INTERVIEW: The Clique's Phillip Otto speaks!

INTERVIEW: The Clique Phillip Otto speaks!

The Clique were the best Mod band of the late 80’s/Early 90’s. With musical influences wide ranging including The Prisoners, The Small Faces and The Aardvarks, you would be hard-pressed to find a more dapper outfit from that time that could cut it with the tunes along with looking the part in the sort of clobber 60’s Carnaby Street would find hard to beat.

Fast forward 25 odd years the band now have a mammoth mouth-watering vinyl only box set on the horizon released by their old record label Detour Records containing all of the bands material they recorded plus previously unheard recordings and alternate mixes making this the ultimate release by the band.

Founding member, bass player, Phillip Otto is interviewed here about his upbringing, his journey with the band plus the ifs, buts and maybes that came with being a member of The Clique:

Hi Phil, can you please tell me abit about your upbringing?

I was dragged into the world, and spent my childhood in a small country Hamlet (that’s smaller than a village) called Godden Green, to working parents, my dad was a Green Keeper at Knole Park and my mum a nurse. I spent most of my childhood up a tree, playing with the other children either in the woods or on the green. Until I decided to learn to play the trombone, where I progressed to the Sevenoaks Town Brass Band.

What about music, what was the first music you can remember hearing?

My mum like all mums in the 70s listened to radio 2 and Terry Wogan, and liked a lot of country and western, which turned me right off it! though I think I could sing along to it all. Radio 2 in the late 60s early 70s played some great music, because there was just a lot of great music around. Im going to remember some right awful tracks now, but lets face anyone reading this will remember them too, no one grew up in a mod bubble So The Rubetts sugar baby love, with their red suites and white berets, oh my god the floral dance with Terry Wogan. I remember songs like everything I own and In the summertime

What was the first serious music you can remember hearing?

Then the music industry changed with the arrival of Punk, and new wave. But the tracks that I remember changing everything was Gary Newman’s Our Friends Electric and I Feel Love Donna Summer, which paved the way to more electronic music.

For me personally, I wasn’t really bothered by The Jam, thought they were too punk for me, thought Madness were fun!, and we all walked around signing their songs, though we later discovered they were all covers. A friend said to me get the Small Faces Big Hits album, then it was I heard Sha La La La Le and I was hooked, this started me on a journey of discovering the blues and soul. We were listening to what we might now class as classic mod era tunes around 1980 and it wasn’t until we went to the regency suite in East London that we discovered other people and mods playing and dancing to the same music, and I still know a lot of those people we met there now.

When did you first start to play the bass guitar?

It was one summer holidays when Paul Newman who was in the same class as me at school, said ‘lets form a band!’ All we had to do was buy some instruments and learn how to play them!!! We listened to early beat music 63/64 and just copied it. Many trips to the local music shop where we used to bug the guy who played the guitar to teach us all the parts to the songs. Which brings me to why I play the guitar upside down. Back in those days there were left-handed bass guitars around but there were only a few and double the price, so I got hold of a half size right-handed bass and just turned it upside down, job done for £20.

Who influenced you to play the bass?

At the time I got into The Yardbirds, so Paul Samwell Smith, just listen to his rolling bass lines on the early stuff.

When did you first hear/see about Mods/Modernism?
I think that mod was everywhere when I was at school, a really big movement, but more The Jam, what we now think of as 79. It was I start working in London at the age of 16, in Regent Street, and we started to discover R&B clubs, so around 1981.

Throughout The Cliques timeline the cut of the members clothes was essential to look sharper than sharp. Did all the band have particular outfitters you all went to?

When Paul moved to London and later myself. From the early Jukes to the end of The Clique, we formed bands from people already on and well into the scene, playing the music we were listening to down the clubs, so it was a change from the 79 bands, in that way. We never dressed to play, it really was what we wore day to day, though more clubbing than day wear.

Did you all have any favourites makes/brand of clothing you wore?

We picked up anything we could using the markets, Greenwich, and charity shops. The odd classic thing could be found in trad clothing shops. Anything else we had made! Charlie was the tailor of choice for most, he was based in an upstairs room in Carnaby Street. It was great fun every Saturday afternoon meeting up with all the other mods and sods and chatting about what we had had made and where we were going that night.

Were you in any bands prior to joining The Clique?

The really early bands that actually played gigs were; The Upper Fourth, and The Jukes.

Did The Clique form with you, Paul Newman and Giles B Merry in 1988? If so, how did the band form?

Paul Newman was in all the bands along with me, The Clique morphed from The Jukes, and the first recording line up of The Clique, was after Gilles Moved to London and Joined us on drums. This was the time it all took off for us.

At the time of forming The Clique were you aware of the other Mod band called The Clique who played a track called She Aint No Good?

Yes, we knew of them, probably had their records, but they were a little known 60s band, so we may have borrowed their name, or it may have just been chance.

Soon after The Clique formed Jon Paul Harper joined the band, how did he join the band?

Donald and Ian Kilpatric knew him, he actually went to the same school as Paul and I, in Sevenoaks but was a couple of years younger. We had a rehearsal at the Clink Studios in London Bridge and he knew all the numbers and could play lead really well. Paul was guitaring playing the harp and singing at the time, So Jon-Paul joined us.

What was the bands set lists like around this 80s period? From set lists and bootlegs of the band it looks like you were primarily playing covers including Shake and Young Mans Blues?

Like a lot of bands famous or not, we started playing covers and then moved onto writing our own stuff. This moved onto a different level after Dom joined on the Hammond, though we had written a few earlier. As I said earlier, we played the songs we listened to down the clubs we went to, and songs were being discovered by all the great Djs of the time, including Paul who also Djed.

What were gigs like at this time? Was it around this period that JPH ate his guitar strings on stage?

The early gigs with Jon-Paul were wild at times. We had a really good following, and the crowd added the whole atmosphere. Great fun and moving forward. Something seemed to happen at every gig!

My first discovery of The Clique was the Early Days EP which you recorded with James Taylor of The Prisoners fame. Were you a big Prisoners fan?

Me personally no! At the time I was in my own little world listening to club music Blues R&B and Soul and a little Ska. I went to a lot of gigs, and enjoyed The Aardvarks, Corduroy and some band Dave Edwards used to drag me along too, great version of Live and let die. Also, Steve Marriotts Packed of Three and Thee Headcoats. We used to try to get to a lot of the original bands, Memphis Red, Book T and The MGs, was probably the best gig I ever saw, Oh and The Creation, with Eddie Phillips.

How was the material chosen for what appeared in these recording sessions that formed the eventual release of Vanbrugh Park?

It was everything we recorded in the weekend!!!  We had known Eddie Pillar, and he was managing James Tylor, sort of, through Acid Jazz Records. This was the time of The James Taylor Quartet. Eddie had arranged a recording session in West London and for James to come along for a day. Where we had a technical problem for 4 hours of that day and so this is why the organ is just on half of the tracks.

Paul Newman then left and Chris Jordan joined and the band recorded what would turn out to be your debut release, Introducing The Clique which featured a co-written track Where Did I  Go Wrong you wrote with JPH. What influenced this particular track?

We were writing stuff all the time, not all of them get to being played, but this one was influenced and a mash up of Jump and Dance and Save me, though the words and tune are all original, by me, its hard to say if chord progressions and bass lines are copy writeable. It sounded alright though.

Did you chose to stand infront of Big Ben as a homage to The Who?

Yeah, it was all sort of that Mod look and we were there! (at the bridge) We had done some photos in a park as a part of the session, then we moved down to tower bridge, I think I have seen some good photos from there. There is also a really good picture of all of us there that day on Westminster Bridge.

Chris and Giles then left, incoming members Trevor French on vocals, Mathew Braim on drums and Dom Strickland on the Hammond, to form what I would say is the pinnacle line up of the band. Did it feel like a good line up at the time?
It is difficult to say looking back, mainly because at the time, it was always the present. I had a great time through it all, and with each line-up we could have been talking years. Well at least months. Each change moved the band in different ways and influences.

Reggie / She Doesn’t Need You Anymore followed to what would be a bevy of reviews, including in the NME. Can you please tell me how the track Reggie came to fruition and the meaning behind the track?

I think you will need to ask Dom this one. He tell me once.

She Doesn’t Need You Anymore features you on trombone, was there a plan to make a out and out mod dancefloor showstopper?

This was defiantly a Jon-Paul let number and he defiantly had strong ideas for that song and invited some brass players from Medway, I just happened to have a Trombone to hand and played a couple of notes to fill the sound, you’ll need a good ear to hear it.

Were you finding gigs were getting bigger and bigger at the time? You had a big following in Europe didn’t you?

Yes, we worked hard and one thing leads to another. As I remember we had our biggest following in France, Italy and Spain, later Germany, but the rest of the main European countries were not far behind them

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Pic by John Kidd

You were playing big headline shows in London too? Do you have any particular stand out live gigs from this 90s period?

Town and Country II stood out the most as one of the big gigs, with the James Taylor Quartet and Soho Soho, great sound and crowd. Let’s not forget the CCI rallies, Scarborough The Lemon Tree, The Winter Gardens Blackpool, and Gorleston The Ocean Rooms Stand out. Our last gig with Paul Newman

Camelot, can you please tell our readers about Camelot?

It’s an old Kent Ambulance, that Dom bought, and we used to tour Europe and home. We loved the film Monty Phythons Holy Grail, in Germany the knights with coconuts I believe. As the tour went on, for some drunken reason we start to call the van Camelot tis a silly place.

What were the plans with recording The Cliques debut album?

We had enough material and started to record the album with Jon-Paul, when he decided to leave, Bruce Brand was managing us at the time, and unbeknown to me could play the guitar!!! I only knew him as a drummer. He knew the songs and it was, well not exactly easy, for him to jump in on guitar. We decided to dump what we had already done and start a fresh in a different studio that we had used before Toe-Rag with Liam.

It took a week, that’s all we had the money for. In the end it turned out alright

Did you have all the material that eventually appeared on the album before you went into the studio to record it?

We had recorded some demos. I quite liked the demo of the quest with all sound effects

Why did Jon Paul Harper leave? With JPH being one of the main song writers in the band, did you feel when JPH left this would be the beginning of the end of the band?

You will need to ask him why. People move on I suppose. I don’t think it was a defining moment when he left, we done years of work together after he left. All the usual gigs both here and in Europe, Radio 2, and further recordings. Some great tracks recorded with both Speed and Alex.

If there was a defining moment for the beginning of the end, as it were, it would have been the period in time, when the record label One Little Indian was interested in signing the band, with a proper contract, and when it all fell through, I think we felt that the band had finally run its course. Though they did pay for the Hello Sunshine demo and some great tracks written by Matt and Chris Geordan.

The album that was released featured some out and out classic tracks including Crystal Ball, Bareback Donkey Riding and Tortoise. Are there any tracks that you are particularly proud of?

My favourite track on the album, along with the Quest, and especially the Flake! was Make You Mine It simply has the best guitar sound on the intro ever and is worth getting the whole album just for that.

The mammoth final track on the album is The Quest. Were you all big fans of The Small Faces and Cadburys flake?

Yes, it was influenced by Ogdens nut gone flake, and grew as time went on. The Cadburys flake advert, well we all grew up with that, and I think it just had the same chord progression, someone in rehearsals started playing around with it and for some unknown and unreasoned reason we added it, again it sounds great and at the end of the day. That’s what it is all about. Making great sounds and having fun!

Bruce Brand joined the band and after the album was released Trevor French left with Alex Petty and Pete Wilde joining. The Clique would then go on to play a session on Mark Lamarrs BBC radio show. The session sounds riotous in parts, do you have any stand out memories of the show?

Yes, the 4-hour journey each way in Camelot for 20 mins playing, it was also very hot. I think I was wearing shorts, but you can’t see that on the radio…Luckily

What were the live shows like at this time?

As good as all of them, I loved and still love playing live shows

The final release of the band, Hello Sunshine, featured a whose who of current and past band members. Was this an enjoyable way to close the band?

Yes, as I mentioned, it was originally recorded and paid for by One Llittle Indian record label, and we thought it might be a nice way to sign out and end The Clique. Though we were never all in the studio at the same time, the past members put their own bits on later.

Fast forward 20 odd years and Detour Records are on the verge of release The Preservation Society box set. How did the whole Anthology come about?

Alot of hard work from Dizzy, Dom, Claire and Bruce. In particular and in no particular order. They had to find all the old recordings, get them remastered, hours of artwork from Dom, funding from Detour, and research and compiling from Claire (Strickland).

Where did the alternative mixes and unreleased material come from?

Just hidden away, when a band records there’s normally spare tracks laid down, or ones for one reason or another are not used. Years later when you hear them again you think actually not bad

Did you enjoy listening to all the material again?

Yes, and the mastering I think a lot of them sound even better

Was there any consideration given to include any live material in the box set?

We went through everything we had and could find, a lot of the live recordings were on old cassette tapes, so the quality may not have been good enough

Were all of the previous band members involved with the release?

I think everyone was informed

Would you like to play some gigs as The Clique again?

I don’t think it would now be possible, though some of us still play regularly, for many reasons I don’t think we could get a line up all in the same place at the same time

Are you up to anything musically at present?

Yes, on the bass I sometimes play for Gasoline Ally with Dom. A blues set up. Also, I personally sing a play guitar and sing with Janine on Cajon, as The Quirks. Sometimes joined by Dom on Keyboard. Always doing something. Oh, and don’t forget the three Aunt Nelly Albums, have a listen its sort of The Clique furtherance!

Finally, what’s on your turntable at present?

To be honest I’m not sure, probably the test pressing of the Album.


The Clique The Preservation Society is available for pre-order via Detour Records 

Matt Mead

Matt Mead

Freelance writer who likes anything with heart and soul