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Back from America Charlie Clark of Astrid backs talent with No Big Deal record label and gets the chance to release his solo music


By Margaret Chrystall

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Charlie Clark of Astrid didn’t really mean to come home to Lewis and leave America, but that is what’s happened – and he sounds ecstatic to be working on the many projects he is, back over here.

Charlie Clark, one of his single titles decorating his T-shirt.
Charlie Clark, one of his single titles decorating his T-shirt.

High on his list of things he wanted to do was to set up his own record label to release his solo album and to highlight talent and release independent music from the Highlands and Islands and beyond.

And No Big Deal Music has to be one of the best label names ever.

So far, he has released the first single from his solo album, Late Night Drinking – recorded in Uig on the Isle of Skye. The latest single Blink Of An Eye is out now with a video Charlie made too.

Latest Single Blink Of An Eye.
Latest Single Blink Of An Eye.

He has also signed some artists he has hand-picked, including Inverness musician, Joshua Mackenzie and his Joshua Hotel project.

Also signed by Charlie is The Sea Atlas (Calum Buchanan), American musician Clarke & The Himselfs and Lewis’s Scott C Park, who also plays with Astrid and the band of Charlie's fellow Lewis musician Colin Macleod.

Joshua Mackenzie's The Joshua Hotel.
Joshua Mackenzie's The Joshua Hotel.

Originally planning to put his own solo album out with Creation Records, Charlie decided to bring it out on his own label and it had been scheduled to appear this month.

However, on Facebook recently, Charlie announced that he had decided to postpone the release of the album Late Night Drinking until 2022. It gives time for vinyl orders to be completed, he said. A busy schedule has been planned for Astrid, and it also gives Charlie the time to spend on each of the artists he has already signed up on the record label.

Clarke And The Himselfs.
Clarke And The Himselfs.

Charlie, who had been based in Los Angeles for 12 years, explained: “I came back from America to help look after my dad and I ended up staying.

“I was still working remotely but was caring for my dad till he passed. I got into a new relationship, ended up having babies, then Covid came along.

“I was always coming back here for Astrid. But I was seeing such a difference and when the whole Peat & Diesel thing hit, it was so good for the island.”

Scott C Park.
Scott C Park.

Among the many different music projects he is involved with, writing a column in the Stornoway Gazette allows him to shine a light on all the many musicians and bands the island can boast. It’s another way Charlie can highlight all the talent that is around.

"I’m living on the island and thinking we should be shouting about all this from the rooftops.

"There is a scene here now and it’s a really vibrant one and a very collective one. Some scenes can be kind of cliquey, but here we are just trying to move forward the best way we can," Charlie said.

The Sea Atlas.
The Sea Atlas.

As well as running the label, working in Astrid and on his own music, Charlie is planning events both small and much more ambitious – but all are exciting.

For those who might not know, Charlie the songwriter, musician, promoter and more, first started out as a founding member of Glasgow indie-pop foursome Astrid and then stayed a presence on the underground music scene for over 20 years. That included being a member of the Scottish supergroup The Reindeer Section, as well as his own projects Broken Arrow and MJ12, also guesting with Mogwai, Arab Strap and Snow Patrol along the way.

No Big Deal Music, charlie's new record label.
No Big Deal Music, charlie's new record label.

He and Willie have plans for Astrid.

"We finally own every single thing that Astrid has ever released. It has finally come back to us after all these years. It just makes sense to release music on our label now.

"It all slotted into place and we are doing Celtic Connections in January and the first Astrid single on the label will come out on January 21. Then we go on a UK tour, just Willie and I acoustic – we are doing Eden Court.

"And I think our agent is taking festival bookings and stuff, so we are just planning ahead."

Charlie recalls something he saw in the run up to setting up his record label.

"I was watching buskers in Glasgow the last time I was there and it was guys without guitars that were really pretty and they were doing things right out of Pop Idol. They were great singers and they were great at what they did, but it was ‘Is that where we have come to, that an 18 or 19-year-old thinks that is how you get into the music industry?'.

"That is exactly why I set the label up, as a response to just that.

"The music that made me feel alive when I was growing up and that I felt was made by interesting people, who honestly had something to say for themselves, it doesn’t need to be a deep, profound, meaningful thing or be political or anything, but it might just say something that resonates with you on the most basic human level.

"We are all so aware of people’s mental health at the moment and it is such a catharsis to be able to write if you suffer from that.

"It really does help people, therefore I think you know music does change lives, so the bands will land with who they need to land with.

"We have a really great team on the promotional side of things and we are throwing everything that we have on it and both radio and press have been over the moon with the artists to give them a platform for the next single releases."

For him, the label will be about sharing everything with the artists so they learn everything they need to know too.

"We do so many other things in terms of management and trying to get money in for the bands, just to keep the whole thing like a wee business for them, not to mention showing them how to do everything so they can do it themselves.

"So every email or every bit of contact regarding any particular artist, they are CCed into the conversation.

"Digital marketing, the press company, every step of the way.

"I have been superhappy because the artists have been so on top of it.

"They hand over their videos and teaser clips, everything, everything is in a Dropbox folder with a big bow around it!

"So they are ready to go and are a dream to work for.

"They are so organised and they are all visual artists. It shows me how hungry they are for it.

"To be really old-fashioned about it, these guys are doing all the work!"

Charlie talks enthusiastically about the musicians he has signed to the record label.

"Scott Macleod (Scott C Park)who plays with Colin Macleod and Astrid, is finally releasing his own music.

"Without a shadow of a doubt, he is the most gifted storyteller I’ve ever met.

"He writes about living in the Western Isles in a way that resonates with me as a fan.

"He can communicate what it feels like to grow up on the Western Isles, so subtly, but if you know, you know.

"Since Kevin MacNeil [the Lewis writer and poet] I don’t think anyone has been able to resonate with me so deeply.

"So that was a no-brainer for the label, other than me, Scott was going to be the first person I released.

"Whilst this was happening, I was talking to my friends in LA and one of my favourite bands from when I was booking out there is an artist called Clark And The Himselfs, and they are just a one-man-band thing done really well

"Clark is on Sub Pop records in America. He had a brand-new record and was like ‘Check these things out!’

"It blew my mind and I asked ‘Could I release a single for you over here? I think Scotland and England would really love it’.

"So that was the other single.

"Then I saw everything Josh Mackenzie was doing and the amazing things he was making happen for himself, and I had a little talk with Josh.

Clarke And The Himselfs.
Clarke And The Himselfs.

"The whole ethos of No Big Deal is we are not shooting for the stars, we are trying to have managed expectations about feasibly doing music while living your life and doing other things too.

"And in the current climate, it is a good time to come back and do music – people are hungry to see live shows.

"Each one of the artists I’ve got on the label is so filling a gap of something that has been lost in music for me, without sounding like an old fuddy duddy!

"All these guys are half my age, but they are hitting a chord of when I was 19 or 20 and going to shows five nights a week to see bands in small clubs, 300-capacity clubs like King Tuts in Glasgow.

"They take me back.

"I plan on taking this lot on tour. There is that collective spirit behind the label and we use Wee Studio whenever we can on the island, making our videos and Scott works for that as well.

"The three singles that we have done with them have all had their own life in the media and on radio and it’s been very organic and I just feel there’s light at the end of the tunnel because I see the whole income stream from doing music in a totally different way now.

"I think coming after Covid and how people are licensing music to TV and film and adverts and things like that, they are looking for original and independent music now other than from stock libraries."

Single Late Night Drinking, Charlie's album out next year shares the title.
Single Late Night Drinking, Charlie's album out next year shares the title.

Charlie has done a deal with a company in Los Angeles which has the No Big Deal catalogue.

"They are actively shopping our music for film and commercial placement," Charlie revealed. "I’m pulling everything together that I have spent my life working on."

No Big Deal Music.
No Big Deal Music.

Ask Charlie, and it seems America is in the past.

“I was there for 12 years and met my wife, but I was going through a divorce and it was just like end of an era really. And I made so many trips back through Astrid.

“I would literally get back to LA and I’d get a call to say my father was going to die and I just couldn’t do that any more.

“I made an arrangement with my work that I would have an extended period here and then just everything changed.

“But I feel really good about it,” he said, taking on the sceptical voice of someone from Lewis – ‘From California to Stornoway? Are you crazy?’ And I’m like ‘No, do you know what, I’m OK’.

“I think that chapter is done and if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have two beautiful boys and a lovely partner – on to the next part, as they say.

“I realise with music and everything now, more than I ever did, the least success I have ever had professionally has still been the most rewarding part of my career and I feel like it has created the best music that I’ve written or been involved with because there is just a rawness to it. And I think my style’s kind of changed.

“I think I’m a really slow learner and it’s taken me 25 years to become a good songwriter – even if I’m that. Again, it is just everybody’s own evolution, but I feel I’m in the right place doing the right thing at the moment because all these things feel good.”

Charlie’s new single Blink Of An Eye is out now on No Big Deal Music. find out more Facebook: nobigdealmusicsy

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