Artist of the Month: The Clash
November 1, 2019
As a very special edition of 1979’s ‘London Calling’ hits the shelves, and the accompanying exhibition is due to open at the Museum of London, punk legends The Clash are our Artist of the Month for November.
Frequently lauded as “The Last Gang In Town” and “The Only Band That Matters”, it’s worth pausing to consider just why those sobriquets hold as true now just as much as they did during The Clash’s lifetime.
After all, there must be something special there, not least as the band’s third album, ‘London Calling’, is a about to celebrate its 40th anniversary with the Museum Of London marking the occasion with its eagerly awaited ‘The Clash: London Calling’ exhibition.
Put simply, The Clash matter because their music continues to speak the same truth now as it did before. Of course, The Clash knew of ‘Career Opportunities’ (or rather, the lack of them) – guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon had sized up future frontman Joe Strummer in the Lisson Grove labour exchange in north London.
‘White Riot’ was written from the perspective of those whom were there to witness the first brick being thrown at the Notting Hill riot of 1976. And ‘Garageland’ spoke to every band trying to start up in the wave of punk’s first seismic blast.
Yet by the time it took for those bands to get out of the garage and onto the stage, The Clash had already moved on. For here was a band outgrowing its origins to respond to the pop landscape around it while making its boldest musical and political statements. And in the process, The Clash created one of the greatest double albums of all time.
Helping them bring their vision together was producer Guy Stevens. A hero of Mick Jones’ thanks to his work with the guitarist’s beloved Mott The Hoople, Stevens’ deep knowledge and love of soul, blues and rock’n’roll – as well as his unconventional working methods – helped The Clash stretch out as musicians.
Paul Simonon didn’t have rely on stickers on his fretboard to tell him which notes were which; Topper Headon’s drumming chops meant that all manners of styles could be mastered, while the songwriting engine room of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones was revving harder than it ever had before.
The end result was an album rich in influence and convincing execution. ‘The Guns Of Brixton’ is no mere pastiche, but reggae as real as the source; ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ goes further back yet comes up bang up-to-date; ‘Train In Vain’ aims for the hips and dancefloor and hits its target straight and true; and when they rock on the apocalyptic title track or the racist-baiting ‘Clampdown’, the roll with it, too.
But it’s not just the music that endures. Witness Pennie Smith’s iconic cover photo of Paul Simonon trashing his bass at the Palladium in New York and Ray Lowry’s Elvis Presley-referencing typography. The packaging endures every bit as much as the music.
Indeed, you’ll be able to see what’s left of that bass and more than 100 other Clash-related items at the Museum Of London’s ‘The Clash: London Calling’ exhibition when it throws open its doors for free from 15 November until the spring of 2020.
And soundtracking it all will be a very special edition of ‘London Calling’ on CD, vinyl and cassette, in a special sleeve highlighting the layers of the iconic artwork by Ray Lowry with photography by Pennie Smith.
‘London Calling’. An album that still speaks to the original generation of Clash fans and those who followed in their wake.
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