Justice Tonight – Day 4: London Calling …
By John Robb
Editor’s note: this is a reprint of a recent blog by renowned Manchester author and critic and musician John Robb on his Louder Than War website. Round about the time Justin Edwards was talking to me about starting up a music website based in Brisbane, loosely following the lines laid down by Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B Magazine, John was in contact with me about the possibility of collaborating on a website he was starting up. We go a long way back, John and I – back to when I used to follow his band the Membranes around the U.K. in the early 80s, and he released two E.P.’s by The Legend! on his Vinyl Drip label. He was – and remains – one of my main inspirations, forging his own path by doing what he believes in. Our two fanzines, The Legend! and Rox, made up two-thirds of “the clique against the bleak”, alongside Sabotage Times creator James Brown’s Attack On Bzag. We’ve written for one another since, in a variety of publications: done talks together: you know the score.
So anyway, we both decided to forge our own paths but we’ve been meaning to pool resources (just a little) since. This reprint – about day four of Jutsice Tonight tour, a tour put together by The Farm, Pete Wylie and Mick Jones (among others) in support of the Hillsborough 96 justice campaigners – is a result of that. Click on the link to discover more about Louder Than War: “punk rock culture & politics” to the fucken max.
I’ve left the blog entry in John’s own language, with his own punctuation and grammar – I long ago discovered the futility of trying to edit John Robb!
Now this is a moment.
31 years daytime day that we were pointlessly robbed of John Lennon rock n roll raised its battered standard yet again.
There’s a voodoo in the room. A twitching, thrilling metallic KO of voodoo.
Half of Primal Scream are playing Brand New Cadillac with half of the Clash and it sounds like pure electricity. You know that elusive rush in rock n roll, that quicksilver adrenalin and that beautiful noise that transfixes us all with it’s high decibel elixir? That elixir that we spend our lives seeking in grubby old rooms and piles of records.
Well here it is. Right here. Right now in The Scala in Kings Cross on a tour that set out to make some noisenik support of the campaign for the Hillsborough 96 and the Don’t Buy The Sun campaigns but ended up being the tour of the autumn.
And this is only the soundcheck.
Who would have thought that you would get to see Mick Jones and Paul Simonon kicking out the jams to a Vince Taylor song made famous by the Clash together onstage? Yeah, we know they did that Gorillaz tour together and that was great fun and all that. But this is the fucking Clash playing Vince Taylor. It’s quintessential rock n roll. Pure.
Paul Simonon is total gunslinger cool and he makes the Precision bass look like it’s part of his body, making it look tiny and lightweight. Try doing that at home.
With his keen artistic eye he has got the band, apart from the besuited Mick to dress in leather jackets, Primal Scream and Paul Simonon look like a loose limbed bike gang copping the Vince Taylor leather cool from those creased old sleeves that wrapped those classic cult songs of the coolest rock n roller. Simonon has the classic hat and bike boots, the whole look down. Perfect. Like Mick age sits well on his shoulders. The ironic thing about the Clash is that whilst they were a great band to soundtrack a troubled teenage generation in the late seventies they have grown into their elder statesman roles perfectly with a swaggering cool and wisdom that comes from years on the road without getting too lost in rock star world.
What’s really telling is the moment that when Paul walks onto the stage during the soundcheck with his bass held like a AK 47- all the other bands to a man grab their iPhones and are snapping pictures. The Farm, who have had top five albums and huge selling singles, revert back to being the kids who fell in love with the Clash as teenagers. The chemistry between Mick and Paul is so natural and so electric that everyone in the room is riveted. This isn’t a soundcheck this is a moment and everyone knows it.
The Primal Scream team are not making up the numbers though. Andrew Innes has cranked his guitar to filthy rock n roll levels, trading licks with Little Barrie- the skinny rake with the tousled black bob who looks like he was born to be in the band, whilst Bobby Gillespie is on fire. Most bands treat a soundcheck as a perfunctory plod through their songs before returning to the serious business of arguing over the rider. Bobby treats a soundcheck as a performance and he slings himself around on the stage in a way that is even more cranked up than usual. He seems to have upped his personal ante and this is a yelping, screaming, sexual performance of a tune that is arguably the greatest rock n roll song ever written with its stark, churning riff and c’mon baby let’s fuck vocals. Bobby gets it, But then Bobby always got rock n roll and the post Mani Primals suddenly seem to be in a very good place.
Even Pete Wylie is silenced!
They then run through Clash classic, Jail Guitar Doors, which was unbelievably a b side. It’s always a rock n roll truism that a great band has b sides that should have been singles- ask the Beatles or early Oasis or the Kinks. Jail Guitar Doors is one of the great story songs with its tales of busts and rock n roll and the quest, Jail Guitar Doors tells you what will happen when you kick against the pricks too hard. Just ask Paul. He was banged up in Greenland for two weeks recently after a Greenpeace demo in which he tried to storm an oil platform. Fucking hell! Talk about rock n roll, can you get any more rock n roll than direct action- bet he had the whole protest crew dressed perfectly as well!
What with Mick doing this tour and Paul in jail the Clash are actually more on the barricades than they were even in their youth. You can just feel Joe, leg twitching, eyes bulging, up there in rock n roll heaven itching to get involved in this! The world is fucked but rock n roll is fighting back.
They rattle through Primal Scream’s Rocks with Bobby Gillespie flailing around the stage. This is serious business and he is lost in the music, twitching to the impulsive, compulsive beat- lost in the electricity of the power of rock n roll. Rocks is a good time boogie rock n roll anthem, a stomping song that anyone can dance to and the hardest song in the world to write. Simple and effective, without the instinctive need to over complicate, it boils rock n roll down to its simplest rudimentary need to get high, to get loaded and to get laid- itself a powerful political statement when even those rights are taken away from you.
Next up is Guns Of Brixton- one of the top 5 Clash anthems. The song has lost none of its loping dubbed up dark power as Paul puts down his bass and intones the vocal, decrying oppression and standing up for those that stand up. The words are still as empowering as they ever were and if the Clash were criticised for being romantic outlaws it’s moments like this that make you yearn for romantic outlaws. Fuck the cynics. The world needs dreamers and on what we like to call John Lennon Day we feel the need for rock n roll bands who will go to jail for what they believe in or pick up their guitars and do tours like this to bring attention to the injustices suffered by the families of the Hillsborough 96 and the dying days of the Murdoch empire.
Musically The Clash were great at incorporating dub into their sound, that was part of their fast forward, their boredom with sitting on their laurels. Punk and reggae went hand in hand and it’s great to see the prime mover in this mini revolution, Don Letts, enter the room- the man who gave my generation a new understanding of reggae and tuned it into the music that went hand in hand with punk- the two rebel musics that sounded so different but sat in perfect harmony with eachother. At the apex of this were the Clash who criss crossed their rock n roll with dub and reggae. The dub bass line of Guns Of Brixton is as haunting as it ever was. I love the bits in the verses where it sort of goes up the neck and plays back in on itself- so unexpected and so clever. The guitars create space and the groove is immaculate, Paul looks like the frontman he was born to be, a potential frontman who like dear departed Sid ended up on the bass because it was the coolest instrument to play, unlike Sid though, Paul made the bass his own and his subtle dropping in and out style, so influenced by dub became one of the key parts of the Clash sound.
They then attempt a run through of London’s Calling with Paul on bass with Carl from the Farm also playing bass. It sounds far better than it should, it’s always tricky to make two basses work together but Paul opts out for the gig, feeling it doesn’t really work. Still a least we got to see it in the soundcheck.