Justice Tonight – Day 4: London Calling …
The crowd is building now and there is a real sense of expectation in the air. Before the Justice Tonight band takes to the stage there are a couple of speeches, one from…. was one of the pickets at the Wapping dispute all those years ago in the first crack in the Murdoch machine. He tells his story, a story of struggle when you have to take on the machine. He is followed by Steve Rotherham, the MP from Liverpool Walton and a big supporter of the campaign and an unashamed fan of the Clash and the event. It has to be said that the Labour MPs have the best music taste although Boris Johnson is famously a Clash fan, oddly he doesn’t show up tonight.
The Farm enter the stage for the Justice Tonight set with the dazed look of a band who have started something that has got beautifully out of control. Frontman Peter Hooton came up with the idea and has watched it evolve into a dream scenario. I’ve lost count of the number of times that Carl, the band’s affable bass payer, has told me that he is having the time of his life, ‘when I grew up in Bootle buying Clash singles I never dreamt this would happen’ he grins. It’s great to hang with a band who actually want to do it this much. Their anthemic song ‘All Together Now’ has become the theme of the tour.
The Farm set morphs into the Pete Wylie set as Pete and Mick enter the frey and we are yet again left to marvel at Wylie’s amazing voice that is so big and so full of passion, hope, love and disappointment, Story of The Blues is, as ever, magnificent and contains some of the great chord changes rising higher and higher. That must have been a special day when he come up with that one. With Wylie you always feel that he has these songs always inside him. He is constantly bridling with the kind of passion that a song like that has.
The atmosphere is already at fever pitch but it’s about to go through the roof when they switch to the Clash set. When Roy, the Farm drummer, plays that Motown intro at the begging of Train In Vain, the floor is in meltdown and there is that massive rush of excitement that you get with a perfect rock n roll moment. And it doesn’t relent. Stay Free is a celebration, Bankrobber with Holly Cook helping on vocals, is a song to get lost in- Holly is fab, her dad is Paul Cook, she sang in the Slits and her own solo project is really great. She may not know all the words, but that’s not the point, this is not a test, it’s about unity and the moment, the whole point of punk was getting up there and doing it and that’s perfectly caught.
I have to go backstage and I bump into Little Barrie and Bobby Gillespie quietly waiting for the moment. It’s great to see Bobby again, I always forget how tall he is, most rock n rollers shrink when I stand next to them! We talk of rock n roll and how the punk generation never loses its edge, it’s the task we have set ourselves, we agree that a lot of the sixties rockers somehow lost it at some point but we have to keep pushing ourselves. We talk of the great Alan McGee- the Creation boss who has famously retired from music. I wish Alan could be here, just to feel the music from his beloved Clash, just to see one of Mick’s famous grins, you can’t resist that. You just can’t.
In the corner Paul Simonon is sat quietly. His bass propped up against his legs with his hat on the machine heads. He looks like a marine about to go into action, mentally prepared. We chat for a bit. I haven’t met him for twenty years, I once interviewed him for Sounds in an entertaining afternoon in Notting Hill. Simonon smiles his gap toothed grin. The fact that he is here underlines the importance of this event. Afterall it was Paul that would not come back to the Clash for the mooted Hall Of Fame gig that was talked about or rumoured just before Joe died, feeling that the Clash was about something more than playing that most laughable of high profile award ceremonies. He is right as well. And this tour underlines his instinctive gut feeling about what this band was best at- empowering people, making a statement.
When the Scream walk on there is another rush from the audience but that’s nothing compared to when Simonon enters the stage to join them. It’s a Clash moment. Jones and Simonon, the keepers of the flame assume the position- the classic silhouettes that we know so well and they strike up ‘Brand New Cadillac’, it’s raw and thrilling and perfect ragged rock n roll. You feel the rush of watching a band that know their chops delivering a perfect piece of rock n roll, with that feeling that rock n roll was designed for. Vince Taylor’s simple yet perfect song is the perfect vehicle for the final return of the Clash. And it is a return because we can feel Joe there with us as well. He’s with us all, powering us on but we feel sad because that perfect triangle the band had is missing its apex, that infernal, burning ball of passion and humanity blitzkrieging the room with the spittle of truth known as Joe Strummer and that’s why everything is so emotionally charged. On one hand we have empowering thrilling rock n roll played at its best but we also have the shadow of the 96 and the cover up, we are missing Joe and we feel the raw wound of punk at its most exposed, it’s highs and it’s lows, it’s raw emotion and it’s real heartfelt beauty.