Justice Tonight – Day 4: London calling…
Justice tonight day 2 blog
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.
The Scala frames the gig perfectly. I always loved this place. The sort of building you want to see a Rock n Roll show in, you know, a weird shape, a tight space- a 1000 capacity sell out. Perfect. Oh and the Stooges played their one and only proper original line up UK show here four decades ago. That’s enough. That’s proper history. The shot on the front of the Raw Power album is from here and the famous pictures of Iggy climbing around the venue are from here. I try to imagine Iggy in his gold pants and streaked glam make up doing those moves captured perfectly by photographer Mick Rock all those years ago and smile at the sheer terror he must have struck into the happy smiley crowd.
Tonight, of course, is different. There is an air of expectation as the Farm run though their soundcheck. The Justice Tonight family know what’s going down. Paul Simonon, the coolest man from punk is going to be getting up and playing with Mick. That’s more rock n roll history. Of course they toured together in the Gorillaz. But this is different. This is as close to the Clash that you will get who will be playing.
Maybe rock n roll can be about saving the world and not saving up to buy it. I was reading this week about Metallica’s management looking at the ‘European market’ and wondering about the collapse of the Euro and wondering if the potential tour would be money making enough. Fuck. You.
It’s time for the rock n roll bands to stop hoovering up the money. How much fucking money do you need? Times are tough, these are the Armagideon Times: come and entertain us. Come and make us dream. Come and make us wanna fuck. Come and make us think. Come and make us feel alive. That’s your fucking job. Reconnect with the people who have paid for your guitar shaped swimming pools. It’s been said over and over hasn’t it? Out of touch means out of shape. We learned that with punk.
Tonight has more support bands than the other nights which means, being the compere , more work for me. But it’s an honour to be here and I would happily spend all day introducing bands if it’s my tiny contribution to the cause.
I’ve met some great people on this tour like the bands or the MPs who still stand for something but it’s Sheila Coleman who runs the Hillsborough Justice campaign that is the coolest. She is proof that one person can change things, that with tireless effort and a sense of decency and a just cause the world can be made to creak on its axis.
Sheila is amazing and her cohorts, including Debi, who is selling the Justice for the 96 shirts and merchandise and getting this information out are key cornerstones of the event. Of the course the rock n roll is wonderful and the Internet is deluged with people saying that these are gigs that they will talk about all their lives and how seeing Mick put new life into those Clash classics made them actually physically cry with pure emotion but the cause is everything.
First up are Savage Nomads who play a great ten minute set of angular post rock, the singer is Chris Salewicz’s son- the writer of the great Joe Strummer biog.
They are followed by Shades Of Mighty, a punk rock trio who twist things with their charismatic frontman -a rare black face in the too white punk scene, we chat afterwards about that and the way punk should have been for everyone but became too white. He adds really good vocal melodies to the punk rock rush giving the songs an intelligent twist.
Next up are the Rotting Hill Gang- an ad hoc collection of Notting Hill ragamuffins who play a post BAD, neo Alabama 3 style party music, an urban mash up with the cool as fuck Holly Cook on vocals.
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.
Punk is the most indefinable of musical forms, it set us all off on this crazy path years ago. Punk means so many different things to so many different people but where there was a naivety and random violence we now have camaraderie and community. All the veterans of the punk rock wars welcome eachother with gigantic bear hugs, we have lost too many people to be all reserved and British about things now. We know that the hippies were right about love, every newcomer to this traveling circus gets the same welcome, whether it’s Richard Archer, the sharp young singer from Hard Fi who delivers a great Clampdown sung as sharp as his excellent white winkle packers.
Tonights set is long and sprawling, Train in Vain, Stay Free, Bankrobber, Clampdown, White Man (in Hammersmith Palais) ”â with Peter Hooton delivering a great vocal with help from the whole audience, Should I stay or should I go ”â should have been Rex from the Rotten Hill Gang taking the lead but he forgot the words so Hooton and Wylie step in.
And it’s when the bands swop from the Farm/Wylie/Jones set up to the Simonon/Primal Scream/Jones line up that things kick off with a visceral, feral run throughthe Primals Rocks Off, followed by a stomping Jail Guitar Doors, then the brilliant Brand New Cadillac before Paul puts his bass down for Guns of Brixton before exit for the Farm/Wylie/Jones line up return for Armagideon Time, a shout goes out for Don Letts to join them on the stage but he has already gone to the decks for DJ duty.
They end with London Calling, without Paul on bass. The room is in meltdown. The next few days see the Internet full of talk of ‘gig of our lives’. And that ain’t no exaggeration.
The encore is Janie Jones and All Together Now and then BAD’s Rush.
Thats the facts and they are worth noting, the details though are…
Guns of Brixton, which was last played in those Good The Bad And The Queen warm up dates a few years ago is played in its perfect context. Paul puts down his bass and steps up to the mic, hands in pockets, skanking to the song’s perfect groove. The crowd is awash with grins, this was a lot more than most people bargained for and the songs defiant words strike a chord with the context of what the gig is about. Jonesy does that foot shuffle thing, a Chuck Berry duck walk but his own version, he’s got his grin on, even managing to out grin the crowd.
After London Calling and before the encore, MP Tom Watson takes he stage for a speech, it’s a stripped down anti Murdoch haiku- powerful, emotional and stripped away of all baggage. This is a punk rock speech and the man who brought down the Murdochs is greeted like a hero. His powerful rhetoric willing on the end of the media empire.
I strip down and leap into the frey for the encore of Janie Jones, Mick Jones dedicating the song to Louder Than War and another of our fellow websites Sabotage Times and there’s a real feeling of unity in the air, that feeling that we are all doing our bit, none of us claiming to be experts, just trying to scratch something a bit more humane out of the world that can sometimes be so brutal.
Jane Jones sounds amazing, and I grab the mic and go, I’m pulled into the crown and in a blur of hands, faces, heads and wild eyes I try and sing, it’s a brilliant moment, sorry if I hurt anyone!
The set ends with a mass version of the Farm’s All Together Now, which Mick introduces saying that it sums up the whole tour. The song’s simple yet powerful emotional tug hits a deep chord and the room is transformed into a terrace from the seventies when you were allowed to mingle in ssty camadsrie in death trap stadiums. They are called back for one more tune and play BAD’s Rush, a reminder of Mick’s current main project who are working on an album right now.
Post show the atmosphere is euphoria, Bobby is glowing, Primal Scream have restated their power as one of the great rock n roll bands even without comrade Mani whilst Mick tells me some great stories glowing with that warmth that has been the theme of the tour.
Can rock n roll change the world?
It already has mate.