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Worthy celebration of talented Byrd-man Clark

NOT for the first time – and certainly not the last – we raise a celebratory glass and proclaim "God bless BBC4". Only the excellent Sky Arts 1 can come close to Beeb4 when it comes to music coverage, which manages to be both informative and entertaining without ever veering close to becoming po-faced, and they've a treat in store this coming Friday.

Mention The Byrds to most people and they'll generally think of the vocals of Roger McGuinn, but while McGuinn did indeed sing their breakthrough hit Mr Tambourine Man the band's chief vocalist and songwriter at the time was Mississippi-born Gene Clark.

Like McGuinn, Clark started out influenced by country and folk before seeing A Hard Day's Night opened up possibilities in pop music. His songs Feel a Whole Lot Better (which effectively wrote the template for Power Pop), Set You Free This Time and She Don't Care About Time gave The Byrds an extra dimension beyond Dylan covers, but a chronic fear of flying and disenchantment at McGuinn's effective hijacking of the band caused him to quit in early 1966.

If anything, his solo work far eclipses that in The Byrds, with 1968's Why Not Your Baby (one of the best country-folk songs ever written) and The Radio Song, performed with Doug Dillard, two tunes which display his immense talent.

Frustrations

Unfortunately, despite serious record company investment in the early 1970s, great albums like White Light and No Other failed to click with the public and even occasional reunions with fellow Byrds McGuinn and Chris Hillman merely added to Clark's frustrations with the business.

After his death from alcohol-related illnesses in 1991 at the age of 49, Clark's reputation grew exponentially, aided in no small part by reissues of The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark and the outstanding Flying High.

His life and work are celebrated in The Byrd Who Flew Alone. Don't miss it.

The Byrd Who Flew Alone is on BBC4 this coming Friday at 9pm.

> George Byrne


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