A very good morning to you and if you happen to be in Istanbul I hope you’re keeping safe as it seems to be continuing to kick off over there on a daily basis. I’ve been in a few riot situations in my youth (a mad adrenaline rush I assure you) but was never confronted by water cannons or tear gas, just London’s mounted police which can be intimidating in their own right. It does of course always trigger my Clash thoughts back to Notting Hill and the summer of 1976 which helped spawn one of Joe Strummer first great lyrics after getting mixed up in the violence of that summer’s carnival.
I can’t have been more than 12 when I first heard White Riot and the lyrics to me always made perfect sense, a riot of our own as opposed to the Notting Hill Carnival riots which was the (rightful) reaction of young West Indians to the heavy handed policing that saw more than five times as many police on the streets of the carnival as had been the summer before. Tensions simmered all weekend with the violence erupting on the bank holiday Monday afternoon and evening. Paul, Joe and Bernie Rhodes found themselves in the middle of history in the making and according to folklore Joe started working on the lyrics later that night.
I’ve always noticed on marches and gatherings that turned into riots and indeed even at other events, the profile that the police maintain would often let you know if things might get ugly or never gather a full head of steam. The Poll Tax riot was one such day back in 1989 that I attended and during the march the very visible number of police in side streets simply waiting in huge numbers added to the tension that overflowed in Trafalgar Square later that day.
Back to The Clash though, White Riot was taken by some observers to being a song with a racial overtone, somehow inferring that a ‘white only’ riot was being called for (and all that suggests) when it was more simply Joe saying that the young/unemployed/bored/disenfrenchised white majority should be just as pissed off with the state of the nation but they were for the most partinstead taking it laying down – sedated by the relative comforts of mid-seventies Britain. Perhaps one of the most exciting things about The Clash for many (I know it was for me) were that the lyrics tackled issues that were real, current and ultimately needed addressing. The list of bands that could write love and breakup songs was as long as your arm but to hear lyrics about boredom, unemployment, dead end jobs and such pricked your ears even at a young age.
Back then of course there was no internet and no twenty-four hour news cycle to clarify your stance as a musician, politician or even b-list celebrity, weeks and even months could pass between a featured interview in the NME, Sounds or Melody Maker and beyond that there was only the very limited availability of fanzines. In 1976/7 The Guardian (nor any other newspaper) was calling The Clash for interviews and in fact the only punk headlines were the ones of the outrage/lock up your kids variety. With decades of hindsight it seems remarkable that Joe Strummer’s lyrics were misconstrued as racist by some when in fact the very opposite was nearer the truth. In fact he was inspired that the black youth in London had no qualms with matters escalating into a riot – that sometimes riots are absolutely necessary.
The weekend at last and how welcome it is. Thanks for dropping back in after an extended unplanned break, a level of normal services should now resume and I’ve got a lot of Clash news to get through over the next week so expect rather regular updates on both this site and of course The Clash Blog News as well.
I missed a lot this week which is unfortunate not least of all the chance to wish Topper Headon a very happy 58th birthday back on Thursday. I know I’m in the majority when I share the feeling of warmth and happiness for Topper for all of his contributions musically but also for making such a wonderful recovery from years of difficulty about which I don’t need to dwell on here. You look great Topper, keep doing what you’re doing and hopefully we’ll see a bit more of you this year too.
I owe you all a post about The Clash Sound System box set and some of the pricing options I’ve stumbled on so expect that in the days ahead, there is also news that vinyl issues of just the remastered albums will be released as a separate package (along with the CD remasters of course). While I maintain that the complete box set is beyond reasonable pricing, especially in the North American market there is still some hope that we may see it reduced nearer the date of release. Apparently this happens often with box sets (?) I’m told which makes no sense to me so for now my advice if you’re purchasing the entire set in that market is wait and see and probably save some cash by purchasing nearer the time. On the other hand purchasing just the remastered albums on CD is priced really reasonably. Incidentally the price for Sound System has gone from $299 to $249 and is now $196 on Amazon in the space of 12 days….what on earth happens to people who preordered at $299? If that happened to you let me know.
On the lighter side I hope most of you were able to see the official video promoting the box setwith Topper, Paul and Mick providing the voices to their paper cut outs with the moving mouths? I believe the idea was devised by Paul and it is (to be fair) as odd as it is enjoyable. The actual news there is having the three members of the band in essence working together at the same time again even though it’s in the format of an interview. While Mick worked with Paul throughout the project with Gorillaz and Topper teamed with Mick and Billy Bragg for Jail Guitar Doors there have not been opportunities for the three of them to work in concert for decades and let’s face it promoting something is ultimately work. It is great to hear all three in the same room at last and I’m certain there’s much more to come. As for these videos there were many outtakes not used as the official promotional video of which I’ve included a few more below. You’ll learn more about velcro at the very least and there will be more to follow I believe.
Welcome back all you good people and here’s to navigating our way to another weekend. It’s such a beautiful day here that I can’t believe I’m at the keyboard doing this so remember these levels of dedication when I’m gone and the blog is no more.
Been a really busy week as you’d expect with the box set mania ramped up to eight or nine and as a result you’re going to probably read and hear more from Clash members in the next few months than you have in the last two years. From a distance I’m fascinated at the prospect of the chaps spending a lot of time together and you can’t help but wonder about the conversations that take place away from the microphones. What is apparent is that spirits are high and the general bonhomie of Mick Jones seems to be a daily norm, we could all learn a bit from that. For me, perhaps most interesting from the interviews was Mick saying words to the effect of – It’s so long ago now I feel pretty detached from it (The Clash) but I’m a fan of it and want the history of the band to be well documented.
Highly recommended is this longish interview with Mick and Paul conducted by (you guessed it) The Guardian’s Michaal Hann where they cover a good range of topics including the exclusion of Cut The Crap from the box set. Mick stating “it’s not The Clash” whereas Paul still says with the right production you would have heard some good songs underneath. In a way you wonder whether what we perhaps heard was Joe Strummer’s first solo album but for the producion of Bernie Rhodes it remains difficult to discern just what it might have sounded like. What’s almost universally acknowledged is that The Clash MK II put on some great live shows (my experience would use the adjective good instead) but the recorded evidence with the exception of This Is England never did them justice. Just thinking aloud, a good number of bands when faced with major changes in personnel have changed their names to some extent or completely; Big Audio Dynamite amongst them. I can’t help but wonder if a similar decision by Strummer and Simonon in 1984 might have changed things to some extent. On the other hand the simple fact that the the name of The Clash was so important at that time may have made it hard to discard.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead as journalists (hopefully) find new avenues of conversation and the attraction or not of the box set can be further explored. I’ve almost decided that I’ll just get the remastered studio album box set which is attractively priced but as a gift from someone…I can feel it in my water. Ha.