(This interview appeared in The Sunday Times Culture Magazine Sunday 10th July)
Martin Clancy hasn’t set foot in a night club for two decades. The former synth player with the 1980’s folk rock contenders In Tua Nua is now 46 and prefers slightly more sedate night time activities. But thanks to an unexpected and slightly incongruous career opportunity making dance records for a whole new tribe that may have to change.
A couple of weeks ago, under the name the Witness Protection Programme, Clancy gatecrashed the top 20 of the Billboard US Dance/Club Songs chart, with the single You Can’t Stop the Rain, at No 19 Clubbers half of his age across America and further afield are probably getting hot and sweaty to his DIY house tune round about now.
The chart has been published weekly since 1974 by the American music-trade magazine. It was created as a trade barometer of what was hot on the vibrant New York disco scene, and has since become a snapshot of what club DJ’s are playing in the world’s largest music market.
In You Can’t Stop the Rain, Clancy hasn’t reinvented the turntable wheel or anything like it. The tune is a retro-disco ditty whose title and sparse lyric was inspired by the weather in his native Dublin. It was recorded and produced at his Leeson Street home and has the sort of solid breakbeat and bassline you might have expected in Antwerp in the mid-1990’s, rather than dubstepmad Dublin in 2011. The squelchy bass is topped with a catchy female lyric and a scratchy Nile Rodgers-style disco rhythm guitar.
The record is a follow-up to Witness Protection Programme’s club hit of the last year, the similarly disco-infused Flat Foot, which stayed on the dance chart for nine weeks.
As well as turning up in a countdown that is largely home to mainstream acts such as Lady Gaga and Beyonce, in addition to dance crossover artists such as Swedish House Mafia and Dirty Vegas, Clancy’s singles have been picked up and re-mixed by American DJ/producers such as the Grammy nominated Chris Cox and Richard Morel, who usually remix the likes of the Killers, Mariah Carey and Pet Shop Boys. College radio across America is beginning to give both records substantial play, too.
A founder member of In Tua Nua in 1981, at the tender age of 16, Clancy took a 15 year hiatus from making music after the band’s career fell apart a decade later. He moved into producing other artists as well as teaching, and had a spell guiding the career of Jack L, a cabaret-inspired singer –songwriter from Athy.
A couple of years ago, he began tinkering with home studios, having had a good deal of experience behind the mixing desk in professional studios in Ireland and the UK. He collaborated casually with musician and singer friends of all abilities, thinking up of various names for his cross-genre DIY endeavours, never intent on exploiting the finished product in a serious way.
‘My wife, Trish, would come in and listen to stuff and say ‘What is that?’ and I would say, ‘Oh, that is the Witness Protection Programme’, or ‘That one is by Embassy Gutters[the cover name for his dubstep experiments]’,’’ Clancy says. ‘ It was she who started sending the music to people she knew in the business.’
Soon music by his various ‘bands’ was getting regular air play on New York’s East Village Radio (EVR), as influential station who DJ’s include Mark Ronson, a British producer. It was there that he caught the attention of the Seaport Music Festival,a hip collective based around the docklands district of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The festival has a reputation for giving next-big thing indie acts such as Hot Chip and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah their first big stage exposure during its summer series of free concerts. Last year, it invited Clancy to be its ‘artist in residence’, setting up the label Seaport Music Records as a vehicle both for him and some of the acts who performed at the festival. Clancy drafted in as his A&R on the project one Craig Roseberry who has previously collaborated with Yoko Ono on the considerable number of club tracks she has put out since allowing her music to be remixed.
‘They didn’t have much money or anything, but they were willing to get behind whatever I did and that was absolutely anything I wanted to do, so I thought ‘Why not disco?’, Clancy says of Seaport initiative.
The label released a limited edition 200 vinyl pressing of Flat Foot last summer and clubs across America picked up on it. Last October, it reached No 3 in the Dance/Club Songs chart and became a European club star
Clancy is now putting together a live band to perform Witness Protection Programme music and hopes to put talent from Dublin in the line up. The band is already chalked in to represent Ireland in the Culture Collide festival in October in Los Angeles part of a line up and Norway’s Datarock.
Though the unlikely career direction for the musician hasn’t made money yet, he hopes it will even translate into hard cash. Recently there was a four-page report in News Week which said that there was a remarkable 31% increase year in Digital Club Sales.
Martin finishes by stating ‘I have always said you should follow heart your when it comes to work, and the money will follow you’.