If You Catch Me At The Border I Got Visas In My Name

A month ago I watched the excellent documentary Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., a film about the life, music and politics of M.I.A. The film is made up of home video footage, TV appearances, time spent with Justine Frischmann and on the road with Elastica, interviews and various shaky, hand held video camera and phone clips. It’s a fascinating document, energetic and gripping. Much of the film centres around a visit to Sri Lanka which Maya extends longer than intended and the impact this has on her convictions and politics and the effect this then has on her music, her view of herself as an immigrant and a Londoner. As her music becomes more popular and widespread she walks into various controversies. She is accused by the US media of being a terrorist sympathiser (her father was a founding Tamil Tiger). She is set up by the New York Times and responds by tweeting the journalist’s mobile phone number. She is invited by Madonna to appear with her at half time during the Superbowl and gives the whole of Middle America the middle finger. Her ambition and attitude are evident from the star and she comes across very well too, likeable and genuinely questioning her own attitudes and beliefs. She has swagger and self- belief and has made some of the best pop songs of the 21st century.

I’ve posted this before but it never gets tired, a thrilling pop- rap blast riding in on that Mick Jones Straight To Hell guitar sample, Diplo’s production and M.I.A.’s lyrics about people’s perceptions of immigrants (hence the gun shots and cash registers of the chorus).

Paper Planes

The best use of a Clash sample? Maybe so. Norman Cook and Beats International made very good use of Paul Simonon’s bassline for Dub Be Good To Me in 1990, with Lindy Layton’s sweet vocal and The SOS Band’s song.

Dub Be Good To Me (LP version)

In 1994 Deee Lite sampled the wheezy organ from Armagideon Times for Apple Juice Kissing, a song about kissing on the back row of the movies and therefore a much less political song than Paper Planes, Straight To Hell or The Clash’s cover of Willie Williams’ reggae tune but all part of life’s rich tapestry. And a very smart use of a Clash sample too.

Apple Juice Kissing

Remote Control

Two different songs with the same name.

In 1977 The Clash’s debut album came out. It opened with the jerky, amphetamine rush of Janie Jones and was followed by Remote Control, a Mick Jones song written in response to the Anarchy Tour. Over a crunching, sped up Kinks style riff Mick complains about civic hall’s bureaucrats, grey London town, the police in the panda car, pubs closing at 11pm, big business, being poor, money men in Mayfair, parliament and people who want to turn you into a robot. All good punk stuff. Unfortunately the song became unmentionable when CBS released it as a single without their consent, which for Strummer, Jones and Simonon symbolised everything they stood against. In a way through it all worked out well- Mick went away and wrote Complete Control, one of their finest moments, which opened with the lines ‘They said ‘release Remote Control’, but we didn’t want it on the label’. In truth Remote Control isn’t by any means a bad song and Mick says they always liked it, they just couldn’t play it on ideological grounds.

Remote Control

Back to the band I started the week with for the second Remote Control. In 1998 The Beastie Boys released their fifth album, Hello Nasty, a twenty song tour de force that Adam Horowitz reckons is their best album. The third song is Remote Control, kicking off with a super catchy riff and Mike D leading on the mic, finding links between satellite dishes, videos games, chain reactions, diamonds from coal, rainy days, Don King and ‘cameras on Mars on space patrol, controlled on Earth by remote control’.

Remote Control

The two bands are linked by Sean Carasov, known to the Beastie Boys as The Captain. Sean started off as part of The Clash’s entourage, selling t-shirts on tour and working his way up to become tour manager Kosmo Vinyl’s right hand man. He’s also in Joe Strummer’s Hell W10 silent film. Sean moved to the USA and became part of the Beastie Boys’ circle, eventually becoming their tour manager in the Def Jam days. Later he became an A&R man and signed A Tribe Called Quest to Jive Records. Mike D and Adam H both write fondly about Carasov but also the feeling he left something heavy behind him and the issues he had with alcohol. Sadly Sean took his own life in 2010.

Armistice

Suicide in the Trenches
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
Siegfried Sassoon, 1918

Groovy Times Are Here Again

If yesterday’s song could only have been written by Paul Weller in 1978 then today’s is very much Joe Strummer but a year later. The Cost Of Living ep was released in 1979, a four track 7″ single and one of the finest releases the band put out. Led by their cover of I Fought The Law and closed by the re-recorded version of Capital Radio it is bookended by raw, high octane rock ‘n’ roll. In between these two are a pair of songs, one sung by Strummer  (Groovy Times) and one sung by Jones (Gates Of The West) that are lesser known but utterly essential Clash tunes.

Groovy Times opens with a burst of acoustic guitars, electric guitars and harmonica (a nod to Bob Dylan from Mick) and becomes a state of Britain in the late 70s address from Joe. He starts with the effects of economic recession- ‘the high street shops are boarded up’ – and then moves onto the fences put up in football grounds to pen the fans in, a wall of riot police with shields and then contrast it with  housewives all singing ‘groovy times are here again’ (groovy, a word that in ’79 would be completely associated with hippies from a decade earlier). The sleeve of the ep was packaged to look like washing powder and this song seems to be the where the sleeve comes from- ignore the news, focus on the adverts! The second verse picks up with more imagery of wasteland Britain and urban decay but never mind because the radio is still saying ‘groovy times have come to pass!’. In the final verse Joe takes some kind of aim at ‘the king of early evening ITV’ (Bill Grundy) and apparently Elvis Costello (‘put him in a dog suit like from 1964’). It’s the work of men at the top of their game, branching out after the punk orthodoxy of ’77 and the tensions and difficulties of 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope album. Coming a few months before London Calling it shows a group throwing off the shackles and on a roll.

Groovy Times

Rachid Taha

It was announced a couple of days ago that Rachid Taha had died aged 59. Rachid was an Algerian singer and activist, based in France, who blended punk and electronic music with North African forms rai and chaabi. Moving to Lyon aged 10 he started forming bands in his teens, djed at local Algerian clubs, and sang in both Arabic and English. In the early 80s he found The Clash and said that for a generation of French musicians ‘they gave us the world’. He bumped into the band outside the Theatre Mogador in Paris during their residency there in 1981, passing them his band’s demo tape, fusing rai with funk and punk. Months later he heard Rock The Casbah and liked to imagine his demo tape had at least partly inspired the song.

Like many people I first heard of Rachid when he covered Rock The Casbah on his 2004 album Tekitoi, sung it in Arabic and re-titled Rock el Casbah, a magnificent cover of the song. A year later at a Stop The War gig in London Mick Jones joined Rachid on stage (and did the same at the Barbican in 2007).  Life goals eh?
RIP Rachid.

Rock el Casbah

The video for the original release, a song largely written and recorded by Topper Headon, is a hoot, starring the group in their full on military fatigues gear, a grumpy Mick Jones, a heavy handed Arab-Israeli section and an armadillo. It’s also a lesson in songs gaining a life or meaning not intended by the creators- Joe sat aghast watching his TV in 1991 as US troops used it to celebrate bombing Iraq.

48 Thrills?

Today is my 48th birthday. I suppose I have to face facts that I am now late 40s rather than mid-40s and that 50 is bearing down on me. Age may well be nothing but a number but also you have to come to realise that you are not a young person anymore, you are in fact middle aged and increasingly so as each year passes by. There aren’t many songs with 48 in the title- but there is this one which promises me 48 thrills this weekend. Maybe.

48 Hours

Due to a pile up of other events and commitments this weekend my initial plans have not come to fruition. Andrew Weatherall and A Certain Ratio shared a gig at the Hebden Bridge Trade’s Club last night (which I wanted to go to but couldn’t). Steve Cobby and Darren Emerson were DJing at Band On The Wall last night too (which I wanted to attend as a back up to the ACR/Weatherall gig but couldn’t) and tonight Weatherall is doing a Wrong Meeting event at the Golden Lion in Todmorden but I can’t attend that either. So without any of those plans coming off I shall have to take it a bit easier and be a bit more local, a bit more sedate and a bit more middle aged about my birthday.

Kiyadub 45

I don’t remember being consulted about the aristocracy holding their wedding on my birthday either. A member of the British royal family is marrying an American. I will not be watching it. I believe the royal family should be abolished and that having a monarchy is not just undemocratic but anti-democratic, that we can never really even pretend to have a goal of a fair and just society when we have a monarchy. I am quite cheered by opinion polls that suggest a majority of people are at best ‘politely disinterested’ but also, y’know, stuff your street parties and the idiots with union flags camping out on the streets of Windsor, cheering on an institution that does not care about them a single jot. Rant over, as Drew says.

Elizabeth My Dear

Actually, rant not over. The FA Cup Final is on today as well, kicking off at 5.30 between my club, Manchester United, and Chelsea. My opinion, seeing as I’m giving them out today, is that Jose Mourinho is a bad thing, an outdated, negative, narcissist who wants the praise for himself when they win and blames the players when they lose, a man who thinks spending massive sums of  money is a substitute for coaching. I didn’t want him to get the job 2 years ago but we’re stuck with him for the moment and obviously I’ll still be wanting United to win.

Stop Wasting Time

Sunday night ended up with a bit of an impromptu gathering in our garden due to it being a bank holiday Monday the following day and very warm and sunny. The drinking started at about 5pm and carried on through til late. The neighbours were all given the benefit of various albums and compilations playing from inside the house out into the garden, starting off with the Mastercuts Classic House comp (vinyl, sounding a bit crackly and worn in places), then the first four sides of Sandinista!, with the switch from Voodoo Ray to The Magnificent 7 working very well indeed. Sandinista! works really well on cd, and Mick Jones’ remastering on the Sound System edition is spectacular, revealing new delights with almost every listen.

Side 2 of Sandinista! is essentially a Clash mixtape, opening with Rebel Waltz, a much overlooked moment of brilliance, a Mose Allison cover, some sweltering Simonon dub (The Crooked Beat), a blinding rock song (Somebody Got Murdered) and then The Clash and Mikey Dread kicking it out in a proper reggae style with One More Time and it’s dub sister. One More Time is Strummer’s depiction of ghetto poverty and the civil rights movement of the 60s, with the band on fire in the Electric Ladyland studio. It is followed by Mikey Dread’s heavier dubbed out version.

One More Time
One More Dub