jung put it, that flows through us all. This is what I have always sought to highlight. It is what makes racism the idiocy that it is. No-one is inherently better or worse than anyone else, full stop. Some ancient Greek dramatist said that action is character, and I think that's spot on. If I am better than someone else it is because I do better, more humanistic things. I am better than a thug who goes around bullying weak people, for instance. I am better than Tony Blair, say. I have never murdered people or stolen people's hard-earned wealth. Nelson Mandella is a better man than me because he has devoted more of his time to helping others.

What unites us is far greater than what keeps us apart. The problem is that the qualities of 'bad' people - greed, self interest, brutality, lack of empathy etc. - are also the very qualities that lead to positions of influence in society. Hence the appallingly low standard of those in public office, the prediliction to favour themselves and their fellow charlatans ahead of us, and their casual warmongering and incitement of bigotry, suspicion and hatred amongst us. They do this because it advantages them to have us blame eachother for the unfairnesses in society, rather than turn our anger on those rightfully to blame, i.e. them. It is a part of the duty of the artist to highlight unspoken truths. Comedy is a good way of doing this. Every episode of High Hopes has a specific angle that takes this into account. It may sound corny, but the basis of everything I do is an empathy for other people. Love, in fact. Because love is as necessary to life as air to breath, and there's nowhere near enough of it about. Old Hippie that I am.


CC … What were the main changes to Satellite City from stage, to radio and then television?

BC … The difficulties in transferring Satellite City from radio to TV were the same as any other such transfer, though the world created was so distinct on radio and the characters so strong that it proved not too difficult.


CC … I am at a loss to understand how a BBC series, which won a BAFTA Cymru award for 'Best Entertainment Series', would not be shown on the BBC, UK-wide. How was it explained to you?

BC … Satellite City wasn't networked for a variety of reasons, none of which were to do with the quality of the product, which no-one doubted. Television is a strange inward looking thing, favours are offered and accepted, there's endless nepotism and bitternesses. A whole world of egos swirling and buffeting up against each other in a huge swirling miasma of money and self interest. Had it been shown it would have gone down a storm throughout Great Britain, I've not a shred of doubt.


CC … At least the pilot for High Hopes was shown across the UK (1999). Why did it take three years to be commissioned into a series?

BC … For High Hopes: see above!


Boyd Clack -HighHopesSome of the cast from High Hopes


CC … Inexplicably, High Hopes (the series) only aired on BBC Wales. What reason did its producer, Gareth Gwenlan (also the producer of Only Fools and Horses), give for this?

BC … Gareth Gwenlan did all he could to get High Hopes networked, but was stymied by a senior figure in BBC Wales who didn't want the English to see us in what they regarded as a negative light. This is ridiculous of course, the show shows us in a wonderful light, but there is nothing more dangerous than a figure in authority with a bee in their bonnet. Reason goes out the window.


CC … When Ben Evans (who played Charlie) left the series, what made you decide to re-cast the role, rather than write in another character?

BC … We re-cast Charlie because he was so essential to the concept. Ben is as lovely a man as you'd ever meet. He wanted to get into musicals though and had a great opportunity he couldn't turn down. He's in Jersey Boys in the West End at the moment. Ollie [Oliver Wood – Ed.], who took over, did a wonderful job. He's a cracking lad too. There were no fallings out about anything.


CC … Would you re-cast the role of Mam if High Hopes is recommissioned?

BC … Margaret John was a lovely, tallented and interesting woman, a fine actress and sorely missed. She had a great life and enjoyed every minute of it. She told me that High Hopes was her most enjoyable and loved roll. If we did more High Hopes we would not re-cast Mam, that wouldn't work, but we'd keep her 'alive'. This could be done in several ways. Has she gone to Greece on holiday with Mrs Coles? Has she met Stavros (played by Tom Conti) an old flame from her erotic dancing time, and fallen in love? Is she staying over there with him? It could be done. It would be fun to do it. Like I say, contact BBC Wales; let them know the demand is there.

I would also like to put in a word for Islwyn Morris, Dad in Satellite City, who died a month after Maggie. I knew Islwyn well. He was as wonderful a man as you'd ever meet. He was honest, intelligent, kind, and a brilliant actor. He was a gentle and dignified man with a fine sense of humour and a deep religious conviction. His warmth and friendship touched everyone who knew him. He was my hero and I loved and respected him. RIP old friend.


CC … You can often be seen walking around central Cardiff, just doing your shopping etc. Are you recognised, and how do you react?

BC … I do get recognised and approached a lot. I regard it as a great compliment that my work has given such pleasure to so many people. I am quite touched by it in fact.


CC … Your affection for the valleys shines through in High Hopes. And the series was truly loved by many people (including just about everyone we know). Is there any possibility of another series?

BC … We would love to do another series of High Hopes. The public would too. The recent third repeat of the best bits had a huge audience and audience share. There is a petition for the Beeb to do more, which you can sign online if you so desire [click here for the petition – Ed.], though it appears that they are putting their money into other projects at the moment.


CC … You've done a variety of work in different media, including: Twin Town and Pirates of the Caribbean; Othello, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, Hamlet and Coriolanus; Dez Rez (Royal Television Society award winner), Satellite City (on stage, radio and TV), High Hopes, A Small Summer Party (Marion and Geoff), Baker Boys, Being Human and New Tricks. Which is best: stage or screen (big or small)?

BC … Both stage and screen are great fun. There is a magic on stage that you don't really get on screen; mainly because you have a live audience coming on the journey with you. And screen is shot out of sequence, so you don't feel the build up, the effect of the dramatic flow, so clearly. That said, screen, large and small, has its own magic. I love both. Acting is the greatest of experiences when it clicks. It is a time machine, a portal to another dimension. I love it, full stop.


CC … Please tell us about your involvement in National Theatre Wales …

BC … I played Con in A Good Night Out in The Valleys last year, which was the inaugural production of the newly formed, and none too soon, National Theatre of Wales. I was very honoured to be cast and the experience was wonderful. I hadn't been on stage for 14 years, and had forgotten the immense physical and mental pressure of playing such a huge part. It nearly killed me.

The National is a fine organisation. It has a fine, enthusiastic, involved permanent staff, which is guided by John Magrath with an imaginative and inclusive hand. My partner Kirsten and I are involved in developing a stage idea with them at the moment; an adaption of a short story - Standing in the Valley of the Kings.


Album cover Boyd Clack - Welsh BitterAlbum cover of Welsh Bitter


CC … Judging from your recent work, you will have a dozen projects (at least) in the pipeline. Which ones seem the most exciting?

BC ... At the moment I am filming the second series of Baker Boys for the BBC. I am doing some gigs with Paul Childs and Jamie Pugh, which are fun. I am recording a new album, a follow up to Welsh Bitter (songs from which I sing in the concerts). It's going to be called Labourer of Love. I recently finished writing two novellas - Something Like Love and The River of Souls - which I am very, very happy with, and I'm working on a few other writing ideas. Acting work comes in reasonably regularly and I am reasonably content. The world is a funny old place though, and life has a weird way of catching you out, so who knows what the future may bring. The thing that really matters is being a decent person and valuing the friendship and love of your fellow beings. The rest of it is tinsel.


CC ... Boyd Clack, thank you.

* Kisses Sweeter Than Wine , Parthian Books, isbn: 9781906998301, £14.99



Also from Boyd Clack:
     The snows of yesteryear; December 2013

     The snows of yesteryear; September 2013
     Requiem; June 2013

     Mother to her son; March 2013 (with Kirsten Jones)
     The snows of yesteryear; December 2012
     The snows of yesteryear; September 2012

     The snows of yesteryear; June 2012


© 2011 Caregos Cyf. | Hawlfraint - All rights reserved


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