All Together Now”Â¦
Can rock n roll change the world?
I’m sat in a car being driven across the fantastically named Snake Pass from Manchester to Sheffield for tonight’s ”ËJustice Tonight’ gig. The past two shows have exceeded all expectations musically but will they changed anything?
Of course they will.
Like all the great social and political rock n roll this is a party. A celebration. A celebration with a very serious backdrop.
This is the cause that just won’t go away and the demand for the “justice for the 96″ is now being amplified. The media is now coming at us and there are lots of MPs on the guest list for the London show. People are listening and we will get action.
I arrive during the soundcheck which is a rush of Bowie covers and then a run through the as yet unplayed ”ËBrand New Cadillac’ getting readied for tonight’s set.
By showtime and my first compere announcement The Leadmill is packed.
It’s the perfect venue for this tour, built on old school principles; the club has been central to the city’s pop culture for years and is a great place to play a show. I wander round the crowd before the gig and meet many old faces, from people who followed the Clash in the old days, people who believed in rock n roll. Every handshake is with a tight grip, there are lots of hugs, there is a lot of love in the room – it’s great how punk rock; which was always run down as being negative and driven by hate can actually generate so much hope, love and optimism. These people were the teenagers who were blown away by the Clash all those years ago and still believe in the quest. There are also lots of teenagers here – this music and spirit is eternal.
Backstage Mick Jones tells me about the Justice banner and how it really connects with him.
”ËThis is a campaign for the 96 but it’s all connected to things like Occupy Wall Street, St. Pauls, the Arab Spring. It’s a feeling and we are part of that and we are also reminding people of what gigs should be about rather than what they have become. We are not chasing nostalgia. We are not doing that at all.’
This is like no normal tour, it may end next week in Glasgow. It may carry on. It may inspire other bands to take up the banner or it may go huge. The message is far more important than the songs that will get played tonight and that’s saying something when you got the Farm, Pete Wylie and Mick Jones up there with their mini sets.
Tonight guests are locals Richard Hawley and John Mclure. Hawley is the debonair, quiffed up crooner who with his almost Roy Orbison soaked songs have a whiff of fifties classic all over them like brylcream. It’s great to finally meet him after all this time of nearly crossing paths and he’s a total dude.
Richard worked with Joe Strummer for some time and has some great tales of Joe staying up all night working out chords in reggae songs with him – a non stop, high octane character who just never stopped.
Richard himself comes up onstage for a version of ”ËBrand New Cadillac’ and his love of rock n roll and rockabilly which are already on full display with his fantastic earlier DJ set ooze through his rockabilly guitar playing.
The Vince Taylor classic, ”ËBrand New Cadillac’ was always one of the great Clash moments. It was knocked out at the beginning of the ”ËLondon Calling’ sessions as a warm up and was left on the album at the insistence of producer Guy Stevens. Stevens told the band that the track should go on the album because ”Ëall great rock n roll speeds up’ – words of pure wisdom that make little or no sense in these click track times when recording music is designed to stifle the life out of it.
By now the internet has been buzzing. Last night’s show with The Stone Roses appearance has put the word out on Twitter and Facebook and people know what’s going down. They know that there is a great set of songs and a chance of hearing those Clash classics again as well.
The sound check also sees John Mclure coming up for a version of ”ËBankrobber’, John is from Reverend And The Makers and the great Reverend Sound System and is a big favourite here at LTW!
He is a loose cannon, the key figure in the Sheffield Artic Monkeys generation who can write winsome or celebratory indie guitar music and is equally steeped in the myriad of street forms of dance music that boom around the Sheffield estates.
Politically charged he is perfect for this bill and in his leather jacket and approximation of my own shaved down hairstyle (ha!) looks like a punk rock preacher man. The Rev is on maximum form and delivers the song with the full passion required and really understand the words.
The mood in the camp is good. Very good. Pete Wylie hasn’t stopped talking since he entered the venue. This proves little. He never stops talking – ever.
Tonight, as usual, he is funny as fuck. He is playing a Johnny Cash version of the Farm’s biggest hit ”ËAltogether Now’, chopping and changing the words in a quite brilliant and affectionate skit on the tune. We try to make him put it into the set but he has already lost interest relating a long and mentally funny story about working with Norman Wisdom and how horrible he was.
There is an hilarious tale of Wisdom carrying Wylie piggyback, stumbling down stairs past some brickies who shouted out ‘Mr. Grimsdale’ and the not very funny comedian doing his Mr. Grimsdale voice and staggering down the street with an increasingly terrified Pete Wylie strapped to his back.
Mick Jones has got tonight’s suit hanging on the wall. I ask how many suits he’s brought on tour. ”ËNot many,’ he smiles, ”Ëjust three’ but it’s only three gigs I laugh.
Mick understands that rock n roll doesn’t stop at the guitar chords, ”Ëlike trousers, like brain’ as campadre Joe Strummer once said and it’s this maxim that the Clash understood perfectly. Mick’s suits are not even tailored they are bought off the peg but the fit him perfectly. Tonight’s is a pinstripe with great felt covered buttons on the cuff.
Despite being the biggest name on the tour Mick is very much part of the family and that’s how this tour works. It’s like those old Clash tours with the idea of the extended family of musicians, waifs and strays, blaggers and lunatics that make up this family, and that’s just the musicians.
Everyone understands that the cause is the star and that the musicians are just relaying the message with their great back catalogues. I’ve been on lots of tours but never one like this. There’s no tricky person skulking in the corner and everything is shared. It’s a very welcoming family and tonight’s new friends John Mclure and Richard Hawley are welcomed with open arms into the merry throng.
The gig is great. Perhaps the best yet. The Farm band sound hot. It isn’t right to say this but if you shut your eyes you almost feel like you are onstage with the Clash because the playing is so good.
Perched at the side of the stage I’m getting a perfect view of this. Mick has the most graceful moves I’ve seen in rock n roll. He does literally float around the stage with that perma-grin on his face. He plays a little lick and grins right into the eyes of someone in the audience, making that connection, breaking down the barriers, spreading the love – just like the Clash did.
The Farm have got the music down perfectly. It’s interesting to check some of the message boards and they are all saying the same thing that the Liverpool band are actually very good. A media disservice means that The Farm were saddled with some sort of reputation for being a bit stupid – that old snobbery against northerners riding again – and have been brushed aside but they are great players and play with a genuine passion and intelligence that fires up the songs.
Now a collection of lecturers, playwrights and film makers The Farm have also turned into a damn fine band and play three sets from their own mini greatest hits to Pete Wylie’s masterpieces to the Clash tunes without blinking an eye.
Peter Hooton, the band’s vocalist, is smart and eloquent and should be one of the key pop culture commentators in the UK. His knowledge of punk through to terrace and casual culture; documented in his excellent ”ËThe End’ fanzine in the eighties is second to none. The time has come for him to write the ”ËEngland’s Dreaming’ style book on football and music culture. No-one else can do it properly. It’s down to him.
With a key understanding of the sensitivities of the Hillsborough issue Peter Hooton dedicates a song to the Nottingham Forest fans who were there that day at Hillsborough after getting a text from a couple of them. Forest are the forgotten fans who still had the trauma of the awful events that unfurled in front of them that day, Peter also dedicates the song to people of Sheffield who stood by the Liverpool fans in the aftermath of the disaster.
The Farm end their set and Mick Jones and Pete Wylie enter the stage for Wylie’s mini set. Wylie is one of the performers who relies on pure emotion and that great soaring voice. He is bang on form tonight and ”ËThe Day That Margaret Thatcher Died’ gets a very big cheer from the city that saw the worst excesses of that particular regime. The miner’s strike in the city felt like it was in the middle of an undeclared civil war with endless rows of cop vans and riot police everywhere. Wylie has one of those voices that fills the room and is flecked with emotion and passion. It really is time to treasure him more and coax that new album from him.
Mick is in those pinstripes tonight – the perfect rock n roll veteran with an endless pile of great tales and guitar riffs. Pre-gig we talk of Joe Meek and pre Beatles rock n roll; his favourite period of music. He knows it inside out with the stunning recall of detail which he also has for any aspect of pop culture and films. This is a common link between the extended family, a room full of people who wallow in the minutiae of pop culture.
Mick talks of the Clash and how the rhythm of ”ËJanie Jones’ came from sitting on the bus and the rattling rhythm of its engine inspiring the drum pattern. Later as we play the song live and I get my chance to sing with this great band I think of the young Mick copping this rhythm all those years ago. I belt out the song’s great chorus whilst surfing the crowd in the packed mosh pit, which suddenly separates and I end up in a heap on the floor with me at the bottom.
There are bruises.
But without bruises what is rock n roll!
I’m hauled back on stage as the song ends and its bear hugs from Pete Wylie – the ultimate bear hug in a room of hugs. The Tories may think they run the country but they could never have the sort of passion and care and love that a room like this generates and that’s why the justice call will be answered.
The cold, iron hearted, people who run this country can’t stop a tidal wave like this and this kind of unity and passion is far more powerful than anything they can line up.
Next stop is a sold out show at The Scala in London on Thursday, then Liverpool and Glasgow”Â¦ please come; this is rock n roll as good as it gets”Â¦