The continuing adventures of the Justice Tonight band….Liverpool 2012
Justice tonight Liverpool June 2012
In which we reconvene in the traveling Justice rock n roll circus, where music has meaning and there is a feeling that these chords really do matter. It’s rock n roll; Mick and his droogs proving that this stuff still can make a difference.
The second phase of Justice Tonight is about to go truly international with gigs in Milan and Dublim with the Stone Roses and also a gig in Lyon with the returning Mancunian heroes and what better place to start than in Liverpool, the city where the whole thing began.
The first good news is that a report on Hillsborough is apparently to be published in September and there are some very big revelations to come out of the whole sorry affair.
The rot with this one started at the top and percolated its way down, hopefully the black felt tip has not been in action and sections of the report are missing like they always seem to do in these cases.
These sporadic gigs are about the 96 who died that day and a rock n roll rallying cry to their cause. No-one here is pretending that the music will make the necessary change and everyone knows that it’s the tenacious campaign fought on behalf of the victims that is getting close to getting some kind of justice. What we do know is that rock n roll can make the right kind of noise and cause a gathering, that if we playhouses classic songs then the world will listen. These songs that were written over decades that dared to dream. Songs that were about community and how when we stick together we can get things done. That was the spirit of the Clash and of punk rock, that was was the spirit of Wah Heat and of the Farm and it was at least how some of us saw all that punk rock stuff all those decades ago. The music was everything but the social politics were key to the equation.
Tonight’s gig is in the Picket, which is perfect in many ways. It’s a tight and small venue that holds a few hundred people. It’s going to be a sweaty one. The Picket itself also has a great history. It was the trade union venue in Liverpool city centre with its own long history of entertainment, culture and community. What could be more fitting for a show like this?
The Picket has now moved across the city to an area of run down warehouses which is now slowly being turned into an arts quarter by the remarkable and beautiful Jayne Casey – a one women whirlwind who occasionally still fronts Pink Industry when they play one off big gigs in Brazil where they have somehow become massive. The band were Liverpool punk era legends, the ultimate underground band, with attendant John Peel session’s and off the wall music and a key seminal line up that included Liverpool faces like Holly Johnson.
Jayne Casey has been a key figure in Liverpool since then, part of the culture and the arts and with a passion and intelligence that terrifies the suits into action. This arts quarter is her vision and it’s coming together. All art and culture needs space to exist. Punk came out of this kind of space, like the mid seventies squats in London and other cities. These spaces have gone now but the talent is still here and when Jayne’s vision is complete Liverpool will have a whole new generation of creative wonder kids and an area for them to meet and make stuff, whether it’s art, music or any kind of culture.
Before the gig Justice Tonight crew meet up like war veterans, guitar man Davo is not here tonight, he’s on duty with the Stone Roses and is much missed. Tonight he has been replaced by a portrait that rests on the monitors, in there in spirit.
Mick Jones has a sharp new suit on, a brown pinstripe, ‘a suit makes you feel serious’ he smiles as wanders onto stage to kick off the sound check. There is a new/old song in the set tonight, a shakedown of Clash classic Rock The Casbah and it instantly sounds perfect. The Farm really understand these songs as they back up Mick. There is something amazing about how these old songs can be dusted down from the shelf and still have so much life to them, but then a classic band never goes out of date and it was not only the message but the music of the Clash that still sounds so timeless.
Even in the sound check there is a different air about proceedings, it’s like the whole band has cranked up a gear. There is a swing to the songs and a definite understanding of what is going on.
The band is a seamless whole now, the first gig at the Liverpool Olympia last year was a great idea, an ad hoc collection getting up and playing for a great case, an emtional evening with no set plan of action, now it’s like a well oiled machine with a very definite idea of its scope and that emotional power still playing for that cause.
Everything is running slightly late because of the football, Germany are imperiously brushing aside Greece 4-2 whilst the support bands take the stage First up are local teenage The Ladykillers , well half of them so it’s not a full set from the band. Their own material, when played by the full band, is really cool, buzzsaw, punky pop for skinny teens, again showing the timeless quality of the form that reignites generations and confounds critics.
Next up are the Troubadours, who are a rush of acoustics, played like demon buskers on speed, a refreshing rush of stripped down music. Inbetween the bands Glen Monaghan is DJing, an ask him what he’s going to play…’punk, funk and dub’ he smiles slapping the Dexys onto the deck…perfection.
When The Farm take the stage to kick off Justice Tonight they are greeted like heroes – which they are on their hometown, much part of the city’s culture for year’s and eloquent talkers for the terrace generation who stumbled into success in the baggy years, they play with the sheer joy of being in a band and it’s infectious. When people stroke their measly chins and wonder why bands reform they should see a band like this. It’s not about the money ( no one gets paid for this tour), it could actually be about the joy of playing with your best mates, communicating the joy of community through your songs and spreading that through the audience. The Farm are a genuine people’s band, still in touch with the real world out there, still in touch with planet scouse.
It’s hard to work out what planet Pete Wylie is on but it seems like a good one, one of the genuine characters in rock n roll, Pete is making more noise and oozing more passion in this tiny club than Bruce Springsteen is just about the road in a stadium show in Manchester and that’s saying something. The Boss is a good comparison, they both share the love of the dramatic and huge, big, open, honest songs about love and life and their communities played with total passion and urban blues. Songs that dare to dream transcending the humdrum and celebrating it at the same time. Wylie’s mini set should be filling stadiums and one day it might do if he ever gets a new album out.
Mick Jones enters and the room is in meltdown, the Clash, like the Roses are one of those bands that are eternally loved, both bands made great music but ended up meaning so much more. The audience sing ‘Mick Jones is a scouser’ and he grins that endless grin and the communication between band and artist is complete. I know it’s a cliche but it’s great to see a genuine care for the people who bother to turn up. Mick learned this when he ran with the Mott Lot, checking out the fab Mott The Hoople in the early seventies, he once told me about Mott getting a hotel room for Mick and the youthful fans so they would not have to sleep on the station. The Clash took this on and now a post gig Mick will always find time to sign stuff and say hello to the people who turn up because it matters.
The set has been honed, switching from the rockabilly rush of Brand New Cadillac with a vocal from a passing Wombat, continuing with the Justice Tonight tradition of working with passing the Liverpool band who have made a name for themselves with their eccentric songs, their second album is breaking America which sees the band returning there for more touring soon, a British success story in these days of panic.
Later in there will also be a guest vocal from Tommy Scott from Space who enters the stage with a jet black quiff and a bright orange jacket with the audience’s cheers ringing around his ears. He nearly misses his stage cue because we are busy yakking about classic punk rock and our mutual love of anarchist punk legends, Crass.
Tommy has recently reformed Space and maybe this time people will appreciate those great eccentric pop songs that he wrote. They were big hits last time but their innate genius was overlooked too much- clever songs with smart lyrics that owed as much to Sinatra as conventional pop or indie, they stand the test of time.
These guest vocals are key to the whole affair, spreading the responsibility and taking the whole thing away from a boring retro shakedown, throwing curveballs. The message here is to share- share the ideas, share the energy. It’s all inclusive from audience to campaigners to musicians a traveling circus that hits town with a big crew looking for a good time but with a switched on strong message, and yeah, if that’s old school then that’s your problem not ours.
The Justice Band are rocking the house, the Clash songs sound like the call to arms they were written for, the opening Train In Vain skips in on that fractured Motown beat – a call to dance and think at the same time.
Bankrobber is enormous, full of smokey dread and those fractured lyrics that fit no conventional pattern, with lines repeating and fading away and verses and choruses blurring into one making the song feel like a film, a film full of atmosphere and outlaw imagery.
Rock The Casbah slots perfectly in the set, Topper’s song that he knocked together in the Combat Rock sessions bounces along with that funky, almost Latino, death disco groove and Mick’s fantastic shimmering guitar that made the song really work. The three main vocalists take a verse each, which is really effective as it spreads across the stage with Mick, then Pete Wylie then Peter Hooton all giving the song a shot. The chorus is as anthemic as ever and sadly still lyrically current with its razor sharp lines about trouble in the middle East. What would Joe have made of the Arab spring? Would he have seen hope in the fall of dictatorships and fear of what could come next? Would he have hooked into the rebel songs from the young rappers in these countries with their Youtube’d songs of defiance, maybe one day one of these brave kids could get up with the Justice Band? It would make sense, the Clash was always about all styles of music- that adventure into sound and fusion- the true punk rock. An 18 year old Arab street rapper would make sense of this sound as well, the spirit is everything.
Armageddon Time sounds defiant as Peter Hooton delivers one of his best vocals I’ve heard him do. He’s really got this song down now. It’s a tough call to fill Joe’s shoes and there are no claims being made for that kind of mantle but defining a song as classic as this takes some doing but the band are delivering it.
Just before Clampdown Steve from the Farm hands me his guitar and rushes off the stage, ‘I need a piss’ he shouts, adding, ‘it’s in A’. I grab the guitar and hit the chords, I actually know the song on guitar but playing at such short notice has caught me out and I stay in A. I don’t wanna fuck up! Mick looks over and grins and beckons me to mid stage. No way. I can play guitar but don’t want to play next to Pete who’s a top guitar player and Mick who is be of the greats, that lightness of to uh and the melodic quicksilver thing he has are brilliant to listen to. I’m not sure my rudimentary slashing is going to be the right kinda thing here! despite that it is a real thrill.
The band encore with the timeless classic White Man In Hammersmith Palais, a perfectly written song that underlines Mick’s skill as an arranger – it’s the way all his songs ebb and flow, riff after riff piling on the excitement. Clever stuff.
I’m up next for some vocal action on Janie Jones the bands paean to escapism and late seventies high class prostitution, I get a photo of the tightly packed sea of faces at the front, a far bigger age and sex range than these sort of affairs normally have. A sea of smiling faces.
Post gig there is a sense of triumph, that this really is all about to make a real difference, someone talks of maybe taking the whole project further afield and whilst keeping the focus on Justice for the 96 also taking on Justice for everybody.
It’s a big call but the these are big songs and the belief is there.