Friday, February 29, 2008

Britishinvasionobit: Mike Smith

The lead singer of The Dave Clark Five, Mike Smith, has died from pneumonia.

Born in Edmonton, London, in 1943, Smith's first encounter with a Dave Clark came not through music, but on the football pitch; Clark already had a teenage band and when his singer quit, Smith was invited to join.

Pye Records signed the Five in 1962, with their 1962 debut release credited to the the Dave Clark Five featuring Mike Smith. Although the billing might have avoided the obvious confusion that the band was named after the drummer and not the singer, it was clumsy and quietly shortened by the time the band hit America. The Tottenham Sound might never have lodged itself in the popular mind like the Liverpool Sound, but it didn't hold the band back - although the Five arguably rode the Beatles' slipstream, they turned the opportunity into two years of solid success in the US, perhaps peaking with the movie Catch Us If You Can.

Although popularly viewed as the muscial bedrock of the band, when talking to the NME in 1968, Smith was more modest about his talents:

I've studied piano since I was five, and I probably know more about music than Dave, but that does not make me a Brian Auger. I regard myself as a session organist - that is, I know what is going on in the studio and the techniques involved in producing a record.

The band split in 1970, although Smith and Clark continued to work together - partly to fulfill contractual obligations; eventually, the balance of power would be reversed and nucleus of The Dave Clark Five turned into Mike Smith's Rock Engine.

After the band had finally run its course, Smith first formed a partnership with Mike D'Abo - yielding just one album release for the Japanese market - and appeared on the first recorded version of Evita; mainly, though, he concentrated on production and writing for commercials.

Dave Clark's tight grip on the Five's legacy kept all but a handful of the band's records out of print for decades and meant that, when Smith first returned to live performance in the late 90s, Mike wasn't able to mention the connection in publicity. Instead, he revived the Mike Smith's Rock Engine label, and carved a degree of succcess on the nostalgia circuit.

Smith's death comes weeks before the band was due to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - a double tragedy, as some believe they had actually qualified for induction last year but the votes were fudged to ensure Grandmaster Flash could be elevated instead.

In 2003, Smith suffered a fall which left him paralysed; he remained in hospital until last December. After developing pneumonia, he was taken back to Stoke Mandeville where he died, yesterday.

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