Greg Clark, 1993Leslie Furlong did the interview... for the Dal Gazette.

I think it was dec 93...

interview with Greg Clark


LF:     I'd like to know about the actual origins of the Flamingo. Was it back in '83, was there a club then?

GC:     Yup. The first one.

LF:     Did you do gigs and things before that even happened?

GC:     No. Not really. Not the alternative scene or whatever, not those kind of gigs. I did after high school, stuff -- I organized a few dances and parties and stuff. I never did a gig before -- with a live band, stay.

LF:     So it started in '83?

GC:     Yup. It would have been fall of '83.

LF:     On Grafton?

GC:     In the same space where Alfredo, Weinstein, and Ho is now. It wasn't as nice though.

LF:     No?

GC:     No. (laughs) They've spent some money on it. It was a cool little space, though, before.

LF:     Picnic tables and stuff?

GC:     Mmhmm. I think there was four there, maybe five. They weren't even big ones, they were cheap. They were all warped and stuff.

LF:     What kind of bands were around in '83?

GC:     Staja-Tanz, which, they were pretty popular, they had Alison Outhit as their lead singer, who is in Bubaiskull now. Registered Vote were around -- sort of a Clash type band. Metal bands. Club Med, The Realists. You're talking about six or so bands probably.

LF:     How many do we have now?

GC:     Now we have a lot, depending on various stages of activity and stuff. 50+, anyway. That I might book. There are far more bands than that that may not be in my kind of music.

LF:     What happened to the Grafton Street location?

GC:     It was a pretty low frills thing, for sure. The lease that I had on it was month to month. The building was under threat of being sold, and the architect firm that was inevitably going to be the people to design the building the way it was going to be in the future was a neighbour of ours, so we weren't popular, that's for sure, because of noise, you know, from sound checks and stuff. And basically we had to put in another fire exit to do shows there. And they couldn't guarantee me at all that the place was going to be there. And, you know, it's a good thing that I decided not to do the fire door because it was only months later that the building was sold and the complex of restaurants and bars that is there now started. Then I did shows in that same building in the other space which was around the corner from there. I did six shows there and then started working on trying to get another club space going.

The Club Flamingo Boys, 1986LF:     Gottingen Street?

GC:     That's where we it ended up being. We tried to get right downtown. The concept was basically an all-ages club with live original music but no liquor. At that time I became partners with Keith Tufts and Derek Connolly and then we did shows independently, we recorded the Out of the Fog album, did shows in the McInnes Room -- quite a few there. And worked on getting another location and we ended up going up to Gottingen because it was a fantastic deal for the theatre.

LF:     Was that the Casino or the Cove?

GC:     The Cove. The Casino was still a theatre at that point.

LF:     What was the lag time between Grafton Street and there?

GC:     We opened up there in the fall of '86 of course.

LF:     On Halloween night, I think.

GC:     That was a weird night, a really weird night.

LF:     How weird?

GC:     We'd never expected the turnout we got, that's for sure. We were just still putting down the dance floor when people were starting to come in and of course they were all dressed up and we had over 700 people. And we had all these crazy horror films in our video setup going -- Gross stuff, lots of gross stuff. Our video guy was from the States -- Minneapolis -- he liked to shock people a little bit, and he didn't have to do much to shock people from around here.

LF:     It was Evil Dead I think.

GC:     Yeah, there was a bunch of things but Evil Dead would definitely fit I'm sure. We thought we were gonna be rich after that first show but it didn't turn out that way. The place was... We really didn't have quite the right concept maybe to make that place work. It wasn't ever going to work as what we thought we were going to do which was going to be an all-ages club. It would probably be smaller and be a place, because there was no liquor, primarily there was no young people hanging around. So it was a little bit tough to do some local bands there and put enough people in there -- you would never get the feeling that there was a really good vibe going on. It was big venue, basically.

So that's what we had to start doing more of. Start diversifying and do some of the bigger shows that we started to do, like the Wailers, and John Cale, and some of that other stuff. The movies never really took off and that was probably the key to the place actually working. 'Cause we did movies more than we did shows actually. We had the big screen and stuff but people never thought of us as a theatre. They thought, if I come to see a movie here there's going to be a bunch of kids running all over the place or something, I think.

LF:     Rumours is there...

GC:     Yeah, Rumours is right kind of thing to go up there, 'cause to go up there you really have to have a clientele that's not being pursued by anything else. The gay and lesbian community is not going to feel comfortable in a lot of bars downtown. It was a great deal for them -- they were able to walk in there and just open right up in days. It took us another six months or so before we ended up opening up again.

LF:     Maritime Centre.

GC:     Yeah.

LF:     Why all ages at the beginning?

GC:     At the time the Grafton Street Cafe was around, that was a coffeehouse, and I liked that sort of idea. What I did at first was... I was really undercapitalized, I didn't have enough money to really get into a coffeehouse which would have been cool. Maybe people would have felt more like it was a club, you know, a place to hang out. Backstreet Amusements, all the kids were hanging out there. And the bands, some of the bands that were playing around during the Grafton Street Cafe period, I started actively looking just after they close for a place to do a little club. And it just seemed like the young bands weren't getting a chance. They could play nowhere, basically.

At the time, the Liquor Board wouldn't allow underage people to play live music in a bar -- now you can if you get permission, that's a recent thing. I thought that was part of the problem with the whole music scene, how stagnant it was. Young bands had no place to play. So that was the original concept -- from the arcade, I could tell that kids were looking for a place to hang out. And I wanted to try and give them something a little bit better than the arcade. That was not designed for people to be hanging out there constantly, but they were. And plus, to give the bands a place to play, and hopefully stuff would develop from them having a venue. Basically, if there was a stage there, then that would be impetus for them to have something to look forward to... They could get a gig, and have an audience that was interested in seeing them. So that was the original concept.

LF:     It shifted when you moved to Maritime Centre.

GC:     Yeah. Well it started to shift up on Gottingen. Even in the period between the first Flamingo and the Gottingen Street Flamingo, right at that time more out of town bands started contacting me too. And so that when we started to do a mix of out-of-town stuff and local stuff. So we started to lean a little bit more towards doing some concerts in a way, up there. And when we came downtown... We had already started to do a few blues things up on Gottingen. We actually had Clarence Gatemouth Brown booked in. And he played at the Carpenters' Hall, because we sold before he had a chance to play at the other club. And the Wailers... I liked all kinds of music. We didn't really know the bar market that well, either. So we figured that you had to do a lot of different things, that the alternative scene certainly we didn't think was strong enough, with the 19-and-over crowd to be able to support a bar, so we consciously decided to do a mix of things in the Flamingo. Different kinds of music.

LF:     How long were you with the Flamingo downton?

GC:     About two years. I left in September '88.

LF:     So you left the Flamingo downtown in 1988 to do what?

GC:     To do nothing.

LF:     To do nothing?

GC:     Well, because I wasn't allowed... when we started Flamingo, when I took on my partners, we formed a corporate structure. Then we all agreed to sign a non-competition clause, that said if you ever left the organization, that you would have to stay out a year before you could do the same kind of business in the metropolitan area of Halifax-Dartmouth. So for a year I wasn't able to do anything and then we had a dispute about when I actually left because I didn't get anything signed on paper to prove when I left, and it stretched out to sixteen months, basically. Through lawyers having to fight about something that probably shouldn't have had to be fought about. Always get things in writing.

LF:     Why did you leave?

GC:     I left for a lot of different reasons. We were through partnership... A lot of people say that's never good because sometimes it can end up with one party being shut out of certain things or something. Power struggles and all that sort of stuff... It was really personality conflict... Different ways of doing things I guess... I just wasn't enjoying the working relationship that I had there with my partners and was feeling that I didn't have a lot of say anymore in what was going on. And just was pretty unhappy with a lot of different things.

And I thought too that the club was probably not going to be able to make it in that location. It had been my stupid idea to go down there to begin with. When we first left up on Gottingen, because I didn't want to stay with the whole thing too long, I thought we had built up momentum so I wanted to make sure... I actually had to persuade the other guys maybe that it would be a good idea to go down to that building.

But not long into it I sort of thought that maybe we had made a mistake and maybe we should get out because I thought it had too many strikes against it. So that was part of it. Mostly that I was just feeling that I didn't have a lot of say in what was going on and wasn't enjoying the working relationship that I had. I knew it was going to be hard to be out of it for a year but I still had the arcade. That was basically the trade that we made. So I thought that I'd have an income and be able to sit that period out and then maybe do something again after that.

LF:     So you picked up what used to be the Silver Bullet and turned it into the Double Deuce... how long have you had that?

GC:     Since March of '92.

LF:     Really?

GC:     Uh-huh.

LF:     Who'd you book?

GC:     First week there was Cool Blue Halo and Leonard Conan.

LF:     Big crowd those nights?

GC:     I'm not even sure that I still haven't totalled up what the gross was those nights, but it was better than what they had been doing. Business was not good at the club before that, that's for sure. The format that they had wasn't working.

LF:     The Silver Bullet?

GC:     It was the Double Deuce. But they were doing a format that was being done by other bars in better locations, so it wasn't working. Right from the first week on, the new format was showing improvement. Pretty big improvement.

LF:     Concerning the location, it's right across the street from the Flamingo. Was it a conscious decision to go there? Did it matter about the location?

GC:     Well, in between the Flamingo, Waldo's happened too, and that wasn't a highly successful venture on my part. After that was closed, I wanted another stage, another bar to work with, and had in mind what the bar would have to be like to be able to do what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to do live music still at a good level so it would have to have a decent stage and stuff like that and have to be probably not doing very well for them to be interested in the ideas that I would have. I didn't think that would work in Fairview or Spryfield or anything but within reason I knew it could be in the downtown core. It didn't have to be say on Argyle Street or a prime location. It just had to be within a certain area. The fact that it was right around the corner from the Flamingo was not a positive or a negative thing. I think I was think more about that I didn't want to be too far away from the Seahorse. Because I knew that a lot of people go there... I've always thought that the Seahorse was a great bar, but people just like to have choices. They want another place to go -- if you're the only place than it starts to get pretty boring. So I wouldn't haven't wanted to be too far away from that, because I knew that for the crowd I was looking for, there was only a couple of places to go. So being between there and the Flamingo was a good place to be but it wasn't a very conscious thing. Well, maybe it was fate.

LF:     It worked out.

GC:     Well, we're still alive and kicking.

LF:     Will the Flamingo be missed at all?

GC:     I think that we're not going to suffer from the alternative scene. I think that what we're doing at the Deuce is good enought that... I don't think that another club like the Double Deuce could exist. There couldn't be two of us. We would end up just beating each other over the head. Either we'd both end up going out of business or one would eventually win. But there couldn't really be two clubs. So I think that the alternative, what I'm concentrating on is, for the most part, gonna be... there's enough gigs there probably to support it. Because mostly, the kind of bands that I'm doing, they're really serious and they're also going to tour. It's not like they're going to want to play a bunch of different bars. They just want to play at the bar where their clientele is going to. I think it going to affect more some of the bands, and there's a huge amount that are just starting off, and don't have a venue coming in. There's not going to be reggae coming in, there's not going to be any blues stuff, and there's some things that are maybe on the inbetween, not mainstream or alternative say, that are closer to alternative but maybe just not quite what I would like to do. That we are not going to maybe see as much until something else comes along. So I don't think it's going to give me more chances of bands but I have too many bands wanting to play at the club as it is, and I'm trying to keep a mix of local and out-of-town and be as fair about the gigs as possible. So the last thing that I needed was more bands. I'm not jumping up and down. It wasn't really affecting us too much one way or the other. I think that overall there's a lot of good bands not in the alternative scene that are going to suffer, in particular, and you gotta care a little bit more about that.

I don't know how well it was doing. When I was still there I know that we weren't doing all that well then. People might have perceived that it was doing very well. It's a tough kind of bar to run. The Deuce is a conscious effort on my part to focus on a certain segment of the audience and their music and that's a lot easier to do than it is to be bouncing around from week to week from night to night, from rock to blues to Celtic to folk to jazz -- it's a lot more publicity-intensive to make it work well. You have to spend a lot on promotion. I didn't ever really think we spent enough on promotion to get the word out and to try and expand the audience of the Flamingo in order to get people in there for blues and stuff a lot of people would like that might not be into alternative music that haven't been exposed so much... So you don't ever get a core crowd, because the alternative crowd's not going to go down there on a night when there's a blues band, cause they don't want to see that and vice versa, the blues crowd's not gonna go down. So you don't get that loyalty built up to a bar where people don't want to go down every week. It's a hard kind of bar to run. The new guys that started it after Keith and Derek left... I mean, it's a hard kind of bar to run when you've been doing it for a while, but then when you don't have as much experience at it, then it's really hard, 'cause you can just use so much money if you make a mistake booking.

LF:     Is there much distinction in the bands in Halifax right now? What I see at the Double Deuce are guitar-driven bands... I just remember back in '87 things were a bit more diverse as far as sounds were concerned.

GC:     Bands like Sebastopol, the Misery Goats?

LF:     Yeah, those ones on "Out Of The Fog."

GC:     There were a lot of hardcore bands... that was what was prominent during the period of the Flamingo on Gottingen Street. 'Cause after Out Of The Fog came out, almost all of those bands either left town or disintegrated. So we were left with pretty much hardcore to deal with at the time up there. Now I think it's pretty diverse -- there's a lot of different kinds of bands. There's not a lot of bands using synthesizers. Keyboards are definitely pretty few and far between here. Which I think can be a good thing unless you really know how to use it. And some people do. There's not a lot of bands using sampling and stuff around here but we've seen some good ones come from out of town that have been utilizing it a lot. I think there's a certain scene that I'm finding is most popular with the audience, that I have to be aware of. It's my job to put as many people as possible into the club when it comes right down to it. The scene that is getting all the publicity is certainly dominated by guitars and could be labelled as grunge, but I think there is a lot of diversity with the bands that are being talked about.

LF:     I suppose.

GC:     (laughs) Yeah, I know. Well, throw something in there?

LF:     Throw something in there?

GC:     Yeah, you don't agree with that.

LF:     No, I'm just sort of saying... I know Bubaiskull sounds different than jale, Thrush Hermit, and Hardship Post, which I can almost fit into one category...

GC:     Where do you put Sloan at?

LF:     Where do I put Sloan at? I think I'd have to throw them into a third category!

GC:     Mmhmm...

LF:     I would... You got me! None of these bands sound the same...

GC:     Leonard Conan, I think that they sound, uh, or Horseshoes and Handgrenades are different sounding than anybody, then there's the progressive bunch of bands there... Spine are different. I think that they all find their own sound and it's natural that people are gonna be influenced by the bands that they're seeing... But I'm to close to it to be able to know anyway, I mean I know all the bands too well so I don't see all the similarities whereas if you're looking at it a bit differently then...

LF:     The scene has gotten so much attention over the past six weeks? A month? A year?

GC:     A year.

LF:     Does it have a flavor of the month quality to you?

GC:     Well, it's the flavor of the year now because it has really been a year. And it has built to a certain extent in the past little while. I mean none of us are really taking it really very seriously... I mean, you take a trip down to New York, and it's easy to realize that the music industry as a whole is huge -- there's a lot of scenes and a lot of things being written about. You know it's going to pass, but you know only positive can come out of it at all. To me, a lot of things got proven during the Pop Explosion, I mean our bands held up well against some of the bands we brought in. There was a lot of industry people there, some people from the States. And the bands that were up that had never been here before... A lot of them hadn't even heard about the Halifax hype, so that shows you how far sometimes things won't really go, but they really liked it here, they thought our bands were really good, they liked the audience, they did like the city. Halifax is a nice city -- how hip it is depends on where you go, I think. You can find some pretty unhip places. But it's like that in any city. I think for its size it's pretty darn good...

People know that Halifax exists. It's easier to talk to agents for me. It's easier for bands to tour from here. None of the bands including Sloan are making a lot of money at it -- Sloan are certainly showing signs that things are gonna happen, but... People in Jale are all holding down jobs... It's all very much in its infancy, and all the bands realize how seriously you take it... We've still got a lot of work to do. That's for sure. But compared to where the scene was two years ago, you really just can't compare it, and I think that the audience that comes down to the Deuce... the audience and the bands stand up to any place you'd go in a bigger city. Our scene is small though. Some people get out of hand totally.

This whole "new Seattle" thing is gonna stop. That's just a little bit on the absurd side, to actually think that... Seattle is, how much bigger than Halifax, it's huge -- that's absurd to think that. If you look at it population base, per capita, how many bands we've got here, how many good bands, that we probably might be better. 'Cause I think there are good things to being in a small city. Everybody does tend to know everybody a bit more -- I think there's some positive things that can come out of that.

LF:     Is there better support?

GC:     Yeah. We don't have as many bands coming through from out of town, so maybe a little bit more support for local bands, because they get to play more on prime nights as headliners and build the audience up, whereas in bigger cities, everything's coming through from out of town, and the local bands often get lost. Imagine being a local band in New York City and trying to start out. It may be easier here. In a lot of ways, especially now that when you leave Halifax and go on tour, at least, certainly in Canada, people are going to pick up and take notice that it's from Halifax, even if it's just to come out so they can slag it. Like our Toronto media is not all that -- there's definitely a Halifax backlash happening... I think there's a little bit of the attitude that the whole thing has been totally overblown. Which of course is probably true. But they shouldn't let it colour their opinions of the bands that go and play -- sometimes they do.

LF:     A band is either good or not, I suppose. Where they come from doesn't matter.

GC:     Yeah... Now the record industry is going out and looking for bands in smaller centers like this, and that's making it so that people don't have to gravitate as much to those big places, and that's good I think. Too much power in any one place is not very good.

LF:     Now you've got all the power.

GC:     In Halifax? Not at all. I mean, it may have been true at one point that the Flamingo had all the power, but that was only in a very limited way, and that was in the live aspect. And that's always consciously what I've tried to do, is I've specialized in providing a stage. And that's what I enjoy doing most, is the live aspect of it... I enjoy the concert end of it, putting on shows. In the past there was never people doing things for the bands in other capacities, there was never Cinnamon Toast records, there was never recording studios around like Terry's (Terry Pulliam's Soundmarket) and Adinsound, and what Doug's doing here and what Peter Rowan has always been doing here, Peter has been the biggest support of the alternative bands through the years. He's always been the one that's been working with them on a level that I really wasn't. That was through a conscious decision. With Out of the Fog, we had full intentions of becoming a record label. But the bands that we were going to put out records with all broke up or left town by the time Out of the Fog came out! So I just decided then that my end of things would be trying to work with bands to get them gigs. And there maybe is a certain amount of power, because there's not a lot of places that are going to want to book the kind of things that I do. But now there's all those people working in different capacities as management and stuff, there's different record labels... I've never really tried to hold control over things. I don't really think it's good. Not that I want another club like me to open up around the corner. Then I would obviously put them out of business. (laughs)

LF:     Do you think the Halifax thing can be sustained?

GC:     There's two parts of it. There's the bands, and the audience. I'm in the bar business, and I have to make the bar successful. There's always going to be lulls, and ups and downs in the local music scene. It's certainly better than it ever has been before. It's quite possible in the next few months, not that I think it's going to happen, but suddenly three or four of the bands that I depend on a lot might demise. If that happened, and I wasn't bringing in enough out-of-town bands to keep it interesting for the audience, and for the other bands from here, to see other bands, and to make contacts with them, then I think it could die pretty quickly.

But that's why I think it's important to keep bringing in the other acts, because sometimes you're going to go through those periods. If you watch my schedule, sometimes I go through a month and a half where it's almost all out-of-town, and then there'll be a period where it's almost all local -- that's just sort of the cycle it goes through. I don't think that the audience is going to get any smaller. There's so many people that are involved in the alternative music community now, that.. Before you'd be dealing with forty people or something in all the bands, so if a few of them broke up, they'd all get back together in other forms. But now there's like 250 or more people playing in bands, so when bands break, it's not so much that they're giving up, which is what used to happen in the past. People never really thought that you could make a living doing this anyway, so, you'd play in a band for a few years, it doesn't go anywhere, doesn't tour, breaks up, then they just stop. Now people, if they break up, they get together with other musicians...

So I think that there's just so many more people doing it now. I don't think that alternative music is any kind of passing phase or anything. A lot of the media seems to be hooking on to the word "grunge" sort of like they did "disco", thinking that's it gonna die. Just like people were saying rap music was going to die a few years ago, and it didn't. Alternative music has always been strong, it's been strong certainly since the punk days, and even before that there's always been good original rock music. I don't think it's going to die at all. I think that's there going to be a market for the kind of club that I'm doing... Our local scene may go through ups and downs, but I think it's going to get better. The attention's going to pass, definitely. But the point is, how is Halifax going to be known then? It's going to be known as a city that's a cool place to go to, that a band from out of town can come here and get a good gig, and that there's good bands from there. We're a little bit more on the map. It's not going to be a sudden thing. We may go through a lull and then maybe it'll get better. It's just the cycles of the way things go. Like in Vancouver... you see ups and downs in all those cities.

LF:     Why are you in this business?

GC:     Because it's fun.

LF:     Are you going to get rich?

GC:     Oh, I wouldn't mind getting rich. I would like to promote other concerts and stuff, but I don't get much fun out of doing stuff that I don't like. Not to say that I wouldn't put on a big show that I knew was going to sell out and I hated the band, maybe I might, but it would probably be a lot of effort into it, and then to not really enjoy the result of it...

LF:     Aerosmith.

GC:     Yeah, something like that, I could do that... I always thought that as long as you enjoy what you're doing, and there's only so many things that each of us can do they're really going to like. So I think I'm lucky; maybe I'm not making a huge amount of money but I like it. I've always liked the live aspect and the audience, entertaining the audiences. The part that I haven't enjoyed a lot is the stress of the financial burdens that come with this business, that's no fun. And this club, though, has got the least of those, so I can enjoy it a little bit more. Not that we're getting rich, but it doesn't show signs that we're going to go under. So I enjoy doing this kind of thing. It's fun. I get to drink on the job.

LF:     Wish I could say the same. Is there going to be another Halifax Pop Explosion next year?

GC:     Oh yeah, definitely. Maybe a tent on the waterfront and the Deuce. So we'll do some... you know, like the McInnes Room shows we do down there. The Buskers did that tent down on the waterfront and I'd love to do something like that. Have that so we could bring in some other bands. We were sort of structuring everything into the Deuce, mostly... There might be bigger acts available to us next year...

LF:     Any names yet or is that too far off?

GC:     Yeah, it's too far off. Sonic Youth? That would be good. The Breeders? That would be good. I think that there's a lot of them that we could get but we don't have a good-sized club. And the Dal place is hard to make money at.

Thanks to James R. Covey for providing this interview.

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