A few days after the Stone Roses Heaton Park show the Justice Tonight band are in Dublin supporting the Stone Roses in Phoenix Park. It’s the biggest audience for a gig by any band ever in Ireland as the Stone Roses have become huge here in their long absence.
This is a big night that means a big presence and, as Ian Brown confides later, he is not only buzzing to be having the Justice Band on the bill but he would have loved to have seen Mick Jones and the crew play all these gigs. The cause and the history making all the right noises for show of this size and the atmosphere the Stone Roses are trying to create.
There are some changes. The big difference tonight is that Pete Wylie has not made the show. He said he wasn’t coming a couple of days ago which is shame as he is a big presence, a very big presence and we love his crazy bones. If this was a band this would be a big problem but the thing is Justice Tonight is not a band, it doesn’t work like a normal band. This is a loose collective and a cause which we must provide the soundtrack for. People come and go and even without the charismatic presence of Pete Wylie the cause is still the key and is far more important. Hopefully he will be back for the next show in Milan as he is missed by everyone.
Rock n roll is never simple and to be good at this mysterious stuff you have to have a nerve jangling sensitivity that can make these kind of emotionally draining gigs quite hard for anyone. The next gig is in Milan in under two weeks and hopefully we will hear the Wylie banter then, afterall he has been a key compadre and best friend to Mick for 35 years and these things matter.
Backstage at Phoenix Park is laid out like a playground as me and Farm manager, Peasy, get down early to soak up the big day. Various Stone Roses wander about as me and the Peasy take five minutes out in a couple of comfy chairs. We are shocked at this rare stuff called sunshine that seems to be pouring out of the sky. In 2012 there is no such thing as a festival that isn’t rain and mud and we savour this rare moment.
Reni is retuning from the Roses soundcheck and notices a massive hole in my sock that annoyingly appeared this morning and offers me his spare socks. After some discussion over the colour he whips out a cream pair and I throw away my trusty, but with more holes than Blackpool’s defense, black ones and feel oddly comfortable without the grime of the still drying field attaching itself to my fleshy foot.
The Stone Roses are in high spirits which is hardly surprising as they have just pulled off the most audacious comeback anyone can remember with thousands of thrilled fans and only a couple of bad reviews from people who ‘don’t like to see the working classes to have fun’ as one passing wag drily comments.
There is some discussion over who the Justice Tonight special guest will be tonight, Shane Macgowan has been called by Mick and is due to turn up in Shane time. John Power is the other guest and arrives with the rest of the Justice Tonight band about an hour after we get there and is bouncing around with the jovial and slightly tripped out optimism that he has always oozed. John is one of nature’s upbeat people and his waifish charisma and sheer joy at singing Bankrobber with the band tonight is infectious.
The band retire to their cabin and work out their version of Bankrobber and the stripped down, almost acoustic version with strummed guitars, clattered bottles and John’s vocal with the always fab and gorgeous backing singers Babs and Bev singing along sounds great.
The song has hints of the Wingless Angels- the great dread singers of Jamaica, who sang with Keef Richards backing them- in its almost spiritual acoustic overtones. Listening in it makes you want to hear an acoustic version of these songs some time, a stripped down guerrilla gig played the band.
As show time approaches there is much reading and re-reading of lyrics And strumming of the brown Les Paul Junior that has been left in the room for the band to warm up. It’s not Micks classic brown number but still a beautiful guitar. On the words front I have Rock The Casbah nailed and also Janie Jones just in case it makes a return to the first team.
All is kushty until Mick asks me if I know Brand New Cadillac in case Shane doesn’t turn up which looks fairly likely at the moment.
Now, like nearly everyone here of a certain leaning, I know Brand New Cadillac like it was tattooed to my heart. It’s one of the great songs from London Calling- the soundcheck in the studio being the cover of the Vince Taylor classic that the band rattled off to see if their gear was working. The band were stunned when it was announced as a take by the late and great Guy Stevens.
‘..but it speeds up’ gasped the reply from Joe Strummer before Guy rightly pointed out that ‘all great rock n roll speeds up’. What he would have thought of these modern days of click tracks and rock n roll payed by robots we will never now know as he has been dead for years but it is safe to says he would have been shocked.
I listen to Brand New Cadillac on an iPhone and brush it down fast. Mick says just ad lib the lyrics but I got most of them ready. I must have heard the song a million times and can never decide which version I love the most the Clash’s for their kinetic energy and prowling rockabilly nous or Vince Taylor‘s for its clattering genius. I always loved the British rock n rollers from the fifties and me and Mick have a conversation about the brilliant Johnny Kidd and The Pirates as well as Vince Taylor agreeing that Taylor is the long lost rock n roll star who’s genius we celebrate and who’s madness inspired Ziggy Stardust when, in the early sixties, he would take acid and proclaim himself the messiah at the front of Tottenham Court Road station to virtually no-one apart from a callow youth called David Jones who would 8 years later claim himself to be Ziggy.
Taylor started riots in France, where he would receive his deserved acclaim and he brilliantly played out his onstage psychodrama as the spindly, leather clad Gene Vincent clone, whose stage moves and jutting square jaw line bear another remarkable resemblance to another big fan, Morrissey (who once replied to an ad for a singer from another proto punk band called London SS, who never played any gigs but who’s guitar player is asking me to learn this song- in Justice Tonight land everything ties together!).
I’m ready to deliver the song and prepared to do a real, slavering rock n roll take on a song that has some of the best screams in rock n roll when Shane turns up fashionably late.
It’s minutes before the band hit the stage when Shane walks in, the heroic wordsmith who wrote some of the great songs of the eighties. Shane likes a drink and that’s what he is famous for but round here on LTW he is celebrated for his word-smithery genius.
He joins the long walk from the dressing room log cabin to the stage. The song is Shane’s call now but I’m gonna get up for the screams. Screaming has died out in R ‘n’ R and I am on a one man mission to bring it back, remembering that one of the great things about the Beatles was Lennon’s screams– those screams of pure delight at the electricity of the sixties unfolding in front of him and the band combined with the scream of pure emotion. Does anyone still believe in pop music like that any more?
Shane sits just off the stage with Irish gig promoter and manager of the great Blood and Whisky john Foley and patiently awaits his moment. The Pogues legend looking cool in his pink shirt and pile of jewelry around his neck- he looks like a Celtic shaman driven by drink instead of mescal, or maybe both or neither- it’s hard to tell, to the green and ghostly visions that are his own.
Shane was one of the first fans of the Clash, making a name for himself when he bit the ear lobe of Jane from the Modettes at an early Clash show at the ICA in 1976. The resulting photo is one of the iconic shots of the arena and I remember clearly looking at it in the music press at the time.
The band enter to the Farm’s Groovy Train and then the Cast man John Power does a great Bankrobber, totally nailing the song. He sings it in his own voice and his plaintive scouse holler really suits the tune adding a different edge and emotion to the classic that is the real show piece of the set. Bankrobber sounds great echoing around the huge arena. I get up for Rock The Casbah and take the mic to the audience. It’s a long way down to the front row but it’s packed tight down there and the youth of Ireland turn out to be huge Clash fans, grabbing my arms and the mic hard as they sing back all the lyrics with a fervent passion.
Shane gets up for Brand New Cadillac and it’s a moment for connesueurs of rock n roll to watch him and Mick sharing the stage. It’s another one of those long relationships that stretch back to the heart of punk. Shane croaks out the song with that distinctive cackle of his which is one of the great rock n roll voices. He also manages to pour a pint of beer over himself and another one over Peter Hooton- Peter can only grin later, ‘I love my clothes and wouldn’t be happy with anyone else doing that,’ he laughs, ‘but with Shane it’s different…’
With Shane it’s always different…
Mick delivers a great Train In Vain- the plaintive love song that was the Clash’s first proper hit in America and Should I Stay Or Should I Go sounds fantastic with its garage band rock n roll riff zig zagging across the stadium. Everyone sings along to this one and is ready for the last song, the Farm’s All Together Now which is starting to resemble Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes with its anthemic arms around eachother, very human nature.
It’s a triumphant show and the band are in high spirits when they return to the backstage area to calm down.
I get into a long talk with Mick where he tells me more great tales from the Clash days, he is great company and full of the wisdom of someone who has really done it.
You can listen to Mick talk about rock n roll all night, his eyes sparkling with the joy and humour of decades spent dealing the primal electricity to lifting people’s spirits up. He is doing this now with Justice Tonight, making the old timers and the youth equally invigorated by his great songs and his spirit. The Clash did this to us when we were young and the Justice Tonight retain this same spirit now which is why these gigs are so crucial.
Local hopefuls U2 send a huge red box full of bottles of Guinness and Champagne with instructions on how to make Black Velvets, a nice touch- would have been cooler if they had come and sung a song but they were probably out of town.
As the Wailers rock the house with their renditions of the reggae classic and the back stage gets ready for the Roses show, the Justice Tonight room is bouncing with the emotion of playing a great show. We wander out front and there is a rush of thrilled Irish youth coming up to talk about the show. The Clash is an international language and it’s an honour to be involved and these songs are the perfect vehicle for the call of justice through the decades.
Next up is Milan in a couple of weeks for another support show kindly provided by the Roses, another platform to get the message across, another space to party and more people to meet in this crazy rambling project.