A Long Time Ago There Were Pirates

I found this image on the web the other night so it gives me a good excuse for a gratuitous Clash post and one of the most hair raising, adrenaline infused songs they recorded. The original Capital Radio was a freebie with the NME and the second hand price of it sky-rocketed. This appalled the band whose insistence on value for money and fans not being ripped off was a founding principal. So the song was re-recorded and included on the 1979 Cost Of Living ep, pound for pound one of the best value for money 7″ records ever released (a four track ep led by I Fought The Law and supported by two of their best lesser known songs Groovy Times and Gates Of The West plus this one here).

Capital Radio starts with Mick playing a sweet acoustic finger picked riff. At twenty nine seconds Mick, off mic, shouts ‘1-2-3-4’ and hits the main riff, a massive jolt of electric guitars. Joe joins in with a line about ‘the Dr Goebbels show!’ Topper’s drumming is on the money. Joe and Mick alternate call and response style, railing against London’s number one commercial radio station and it’s refusal to play punk records and celebrating the pirate stations of the 60s- now silent ‘cos they ain’t got government license’. They make radio programming sound like the biggest injustice of modern times. At two minutes the band breaks it down and Joe comes in with ‘hey guys, come on’. ‘Yeah wot?’ Mick responds, surly as you like. Joe then explores the possibility of The Clash being radio friendly and having a hit before they end with a brief breakout into You’re The One That I Want, then at the top of the charts with Travolta and Newton John. Mick’s strings squeal. Topper doubles the beat. More exciting and more fun than you can possibly imagine (as Obi Wan never said).

Capital Radio Two

While I’m here these pictures have been sitting in a folder waiting for a post so I may as well put them here or I’ll end up doing a week of Clash posts.

Here’s Joe and Mick in the USA, 1983, hanging by the pool- everything you need in late period Clash… Joe in Docs with mohawk and a busker’s ukulele, Mick having raided the army surplus store.

Paul live in Paris, raising standards.

And lastly Topper and Paul, on tour c1979 somewhere far from the Westway.

You Pretend You’re High

I was flicking through the music channels on the telly the other day, the free ones that come as standard with our box, and on one of them was an hour’s worth of videos from the 1990s of bands fronted by women. This one came up within thirty seconds…

I really like this song. I bought it for Mrs Swiss who loved it when it was released back in 1996. The 7″ came in a cloth bag with rubber bits on it and it’s still there in the 7″ boxes downstairs. The tune is insistent, naggingly catchy, the snarky lyrics raise questions about who the subject is and I always had a soft spot for Shirley Manson. It also makes really effective use of Topper Headon’s drums from Train In Vain.

An Alternative Imaginary Clash Compilation

A week ago JC at The (New) Vinyl Villain published the latest in his imaginary compilation album series, The Clash back catalogue boiled down to just ten songs. A valiant effort at an almost impossible task. It caused quite a bit of discussion and led to me thinking that there are a handful of Clash songs that are so utterly essential for any Best Of The Clash that they pick themselves- Complete Control, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, London Calling, Straight To Hell, Safe European Home. So I thought I’d consider an alternative Clash compilation, taking those songs out. I also decided that I would not include any songs that were the A-sides of singles (so that ruled out White Riot, I Fought the Law and Bankrobber, also automatic shortlisters) and that I’d rule out any of the songs that JC picked (which removed the cream of some of the album tracks- Clampdown, which is essential, Armagideon Time, which is a masterpiece, and Stay Free, which is glorious and heartfelt). I managed to get a list of about twenty and then the head scratching began. This is my album as it stands today. See it as a companion disc to JC’s, maybe in true Clash style a double disc set (for the price of a single obviously. ‘There will never be a Clash album for more than a fiver’ said Joe Strummer)

Side 1
1. Spanish Bombs
A rollicking chord sequence from Mick and Joe’s brilliant lyrics switching between Spain in the 70s and Spain in the 30s, from London Calling. Oh my corazon…

2. Groovy Times
The best lesser known Clash song, from The Cost Of Living e.p. This record shows the band falling for the USA (I Fought The Law and Mick’s Gates Of The West especially) but this song is completely British lyrically with references to boarded up shops, football terraces and early evening ITV. Meanwhile Mick plays acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitar- that’s not punk!

3. Garageland
The closer from the debut and the moment they began to write their own mythology (and respond to press criticism).  A stunningly raw riff, thumping drums from Tory Crimes, the guttersnipe lyrics, 24 singers and 1 microphone.

4. Guns Of Brixton
Because this the greatest bassline of the 20th century and because Paul Simonon was so much more than just the bass player in a punk band.

5. The Street Parade
I love this song, buried deep inside Sandinista. Topper’s drumming and percussion have a Latino feel, there’s a sweet, understated melody and Joe sings about the joy of being lost in the crowd, being swept along anonymously.

Side 2
1. Ghetto Defendant
Combat Rock is a mixed bag- big hit singles with songs that take in funk, jazz, cinematic sounds, all sorts. Ghetto Defendant works, it has depth and groove and weight- Allen Ginsberg as the voice of God, reggae bass and Joe nailing heroin addiction versus rebellion.

2. Death Or Glory
London Calling’s full of definitive Clash songs. This one both holds up and debunks the rock ‘n’ roll myth. The band playing is superb and it contains the still jawdropping lines about gimmick hungry yobs, nuns and joining the church.

3. The Prisoner
The Clash spewed out singles with good B-sides. The Prisoner was the flip to (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, which is possibly their greatest song. The Prisoner is a riot, manic, trebly, breathless. It namechecks Watford Junction, Camden Town, the Second World War, Johnny Be Goode and Johnny Too Bad, the tube and more, all crammed in one short song.

4. Somebody Got Murdered
Mick Jones could write fast, uptempo rockers with sleek guitar lines until the cows came home. This one from Sandinista just edges it although I nearly went for Up In Heaven (Not Only Here). The opening is a rush of drums and guitars, like seeing the city from a speeding car. Joe’s words were based on real life events viewed while staying in New York. Mick sings them like his life depends on it. Many Clash songs have drama, this one especially.

5. Police and Thieves
Any Clash compilation needs a reggae cover version- I’d have gone for Armagideon Time but the rules disallowed it. Pressure Drop, another B-side is good, then there’s Police On My Back. But Police And Thieves is the one, the song that shows the rules of 1977 punk were going to be broken, that cut the tempo of the debut album in half but still kept the pace up. Junior Murvin’s original is light as air. The Clash’s version is heavier. Trash reggae- in a good way.

Groovy Times

There are a bunch of songs from the debut I considered (I’m So Bored With The USA, What’s My Name? for two), most of the rest of London Calling and at least five from Sandinista I could have gone with (Washington Bullets, One More Time, Rebel Waltz, Broadway, Something About England). The back cover of Combat Rock suggests Atom Tan, Inoculated City, Car Jamming. Shorn of Safe European Home and Stay Free, Give ‘Em Enough Rope doesn’t offer that much to me (English Civil War and Tommy Gun were both singles but I don’t think either would get near this compilation). But this ten are at this moment, my alternative imaginary Clash compilation.

Johnny Comes Marching Home

At the end of Protex Blue on The Cash’s debut lp Mick Jones shouts out ‘Johnny, Johnny!’ Written by Mick before the band even formed Protex Blue is a homage to pub toilet condom vending machines, done and dusted in one minute and forty five seconds. Rubber Johnny.

On their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, Joe Strummer gets his Johnny song in, the trad. arr update English Civil War. A song that refers to the rise of the National Front and the right-wing generally, Johnny is coming ‘by bus and underground’. Strummer always stressed it was a folk song, a version of a American Civil War song called When Johnny Comes Maching Home, sung by the soldiers of the south. On a US tour they tried a slowed down, acoustic take and got booed by the audience. While we’re here Give ‘Em Enough Rope is, I think, the worst/least good Clash album, with too many half baked songs, some silly posturing and an FM rock sheen added by Sandy Pearlman. Having said that, it’s also got Safe European Home and Stay Free, so it’s not all bad.

Here they perform live in 1979 on a yoof TV show called Alright Now and everyone seems to be having a really good time.

In between the first and second albums came the mighty White Man (In Hammersmith Palais) single. The b-side to their reggae influenced, state of the nation address was The Prisoner, a breathless, thrilling, careering three minutes romp with a wild, distorted guitar solo from Mick. The lyrics cram in two Johnny’s, both music related at the start of the second verse…

‘Johnny Too Bad meets Johnny Be Good in the Charring Cross Road’

Johnny Be Good is (obviously) from Chuck Berry’s song. Johnny Too Bad is from an obscure Jamaican rocksteady group The Slickers, released in 1971 and on the magnificent The Harder They Come soundtrack, a Clash favourite. Johnny Too Bad is a rude boy- ‘walking down the road with a pistol in your waist Johnny you’re too bad’. I’ve posted it before, a long time ago.

The rest of Mick’s lyrics on The Prisoner are hilarious (in a good way) and packed full of Clashery- Camden Town, Coronation Street, the Germans and the French jamming themselves down the tube to re-enact the Second World War, rude boys being rude, drug addiction and jumping the train to stardom. There’s a cracking live version in the Rude Boy film and also this breakneck, amphetamine fuelled performance in Munich in 1977 (along with Janie Jones and Garageland).

That Crazy Casbah Sound

I  have wandered down a Clash shaped alleyway this week so if you don’t like them, you’ll have to bear with me for one more post. The Clash’s approach to Middle East politics may have come across as a bit simplistic on the sleeve of the 12″ but, let’s face it, it can’t have been any worse than the West’s dealings over the last few years. Maybe both sides should just get down to some tunes on a ghettoblaster.  As it is we get it wrong and make a mess time after time. Our government oppose IS but support Saudi Arabia (some of whom fund IS). And while we act in revulsion at terrorist beheadings of British and American citizens, the Saudi legal system executes its criminals by- yup- beheading. And so on and so forth.

Back to The Clash. On Wednesday, after posting Complete Control, I got an email from Dubrobots saying nice things abut the blog and pointing me towards his own 12″ remix of Rock The Casbah, which is a pretty smart job with a stripped down, funky, extended intro and chopped up vox. It would work well played out somewhere. Free download too.

Everyone knows Topper Headon wrote the music for Rock The Casbah, finding himself alone in the studio one morning before anyone else had got out of bed. Joe added some words and job done. It was their biggest hit in the US until the Levi’s advert. The video is a hoot- even though the man who wrote the song isn’t in it, having been sacked and replaced by Terry Chimes.

I  was reading a Clash forum comment thread once, with some people saying they don’t like this song or Should I Stay Or Should I Go mainly it seems because they were hits and had videos, and presumably that just isn’t punk maaan.

In Granada

Joe Strummer fell in love with Granada in Spain, visiting first with girlfriend Palmolive, drummer of the Slits. He returned there often including spending time there in 1984, sheltering from the fall out of sacking Mick Jones and taking The Clash Mk II on the road, when these pictures were taken. He continued to visit for the rest of his life. In May last year he had a square named after him- Plaza de Joe Strummer. He also produced local local punk band 091, who he first heard on a jukebox in a bar. Like Joe’s hi-tops I’m not sure they’ve dated very well.

Complete Control was released 37 years ago yesterday. Complete Control, written to complain about the record company and Bernard Rhodes (who told the band he wanted ‘complete control’, who then pissed themselves laughing). Complete Control vies with (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais and Bankrobber as the greatest non-album single The Clash made. The original version was produced by Lee Scratch Perry and then remixed by Mick Jones.

This live version is one of the most exciting things you will ever see or hear.

‘I don’t trust you, so do you trust me?’
‘You’re my guitar hero’

What Is The Dream? To Live Like They Do In The Movies?

This is Kosmo Vinyl. According to Wikipedia his occupation is ‘talent manager’. He joined The Clash’s team in 1979/80, when Bernie Rhodes stepped back in to manage the band. Kosmo was spokesman, road manager, fixer, mouthpiece and all round aide-de-camp to the Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon as they went about breaking into the USA. He introduced them on stage and is heard on the Live At Shea Stadium album, supporting the Who in 1982. Before working with The Clash he was involved with Ian Dury and The Jam.

Kosmo contributed a vocal performance to the song Red Angel Dragnet, on Combat Rock. Paul Simonon takes the lead vocal on Red Angel Dragnet, speaking/shouting about a trip through New York City at night. Kosmo adds some lines from Taxi Driver, that famous psychotic stuff from Travis Bickle about how ‘some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets’. Paul’s descent into late night madness, over a jerky, funky backing, then goes free association (presumably with input or written wholesale by Strummer), loads of memorable lines about champagne on ice, Alcatraz, woman afraid to walk through the park at night, the Guardian Angels, the dream of living like they do in the movies, hands up for Hollywood, saving the girl, who shot the shot that shot the cop that made him drop? Silly stuff but highly enjoyable. This version is from the Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg bootleg, a rougher mix with organ to the fore, slightly different vocals and ending, and without Glyn Johns’ later FM sheen.

Red Angel Dragnet (Early version)

Kosmo (real name Mark Dunk) married an American and has lived in the States ever since. His current occupation is managing a large New York apartment block. A West Ham United fan in exile, 3474 miles from Upton Park, he spent the 2011/12 football season producing a pop-art influenced collage of the result of every game the Hammers played that season and then posting them on his blog Is Saitch Yer Daddy? He’s been at it ever since. They were exhibited in London last year- something I only found out about a couple of weeks ago while looking for something else on the net. Here are a couple, the first one with my team beating his 1-0 at Old Trafford. No guarantees that will happen this season.

What Are We Gonna Do Now?

I found this on a music magazine freebie cd recently while looking for something else and thought I’d post it although I know some of you aren’t too fussed about The Clash.

Clampdown must be a contender for ‘best Clash song that wasn’t a single’. It shows off each member’s individual talent and the strength of the band. Joe’s opening couplet about racial stereotyping and the rise of the far right is stunning…

‘Taking off his turban they said ‘Is this man a Jew?’
They put up the posters that say ‘We earn more than you’

And the rest of the words live up to it, three minutes of righteous anger about right wing attitudes, the dignity (or lack of) of work, workplace bullies, the effect getting older has on the firebrand politics of youth…

‘You grow up and you calm down
You start wearing blue and brown’

Every line is echoed by the call and response backing vocals ‘Working for the clampdown’ and then Joe’s conclusion that ‘anger can be power’. References in the fade out to Harrisburg, dictators getting their dues, and Three Mile Island. A protest song then.

The music is similarly striking- powerful opening riff, Paul’s descending bassline, Topper’s bang-on-the-beat drumming, the stop-start dynamics. This is a live version from Lewisham Odeon. Much of this gig seems to have bene recorded and surfaced on bootlegs. It would have made a better full gig live document than the Shea Stadium live album which got an official release a few years ago, which didn’t even have Topper drumming.

Clampdown (Live at the Lewisham Odeon)

Rise And Fall

I found this excellent documentary on Youtube over the weekend, The Rise And Fall Of The Clash, directed by Danny Garcia and co-written by Mick’s schoolmate (and subject of Stay Free) Robin Banks. The footage and talking head interviews are fairly standard but within this film lurks some awkward and uncomfortable truths. The title is a bit of a misnomer- it’s about the fall of the band rather than their rise and the aftermath of their gigs at Shea Stadium where they seemed to have cracked the US with a hit lp (Combat Rock) and a pair of singles (Rock The Casbah and Should I Stay Or Should I Go?). The causes of the fall are pretty well known- Topper’s sacking, Joe’s insistence on bringing Bernie Rhodes back as manager, Mick’s timekeeping, the internal and political contradictions of being famous and successful versus being a political band who started out in a squat- but this film has some insightful interviews with some of the main players and bystanders- Mick Jones himself, Pearl Harbour (Paul’s girlfriend at the time), security man Raymond Jordan, Terry Chimes/Tory Crimes, Viv Albertine, Tymon Dogg, Mickey Gallagher and Vic Goddard. The cast are divided about Bernie Rhodes, central to the story and the split- some think he’s an anarchic genius who gave The Clash an edge they needed. Some think he’s an enormous bellend.

The second half of the film is where it becomes less well-known and more compulsive. The story of The Clash Mk2, without the sacked Mick Jones and with three new members- Pete Howard, Nick Shepherd and Greg ‘Vince’ White. The treatment these three got was, to be frank, appalling and how Joe and Paul went along with it is jaw dropping. Vince White deserves some kind of award. Joe and Paul then go onto to record and then leave to Bernie to finish and mix the Cut The Crap album, a record largely expunged from the official histories of the band. Grim, uncomfortable and fascinating stuff. Even if you’ve little interest in The Clash or think you’ve seen enough Clash documentaries, you should set aside ninety minutes for this.

This Was Radio Clash

I missed this on Boxing Day due to family commitments but it’s worth catching up with today (or any day up until Thursday, readers outside the UK may need to search the internet a little deeper)- Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon chatting and playing records for BBC6 here. Opening with Bowie’s Laughing Gnome the surviving 75% of The Clash take in Adam Faith, The Meters, Afika Bambaataa, The Kinks, Desmond Dekker, Junior Murvin, Chuck Berry, Shuggie Otis, Grandmaster Flash, Arctic Monkeys and a load more besides. All three are engaging hosts and former manager Bernie Rhodes also makes repeated appearances in a disguised squeeky voiced form.