Two years ago Mike McClellan decided to return to writing, recording and performing full time.
Mike released Song and Danceman in 1974 with the title song topping the charts and bringing him to national recognition.
His debut album in 1972 had been regarded as one of the most auspicious of his era. His second album went gold, and in 1976 he released his finest album of the 70s, Until the Song is Done. He was compering a TV show in 1979 that became Mike McClellan’s Country Music. He travelled to the UK and America, away for over 12 months.
On his return to Australia he did something unexpected: He changed careers.
‘There were several factors that made me make that decision – I had come back from being overseas where I had lived in the early 80s. RBT had come in, clubs were struggling and ditching the bands; in general the business was a lot harder. I had come back with a new wife, who was keen to start a family and a medical practice, and I had also tired of touring. I once did 60 shows in 10 weeks – all in NSW – and I got to the point where I wanted to set down roots.’
McClellan was approached by advertising agencies, who were keen for him to join their ranks. They’d noticed his natural ability for an easy lyric and a catchy tune.
‘It was an easy avenue for me to take at that time,’ says Mike, who was signed up by MOJO as their creative songwriter. And yes, you are sure to know some of Mike’s commercial jingles: Four X, Red Rooster… In fact one of Mike’s friends begged him to pull the Rooster jingle. ‘He told me his daughter wouldn’t stop singing it and it was driving him nuts!’
Mike set up his own ad agency. He worked at the Country Music Academy in Tamworth as a senior tutor and is now a senior visiting fellow at the Australian International Conservatorium of Music. And back in 2011 Mike released his first album of new songs in 20 years.
‘I had kept up writing but not with any real concentration. That was one of the stimuli for wanting to go back to doing it full time. I didn’t want my creativity to get diluted, and I love performing.’ Writing music and getting out there again was a deliberate intention – that this would be what I want to do for the rest of my life.’
While If Only For a Moment reacquainted Mike with his listening public, it was the release of Dancing in the Rain, his new and, some say, best-ever musical offering that has had the critics raving.
ABC Radio’s Richard Glover wrote: ‘Mike McClellan just gets better and better. It is such a beautiful record. I loved every song.’
‘I wrote this last album as a focused effort over six–eight months. In a way I felt I was making up for lost time. I sometimes regret that I didn’t get back to it sooner.’
This most recent album reflected Mike’s emotional journey through what he calls one of his toughest times.
‘I went through a tough emotional time with the release of the last album. There was a lot of emotional stuff: my wife and I divorced, and a lot of what is in the album reflects what I was going through. It is a product of that tough time. You sometimes use the writing to work through the issues and work out the cathartic struggle. I think a lot of what I write is intensely personal, but what I am going through is no different from what other people go through, it’s just that I write about it. Other people listen and interpret through the prism of their own experience, and if they get something out of it, then that’s a good thing.
‘We all have songs in our lives,’ says Mike, ‘that signpost particular moments or things that have happened and all you have to do is hear that song and those memories come straight back.’
As an older artist re-entering the music industry Mike is philosophical about the approach.
‘This industry can be very demanding, and I think what you have to be careful about is that it doesn’t become too obsessive.
I guess the thing that for me that is critical is that I find a way to use my creativity in a positive fashion and take into account all the things that are around me and all the relationships I need to sustain. I have kids and grandkids and they are terribly important to me; and I have a new partner in my life, and I have to be careful that I take her concerns and her needs into account. She is still working and doesn’t travel with me as much as she’d like, as much as I’d like. You know you really do mellow as you age; I am less guarded when I am writing.’
Mike reflects on the difficulty that men of his father’s generation and even himself and his brothers have had in learning to connect and express themselves.
‘There is a song on my album from 2011 which is called The Heart of the Matter, which is about the reluctance of the men in my family to voice what was really going on for them. Men didn’t talk about their feelings. I have two brothers, and we all should have been better I guess, but at times haven’t been.
One is a lawyer and the other one is a judge leading the royal commission into child abuse. All successful men that have become better with age… I watch the way my daughter’s partner father their kids and I see things changing… although I do think there is still a way to go.’
Mike McClellan, enjoying standing ovations from Brisbane to Perth, touches in for a show at the Byron Community Centre on Friday at 8pm. Tickets at the venue.