MICHAEL CLAIRE - the story


A foreword

Sometime around 1970, a young couple called Mike and Claire Milner started to make a name for themselves on the folk music scene in and around London. He was English, she was American. Together, they produced a magical blend of styles which captivated their audiences. Everyone was waiting for the first album to come out, knowing it would be very special. The fact that it never came, was a surprise, shock and a huge disappointment to us all. How could such a talent not be snapped up? Finally, after over 35 years, some early tapes were transferred to CD. These are not studio recordings, bout rough demos made on a domestic tape recorder. The skill and the creativity is all here. If you want a definition of a gem – this is it…

John Stannard (Tudor Lodge)

Met Claire in '68 - I think it was at the Troubadour. I was sharing a place above a piano store near the Fulham Broadway - Les Shakespeares's Piano Store actually – always liked the name.... My roommate was a guitar player from Exeter name of John Hadden and we played a bit together - on the streets mainly - coupla kids doodling for change. We were hanging out one night and Claire was sitting at a table warming up. I remember John remarking that "there's a girl who can play better than you" and I had to admit he was right. We ran into each other on and off over the next few months - i think the 3 of us played the Troub. a couple of times - then Claire went off to Spain (I think) she was 'doing Europe' as the Americans have it. I began to establish myself in a small way as a solo performer doing mostly cover tunes, a few originals, but not particularly good ones. I was befriended by Martin Winsor & Redd Sullivan who took me under their wing, inviting me out to play a few numbers at places they were appearing and at the night they ran at the Troub. Another night at the Troub. was run by Paul McNeill & Linda Peters, who were friends of Claire's and I think it was on their night that I was playing when Claire got back from her trip. Apparently she thought I was much improved and we started to play together again. (Linda, by the way, sang a bit with Tudor Lodge and later married Richard Thompson.)
So probably by late 68 we'd started to develop the Michael/Claire sound - for want of a better term. The first songs we came up with were A Singular Verse, Pieces Of Alice & Desperation Waltz (again, I think). We were courted (briefly) by Ashley Kozak, who had been Donovan's manager, recorded a few tracks for him but the arranger wrote parts that were so overly complicated that drummer Terry Cox and the bass player (who were playing from the charts) and the two of us could never find common ground. Also Ashley thought our music was too off beat for a larger audience and wanted us to do songs by another of his writers which we didn't like and so we parted company. He was convinced that people wouldn't understand the lyrics and that was fine with us. So we played clubs in and around London and a few farther afield - remember doing a couple of weeks in the north of England in the middle of winter - folk clubs in those days were not famous for their creature comforts, like heating for instance... There was a BBC radio show at the time called Country Meets Folk and we did that once or twice. I don't recall who else was on the bill. A favourite place to hang out after the gigs in London was a restaurant called La Fiesta. The owner kept the cellar open 'til 6 or 7 am or thereabouts and musicians would gather there pretty much every night of the week. Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, and because of the folk jazz crossover in those days, Diz Disley et al. Occasionally it would be raided by the police who would confiscate all the bottles of wine on the tables and leave looking very pleased with themselves, at which point we would take fresh bottles out of hidden compartments under the seats and the revelry would continue.
It was while we were being managed by Bruce Dunnet (a pivotal figure in the UK 60s folk explosion) that we opened for Bowie. The Three Horseshoes in Hampstead I believe - a lot of folk clubs were in rooms above the saloon bar of the local pub - beer being a useful aid to singing along. Bruce also introduced to Karl Dallas, the premier journalist of the time, who wrote an article about us on Melody Maker in November 1969. Then we met Tony Hall, who was really enthusiastic about our music, and we were looking for a new direction, so we signed with him and Essex Music as management and publisher. Did new recordings for Tony, with help from Paul Buckmaster and an album was projected for June 1970, but once again didn’t happen. Shortly after all this, thanks to Claire's American links, in late 1970 we left on our first trip to the States. We were so lucky to host probably the first Tom Waits public performance in November 1970 at the Heritage in San Diego. Did gigs with Eric Anderson at a place called In The Alley, just outside SD...also Mason Willams ... and maybe Tim Buckley but I'm not sure about that... Another US tour followed in early 1971 and while staying in the States, we recorded a few tracks, some old from the unissued lp and some new. The first selection of songs was recorded in a friend’s apartment on Telegraph Hill in SF ....the second I believe in a house in Cambria - small town somewhere between SF and LA....I have a vague memory of a microphone tied to a broom handle... Back in UK for the last time, we played more rock oriented venues: in August 1971 we were at the Temple with Patto, in September at the Roundhouse with Stone The Crows. A bit of a narrow escape at the Marquee, on the 29th of July. We were backstage after our set and Wild Turkey (Jethro Tull spinoff) started up then stopped suddenly. Moments later the singer/guitarist (Jon Blackmore) was carried into the room half conscious, he'd been shocked by an un-grounded microphone - at that moment I decided that sitting on wooden stools to play was a good thing. In 1972 we decided to remain in the States, but we were still in contact with Tony after we'd moved back here for the last time. As was the style of the times, we got together with other musicians on a regular basis and if anything seemed promising we'd let him know and I think on a couple of occasions he sent A&R people to give us a listen. For a short while we stayed on some property owned by Joan Baez who was kind enough to let us rehearse in her house (she had a piano.) I think Tony sent someone from Atlantic Records to give us a listen. No recordings that I remember. We fell out of touch around the time Claire and I were splitting up - which was 73ish. Since then I continued to write and play in the Usa and in the recent years I recorded a couple of CDs, now available at cdbaby.com

Michael Milner, October 2007