to Mark Neeter at Ovolo Books and Clarksdale Books. Clarksdale
are a specialist independent publisher of rock and pop-related
books, driven by a desire to produce quality, fun and unusual
Digger: Hello Mark. Can you please tell us a little of your background and
the background to Ovolo and Clarksdale?
Mark: Ovolo has been publishing books for some years and
amongst those we've done a few music books. It's one of my
enthusiasms and I decided that I wanted at Ovolo to publish
more music books in different areas. It seemed sensible to
create an imprint for our music books and so that's how
Clarksdale came about.
Digger: There are other people publishing music books but a
lot of them seem to be 'playing at it' and there seems to be
room for specialists.
Mark: We like to think that what we do is driven by trying to
do things well. So with our books, I'm not interested in
publishing cut and paste that aren't any good or things that
are trivial. They can be lightweight but they want to be done
well even if they're an abbreviated version of something.
So we're trying to write well and make sure it's something
that people enjoy reading and owning and looking at. If it
interests us and we think it's good then we'll have a go at
Digger: Can you please give us an idea of the variety of book
offerings you have?
Mark: Yes, we've got 77 Sulphate Strip, which is a book by a
journalist who was involved very heavily in the early days of
punk and, in fact, wrote with Malcolm McLaren his unpublished
autobiography. That's a really great read. It's a very unique
look at the world of punk. As well as reusing
a lot of Barry Cain's original material, he went back to lots
of the major players and asked them the same questions he
asked them when he was working as a journalist in the 1970s.
So there's long interviews and a particularly good one with
John Lydon in which he reveals a great deal that hasn't been
published elsewhere. And actually John Lydon himself
recommended the book on his website, which is a pretty unknown
thing for him to do really. He's not renowned for liking
journalists. Lydon, according to Barry, is one of the best
interviewees ever and if you give him the right question you
just get fantastic answers and he's very entertaining; difficult but entertaining.
We've also done a really nice
picture book which is based around 500 Lost Gems Of The
Sixties in which we photographed every single single (Both
laugh) that's covered in the book and there's picture sleeves
and a bit about each of the tracks. That's another kind of
Digger: Are they all unknowns or are there are a few there
that people might have an idea of?
Mark: No, they're not all unknowns, but they're often maybe
lesser-known tracks by well-known people or really greater
tracks that didn't quite make the charts in the way they
should have done.
Digger: There are so many gems like that. I found My Friend
Jack by The Smoke on Youtube last night - that's another one
that should have been bigger.
Yes, so it's an attempt to look at what didn't happen if
It was a complete lottery in lots of ways, whether a group or
song made it, wasn't it?
It was being on the right label at the right time. With some
of them you can hear why they didn't quite make it. But
they're still worthy of attention and quite often tell a story
about how someone arrived at a given time and place. Someone
like Glen Campbell, for instance, who before Wichita Lineman
had worked a lot including with Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.
He'd just never quite made it because the singles were just not
quite the right one to break the artist but nevertheless there
was some interesting stuff.
And then, more recently, we are now
into a whole new phase of publishing music books having
launched the imprint - although it's not being launched
officially until September, but having started releasing books
under Clarksdale's name we've just launched a book called
Breakfast In Nudie Suits by a guy called Ian Dunlop. It's a
kind of road book - it's about a trip across The USA in 1968
from LA heading east. Ian was in the International
Submarine Band with Gram Parsons and during the journey he
remembers back to the times when he and Gram and the other
members of the band were trying to bring 'New Country' to the
masses. Both 'Old Country' kind of people who
hated it and rock audiences who also hated it. (Digger laughs)
So they found themselves in an interesting place. Now it's
regarded as the birth of Old Country, which is now very big, but
back then it was just regarded as weird. And it's a good tale
of how hard it can be to go against the accepted trend of the
time. It's a really well-written book, he's a great writer and
he met all kinds of fascinating people along the way - Dennis
Hopper, Peter Fonda, Dave Crosby, Leon Russell - there's all
kinds of people in the book.
Some great names.
It's a really good flavour of what it was like to be in LA in
1968, living in Laurel Canyon and that kind of area and just
being part of that community.
Digger: Sounds terrific.
Especially someone who's slightly on the outside looking in
rather than a full insider. A great book and we've had some
very positive reviews. Uncut have made it their book of the
month for August 2011 so that's really good.
Are you living the dream in a sense Mark? (Mark laughs) It's
your passion and it's doing very well...
I'm not living the dream because I'm probably too old and too
wise to want to live that dream anymore. Because it's probably
an illusion. Apart from the money, I think there's a lot about
rock and roll and fame and performing that actually is pretty
destructive to people's lives. But, I am enjoying immensely
reading about this stuff and almost it's like these are the
books I want to read and by being involved in producing them I
can actually read them.
I'm not interested in fiction at all. I have to read about
real people and real events, don't you?
I do and I try to make sure that what we do is not something
that's been done in the same way by someone else before. I don't really see much point in churning out the same
thing again because I wouldn't want to buy it unless it was
done a lot better than anyone else had done it. And that's
hard - to find things that are well written and that hold the
And that don't regurgitate the same old...
Inaccuracies and myths? (Laughs) Yes, there's a lot of
interesting people out there who were involved in the music
business with a lot of interesting stories and it's quite nice
to find them. If they can write, or if we can put them
together with someone who can write, it can be quite
rewarding. But I think for every book that we've produced
there are probably ten ideas or things that are submitted that
just don't make the grade in one way or another. They're
either not well enough written or they're just too thin in
their content to really sustain a book - there are some good
ideas but they don't necessarily warrant a whole book.
And of course, at the end of the day they, have to be commercial
Very much so. We're not here to produce books just because I
want to read about it. If I don't think that my interest is
mainstream enough then I won't do it. We've got a book coming
up which I won't reveal at the moment but it's about a
particular person. It's not going to sell huge quantities but
we're looking at doing it as something very special and being
able to sell it for a lot of money so that there won't be many
editions produced. And they'll have a much higher cover price,
a bit like the Genesis kind of publishing model where they
produce very limited editions signed by people and with all
sorts of high production values. And that's the only way I can
see to do books that have relatively limited interest if you
like in terms of the number of people who will read them. This
particular book's worth doing because we've got an intriguing
story and particular access, but not as a conventional book. Although I'll probably be proved
wrong! That's the danger as a
publisher - you have to guess. It's like an educated form of
It's like the music business or TV and film or any of those. I
was talking to people in the theatre earlier on and they
haven't got a clue what's going to work and what isn't. It's
weird isn't it?
Absolutely. You just have to try to put it out there and not
take too much risk in doing it. If you spend too much money
up-front then your risk is increased by so many fold and as an
independent publisher we just can't afford to do that. If
you're on of the big international publishers you can probably
afford to throw a few things at the wall and see if they stick
and pay big advances and so on but we can't do that.
Digger: Are you positive and optimistic about the state of the
music business these days compared to what some might see as
I thought you might say that. (Both laugh)
I don't know really, I mean it's always different and never
stays the same for very long. Certainly if people are
expecting it to be like it was in the sixties and the
seventies I don't see that continuing. The whole method of
delivery means it's changed and the whole attitude of the
audience - it's the soundtrack for people's lives now rather
than an event, I think. So the idea of someone's album coming
out and you really wanting to go an hear it and it being a
concept and having great artwork. Not quite the same now -
"I'm going to download that track from iTunes." It's
not part of a whole experience but the charts are similar to
the way they were (Laughs) they're just not seeing anywhere
near as many copies as they used to. There's so much more out
there - there's computer games and in a way they're the new
rock and roll.
Stand-up comedy is the new rock and roll as well. They're packing the theatres.
Yes, you could well argue that. It's very popular now. But if
you look at the computer games, the soundtracks on those are
selling much more and anyone who gets their music onto one of
those is going to be heard far more by people than on single
or CD or most tracks on iTunes. There's a load of people who
love their music and who are interested in it and were around
in the sixties and seventies and probably the eighties and
remember all that stuff and that's who we publish to. They
have a certain nostalgia for it, but also still enjoy it and
want to maybe read about it what they couldn't read back then
because people wouldn't talk about it then, because it was all
too current. Now, not only are the stories coming out but you
can get a perspective on how it played out and also the whole
music catalogues are coming out so you've got Neil Young and
Bob Dylan and people like that releasing all kinds of
material. And you're getting collections of live stuff from
The Who, The Kinks - putting out material that wasn't
available in the past. There's a lot more that's accessible in
a way and quite a lot of lost studio tracks that are being
tagged onto albums when they're re-released. Elvis
Costello and people like that. There's an astonishing amount
of tapes that did get lost and weren't released for one reason
or another or in some cases they just didn't fit into the
sequence of an album even though they might be a good track.
Dylan recorded a track called Dignity that probably would have
been the strongest thing on the album at the time but he chose
not to put it on it. It's subsequently come out on some of his
collections that he's produced later, but it was never on one of
the original albums. An astonishingly good track and there's a
lot of that out there and a lot of bands that got together and
recorded something. Like Gene Clark, ex-Byrds, who put stuff together
with other musicians but it never quite clicked at the time or
saw the light of day or was deemed to be not commercially worth
issuing by somebody like Columbia.
The Rock Atlas sounds just like my cup of tea. Britain and
Ireland are major locations for places and events in rock
history. Can you please tell us more about the book?
This is a brand new book that's coming out in the Autumn. It
should be available late September. We're still finishing the
last knockings of the production of it.
This is the first of a series of Rock Atlases and is the UK
and Ireland edition. It's a collection of items that are geographically-based
about rock and pop and soul and all that kind of music in the
UK and Ireland and it's got just under 600 entries. It ranges
from locations of album shoots, to where pop festivals happened,
to where people played, to where they were buried. Or to where
major events happened in their lives that have been recorded
in some important way, with a plaque or a statue or in some
song and there's something about it that's important. Or they
were photographed there. So it's very much a miscellany of
things that you can either use to go and track where the settings
are - every location is identified.
Have you got permissions from people for visitors?
No and we do say where it's a private house that it's not actually
accessible and we do say to people to show consideration.
We're not out to reveal the locations of where lots of people live.
It does happen to mention in a few cases where people live but
only because it's important to the way they produce their
music and it influences it. It's not a crass tour guide book
where you can say "On your left is Barry Gibb's house and
on the right is Lulu's house." Or whatever. It works on
two levels - it's laid-out geographically and you can use it
to tour an area and go and see things - where Penny Lane and Strawberry
Fields are and that kind of thing.
Where Hendrix died?
Where Hendrix died and also the flat where he lived that was
also John Lennon and Yoko's home for a while. Those kinds of
things but it's also, as a book, interesting to dip into because
it's full of little stories. Things that, because David
Roberts who wrote the book has travelled all around the
country and met all kinds of people and talked to people whose
stories were not terribly well-known and have not necessarily
been reported before, we've got lots of nuggets about rock
life. A hotel where The Beatles stayed in the sixties when
John Lennon celebrated his 24th birthday and there are some
original pictures that I don't think have seen the light of
day that were taken there, along with the story of how it happened.
Lots of gems about Hendrix playing in a pub basement in
Norwich and the West Runton Pavilion where The Sex Pistols
played and The Pretenders and Motorhead - amazing acts in this
little seaside pavilion in the middle of nowhere on the north
Norfolk coast. (Both laugh) I think The Sex Pistols actually played
there on Christmas Day. (Laughs) It's an amazing story, but
we've got stories right through from the fifties to the
present day. The location of the shop where Mumford and Sons
shot their album sleeve in King's Road.
Right up to date then?
Right up to date as well. New Boots and Panties - that
fantastic shopfront that Ian Dury is photographed in front of
- we've got the location of that. Just lots of things that, if
you had it in the smallest room in the house you could definitely
pick it up and read an item in a couple of minutes and put it
down or you could read it from cover to cover. We think it's
going to be quite an important book and certainly the big
chain stores seem to be getting behind it in terms of their
Christmas promotion this year. So if your readers are interested,
certainly it's a good book to put on your Christmas list.
Good timing as well.
Yes, hopefully but also we've got a new book on Hendrix coming
up which is interesting and we've got a really interesting new
book on The Beatles coming up to celebrate the anniversary
Any new angles?
Yes, it's very different. It's not a retread. It's something
that I think will intrigue people and remind them of the times
The Beatles were happening it and I'd like to tell you a little bit
more about it nearer the time. It will be out next spring and
it's a really interesting book. It will be a completely
different take on the whole Beatles experience.
I'm presuming there are lots of photos in the books?
The Hendrix one has a picture section, The Beatles one is
going to be very picture-based. The Rock Atlas has got
hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of full-colour
illustrations in it throughout.
I have to have pictures in my books! You wrote The Boats That
Really Rocked, the true story of offshore pirate radio
in the sixties UK. We interviewed Johnnie Walker and consider
the pirates as key contributors to our popular music culture.
What do you think has been the lasting legacy of what the
pirates did and what they achieved?
I wrote it but it's not out. (Laughs) I was involved in the offshore
radio scene back in the seventies and I sat down to write the
book and I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to write. But
as a publisher, you tend to be very busy dealing with other
books and so I've never got quite round to finishing it. I
have to say my own keeping to deadlines on that one has been
lamentably bad. But when it's finished I'm sure it's going to
be interesting. One day. I wouldn't advise anyone to hold
their breath because everything else has got in the way of doing
What a shame.
Yes, it probably is a shame but I need a clear run at it to write
it and it's one of those things where it had a very specific
form and I struggled because I keep on getting interrupted by
The movie The Boat That Rocked didn't pretend to be biographical.
It was just a bit of fun and very fluffy.
It was his imagination of what it might have been like to have
been out there, but what he did actually do was to take the
bare bones of the story of Radio Caroline and immensely exaggerate
It turned into Dunkirk/Titanic at the end!
(Laughs) The only time a boat actually sank was Caroline's
boat The Mi Amigo and it wasn't as a result of what the
government did, it was what the weather and old age had done
and she carried on long after people thought she shouldn't have
There was a shooting on one of the pirate forts.
Yes, that shooting of Reg Calvert by Major Oliver Smedley,
a pirate station rival, effectively gave the government an
excuse to get heavy and to close the pirates down.
It was Johnnie Walker who held out as the last DJ - all the other DJs jumped
ships and headed straight over to Radio One.
Absolutely, and Johnnie Walker is obviously the basis of one of
the characters in the film. He carried on broadcasting at
midnight and that's what happened. But it wasn't quite as glamorous
as that and there weren't hordes of young ladies clambering to
get out there. It was by that stage a long way off the coast
and pretty stormy and over the next six months conditions got
a lot worse when the money started to dry up a bit. And they
were forced to play for Philip Solomon - do you remember Major
It rings a bell.
Philip Solomon was an entrepreneur who had a record label
called Major Minor Records and it had The Bachelors and people
like that. And he got involved with funding Caroline after the
Marine Offences Act came into being and so the playlist got
more middle of the road with people like David McWilliams and
The Days of Pearly Spencer which was on that label. Basically
there were times when, famously, Johnnie Walker literally threw
the records out of the porthole and said "I'm not playing
this rubbish." And threw them overboard so they couldn't
That was the sixties and the seventies didn't get a lot of
publicity about it but Caroline was very big in the seventies
as an album station - it was the only station in the seventies
playing album tracks 24 hours a day and that was very, very
popular with the audience then. It was all Eagles, Fleetwood
Mac and ELP.
The pirate ended up being people moving round blocks of flats.
Ah well that's an entirely different ball game and it's funny
that the paranoia the authorities had, and unless you experience
it you don't really know how paranoid they were about a ship
in international waters, but they were very concerned about
them. Yet they seem to do almost nothing about the hundreds of
stations in London which are broadcasting 24 hours a day
illegally and actually encroaching on the legal stations' frequencies.
And some of them are linked to drugs and raves and illegal
activities. I don't class that as pirate radio in the same
way. The sixties pirates did it because they were filling a
It's a difficult thing for people to understand now but we had
one TV station with one pop show on per week and it was really
lame and if you were lucky you'd hear a bit of pop music on
On a Saturday morning on Brian Matthew's Saturday Club. The
rest of it was Worker's Playtime. The BBC Orchestra playing
light orchestral hits.
The Light Programme, The Third Service and The Home Service.
Absolutely and they said "There's no demand for pop
music."!! So when Caroline turned up in '64 that lie was broken
wide open and there clearly was a demand. People in positions
of power always want to control things.
What are the best things about running Ovolo and Clarksdale
I suppose being involved in doing something during the day
that is both fun and legal and not being stuck doing something
that I hate. Enjoyment really is what I'd say. It's not, as
you alluded to earlier, not always an easy life. I'm very unlikely
to be a millionaire any time soon.
You just keep your wits about you and work hard and generate your
Yes. And the book industry is in a huge time of change, both
in terms of how books are sold with the high street changing
and also with the arrival of technology. I think books are
going to survive for some things, because it's still quite a
convenient packaging for material you want to read. But
there's also a lot of people, and a lot of areas, where it's
going to make sense to download. Just today as we speak we've
launched our first eBook which is Breakfast In Nudie Suits.
It's available on Amazon's Kindle and the iTunes
Is the cost similar to what you'd pay for printed books?
No. We're doing them quite a bit cheaper because partly the reality
is that people are not going to expect to pay so much for an
electronic product and also our costs aren't as high. There
are still costs involved in it and obviously the authors still
need to earn some money from it. But I think also if we price
it too high - I think eBooks are quite a spur of the moment purchase
and when it's £5.99 or £6.99 it's probably not too much of a
decision - it's a bit like a 0.59p App or something. But if
it's £15 then maybe you'd think "Hmm, I don't know about
that." When it's a physical book and you see it in the bookshop
you think "Yes, that's worth £15."
Digger: You see some books that
have been priced down in the stores 30, 40 or 50%.
We don't like false pricing and I like to price a book at what
it's worth - Amazon choose to price the books themselves and
they pay us a price based on the RRP the same as any other
retailer and then they choose to discount it so that's up to
What sort of feedback are you getting from your readers?
Well, we get quite a lot of feedback actually, which is good.
And they like what we do. We haven't had much on 'Breakfast'
because it's only literally come out in the last week. The
reviews have been very positive.
Are people taking the trouble to email you?
Email and writing to us with conventional pen and paper.
I know! (Both laugh) Mainly emails though, although we have
had about fifteen letters in. It's always interesting to hear from
people and we love that. We've got a blog and we've got a website,
so hopefully people will find us at clarksdale.co.uk or
'Clarksdale Books' whichever they choose. And the whole point of
having Clarksdale was to reinforce the music bit.
Digger: Can you tell us what there is to look forward to in the
You mean apart from ruling the world?! I think just to keep producing
books that hopefully people will want to read. We've got a
list of about twenty ideas that we want to take forward but if
anyone has got an idea or fancies writing a book or has
information or pictures or anything really that they think is
worth doing. I like to think that we'll always give anyone a
listen and we'll be honest with people about what we think of
its potential. Obviously we're not always right and they should
carry on talking to other people. But we're always interested
in people's stories and approaches and we're not going to be dictated
to by what are the conventional disciplines as to what a book
should be about. If someone has a story about a band or
anything really and it's good then we'll be interested.
So you've got these twenty ideas - are a lot of these in preliminary
production as it were?
No, there's a mix. The ideas are really the concepts that
aren't yet in some stage of production. There's probably in
total another ten or so books that have been commissioned, or
are in the process of being commissioned.
So you might have people like Dave Roberts gallivanting around
Yes, we've got plans for two definite further Rock Atlases and
ideas for another twenty. The two specific ideas are being
worked on now.
That's definitely going to be a biggie, I'm sure. It will be the one
which will allow you to do all the other esoteric stuff.
I hope so. Either that or you'll be able to pick one up for
about £1.99 in the discount book shops. (Both laugh) I'm
rather hopeful that we're onto something that people are going
to love. It's all interesting things and you can go and see
and do something if you want to, but you don't need to and
there's enough there to say "This is an interesting story" or "I always wondered where that picture was
Thanks Mark for talking to us.
Thank you David.
Ovolo is an independent publisher of books and a member of
the IPG. Clarksdale is an imprint that publishes a variety
of rock and popular music-related titles.
- 500 Lost Gems of the
- 70s Pop Genius Quiz
- Breakfast in Nudie
Suits (a unique glimpse into the Gram Parsons legend)
- Rock Atlas (500 great
music locations worthy of pilgrimage in the UK and
Ireland. Covering artists as diverse as The Beatles,
Stones, The Who, Bowie, Bolan, New Order, Jimi Hendrix,
Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Queen, AC/DC, Michael Jackson,
Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, Depeche Mode, Oasis, Arctic
Monkeys, Adele, Kaiser Chiefs and Mumford & Sons.)
Ovolo/Clarksdale Books have
more exciting titles in the pipeline so be sure to visit
our website regularly.