‘dear old Glasgow town…’
The last gang in town plays the last gig on the triumphant tour.
From the internet…
”ËWe are sick of being lied to, cheated and ripped off. We are bored of corporate music and being stamped on. We want justice. Send for Mick Jones…’
It’s poignant that on the virtually the 10th anniversary of Joe Strummer‘s death that we are all sat back stage before the Justice Tonight show In Glasgow. The spirit of the Clash has been raised in these mean and desperate times and the redemption songs are being used in a call for justice.
Mick Jones enters carrying a big thick book, a pile of newspapers and some comics, we embrace and start to talk within five minutes he’s covered model shops in Blackpool, military history, V1 and V2 bombs in the war, these revolutionary times, rock n roll and X Factor, ‘I’m interested in everything, ‘ he smiles adding, ‘who’s in the final of Strictly Come Dancing’. Mick is turned on, receiving the avalanche of 21st century information and somehow sifting through it.
The Justice Tonight tour is on its last date in Glasgow- a famous Clash city- a fitting place to end this already legendary mini tour. After the show I meet some of the grown men who were those scrawny punk rock kids in the fuzzy old clips of the Clash from the late seventies when they came through town. They were the ones who were famously let in through the back window for free by Joe Strummer in that great film clip.
Someone else was there the night when the Clash played Glasgow Apollo in 1978 and ended up going to court in the ‘Rude Boy’ film clip they Clash when they pile out of court and into a waiting car with Mick snarling ‘lets get out of this fucking city’ which became a catch phrase for us for years.
Clash gigs were famous up here. The crowds were wild and intense. Glasgow was a city that had a lot of steam to let off. Simmering anger and resentment and a lot more political suss than most cities, Glasgow, with its tradition of revolution was a hotbed of rock n roll. Bands like the Clash with some sort of connection to real life and a heart on sleeve politic was always going to make a massive connection here.
Glasgow is one of the great cities. Its sandstone buildings give it a melancholic grandeur and the mixture of old and new money and urban decay make it feel like an American city. They always said that the city looked west to the States instead of south to London and you can feel a very different atmosphere than in England. I’ve always loved the place. Like Manchester- a city whose music it has always championed, Glasgow is a people city, teaming with life and it has always supported its own independent music scene that takes no shit from the decaying music biz.
The morning after the show I manage to get up after a very late night to go for a run along the Clyde. It’s a long and winding run through Govan and the estates and back along the river under the Victorian bridges and to Glasgow Green, the park on the banks of the Clyde where the Stone Roses played all those years ago. I’ve not been there since that famous night and it sets off a flood of memories of the most classic sounding of all the Roses gigs. It’s hard to figure where they fitted in that 7000 capacity tent now, the one with the sweat raining off the roof.
That was a momentous moment for a generation with the Stone Roses occupying the same space in their generation as the Clash did in mine and the cool thing is the bond between the two bands has become stronger and stronger. Last week Ian Brown and John Squire turned up for the Manchester date on the Justice Tonight tour and the night before Glasgow John Squire turned up to watch and show his support for Mick and the team in what has become the key tour of this autumn.
Tonight’s guests are Glasvegas, the Glasgow based band, whose atmospheric, shimmering songs struck such a chord with their first album. I chat to their frontman James Allen and I’m struck by his resemblance to Joe Strummer. His face has the same shape and he has the doe eyes as Joe. He also has the perfect clipped quiff and collar tuned up against the blues letter jacket look. ‘He looks like a ghost of Joe’ someone who knew Joe very well mentions back stage.
James is a cool guy and we chat about the tour and learning the words for Bankrobber, the song which he will sing tonight, those great words of romantic outlaw chic that don’t follow any conventional song form with repeated verses and no obvious narrative. The words are loaded with brilliant meaning with every line exploding with possibility and ideas.
The soundcheck takes time. There’s a lot of different singers and also last minute songs to learn. One man who never leaves the stage is the remarkable Davo, one of the several guitarists and also a member of the road crew. Davo is a whirlwind. The Liverpudlian plays in BAD and crews with the Stone Roses and has his own band, Johnny Boy, who released a James Dean Bradfield produced single which had the great title You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve, which is painted on the wall of classic rock n roll joint Boogaloos in London next to some of Shane Macgowan’s great poetry.
Davo is the most hard working man in rock n roll. He may be up there playing with the band but he takes his crewing duties seriously and strips down the gear and packs it away into the van after the shows. I’ve never seen a work ethic like it and the man is the glue that holds the operation together and his affable presence fills the room. Later in the hotel bar I ask him about his crewing duties, ‘I love it man’, he smiles.
First band on tonight are Boondocks….. They are fresh faced, sharp looking kids who love the classic rock n roll and their mixture of razor sharp fifties, garage rock n roll and big beat is executed perfectly. They fill the big stage with a surprising assurance and the fact that it’s their first gig underlines that they are already far ahead of the pack. I already want to hear more.
After a short break the farm hit the stage for the beginning of the Justice Tonight set playing a mini set of their hits. It’s been a great tour for them. I’m getting lots of great feedback on the Internet from people who have either forgotten how good the band was or had just forgotten them full stop and are raving about how good they are.
The band’s biggest hit, All Together Now, is the theme of the tour and had seemed to have survived the band becoming one of those urban classics that had settled into the nation’s DNA whilst the band had drifted away. Every night the Farm’s sets underline several things at once from the musical- where they prove that they had this late eighties indie dance thing nailed down really well like on the powerful grooves of Groovy Train to their pop cultural and political suss. This tour was their idea and their understanding of the vital link between music, football and politics is key to the whole event. It’s been great spending the week with them. In their varying stages of merry late night drunkenness and sheer excitement they never lose their innate intelligence and humour and also keen understanding of the media documenting this tour on film and connecting the Hillsborough cause to the mainstream and other political causes.
Pete Wylie and Mick Jones enter the stage and the Wylie mini set again sounds wah wonderful. Wylie is in great voice which is insane when you hear that he was up till 7 in the morning the night before after the Liverpool show and is claiming a croaky voice. The croaks miraculously disappear and his voice soars lifting the Spector pop of his songs to the roof. There’s plenty of singing back from the audience who are readying themselves for the Clash moment.
Dapper Mick Jones grins and the band launch into Train In Vain, the band’s breakthrough hit in America and the song that opened up so many possibilities for them in 1980. At that point in time they were on their way to being the biggest band in the world, but then that was never the point. The Clash were not meant to be a juggernaut selling out stadiums. They made their mark, inspired people world wide and fell apart. Only a pure rock n roll band could burn out, inspiration comes at a price and unfortunately in rock n roll the hard workers or the bands that prefer to fit in with the marketing men’s schemes are in for the long haul. When the Clash fell apart U2 took their mantle and ran with it. It’s just not right is it!
God knows how they select this set list. There are so many classic songs to pull from. Wyle announces Stay Free saying they were all asked to choose which song they wanted to perform and that was the one for him. It seems like the audience agree and there is about 1000 people singing along with a song that is a poetic, personal story of Mick and his pals from school but everyone can identify with. The Farm are putting in yet another great shift as the band, shut your eyes and you are almost listening to the Clash, these are no tired retreads.
White Man In Hammersmith Palais is a show stopping moment, Peter Hooton isn’t pretending to be Joe, he’s more like the choir master leading the audience through words that are tattooed into people’s skulls. The song was written after watching a reggae all nighter with Don Letts by Joe. It’s a great, great lyric, capturing a space and time and the questions it asks stand up to the test of time to this day with Joe looking for revolutionary action at a reggae all nighter and not getting it before extending his questioning eye to the punk movement which was already in ideological free fall and then questioning himself. If only Joe was here tonight- this tour surely would have inspired another verse to the song as some of the questions he was throwing up seem to be getting answered by the Justice Tonight tour.
Standing in the wings I’m watching how all this works, there’s a magic to rock n roll when it’s played with this sort of warmth and humanity. I love the way the band share the stage. There is no sense of rock star elitism. Mick shuffles slinkily across the stage. He takes care to acknowledge each band member grinning at them and even smiling at the crew and people in the wings as well as the audience. This is powerful, he acknowledges the room, anti ego, pro rock n roll. Every now and then he turns from the crowd and there is a sudden steely discipline as he counts the band in, making sure that the music is in its place and making sense.
Not that it gets too tidy, there is an endearing ramshackle nature to the set, that looseness that we liked about the Stones, plenty of ad hoc changing of the guitar licks, jamming and embellishing. The Clash never settled onto finished versions of anything, all the songs were works in progress and they still are. That’s why the set doesn’t sound cabaret or dusting down the hits for money. The songs change every night with the added guitar layers or guest musicians adding to the flavour and being positively encouraged to bring something to the table like John Squire did when he got up in Manchester.
There is also a sense of theatre to the whole event, the drama is already there in the political and social backdrop, I also love Babs and Bev- the two glamorous Liverpool backing singers who add to the Clash songs. It’s something that you wouldn’t imagine to be possible, after all these are holy songs handed down from generation to generation but to hear the girls sing on them and make them sound bigger is working very well. The parts they bring are so intuitive and sometimes purely off the cuff that they fit into the whole vibe of the event.
This ad hoc nature of the night is underlined when the band abruptly leave the stage halfway through the set and I run on to introduce Glasvegas who will play one song. This is a beautiful madness. Just when the crowd is peaking the band split. And that fits in with the nature of the night. This is not about Mick, it’s about artists coming together and trying to make some sound so the ignorant bastards who run things listen. Glasvegas sound great, all shimmering intensity and tightly coiled beauty and it fits perfectly. James has an amazing vocal- pure passion and adventure. They don’t need to play this gig, they are a big band but they are here because they want to lend whatever they can to the cause.
They stay on stage for the return of the Justice Tonight band for a run through of Bankrobber which is arguably the best song in the set. Every night a different guest gets up changing the song into something quite different each time it’s performed. James takes the vocal and it’s uncanny to see his Joe like silhouette on the stage next to Mick.
He sings it in a very different style from the great Strummer and his emotionally charged atmospheric vocal gives the song a whole new twist. Bankrobber has grown into a monster, the guitars weave and out of eachother and its fluidity adds to the rolling dub undertow.
Glasvegas exit the stage and the Justice Tonight band take the set to a climax with Should I stay or Should I Go and London Calling, two classic Clash anthems, Mick takes the vocal on London Calling and, as he explains to me later, this is his take on the song and no attempt to copy Joe’s defining vocal. Mick does it his way and the song is all the better for it. The music has to be about right here and right now and not exact copies of the past. The context has changed. The Clash songs are dealing with a different situation and that adds to their power.
Time is very tight in the club and there is time for a quick couple of encores, first up is ”ËAll Together Now’ which surfs on the wave of emotion coming from the crowd with an arms in the air reaction. This is followed by ”ËJanie Jones’ and I grab the mic and dive into the audience. It’s fucking mental in there. It’s been wild every other night but Glasgow is a few levels up. Next day I’m covered in bruises! People can’t belive that they are playing ”Ëfucking Janie Jones!’.
The song ends and the band have hit the curfew. I get to speak to loads of people in the pit and its great to meet these true believers in the power of rock n roll. There’s a lot of emotion out there as people say they never thought they would hear these songs live again. Several grown men have tears in their eyes and all of them understand what this is about, that it’s not a mere retro show and they all love the fact that Mick is up there making these songs matter yet again. Whilst I’m here, a big hello to the crew from Sunderland and the Glasgow hard men who had their lives changed by punk.
Backstage the atmosphere is euphoric, the room is packed and it’s a pretty interesting cross section of people, from Sheila Coleman who runs the Justice for Hillsborough campaign to Mick Potter, the co editor of Peter Hooton’s highly influential the End fanzine to Paddy Hill from the Birmingham Six.
The party goes deep into the night. Back at the hotel bar Mick is sat on a bar stool, dapper in his black suit with red handkerchief tucked into top pocket, his eyes are twinkling. He talks of maybe doing more of this, of how this all makes sense, he talks fondly of Joe with an incredible warmth, he talks of the Arab spring and the St Paul’s camp, of the Justice campaigns and how he wants to be engaged in it all. Even at four in the morning and deep into a party Mick is connected. He’s also great company, the epicentre of this maverick rolling roller coaster of a tour.
Whether there are more shows or not the impact has been made. Living proof that rock n roll can still mean something, the six gigs that started off as a great idea ended being one of the best tours I’ve seen. There are so many high points- from the great guests to the amazing music, the spirit and the values have re-instated something into the players on the tour and into the audience and beyond. The world is changing very quickly, people are making a stand and finally we have some musicians who are prepared to reflect this new energy. Will it get justice for the 96? well it will help by making more noise and noise is all we can do at the moment…
As Joe once sang,
”ËWhite youth, black youth
Better find another solution
Why not phone up Robin Hood
And ask him for some wealth distribution’
Robin Hood, are ya listening?