Somehow, the hulking, throbbing stacks completely obscured Mick Jones but his guitar roared. Joe Strummer was resurrected as a shaky CGI projection of his barking ’77 incarnation. Paul, I squint to reconstruct it all, was dressed in his modern retro gangster mode, complete with fedora. Let’s assume Topper was on drums because an illusory Clash reunion needs a good drummer.
Even unconscious, the whole spectacle felt disconcerting.
After a few songs, the curtain, a giant fireproofed creation that crossed a Persian rug with a Group of Seven landscape, drew shut. Paul Simonon, his bass slung low, came out and posed in front of a single microphone stand. It seemed inevitable that a The Good, The Bad and The Queen song was coming. Instead, Paul played “This is England” to a now almost empty room. I wondered if Mick Jones insisted that this song, created after his firing, be performed in isolation.
Paul tore though the song, hammering his bass and spitting out those words - “I got my motorcycle jacket/But I'm walking all the time – and it seemed alive and raw enough to bleed. Up in the rafter, the few of us left yelled backing vocals – “This is Ennng-land!” in camaraderie with this genuine moment.
As the song ended, I descended from the Gods. I tried to get closer to the mirage but as the ancient curtain pulled back and the digital Joe Strummer et al broke into “White Riot” the place filled back up like a hole in the sand. The crowd surged. Instantaneously, I was squeezed out the door and left, bewildered, in the cold night air.
This is England (Dub Mix)
In Reality I never actually saw the Clash but in Vancouver in 1991 I did witness the Joe Strummer led Pogues (whom a co-worker seethingly dismissed as the ‘Gues for being Shane McGowan-less). I arrived in time to hear them break into a gut-belting “Straight to Hell”- a defiant Strummer pinnacle. My fists clenched, a wave of andrenalin rolled over my insides- it was the closest I’ll come, awake, to seeing the Clash. That performance confirmed a stubborn faith in Strummer as some kind of modern minstrel spreading songs from far away places and times.
The dream itself is attributable to my second reading of Pat Gilbert’s “Passion is the Fashion”. That book captures the ego, the pettiness, the thievery and the resulting brilliance that was The Clash. However, the appearance of “This is England” cannot merely be attributed to its recent canonization as “the last great Clash song”. No, I bought Cut the Crap on vinyl from Records on Wheels the day it came out. As a good obsessive (who savours the hardscrabble rewards uncovered in awkward and ill-conceived albums) I listened to it compulsively.
Kosmo Vinyl claimed this last version of the Clash was going to be done “without any of the excess or the bullshit.” Bollocks! Excess and Bullshit were the Clash’s stock-in-trade, with Jones being in charge of excess (he loved the pageantry of rock n’ roll) and Strummer bringing the b.s. (an inspiration as a fighter but as a political thinker he was no Orwell). However, on this album manager and commissar Bernie Rhodes loaded up on bullshit and excess. That he he failed to disembowel the whole work is a mighty testament to the guts of Joe Strummer The knocks on Rhodes’ gimmicky, synthetic production are well-founded; the biggest knock being its burial of some taut Strummer song-writing. You can hear him pounding on the wall-of-synths, as he bellows near-incomprehensibly on “Life is Wild”. While the lyrics he shouts can descend into weak sloganeering (“Yes I am the dictator I satisfy the US team”) when Strummer returns to recklessly slamming words together the results glow: “Patriots of the wasteland torching two hundred years Dragging my spirit back to the dungeon again Bring back crucifixion cry the moral death’s head legion Using steel nails manufactured by the slaves in Asia” Critics dismissed anthemic tracks such as “Three Card Trick” and “North and South”, as bad oi! songs due to the hooligan chants added into the mix. Strummer, (no fan of oi - “No, not Sham ‘69”) had, I propose, merely dug back into one of oi’s own antecedents. You see, secretly, oi!, at its best, is folk music. By which, I mean that oi! is uncomplicated music with direct messages designed for full-blooded audience participation – like a thuggish Pete Seeger. There is, similarly, a steady folk undercurrent (as in “Something about England” from Sandanista) on Cut the Crap, fitting for a version of the Clash that, in extremis, toured as acoustic buskers. It’s the raw palpable humanity beneath the mechanical sheen – just as so many of us live and breath here underneath all this digital chicanery.
Closing statement, your honour? I submit that Cut the Crap, faults inclusive, is better written than any post-Clash project. The grit beneath the fluff trumps the discographies of B.A.D., Carbon/Silicon, Strummer solo and Havana 3.a.m. (each with a valid claim to the contrary, unlike Topper’s solo album or the Cherry Bombz).
Is all this revisionist? Hell, yeah. We are all revisionists; forever fiddling with the narratives that steer our lives. As technology imbues eternal life on antiques it ends up rendering history ever more contestable. The old Walker Theatre was re-named the Burton Cummings Theatre and Cut the Crap got touched up with a bonus track. Even history isn’t forever.
In the future maybe some blistering folk-punk band like the 241’ers or the Filthy Thieving Bastards will remake the whole damn album! Or, perhaps, Clash man Bill Price will strip the tracks naked and show us the skeletal remains of that music from another time.But that’s another dream all together. In celebration of yet another Clash Post I’ve scoured for some boots – thanks to the always-inspiring If Music Could Talk for help. Most bootlegs are for obsessive (and if you’re here, you likely are as such) and these are no exception. Incidentally, Berkley Place is a good place for Clash-talk and boots and check out this boot idea First is Give ‘Em Enough Dope a set of late-era live tracks from the Jones’ Clash through the Crap Clash. Download
In celebration of yet another Clash Post I’ve scoured for some boots – thanks to the always-inspiring If Music Could Talk for help. Most bootlegs are for obsessive (and if you’re here, you likely are as such) and these are no exception. Incidentally, Berkley Place is a good place for Clash-talk and boots and check out this boot idea
First is Give ‘Em Enough Dope a set of late-era live tracks from the Jones’ Clash through the Crap Clash.
And here's Out of Control, which are the demos (but more like rehearsals) for Cut the Crap. It’s a fascinating excavation – happy digging.
Here's the very live Clash of '77.
Here's more live Clash with Pearl Harbour and then with a scorched earth version of "Police on my Back".