In Memoriam: Darcy Clay

Last updated 08:20 27/05/2009

Jesus I Was Evil - it came out of nowhere. The year was 1997 and the song, by Darcy Clay, was a staple of bFM's playlist. Word started to catch on. And soon the CD single/EP, featuring six tracks in total, was released.

Darcy ClayI was working in a music store (a part-timer when I was at university) and my manager decided to hijack the stereo to play Jesus I Was Evil instore. We loved the crude guitars and drums - there was a punk energy at play here, but the song was catchy. Lyrics stepped out at us. Clay, a nobody as far as anyone was aware, was singing about how he used to be evil, listing the ways: "I used to crash parties and Maseratis" (I always saw that as a nod to Joe Walsh's Life's Been Good - with its line "my Maserati does 185/I lost my license, now I don't drive"; had he crashed his Maserati too?).

But there was a limit to the evil: he never shook babies or beat ladies (admirable) then he would intone, "but Jesus I was evil". The song was a classic. One listen and I was hooked.

Clay was born Daniel Bolton and he was a huge fan of Motley Crue. But as much as Bolton loved metal, as Darcy Clay he favoured a stripped-down approach. Guitar, bass, drums, no pyrotechnics, no flash guitar solos. He covered Dolly Parton. He had a country-twang to some of his songs (All I Gotta Do, And It Was Easy). And he was a unique character in New Zealand music.

We hosted Clay for an instore signing and performance - I've still my copy of the Jesus I Was Evil EP with a personalised scrawl; I remember it well, 17.07.97 it says on the cover...

He set up at the back of the shop, wearing white overalls with badges sewn all over them - he referred to it as his spacesuit. Apparently he always wore it when he played music. He had an orange jersey over it since it was winter.

He played the songs on the EP, in order, just himself and an electric guitar. He couldn't play barre chords so for most of the material he self-effacingly referenced how much better it would sound when he managed to get a band together to play his songs. Then he played the top two strings of his guitar, plucking out riffs and basic bass-lines, singing about how he used to be evil, begging Jolene not to take his man, saying that it was easy and announcing that all he had to do was be a better lover...

We chatted with him afterwards - he seemed like a hard case but was a bit nervy. We had a running joke in the shop that we were forming a store-band. A few of us played instruments and Bic Runga had humoured us, agreeing to join our group. We told Darcy that he could share guitar and vocals with Runga. He laughed and told us he was keen.

And then, a few months on, he had formed a band and he opened for Blur. The short, messy set proved that things weren't necessarily any better now that he had formed a group: the band's time wavered; Darcy brilliantly, painfully, sent up Elton John's rewrite of Candle in the Wind for Diana's funeral, announcing that he wrote this song recently called England's Rose, going on to butcher Elton's tune on a cheap Casiotone. Cheekily he started the second song with the riff from Blur's Song 2. It was Deja Voodoo before that band existed.

The results were captured on another EP, Songs for Beethoven.

And then, very soon after that performance, Darcy Clay was dead. He had committed suicide. He had been scheduled to play an anti-suicide concert.

Mikey Havoc cried on TV, eulogising a friend. New Zealand Music felt like it had lost something special - a cult artist who had made a dent. He never got the chance to sell out, to become too polished. He had released six songs - and then repeated most of them on a live EP and that was it.

In 2002 the two EPs were released as an anthology - one 12-track CD.

And while New Zealand continues to produce cult acts there will never be another Darcy Clay. His Jesus I Was Evil even made it on to the Nature's Best double-CD as one of the top 30 songs from the country. It's right at the end of disc one, the track that is usually skipped by most of the people who bought the album.

I hope he found some kind of happiness.

So, did you like Jesus I Was Evil? Did you see Darcy Clay play live? Were you a fan? And if not Clay, then what NZ musician do you miss the most?

Post a comment
dan   #1   09:05 am May 27 2009

I heard he only ever played five gigs in his life - I'm glad I was there for one, at Blur. I remember months later finding 'Songs for Beethoven' and thinking, a new EP? Then realising it was recorded at the Blur gig. Spent my week's paper round money on it right then, on the spot.

bob daktari   #2   09:09 am May 27 2009

Always thought Darcy Clay was way over rated, good but not great

David D'Ath (skeptics) is very much missed

Tim Possible   #3   10:02 am May 27 2009

David D'Ath definitely sadly missed. Knew him personally - his creativity and ability to think beyond the square was an inspiration.

Gerald Dwyer (Flesh D-vice, and later Shihad/HLAH shaker) is also a huge loss to the Wellington and NZ music scenes.

Thanks for this piece on Darcy Clay - helped fill in a few blanks.

Grant McDougall   #4   10:41 am May 27 2009

It's sad the way Darcy Clay died, but I think that his songs are vastly over-rated.

JeM   #5   11:00 am May 27 2009

Thanks for this! It's really good to know a bit more. I have Jesus I was Evil on my ipod and still love it to this day. Sadly I never saw him live though.

I remember going to that Anti Suicide concert in Wellington, great concert.

(not regular posting) Don   #6   11:17 am May 27 2009

Gerald Dwyer and Wayne Elsey

His Lordship   #7   11:35 am May 27 2009

Jesus I Was Evil is the most skipped track on Natures Best 1.1?

I don't believe that. Surely that particular honour would go to April Sun in Cuba?

His Lordship   #8   11:39 am May 27 2009

And if anyone wants to see any evidence of just how good Darcy Clay was, they should check out the butchery done on Jesus I Was Evil by an Australian outfit a couple of years back:

That version makes Clay look like a genius.

Mark   #9   11:57 am May 27 2009

Love his work... am sad twice over that I never made that Blur concert, because both would have been amazing. I always thought there was a sad irony to his "English Rose", and his Jolene was wonderful. Like Jeff Buckley, he never really had the chance to show that he had genuine longetivity, but that doesn't mean we can't love what he gave us.

em   #10   12:08 pm May 27 2009

I love that song Jesus I was Evil. I must confess I haven't heard his other songs though, but the Elton pisstake sounds awesome. Go casio!

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