Clash City Wreckers
Clash City Wreckers

I come not to bury The Clash ..BUT:

Can I really be the only person sickened by the current acres of newsprint devoted to inane mindless Clash worship in every inkie and glossy rag under the sun? Sure, I dig the Clash as much as the next aging punkster (in truth probably a helluva lot more...) but ain’t this unquestioning lamebrain idolatry the exact opposite of everything punk (and they?) once stood for? Or was that legendary rallying cry ‘'No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977' just a load of hypocritical crap all along?

See, even though they were one of the finest live acts I ever saw (pre Crap era!) and much as I truly dug most of the records they knocked out, even as a dumb 16 year old I was all too aware that The Clash always talked a load of old bollocks. For starters, all that ‘we hate the record company’ rhetoric was hypocritical hogwash – nobody forced ‘em to sign to CBS at gunpoint did they? Mark Perry’s (in)famous quip that ‘punk died the day the Clash signed to CBS’ wasn’t too far off the mark after all – though I never understood why all the early punk bands all rushed to suck corporate cock with unseemly haste! Did none of em not spot the glaring contradiction in signing to a major? Still, I guess money talked – or mebbe punk was just a simple marketing ploy all along? Your guess is as good as mine? Still, once ensconced happily on CBS, who did they expect to pick up the tab for their luxury jet-set lifestyle? All those limos, trips to Jamaica, luxury hotels, fancy guitars, that mountain of ..’recreational substances’ and the months of studio time wasted on dreck like “Sandinista” had to be paid for somehow. Typically, instead of taking it on the chin like every other band our rebel rockers insisted on portraying their petty squabbles with CBS as some spurious crusade against ‘the man’, celebrating their dumb stupidity in song after song with the most narcissistic self mythologizing since Mick Jones’ dinosaur heroes Mott The Hoople stalked the earth in their stack heels! Sheesh!

But Clash doublespeak could excuse anything: On their first trip to these parts the Clash boasted that they were staying at ‘the most bombed hotel in Belfast’, conveniently omitting to mention that it was also the most luxurious joint in town! Adding insult to injury, they popped out from their plush surroundings only long enough for some tacky photos - posing in best Notting Hill urban warrior chic beside the requisite war torn Belfast backdrop of soldiers, cops and barbed wire. Clichéd patronising tripe - another cheap holiday in other peoples misery?

More ridiculous still, immortalising the shooting of some poor bloke’s racing pigeons as ‘Guns On the Roof’ (with chords nicked shamelessly from geriatric tossers the ‘Oo) was pathetic and cringe-worthy in the extreme. You almost expected ‘em to yell ‘Freedom for Tooting!’ at any minute.

Living in Belfast I never understood the Clash’s fascination with guns, revolutionary sloganeering and terrorist chic. It mighta impressed the chattering classes and white liberal media whores but here in the city of the dead it was a whole nother ball game - as Chairman Joe found out to his cost when he received a death threat from an Ulster paramilitary group after sporting a H Block t shirt.

In truth, when push came to shove their most revolutionary gesture was refusing to go on TOTP! Despite all the bluster and bravado about ‘sten guns in knightsbridge’ the Clash were about as threatening to the status quo as Status Quo. And am I the only person who remembers the broken promises about setting up pirate radio stations/venues/their own label etc?? (NO!! – Ed) They mighta slammed Weller as a closet Tory – but at least he put his money where his mouth was by supporting small publishers, helping dozens of bands and bankrolling an independent label, whilst the Clash shovelled ever increasing quantities of drugs up their hooters, doing their bit ‘for the cause’ by bleating aimlessly about ‘Hitsville UK ‘ over a watered down Motown riff. Surely even they couldn’t help but grasp the grating irony of trumpeting the success of the new punk independent labels on media giant CBS – run by ruthless scum who were trying their best to shut down those self same ‘indies’?
Tellingly too, by that stage of the game those same ‘indie’ labels were releasing dozens of vibrant spunky thrilling 45s every month – all much more thrilling and vibrant than anything The Clash had done in years.

If they’d spend more time on their music and less on posing things mighta been different. Still, in all fairness they were pretty good at it. Simonon, especially, was a natural - all waif-like cheek-bones, angles and loose limbed greaser chic. It did take a while for the rest of ‘em to catch on though – remember Joe, Mick and Topper dressed up like kids let loose in a fancy dress shop? The hussar outfits? The 50cc motorbike that Topper stood astride as if it was a giant Harley – and a never-ending procession of silly hats - sheesh! Truth be told, I thought the Clash actually looked kinda clumsy and self conscious in their punky threads and it wasn’t until they embraced American rockabilly chic that they started to look like a real band. It couldn’t last though - and before long they were back in best military toy-box fatigues living out their smack fuelled apocalypse now fantasies.

Still, I’d have forgiven ‘em most anything as long as they continued to make killer platters like ‘Complete Control’ and ‘White man..’ - two of the finest 45s of all time …but self indulgent wank like ‘Sandinista’ was just taking the piss – right down to the singing sheep and kiddies! In my book, The Clash never really regained their form after that. ‘Combat Rock’ was patchy and utterly obsessed with Noo Yawk..(not so bored with the USA now, were they?). Second-rate motor-mouth Rhodes was back pulling the strings and Joe sacking his (and my) ‘guitar hero’ Mick Jones was the last straw for me. Sadly it was all over bar the shouting (there was a lot of that on ‘Cut the Crap’ but it really was crap!) Live, they were a mere shadow of their former selves, Strummer even sporting an ill advised Mohawk in a vain attempt to catch the retro punk bandwagon.

Post Clash too, apart from a few flashes of genius from BAD, they floundered aimlessly. For my money, Simonon came out on top with the much maligned and hugely under rated Havana 3 am – though the syn drums got on my tits. Sadly too, despite all the dewey eyed hype The Mescaleros were little more than a poor cabaret band.

And that, I suppose, was that - though they did have the dignity and everlasting good sense not to reform - and I’ll not rake up the irony of having a posthumous number one (with TOTP video to boot!) on the back of a multinational jeans company ad! Never mind the animosity incurred by Jones arrogantly sticking a BAD track on the flip!

And yet, despite all these glaring contradictions, The Clash are STILL my fave UK punk band by a loooong way. In fact their many failings, blunders and contradictions actually made ‘em more real to me – and more human. And the one thing even their biggest detractors couldn’t accuse The Clash of was being uncaring and inhuman. I met ‘em all on that important first trip to Belfast. And in person, offstage and without fuckwit NME journos to impress they were real down to earth, bullshit free and genuinely interested in what was happening here. What impressed me more was that they actually made the deliberate effort to come here when ALL the other bands were still too chicken. Ironically too they didn’t even get to play that time round – but their visit galvanised and focussed the nascent punk stirrings here – (read ‘It Makes You Want To Spit’ the essential guide to Ulster punk for the full SP!) - and they did keep their promise to come back as soon as they could, playing possibly one of the best gigs I ever saw in my life in December 77 – onstage they truly had no equals and their gigs were truly inspirational. They never forgot their old friends too - and one of my buddies who kipped on Joe’s floor that first night in the Europa stayed in touch with ‘em all through the years - and was always guaranteed a place on the guest list wherever they played.

Record wise, their first LP changed my life more than any other LP since the Ramones debut. Sure it’s tiny and under-produced – but the songs are killers and Mick Jones guitar work was truly awe inspiring and supremely inventive - he’s still the most under-rated UK punk guitarist ever! Though ‘Rope sounded fuller the songs weren’t as good - but unlike the punk cognoscenti, I was thrilled when they embraced American grease-ball rock n roll head on. They looked great and sounded even better - sure it wasn’t punk rock per se – but then by 1979 all the rest of the original punk bands had folded and punk was on its last legs - by then the Clash were simply the greatest rock n roll band in the world – whether they liked it or not!

So - confused? Good! So am I. And much as I love the Westway wonders the recent media overkill does ‘em (and us!) no favours at all. A cruelly contrived piece of media marketing and manipulation, it cashes in cynically on the continued wave of sympathy that followed Joe’s untimely demise, shamelessly targeting the ever expanding disposable income of a generation of flabby balding ex punk rockers who have hit middle age with a bang - and are now vainly trying to recapture their idealised lost youth by snapping up every pUnk collectable and reissue they can find. What really sticks in my craw too is the fact that it’s the same big bad record companies who will-fully crushed the ‘indies’ and turned punk into a marketing scam who are gleefully foisting these reissues on gullible punk nostalgists - and yet - I’ll doubtless buy ‘em all!! My brain tells me one thing but my heart tells me another! Go figger ! I can’t!

Perhaps the real tragedy is that these 25 year old out takes are STILL more vibrant, thrilling and genuinely exciting than most anything that has come out since - !!
Take it easy greasy!

Brian Young – tMx 17 – 11/04


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