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Exclusive interview with the director of ‘The Rise and Fall of The Clash’

Hello once again and thanks for dropping in to the blog. If this is perhaps your first visit then your timing is exquisite as I’ve got a great interview below. If you read my post last week you’ll know that a new documentary film that focuses on the later years of The Clash is ready for release. ‘The Rise and Fall of The Clash’ is set to debut in Madrid at the end of June and will also premier in New York a week later as part of the CBGB festival. It’s a film that looks set to be widely talked about and answer many questions about how the greatest band of their generation (any generation?) went from a position of finally achieving global success to imploding in just a few short years. It’s not a happy tale, but then most Clash fans already knew that. Events after 1983 are often ignored when looking back at the history of the band. Many people (I’d consider myself one of them) consider The Clash MK II as a different band and hardly The Clash, only the name remained. I wonder if that’s fair or accurate.

Last week I found myself writing a piece that essentially was full of question and speculation about the film with I hope well founded concerns. At the time I thought I may as well try and contact Danny Garcia who directed the film to see if he’d be prepared to answer some of my questions. I was really pleased that he replied quickly and said he’d be happy to do so, not only did he provide answers but he took the time to really explore the question and the topic at hand, in many cases far more than I expected. I hope you will join me in thanking Danny for taking the time to answer every single one of my questions, as you’ll see there were many and that the questions are interesting and perhaps ones that you’ve had also. It’s not the happiest topic as Danny concedes below, but it does sound like the film explores as much as was possible. If, like me, you’ve been wondering just how you might see the film as soon as possible that’s also answered below. Over to Danny then, I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I did. Danny apologised that English isn’t his first language, as you can see below he is better with English than myself .

  • For those who might not be familiar with you please tell us a little about yourself and your relationship with The Clash?
I’m just a fan from Barcelona, Spain. My brother Sergi got me into The Clash when I was a kid and they became my favourite band when I was growing up. In 1990 Mick came to Barcelona with BAD II, must have been their second or third show, anyway I met Nick Hawkins there and we became friends so up until 1996 I got to see a few of shows and a couple of rehearsals of BAD II specially after I moved to London. So that was my Notting Hill connection.
  • David Mingay’s involvement must have been exciting, did you always have him in mind? How did that come about?
Basically Johnny Green put me in touch with him because he believed Mingay had some extras and unseen footage I could use in my film. It turned out he didn’t have any extras but the ones in the dvd, but my idea was to involve as many people from The Clash’s bandcamp as possible to make this film more interesting for the fans. So we’ve got David Mingay, Robin Banks, Ray Lowry’s amazing Clash illustrations and photography by Caroline Coon, Pennie Smith and Mike Laye. Also Topper’s “Walk Evil Talk” which has become the theme of the documentary. I even spoke with Eddie King and Jules Balme at some point to get one of them to do the artwork but that didn’t happen.
  • I wondered what you felt about the two most notable Clash related films; Westway to the World and The Future is Unwritten? Did their (collective) tendency to paint over the last years of the band inspire you to make your film?
I like both of them, they are great documentaries. Don Letts’ and Julien Temple’s work speak for themselves. I’m also in debt with them for letting me use some of their Clash archive.
  • When did you first conceive of the idea for the film? How long have you been working on it in total?
In late 2008 I came across Vince White’s book “Out of Control: The Last Days of The Clash” and I became really interested in his side of the story. So I got in touch with him and I started to work in the pre-production right away. The film was nearly finished in 2010 but to get everybody to agree to it took an extra year an a half. Post production was done this 2012. So it’s been almost a four year ride.
  • Did you get much push back, suggestions not to proceed with the project?
My idea at the beginning was to make a documentary just on The Clash II years starting the day Mick got fired. So the idea didn’t sit well with some people in high places. I received a few calls and emails but I kept telling these people that I’m a free human being and that they couldn’t stop me from telling any story I wanted to tell. I also told them that I bought Cut The Crap back in 86 and I wanted my money back.
Plus I didn’t understand why all the fuss when Julien Temple and some other documentary had already tackled The Clash II period but of course, it was dealt with in 5 minutes of film and to find out exactly what went down one would need significantly more than that.
  • Assembling those involved to agree to be interviewed was surely the crucial component, was that very difficult? Any thoughts about some of the notable names who didn’t take part? Did Bernie just send cryptic emails?
 It was fairly easy because I got in touch with a lot of people who never had the chance to talk about the subject on film and they felt they wanted to. People like Ray Jordan, Pearl Harbour, Fayney, Norman Watt-Roy, Pete Howard, Nick Sheppard, Viv Albertine, Vic Godard, Jock Scot, Mike Laye, etc. Others like Eddie King or Jules Balme mysteriously told me they’d talk if Kosmo talked… so they didn’t.
It’s a shame Kosmo didn’t want to be part of the project, but what can I say? One must accept it and move on. Same with Paul and Topper.
Bernie didn’t like the idea one bit at first but then we met a couple of times and he understood that this was really what I told him from the start: a small independent production that has gotten a bit bigger thanks to the involvement of my co-producers: Mingay and Banks. Bernie was probably worried that I would just blame him for everything and that wasn’t my idea at all. All I wanted was to let the people who lived it tell the story as it happened in front of their eyes.
  • You’re surely very aware that Clash fans are very committed to the band after all these years, the fans run from those who simply loved the music, to those who saw in The Clash a band that mattered more than anything else during that time in their life. All these years later new fans keep finding out about the greatness of the band while the many Clash historians have provided the minutiae of data that now appears online and in print. How concerned were you with how the film will be received by such a broad spectrum of Clash fans?
I know some people will not like this movie because it doesn’t paint a fairy tale. It’s not a bubblegum documentary to glorify once again the greatness of The Clash, that’s been done before and we all know what a great band they were. This is not a film for sycophants either, it’s a film for individuals, people who have their own ideas, people who just don’t buy everything because they’re told to. I believe one must question everything and also take everything with a pinch of salt.
clash busking 1985 Exclusive interview with the director of The Rise and Fall of The Clash
  • The film is called ‘The Rise and Fall of The Clash’ and yet the trailers seem to focus exclusively on the downfall of the band, is there a focus on the ‘rise’ as well? Will we be treated to anything new about the earlier years of the band?
The movie begins with a brief presentation of the band, Bernie and Kosmo and then we jump straight into 1981 which is as we all know when Bernie went back to managing the band. To understand why the band achieved international success and then disbanded so fast, we had to start the film when Bernie returned.
I think the earlier years of the band are very well documented in a number of films but we’ve managed to unearth some previously unseen footage of The Clash at the 100 Club, the Notting Hill riots and of Joe with the 101’ers. All of this courtesy of John Tiberi.
  • A variety of opinions exist as to why The Clash self-destructed, did you begin the process of making the film with your own pre-concieved notions and if so did you have to put those to one side?
 Of course I had to leave my opinion out of it and give everybody the benefit of the doubt. You can’t blame just one guy for the whole fuck up, everybody played their part in this soap opera and everybody involved added to the drama.
  • My view is that The Clash were almost destined to implode mostly due to the frenetic schedule between 1976 and 1983, never taking the time to get off the treadmill of write, record and tour for seven years. I feel that taking some time away from that routine would have allowed those such as Topper to get the help he so deeply needed and as importantly for the band to take stock of where they were and rebuild/repair friendships. Do you share some or all of that viewpoint?
Sure but that’s the way they did it so it was the way it was supposed to be. Bernie claims the band were half a million Pounds in debt when he rejoined them in 1981 so understandably he kept them as busy as possible. Ray, Terry and Mick all mention that they worked too hard, Ray even says work was killing Joe.
But let’s face it getting rid of Topper was detrimental because Mick was on his own after that, he didn’t really belong to the Joe-Paul-Kosmo-Bernie gang. These guys hang out together while Mick was being driven around London in a flashy car by Tony James.
Joe said the whole drama was that Bernie and Mick didn’t get along and one must remember it was them two who put The Clash together, so probably both of them felt it was ‘their’ band.
  • My concerns about the film were how much new information could be brought to light and would it result in more bitterness and finger pointing? Is that unfounded?
It’s obvious that some of the interviewees have axes to grind but that’s their deal.
And yes, how could you not have new information when half of the interviewees never had the chance to tell their side of the story? And also we get to know who Bernie Rhodes is and his contribution to the band. I think Bernie hasn’t got the recognition he deserves because of the Cut The Crap fuck up. I told him he should remix Cut The Crap alongside a top producer and make sense of it, you have a few decent songs in there and it would be nice to listen to them with a decent production. But I guess that the powers that be didn’t like the idea so it won’t happen. Perhaps you guys should start a campaign on Facebook: Remix Cut The Crap 2012 or something.
  • People (on the whole) seem to blame Bernie, Joe, Mick and Topper typically in that order for what happened in 1983, would that be accurate?
 I don’t know but how anybody could blame just one guy for the whole disaster? That’s really simplistic and naive. I believe Joe was right, Mick didn’t like Bernie and viceversa and then you have Tops losing control which didn’t help, Kosmo taking sides, etc.
  • Is it fair to say there were many reasons for The Clash falling apart or do you feel the film takes us closer to an answer? Indeed is it possible that apportioning blame is fruitless and it happened the way it was meant to?
There are many reasons and the film simply points them out.
  • I’ve had a few written exchanges with Bernie Rhodes since writing the blog and my limited exposure shows me that he is still a curious man, quick to make you cast self-doubt and be fractious. What would you say about Bernie and the part he played? At the same time you can make a case for The Clash never getting off the ground in the first place without Bernie…would that be fair?
I like Bernie, I think he’s a real clever man, but so is Mick you see? Perhaps thats why they clashed. I think it’s a question of no Bernie no Clash because he put the band together with Mick. He chose Paul only for his looks and Joe was singing “Keys to your Heart” when these guys were plotting to create this band. Bernie was something like ten years older than these kids, he had a few ideas, he knew about politics and he was the one who told them to write about politics instead of writing love songs. Which is one of the things that fascinated me about The Clash when I was a teenager.
  • Obviously those drafted in to form The Clash Mark II were full of hope at the time of joining the band. How long did that optimism last?
According to Vince, four weeks. Then he said: “Bernie started kicking ass…”
  • Do you feel that Nick, Vince and Pete were ever allowed to have artistic input or felt like hired hands from day one until the very end?
 I think they must have felt like hired hands from the moment they’re getting 150 quid a week.
It is known that they were given songs to arrange. “In The Pouring Rain” for instance was arranged by Nick Sheppard and it’s a pretty decent tune. But probably at the time of recording the album their input was minimal. If you listen close to Cut The Crap all you get is a dodgy drum machine track, Norman on bass, probably just Nick on guitar and maybe some Vince here and there, Joe on vocals, the German guy from the Munich studio on keyboards, a couple of BAD type voice samples put in the wrong place and a lot of people singing those hooligan style choruses. Bernie was trying to create something new, according to Fayney, it was supposed to be a new Clash.
  • Did you see The Clash (post Mick) live? If so, what did you think? My memory is that it was still good, but too different from what had gone before to carry the same primal power.
 The Clash II never made it to Spain, all I’ve seen is the Roskilde bootleg and listened to dozens of live bootlegs. I think they lacked the magic that Mick and Joe created when they were together. Also Pete was like a Hard Rock drummer, although he’s such an exceptional musician he could play all the little subtleties Topper graced the songs with.
  • Could/should Cut The Crap have been released before Bernie got full control, do you think it would have been a better album as a result?
 I think Bernie had full control the minute Mick left the band and the problem was letting him sit in the producer’s seat simply because he’s not known for being a shit hot producer. The first time I met Paul in 1990 I asked him what happened with Cut The Crap and he just told me he was in NY painting at that time and when he showed up in the studio Bernie was producing it… like what can you do about it? Nick Sheppard believes Bernie wanted to be in The Clash whereas others will tell you he was always imitating Malcolm McLaren.
  • If it doesn’t spoil the film, who’s input about those later years was the most revealing and why?
 Obviously Nick’s, Vince’s and Pete’s. But Pearl’s and Ray’s accounts are also really interesting as it is listening to Mick talk about The Clash II and how he felt about it.
  • Would you have made this film if Joe was still alive, especially if he didn’t want to take part in it?
No idea. He probably would have said: give it a rest! But then again I believe The Clash were there to inspire people to leave their factory jobs and become somebody for themselves. Which is exactly what I’m doing. And I don’t think he would have censored me.
  • Assuming Joe did want to be part of the project were he still with us what do you think he would have thought of the film?
Again, no idea but I must tell you that all of them are presented as human beings and the witnesses appear to give truthful accounts so I don’t think he would have had a problem with it.
  • Does the film lose any steam due to the absence of Topper and Paul?
Well of course it would have been a different film with Tops and Paul in it but they didn’t want to talk about it with me and I totally understand their decision. Same with Kosmo, he told Pearl he didn’t want to share his stories with the rest of us. Luckily there were a bunch of people who did want to talk so the story came out in the end just the same.
  • From what you’ve learned do you think the band could have continued as they were in ’83 with Mick still part of proceedings? Did the band have to give up in ’85? Do you think Joe came to that realisation gradually or very late in the game?
I think they could have recorded some great music with the 83 line up, of course. If you listen to those TRAC demos and the Lucky 8 November 83 Clash demo with Nick Sheppard you can tell there were a few good tunes on both sides that would have made a decent album.
As we all know, Joe was going through a real rough patch and Cut The Crap was obviously the last straw.Also we’re talking about 1985 and the music scene of that time, 77 was long gone and he probably felt the idea had ran its course.
  • Do you think Joe saw Bernie as a big brother/father figure and that Bernie took pressure off of Joe’s shoulders (as far as Joe was concerned)?
Kris Needs and Chris Salewicz say that he was like a father figure and I can understand that. Bernie is a charismatic man, a man with many ideas and you only have to talk to people like Vic Godard or Keith Levene about Bernie and you get the sense that the people who really know him have a lot of respect for the man.
  • Will this film answer more questions that it poses?
 I certainly hope so! First of all you have to understand that I did this to understand myself why that band I adored when I was growing up dissapeared the way they did and  to find out who were those guys on the backcover of Cut The Crap that were replacing Topper and Mick. And when you watch the film you really understand what happened.
  • Why do you think the impact/influence of The Clash continues to grow?
Because they keep on inspiring people to pick up the guitar, or the pencil or a camera or whatever it is that makes them tickle and give it a shot at living their own life. The Clash always liked individuals and would have loved their fans to be individuals, not sheep. Wordly cool people who would respect Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five rather than throw bottles at them. Obviously not all of them were like that.
In 2009 I spent a whole month at the Rock & Roll Library, I slept there and all. I was scanning everything I could and spent a few night talking to Mick about all sorts of stuff. One night he told me to read that Woody Guthrie phrase where he says he writes songs for people to feel good and Mick told me that was like a motto for The Clash. So I guess that also answers your question.
  • People (generally) feel the 83-85 period was an ugly and sad conclusion, is that overstated, were there many good times along with the turmoil?
 According to Vince and Pete there weren’t that many happy times. Nick on the other hand seems to have made the best out of it and remembers those US tours fondly for instance. Playing in The Clash or alongside Joe Strummer was a dream for many musicians so despite the bullshit they carried on until the end. Wouldn’t you?
  • Do you remember how you felt when The Clash split up? Did you consider that moment to be ’83 or ’85?
I remember I was pissed off when I found out. I just didn’t get it though, I always felt I was owed an explanation and I guess I got it now.
I also remember when my brother told me Mick had a new band called Big Audio Dynamite and when that came out we were hooked.
  • It might be that The Clash were too important to me as a 16 year old kid in 1983 but when Mick was kicked out it destroyed me for a good period of time, I felt cheated. As a result the idea of the film feels a bit like watching videotape and interviews of a family funeral from almost 30 years ago. Do you think I’ll find it brighter than that or does that potential exist?
I certainly hope you feel better after watching it man. It’s a Rock & Roll tragedy but like Tymon says: “I think we should be grateful for what they did”.
  • Did most of those who contributed seem more sad or bitter about the last days of The Clash, or is that purely dependent on whom?
Exactly. Some are still mad about it, others still can’t believe how it happened and what a fucked up swan song Cut The Crap was. But that was a long time ago, we’re all adults now so I don’t see why we can’t try to shed some light into the mystery. The truth shall make you free, right?
  • Did you find that different stories from different people often didn’t corroborate or was that not much of an issue?
 I found that people would have different opinions about this guy’s drumming or the other guy’s guitar playing, stuff like that. But the facts are there and everybody’s stories pretty much point in the same direction.
  • When do you think The Clash passed the point of no return? Supporting The Who? Letting Topper go? Firing Mick?
Personally I’d say letting Topper go, but of course with the three of them they’ve could have gone well into the 90’s if they would have remained friendly and if they would have wanted to play the same kind of music.
  • Mick appears at ease looking back and discussing his dismissal now, but I don’t know if he ever really got over being removed from his own band. How could you?
 Exactly, how could you? But you know shit happens and he dealt with it really well. I know he felt good after he did the interview. Like it was a weight off his shoulders or something.
  • You must filmed dozens of hours of interviews that didn’t make the final cut, any chance of a book at a later time? Extras on the DVD?
Yes, I have over a dozen hours of material. Part of the unreleased stuff will be in a book that Susan de Muth is editing and other parts will go into the dvd extras. As I said this was made for me and for the fans so I intend on sharing as much information as possible with everybody. I must add that we also managed to obtain an unreleased track by Tymon Dogg & The Clash from the Combat Rock sessions, a little bit of unreleased footage and lots of photography that has never been seen before so the fans will have something else to look forward to.
  • Bernie Rhodes – genius or lunatic?
A bit of both I guess. He says it himself though, that he’s the madman out of The Clash.
  • Do you think Joe (if responsible) was more naive or just didn’t care any longer? (In terms of Bernie’s control)
 They’re all responsible in my book because they all played their part. They say Joe was naive and also that he just let Bernie take full control. In my opinion, he was probably exhausted mentally and physically.
  • Did Vince’s book play any part in you deciding to tell the tale via film?
Of course, his book inspired me to make this documentary. And also Joe’s quote: people can change anything.
  • What years was Jock Scot closest with the band?
 He was probably around them since he moved to London in the late 70’s because he used to live with Kosmo even before he went on to become The Clash’s press agent. I know he was also in the Spanish leg of the 1981 tour, having a few drinks and showing his ass to the Spanish audiences.
He’s also a friend of Nick Sheppard so he also witnessed the last two years of the band.
  • I’m aware of the screenings in Madrid and New York, what can you tell us about a wider release? Have you negotiated a contract for select cities or it being picked up by art house cinemas on a limited engagement? If unknown how soon do you think we’ll have a chance to see it in a city like Bristol or Brisbane, San Diego or Stockholm? I’d really like to see it on the big screen as I’m sure most would.
We’ll be attending as many film festivals as we are invited to and hopefully the documentary will be seen in those cities and a few others in the next months.
  • Is there a London date scheduled yet?
Not at present time but we’d like to screen it in London as soon as possible.
  • Is a DVD release scheduled, do you think we’ll need to wait until 2013?
The dvd will come out this summer via Icon Tv Music in the US and in September should be available worldwide. Also there will be a 30 day iTunes exclusive after the NY screening so you’ll be able to watch it soon.
  • Do you think the film will appeal to hardcore Clash fans or be more interesting to a casual fan?
It is made for the fans. Those who do not know who Kosmo is will also enjoy the film because it is interesting and engaging.
  • Is the film really about the fall of The Clash…or truly more about The Clash mark II? I consider those to be very separate entities after all.
It is a film about how the Clash made it and why they fell so quick and so hard.When I met Paul a couple of years ago and I told him about my project he said: “the best way to put it it’s like a rocket: you light it up, goes up, frizzles a bit, explodes, lands on the floor… and there you are!”. That pretty much sums it all up.
  • You do realise that the film is going to upset some people, are you ready for that?
I know some people will think I’m just doing this for the money and that I should leave it alone and whatnot but at the end of the day these people don’t feed me. I don’t feel the need to justify my actions to anybody. Of course if Vince White says he was a slave to The Clash machine, then that’s what he’s saying. And I think if you can’t handle other people’s truths and opinions then you shouldn’t watch this.
  • What was your favourite Clash album? Clash concert?
London Calling. Any of the Mickey Gallagher period. The sound was richer, fuller, Tops was smoking hot in that period and overall everybody was shining. The Kampuchea concert is a good example.
  • Do you ever look at The Clash Blog?
 Of course! From day one almost.
  • Do you think The Clash (circa 82/83) could have regrouped and gone on to make more great albums for the rest of that decade or even beyond?
 I think so yes but it wasn’t meant to be. They could have cashed in when “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” became a hit thanks to that Levi’s commercial but they didn’t.
  • Robin Banks narrates the tale, do you think Robin looks back on this as an adventure or a catastrophe (the late years)?
Probably a bit of both. Robin had lots of fun with The Clash and he could write an amazing book on The Clash if he ever got around to do it. It’s a big part of his life and Mick is his oldest friend. They used to sit next to each other in school! Of course he must feel sad seeing how fucked up Joe looked in 85 but Robin lived Tops and Mick being kicked out and all that. So this project hopefully will bring some sense of closure to all of them.
  • Where is The Baker? Did you try and interview him?
Johnny Green told me he doesn’t want to discuss The Clash with anybody. I believe he felt really disappointed as well with how everything fell apart and that he doesn’t even name them, he calls them The C Word!
—- concludes —-.
Thanks again Danny for being so gracious with your time. More news about the film on the blog as I get wind of it. Cheers all…Tim
pixel Exclusive interview with the director of The Rise and Fall of The Clash

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