Ten questions for Jane Clifton – a lapsed Catholic on life, failed guide dogs and the “fuckery” of Amy Winehouse
A long time ago in a dirty old town far away Jane Clifton used to be my boss. Back then she was the lead singer of the “girl and boy” band Stiletto and I twiddled knobs and carried the band’s big black boxes around.
Before I was headhunted by The Sports we did a lot of gigs in and around Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and quite a few very memorable shows in Brisbane when the powers that be that ran the place had a size 12 boot firmly on the throat of anything that looked like fun. And one thing Jane and the band liked was fun – and the giving of it to loving audiences.
Earlier this year I caught up with Jane via the occasionally wonderful medium of Facebook and a few weeks ago she posted a note saying that she was in a hotel room in the Alice looking over a pool in a courtyard. I immediately picked that as my once-upon-a-time home-away-from-home, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, so I arranged to catch up with Jane for a drink before she took off for her gig that night. We caught up again over breakfast the next morning at the Crowne Plaza before she flew out for her home in Melbourne.
The Northern Myth: Cats, Dogs, both or neither?
Jane Clifton: Neither. I don’t really like them, but we’ve got a dog, Finley the Failed Guide Dog. He is a Labrador of course. He came to us as a puppy in training to be a Guide Dog. You get them for a year and you train them, you get all the food for free and a trainer comes along every now and then. They aren’t allowed to chase balls and they aren’t allowed to bark.
At the end of the year they have fifteen tests to see whether they can go to the next level. And if they fail there is a mile long list of people waiting for failed Guide Dogs. If they pass, great. We did have a cat called Rosie, and Rosie had obviously said to Finley “Listen mate, you wanna stay here? Well, anytime you see something that looks like me just freak out – just go berserk!”
So later when Finley goes back to Guide Dogs HQ for testing every time he would see a cat he would freak out. The trainer asked us, “What’s the matter with Finley and cats?” So Finley failed Cats 101. Now we have the dog for life and he is an adorable dog, but Labradors shed kilos of hair a week, so Finley lives outside. I clean more now than when I had kids in nappies!
And if I had my druthers – no pets.
TNM: What is your most treasured possession?
JC: I used to say my dishwasher because from the age of twelve I have been an absolute slave to washing the dishes, which I still am. But now I’d say it was my laptop. I’m just a little bit addicted to it.
TNM: Apple or PC?
JC: Apple – definitely. Can’t even be bothered with the evil empire. PC’s are for businesses. Apples are just so much more user-friendly.
TNM: Pen or pencil?
JC: To write with? Both I’d say. I love them both. My favourite pen is my new Lamy fountain pen. After too long away I’ve gone back to the fountain pen and it is indeed a beautiful thing. I am a stationery junkie. I can’t go past a stationery shop without buying a thousand pens. But I do love my fountain pen, and I have a very neat set of cups that my pens live in. Very anal.
TNM: And what would be your Desert Island disc?
JC: Just the one? That is so hard and not fair! At the moment I rarely tire of an album called “Tell Me Something” which is an album of songs by Mose Allison and played by Georgie Fame, Van Morrison, Ben Sidran and Mose Allison himself. Mose Allison is 85 now and he has just released his latest recording, The Way of the World, which I haven’t bought yet. But he has beautifully wry and caustic sense of humour and is a brilliant piano player.
TNM: Do you sing in the shower – and if so, what?
JC: Nuh – that is for people who don’t sing! (laughs). I just love singing along in the car though – there is no better place to sing along to great music than while driving. On your own of course! Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings is my current fave. She is just fabulous!
TNM: Sunday morning record?
JC: No music in the mornings – ever!
JC: No. I am a paper person. In the mornings I read the papers and do the crosswords. Obsessively. My main crossword is the Guardian crossword. I used to do The Times crossword but when I went to Britain two years ago I discovered how hard the Guardian crossword is. But on the weekends I really love doing the stupid general knowledge quiz in The Age – just to see how much I think I know – and find to out how much I don’t.
TNM: The first record you ever bought?
JC: The first record I ever bought was “The Shadows” by The Shadows. That was before Cliff came along. When I came out to Australia on the boat I had a copy of “The Shadows” and later I bought “Out of the Shadows“. I’ve never been a particularly big Cliff Richard fan but I just love The Shadows. They do a lot of good vocal harmonies and Hank B. Marvin, well he lives in Western Australia now.
TNM: What are you reading now in non-fiction?
JC: I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. I bought “First We Read and Then We Write” by Robert D. Richardson because it is a study of the work of Waldo Emerson. There is a particular reading that I do when I do funerals [Jane's other job is as a civil celebrant] that is glorious.
And with fiction, I’m finishing off Solar by Ian McEwan which is just fantastic. The hero character in Solar, Beard, is just so vile. He is a scientist who has no conscience, is an absolute opportunist and for all that is just fabulous. Fat, balding – the works. I love Ian McEwan.
TNM: Who would you like to be in a band with?
JC: Uhmmm…Doctor John. My partner Paul Williamson, the greatest saxophone player in the world! Jeffrey Burstin on guitar, the drummer from Jimmy Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s older brother’s band. And for good measure throw in the bass player from Jimmy’s band and his wonderful backing vocalists. Absolutely wonderful Texas shuffle au-go-go. I saw them in Melbourne a while ago, they were an absolute knockout!
TNM: Where do we go when we are dead?
JC: Nowhere – we just die! I don’t believe in the afterlife. I am a lapsed Catholic who misses being a Catholic.
TNM: Really? What do you miss about Catholicism?
JC: The system, the order, meeting your Mum and Dad up in the clouds somewhere. And as far as blokes on clouds pointing their fingers go Catholicism is not too bad. A few dalliances with young children, obviously very bad, but as religions go, if I was going to have one I’d probably go back to being Catholic. But I just can’t believe in “special invisible friends” at all. And I don’t believe in Father Christmas, fairies or gods. Sadly.
TNM: When did you last break the law?
JC: Probably last Monday night while driving home from my regular gig at the wonderful Claypots in St Kilda, a little bit over the limit. I’ll have to more careful in future now that I’ve said that! (laughs) Oh, and there was that stickup I did – that bank job. That was the Friday before.
TNM: But you got away with that?
JC: Well, as you can tell by the way I’m dressed I got away with a lotta money! (laughs)
TNM: Favourite books…fiction, non fiction?.
JC: Bleak House by Charles Dickens is a pretty good start. I love Dickens. The density, the social commentary, his characters and his writing is just gorgeous. Middlemarch by George Eliot is another that comes to mind. I go back and read them over and over again and find something new in them every time.
With non-fiction I’m not so good. I do a lot of audio books and I end up reading books that I would not normally choose to. I’ve done a lot of biographies and there is a very interesting book called “The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense” by Shelley Gare, a terrific journalist from Sydney.
TNM: What about favourite music. You talked about Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings…
JC: And Amy Winehouse as well – the Dap Kings play on her recordings. When I first heard her songs I just stopped what i was doing and just went “Oh, wow!” And her songwriting! “What kind of fuckery is this?“. She is inventing words! She is so brave – but stupid with it. I really hope that she survives and makes another dynamite album.
Another favourite singer is Macy Gray. I was listening to Triple J one day and she came on the radio and she just stopped the car. I thought “Wow!”. That is a voice, not an over-produced, octave-separated product. Sadly she isn’t so good live, I went to see her live and she was very dissapointing.
TNM: It has been great to catch up after all these years. You have to run off to catch a plane soon to get you back home to family and your failed Labrador…
JC: Yes, and I look forward to spending some more time in Alice Springs again soon. It is an, errr…interesting place.
In Part Two of this interview Jane Clifton and I yarn about her writing, a new book project and all the other little things that make up a thoroughly modern life…