The Portsmouth News 1st March 20014

When Dave Clarke wrote a book about his misspent youth as a criminal, he intended it to warn people against crime.

But after penning his autobiography, the 65-year-old former Fareham College electronics lecturer decided that to reach more people he needed to change format.

So he has teamed up with a former student’s band, The Asylum Seekers, and has now turned it into a punk opera which gets its world premiere at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, next month.

The book, Converted on LSD Trip, tells the tale of Dave’s life growing up and committing crime in Aylesbury before he moved to Fareham in 1988, and was written after his criminal brother Michael – two-and-a-half-years his elder – also converted.

Even a year locked away in Dover Borstal in 1967 did not make Dave stop his life of crime and it was only what he describes as a ‘bad trip on LSD while watching Easy Rider’ in 1970 that changed his life.

He claims that at that moment, God saved him.

And that key moment forms the focal point of his book and is the central plank of the opera Borstal Boy, which is at the Kings on Saturday, April 26.

As we chat in a box at the theatre, Dave looks around the grand old place and says: ‘I really can’t believe we’re getting the chance to put on a punk opera in this wonderful building.

‘Having the chance to put it on here really gives my life story mainstream credibility.’

He adds: ‘The stories in my book are suited to punk. There’s a strong message in the story of hope, of deliverance, that life can end well.

‘Even though I got involved with crime, I want good to come out of it. I want to teach people not to mock religion too – look how many people benefit from it.

‘I’m only telling the story because I want good to come out of it, I’m not doing it to tell of my life because it’s rubbish.

‘There’s no benefit in crime, there’s no glory. You end up in jail and once you’ve got a criminal record it’s with you for the rest of your life.’

Looking back at the moment which changed his life and has led to the opera, Dave says: ‘I gave LSD to four of my friends and we went to see Easy Rider at the old Odeon in Aylesbury.

‘I got the horrors and paranoia and I was frightened of killing myself. I said ‘‘Jesus please help me’’.

‘All of a sudden peace came upon me and I heard his voice speak to me saying ‘‘I’ve been with you Dave, you’ve been searching for me for a long time’’. I turned my life around that night.’

The writer hopes that seeing actors perform his story will appeal to a wider audience.

He continues: ‘There are ways for people to turn their lives around but they need help.

‘I realised that people simply don’t read books because they are not a quick fix.

‘I didn’t know how to get the story out but then decided the way to do it was to turn it into a punk rock opera.’

After that 1970 conversion, it took Dave a year to work up the courage to admit to three years of undetected theft and drug taking, handing himself over to the police.

But when he appeared before Aylesbury magistrates to confess to the details of 24 crimes, the local newspaper ran the headline Converted on LSD Trip and reported the details of his multiple crimes for which he was not sentenced.

It is the coverage of that court case which gives the book its title, along with 12 other key moments in his journey from crime to conversion to preacher that he has selected for the opera.

In addition to his conversion and subsequent confession, he includes the time when he stole a speedboat, and the refusal of the head of Fareham College to write a foreword to his book.

And with the help of 53-year-old former student Mick Fisher’s band The Asylum Seekers, the 13-part punk opera has taken shape.

Originally both Dave and the band had planned to take tracks from punk bands and perform covers. But last year, Dave sat down with the band and carefully chose the 13 key parts from his life story.

Dave says: ‘Punk itself as a means of communication is underrated. So I look at it really as a punk machine and the stage where we perform is like a platform, a pulpit and we’ll teach through the music.

‘It’s a means of expressing emotion, a means of release. You are pent up and screwed up but punk is a means of expressing that.’

After the premiere of Borstal Boy at the Kings Theatre next month, Dave Clarke hopes it will be performed in prisons around the country.

After his conversion Dave became a preacher and all but lost touch with his brother Michael.

But in 1987 he heard in a news bulletin that Michael had been arrested in the Philippines for promoting child prostitution.

Not wanting to give up on his brother, Dave travelled to the Philippines and helped his jailed sibling have his own religious awakening.

The pair then told their story to hundreds of inmates in the Philippines, and Dave wrote a book which has been distributed in prisons worldwide.

He says: ‘My brother died of TB the year before his release. The only consolation for me was that he had that turnaround.’