Musicians applaud after studio in Halifax named for legendary concert promoter
People in Halifax's music community are praising the decision to name a Dalhousie University studio after Greg Clark, a concert promoter who opened doors for countless young musicians by giving them a place to play and supporting their development.
The studio in the Fountain School of Performing Arts will be used for teaching purposes and for students to have a place to rehearse and record. An anonymous donor requested the space be named after Clark.
Clark, who was unable to do an interview prior to publication time, was a fixture of Halifax's music scene for more than two decades beginning in the 1980s.
"If we didn't have him, a lot of bands would have broken up in their parents' garage because they had nowhere to play," said Peter Arsenault, who was the lead guitarist of Halifax band Jellyfishbabies.
Clark ran or booked acts at a long list of venues, including Club Flamingo, Waldo's, the Double Deuce Roadhouse, Birdland Cabaret, The Marquee Club and Stage Nine.
"Sometimes we just look at it and it's like, 'Oh yeah, bar XYZ, that was a great place.' But behind bar XYZ was this one person without making any major money or getting any fanfare for what they're doing. They're just doing it for the love of music and community," said Kim Stewart.
Stewart met Clark when she played in bands and then later worked for him at clubs. The two have become close friends.
Besides concert promotion, Clark even had a hand in releasing the 1986 compilation album, Out of the Fog, which featured Halifax bands like Jellyfishbabies and The October Game. The latter band's singer was a teenaged Sarah McLachlan.
Arsenault said he was used to seeing compilation albums coming out of places like New York or Boston. Out of the Fog gave him hope.
"It felt like, 'Hey, there is a chance to get out of Halifax. Somebody will listen to it,'" said Arsenault, who later became the bassist for The Doughboys, a Juno-winning band who toured internationally for two decades.
Joel Plaskett estimates around 75 per cent of gigs he played in Halifax in the 1990s and the early 2000s were booked by Clark.
When he and his teenage bandmates in Thrush Hermit needed a chaperone to go to the CMJ music festival in New York in 1993, Clark played the part.
"If I think back on it to that time ... it doesn't make a lot of sense, but then it sort of did, you know," said Plaskett. "He must've just been coming along to check out bands."
When Thrush Hermit disbanded and Plaskett was getting the Joel Plaskett Emergency off the ground around 2000, he remembers Clark booking the band for a month of shows on Mondays at Hell's Kitchen, which was in the basement of The Marquee Club. The aim was to build momentum for the band and soon have them headline upstairs.
Plaskett said talent helps a performer build an audience, but supportive promoters also play an important role.
"That's really what Greg's strong suit was," said Plaskett.
At a Joel Plaskett Emergency show earlier this month in Halifax, the band played Backstreets Thread to pay tribute to Clark. The song comes from drummer Dave Marsh's 2008 solo album.
The song includes the lines, "On my way to sea cadets, get the call from Clarkie." The reference was to a phone call where Clark offered a job to Marsh to work at Backstreet Imports. The store began as a used record store and head shop, before morphing into an arcade.
"I thought about it for a nano second and took the job," Marsh wrote in an email to CBC News.
Backstreet provided a safe space for young people to gather.
"He gave us a centre of the universe to escape to when the teenage blues were closing in and to a broad, kaleidoscopic and noisy community of geeks and freaks, punkers and metal kids," said Marsh.
While music was Clark's life, he was also fond of road hockey, playing in a weekly street hockey game on Hollis Street in the 1990s, where his nickname was Tugboat.
"If you think about a tugboat; determined, steadfast, guiding and at times invaluable, that's quite fitting," said Marsh.
Armed with a formidable slapshot, Clark was known for his feisty play.
Tugboat comes to the rescue
This toughness also helped Marsh on another occasion.
"A friend and me were calling it a late night when set upon by a couple of local toughs by the library," said Marsh. "I briefly squared off with both reluctantly when a hand appeared on the shoulder of one of them, spun him around and clocked him.
"It was Clarkie and we soon had them on the run. He appeared out of nowhere, from the dark."
Mike Campbell also played in the weekly hockey games. At the time, he hosted a MuchMusic show called MuchEast. Many episodes were filmed at the Double Deuce on Hollis Street.
"If Greg hadn't been in this city and hadn't been doing what he was doing, I would not have had a television show," said Campbell. "MuchEast would not have existed because there would not have been enough talent to warrant a whole hour show coming from the region."
Campbell said that when Clark started booking shows, the appetite at most clubs was for cover bands.
In a 1986 CBC News story on Club Flamingo, which was located on Gottingen Street, Clark talked about why he focused on acts performing original music.
"We thought it was finally time for people to get to know what is happening here, sort of under their nose with the independent bands in the city, the ones that they're not seeing in the local bar scene," he said.
Clark's shows weren't just about local talent though. The people interviewed by CBC all referenced different acts Clark brought in at his venues, expressing wonder at how he managed to get them to an out-of-the-way Halifax. The long list included Stereolab, Guided By Voices, Redd Kross and Vic Chesnutt.
"That's the cool thing about Greg, he was a little bit all over the map, like he could go from hardcore Canadian punk to, you know, the more-folky Skydiggers … or local town faves like Sloan as they were coming up," said Kim Stewart, whose stepbrother is Sloan's drummer, Andrew Scott.
While Clark's venues were a gathering place for people, the Greg Clark Studio will be similar for music students. Campbell said that's fitting.
"They need places to get together, they need places to rehearse, they need places to hang out, they need places to help them learn their craft," said Campbell. "And Greg's non-academic spaces were things that this city could not have gotten along without."
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