The continuing adventures of the Justice Tonight band
[caption id="attachment_24351" align="aligncenter" width="596"] the king and I : meeting Eric Cantona backstage at the Stone Roses gig[/caption]
There's much to be said about a gig like this, a night that went beyond being a normal gig and has already entered music folklore. In a blur of names there was a meeting of romantic folklore heroes the Stone Roses, Mick Jones and Eric Cantona, Pete Wylie, Rachid Taha and the Farm who all in their own different ways believe in something and also created a new platform for the Justice Tonight cause.
The gig is in Lyon in the amazing old amphitheater that is quite a stunning setting for the gig. The Romans new a thing or two about entertainment. Their idea of a good time was throwing Christians to the lions and fight to the death gladiatorial combat, but they never lost sight of their morality and were really against naked performers, preferring blood and death in the hot afternoon sun. Tonight we settle for something with the same high octane adrenalin rush but with far less casualties.
A few months ago, after the Ritz gig, when Ian Brown and John Squire took to the stage for the first time together for 16 years to play Elizabeth My Dear the Stone Roses asked the Justice Tonight band to play with them in Lyon as part of their pre Heaton Park European jaunt. It's a perfect match. If there was ever two bands that occupied similar slots in their subsequent generational DNA then it's these two- talented bands who were bruised by the industry, stood for something, burned out, fell apart and ultimately rekindled their friendships whilst empowering their subsequent generations.
It's a perfect billing and guarantees an evening of great music.
We get to the venue in the hazy mid afternoon sun. The Stone Roses are already sound checking with a meticulous precision, working out sections of I Am The Resurrection, seeking perfection and looking to shape shift the song into new fluid spaces. The backdrop to all this is the stunning 3 Gauls ampitheatre built in 19AD one of series of remarkable entertainment structures the Romans but across the who's of Europe and North Africa. It rises steeply up the hill over looking Lyon and has to be one of the most atmospheric venues I have ever been in. It's great to see an antiquity being used for what it was built for. When they're left as ruins it somehow seems wrong and the idea that you are a continuing part of a 2000 year tradition is pretty cool.
The Roses are soundchecking are already sounding the best anyone has heard them. The band's jaunt around Europe has really tightened them up and they sound loose in that way that only great bands can- toying with the groove and confident. Mani spots me in the wings and starts playing bass line to Slaughter The Dogs 'Where Have All The Bootboys gone' grinning and we agree what a classic song it is and how important the band were to the Roses and many other bands in Manchester (ask Morrissey and Marr!). It's grins all around. Even the Toby Jugs that line the top of Mani's amp seem to be grinning even more ghoulishly than usual as the Roses tell us about their triumphant European jaunt.
This is a new phase in the Justice Tonight campaign, taking the cry for justice to an international platform. The Clash songs are there as rallying calls for all kinds of justice and their power is international That's how they were written in the first place and that's why they connect worldwide. The Justice band's set reflects this international nature of the band. The Clash debut album's genius was that it was localized and very much a late seventies UK document, you can feel the claustrophobia and shrapnel anger in there and that was its genius. Swiftly though they went international and the vast array of styles they went through in the next few years from dub to reggae to hip hop to world folk musics made complete sense as they understood that the power of the Clash was their international perspective and open minded willingness to take all this wonderful music on board.
It was a bold and ambitious project but luckily they had Mick Jones's musical brilliance to make this all work. Determined not to overplay his hand, Mick doesn't take enough credit for his musical vision which he made work with the Clash never sounding out of their depth in whatever style they attempted.
[caption id="attachment_24352" align="aligncenter" width="596"] Justice band live on stage in Lyon[/caption]
This makes sense tonight as the Justice Band go International Continental.
The soundcheck on its own is evidence of this with Rachid Taha, the French Algerianr singer who Mick has been working with adding a brilliant gravel voiced take on Rock The Casbah which gives off so many messages that it really underlines the songs sly wit and serious message. The ghost of Joe Strummer, which is always overlooking these proceedings, must be looking down with a grin even bigger than Micks at this moment. Joe was a lover of what is always called world music, understanding perfectly punk's place in this scheme of things- Joe understood that punk was a British, late seventies, folk/world music of its own and the Clash had this perfect understanding of the form and it's place in the scheme of things. Our punk was our equivalent of the Algerian Rai or North African Gnawa or mariachi in Mexico or Sangaan in South Africa or a million other street musics made by similar musicians. Integrity music, rough music from the heart and the atmosphere and the romance of these beautiful musics somehow all link together.
Rachid Taha wlaks on to soundcheck Rock The Casbah and is a charismatic presence on the stage. Rachid has a long history since he was born in Algeria in 1958 before moving to Lyon. His parents left the former french colony which still looks very French when I was there when I played in Algiers City a couple of years ago with those wide boulevards protected by gun toting cops defying the just finished civil war. Rachid's musical career has seen him mix Algerian Rai, which was already traditional Algerian music mixed with an urban rock in the sixties to create a rebel music, which he has further twisted turning this into his own rebel music in France and gave the Clash a cassette of his music in 1980 when they played Paris.
Whether the band were influenced by this tape is a moot and perhaps rather cheeky point but they were obviously traveling in parallel paths attempting to forge a music with a meaning and it was inevitable that they would work together with their paths criss crossing over the years. Rachid's cover of Rock The Casbah that he recorded at the time was a big success and his recent work with Mick makes him the perfect choice to take the vocal on the song.
In the wings another guest lurks. A guest who has got everyone jumping up and down, including the Stone Roses. A brooding, charismatic six foot presence with a salt and pepper brush beard stands Eric Cantona whose king fu kick against injustice and renegade talent is mirrored by both bands which I tell him.
Like the Hillsborough 96 campaign transcends any football tribalism, it's not just the Man united fans who are buzzing at his arrival. Eric is here to do the ad lib on Should I Stay Or Should I Go and is here because he loves the Clash but is also even more into the Justice For the 96 cause. The campaign has been crying out for some support from actual footballers whilst understanding that it may be difficult for them to be allowed to let their voices heard but Eric is beyond any petty rules and regulations and has spent his career standing for what he believe in. A romantic outlaw, a rock n roll footballer, the king is the perfect untouchable maverick whose presence on the stage causes an Internet meltdown and is another example of a great guest joining the Justice party whist making a statement for the justice for the 96 campaign.
I sit at the top of the amphitheater, up the hill and look down at the band playing below, sound-checking in the empty space. he sound is crisp and perfect- perhaps the best live sound I have ever heard. You can say what you like about the Romans but they understood how to make the perfect arena for a high decibel rock n roll show.
After the sound check Eric sits there with Mick Jones going through the lyrics to Should I I Stay or Should I Go, working out his ad lib whilst everyone gets their picture taken with him, he has a cool presence but still retains that fearsome brooding power that must have made him a formidable opponent in his football career. In his days at Manchester United his maverick spirit perfectly mirrored the city at the time and his stubborn refusenik presence connected with the city which still loves him
The Justice band take the stage in an unlikely shower that suddenly appears, making us feel at home. When I introduce the band I demand the weather to change and somehow it works, those old witch doctor powers are still at my fingertips. The crowd is well up for it and when I ask for some noise there is a massive roar back. The band take the stage for a newly designed set list that sees less of the build up from the Farm to Pete Wylie to the Clash set with their overlapping nature and more of wam bam grab them man 40 minute support set. It's really festive,a guerrilla raid of great rock m roll that gets the crowd jumping and the first time the band has not played to a home crowd. Rachid really delivers Rock The Casbah his cracked growl is pure Strummer. When Eric walks on the stage it brings the house with him just being there and the image is flashed all over the Internet.
The band have cranked the energy level that belies their problem strewn 36 hour journey to get to the venue with all kinds of transport problems. With Davo back on board with his scissor kicking guitar that was missing at the Picket last Friday due to his guitar tech duties with the Roses the sound is fleshed out again as he takes his work load though the roof. Davo is a human whirlwind, spending the whole day setting up the Roses guitars for his day job, then setting up the gear for the Justice Tonight band before playing their set stripping it all down again before returning to guitar tech duties- a one man whirlwind it's amazing that he is still jumping around at one in the morning after the show- does Davo ever sleep? Mick is doing his duck walk shuffle with Davo across the stage, and the Farm are really delivering the Clash tunes. The watching Roses are impressed, Reni giving credit to Farm drummer Roy's skills and Ian Brown speaking fondly of the Liverpool band who stuck to their principles and have really delivered on Mock's faith in them to play the Clash tunes.
Another highlight is Pete Wylie, who yet again undlerines the purity and beauty of his songs with his powerful voice that really cuts through. Pete is a sea of emotion and his songs ooze a belief in the power of rock n roll and with Mick he is the heart and soul of the whole project. Their relationship, forged way back in the days of the punk rock wars is part of the story and when they sing together their voices merge perfectly.
Tonight is a triumph for the Justice Band, the whole ampitheatre is jumping and post show there is a euphoric feeling that is cranked when the Stone Roses deliver an incredible set that is reviewed here on the site.
The backstage after the gig is pretty legendary with the two bands mixing it up. John Squire chats away and a sea of faces toasts a great night. The Roses asked for the Justice Band to play some of their gigs- Clash fans, they also fully back the justice for the 96 cause and the fact that this is the only band that is supporting them on this pre Heaton Park tour is important and underlines the importance of why everyone is here doing their various things.
The night ends in a casino by the hotel, the only bar that is open late in our end of the town. The Farm like a drink and a social and seem to be able to spend all night doing both and still deliver great gigs. The talk is of the stunning Roses gig we have just seen and how to keep a focus on the cause that we are honoured to represent.