Westway To The World: The Story of The Clash.
Above Photo: The Clash play live in the late 1970s.
I recently watched a superb documentary by Don Letts about the Clash, called Westway To The World (from where I took all the below screenshots).
Shot in 2000 and featuring interviews with all the band, including both drummers Terry Chimes and Topper Headon, it spanned the band’s earliest beginnings to when Mick Jones left in 1983; although I was most interested in their early years.
From the live images and sound of London Calling cranking out as the band went onstage near the start, I knew the documentary would contain some excellent footage of the band playing live, as well as other photos and video I’d not seen before.
In separate interviews, the band talked about 1968 when they were exposed to The Rolling Stones and other music, including reggae and the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Kinks in what was a socially and politically volatile time, manifested mostly by anti-Vietnam War protests and the counter-culture.
Mick Jones went to Art School so he could use the grant money for musical equipment, meeting with Paul Simonon later, when Simonon was a total novice on guitar. Mick Jones taught himself to play guitar using the time-honoured Punk method of jamming along to records.
Strummer had been in a pub band called the 101ers before the Clash, and Jones and Simonon went to a Sex Pistols gig in London where the 101ers were the support band. Strummer said he knew within seconds of the Sex Pistols’ first song that everything that had gone before had changed.
Bernie Rhodes, their manager, got Strummer together with Simonon and Jones in a squat in Davis Road, Shepherd’s Bush, where they began rehearsing. Rhodes told them to write songs about what they knew, where they lived, about the ordinary run of their lives, which you can hear reflected in the tracks of their fantastic first album.
What I particularly liked about the interviews was hearing the musical influences on the band – the usual inspirational suspects: the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones. Strummer said “It can’t be stressed how great the Ramones first album was to the music scene in London.”
He said him and Paul Simonon would spend many hours jamming along to the Ramones album.
They played their first gig on 4 July 1976 in Sheffield, which was reported as “rubbish”.
The band’s second gig was in their rehearsal studio in Camden, which had been arranged for music journalists and bigwigs, which resulted in some excellent publicity.
They supported the Sex Pistols in August 1976, but a bad review of that gig, when a writer suggested they should be locked in a garage with the motor running, gave them the idea to write their superb track Garageland.
The band was at the Notting Hill Riots in August 1976, when the Notting Hill carnival erupted after heavy-handed policing, and the band were in the thick of it. This gave rise to the song “White Riot”.
In December 1976, the band went on the Anarchy Tour with the Sex Pistols, the Heartbreakers and the Damned. Gig dates on this tour were being cancelled across the country in the wake of the Sex Pistols’ Bill Grundy interview, when they employed some heavy duty swearing on prime-time, live British television.
The resulting moral outrage and anti-Punk hysteria meant local authorities across the UK banned the Pistols and the other bands on the tour. Strummer said they only played maybe 9 dates out of a total of 30.
Given the subject matter and legal issues chronicled in my own book Bombed Out!, I was interested to learn that after the Clash had signed to CBS in January 1977, they were comprehensively done over. They thought they were signing a 5 record deal but in the contract’s small print, it was actually a 10 record deal, making the GBP 100,000 they received suddenly feel inadequate.
Strummer said their iconic first album was recorded over three weekends, with no studio writing; they just banged it out, which probably accounts for the dynamic sound and sheer power of the album.
Watching the documentary, I felt overwhelming pride for some reason; maybe because I’d experienced the Clash’s power first-hand, close-up and for real, all those years ago and that they had dramatically changed the way I’d looked at the world as a teenage Punk.
And the rest, as they say, is History.
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php