All the old dudes!
We’re in the hotel bar after the show; there is a pretty rabid conversation going on about the late and great Mott The Hoople. Roy, the rock solid drummer from The Farm is there and the irrepressible Pete Wylie – a man reborn- is regaling us with Mott stories. He tells us that when he went to the last Mott The Hoople shows he considered wearing women’s high heel boots and spraying his hair silver as a testimony to the charismatic Mott bass player and friend of Louder Than War, the great Overend Watts.
Luckily he didn’t. These kind of extreme sartorial measures can only be carried off by the likes of Watts, the man who could well have invented glam rock with his red plastic thigh length boots and blouses and still looked hard as fuck sexy cool. Pete Wylie has his own kind of cool with his heart as big as Liverpool he is on a creative peak at these shows and all we can demand is that he makes a new album and uses this band made up of The Farm and Mick Jones to record it. Please sign him up now.
Mott The Hoople are an interesting yardstick here. Mick Jones used to follow them around when he was 15 – bunking trains around the country and getting looked after by the band who, despite their supayob -glam -droog credentials were famously nice to their fans, letting them sleep on hotel room floors. This fan/band relationship was something the Clash dealt in as well and that spirit somehow still pervades tonight’s show.
So when Pete Wyle quotes ‘All The Young Dudes’ in the middle of The Farm’s biggest hit, the eternally heart warming ‘All Together Now’ it makes total sense. The football loving, Shrewsbury Town supporting, ex Mott frontman Ian Hunter would totally understand this gig – a mini tour put together after the success of the September 11′ Liverpool show which was dedicated to getting justice for the 96 Liverpool FC fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough, as well as the Don’t Buy The Sun Campaign.
This is rock n roll as folk music. Songs that get sung in pubs and relate to people’s lives but are still magical. The post gig euphoria pervades the hotel bar. The Farm are so much part of this story. Some of the band were at Hillsborough that fateful day and the stories come out of the official incompetence and plane prejudice against the fans.
There is also a lot of rock n roll talk with a lengthy conversation about George Harrison who is roundly declared the best Beatle, someone adds some gossip about the late Beatle being very good friends with Madonna and the girl behind the bar looks interested. ‘who’s George Harrison?’ she asks sending Wylie into a state of shock.
When I wrote for Melody Maker certain quarters of the paper were happy to slate the Farm for being ‘thick northerners’ and for ‘looking like plumbers’. I hadn’t realised that looking like a plumber was a crime but The Farm have had the last laugh being a not so motley collection of college lecturers, film and documentary makers and cultural figures. Only that morning drummer Roy had premiered a film he had made about the fab four at a Beatles exhibition that opened in Liverpool. He was still thrilled about meeting and hanging out with the great Yoko Ono whilst less than thrilled at having to shake hands with the Queen.
Farm vocalist Peter Hooton has just had all his legendary football and music fanzine,The End, published into a glossy manual by Sabotage Times. Reading through them is a great reminder of the witty commentary that he provided on the eighties terrace culture that would eventually invade mainstream fashion and culture. By far the most eloquent observer of this highly influential section of youth culture we don’t get to hear Apeter Hootons voice enough in the mainstream media about this.
This is the first of six dates of a tour which, with it’s ad hoc line up and killer set list, has all sorts of emotion and meaning piled into it. I know it’s an old fashioned notion but the idea that rock n roll can not only fashion change but also mean something is on display tonight. The idea is that by playing these songs, songs that have become folk songs of our time, then somehow someone might do something about this ridiculous situation where there has been no justice for the football fans who were crushed to death that day more than twenty years ago is a powerful idea. The images on TV of that day still make you feel sad and angry at the time. There must be justice. And people are listening. And there will be justice.
The audience get it. The room is full of old school Clash fans who have been drawn by the cause and the fact that Mick Jones is playing these classic songs again. It may be a brief trip into the back catalogue but when they are played with this much fire and joy and with the crowd singing them back with their eyes shut in instensity and excitement they make total sense. Of course it’s not just the Clash songs that are the ticket here. The Farm open the main part of the evening with a greatest hits
set and the tunes have stood the test of time, ‘All Together Now” sees the first outbreak of terrace singalong for the tune that has seeped into the national consciousness as some sort of alternative hymn.
They are joined by Pete Wylie for his mini set and sounds wonderful. His voice is huge and warm and soaked in passion. Wylie was made for a gig like this and his bonhomie and contstant stream of gags mixed with righteous anger and demands for justice make him the perfect communicator as he rattles through a mini hits set with ‘Story Of The Blues’ sounding Spector anthemic and new song ‘The Day That Margaret Thatcher Died’ leaving no one in any doubt of where his sensibilities lie. The Manics James Dean Bradfield makes his first appearence joining Wylie for a rushing version of ‘Come Back’ , James is a fitting addition to the bill with the Manics’ ‘South Yorkshire Mass Murderer’ song about the Hillsborough disaster.
When Mick Jones takes the stage it’s with a quicksilver slick of rock n roll cool. Dapper as ever in a powder blue two tone suit and guitar gangster cool he has the affable prescence of someone who is still in love with the power of rock n roll. At this stage of the game Mick could just put his feet up and wallow in the reflected glory of the Clash, a band that really did change things but he is so powerfully affected by this cause that here he is out on the road playing these Clash classics and not getting paid, there is no greatest hits to sell; there is nothing to sell, except the idea that rock n roll can be about something more than flogging stuff.
The set sounds great kicking off with the Mick sung ‘Train In Vain’ which sounds razor tight with The Farm’s rhythm section catching the Motown-esque backbeat. They also play a stunning ”Bankrobber’ sung abley by Peter Hooton, a great and very timely version of ‘Armagideon Times’ and a version of ‘Clampdown’ so tight and intense that it scorches the back wall of the venue. This could be due to James Dean Bradfield who is tonight’s special guest. Before the show James is quiet and unassuming, a rock n roll gent, when he gets on stage, though, you can see the passion and spittle pour out of him. He is a tightly wound grenade of anger and hope, like something out of a classic Scorcese film. He totally understands the song and is thrilling to be playing alongside Mick Jones, the songwriter of the band that so inspired him in his youth.
It’s just one of a series of moments that captures the romance of rock n roll, that spirit that the Clash perfectly captured. James Dean Bradfield captured it as well in the Manics. Those early Manics shows were amazing and the memory of the band of that period still lingers. It was a them against the world situation and their white Levi, girls blouses and streaked eye liner assault on the Clash back catalogue arriving in the middle of baggy was one of the great opposite moments. One of those moments when a band is so steeped in pop culture it just does the opposite to everyone else and makes it work.
It was this kind of mood that was by Mick Jones years earlier when he was in the Praed St rehearsal room in the summer of 1975 in London with Tony James trying to put together London SS and desperately looking for like minded desperadoes to join him on the trip that would end up with the Clash.
Of course Mick was London cool and they would not let anyone in the rehearsal room unless they looked and talked right, the Manics were tight knit boys from the Welsh valleys – they were all they had and their beautiful nativity and belief in the spirit of the high octane, high velocity guitar is so touching and even after all these years after you can still watch James with his his scrunched up face playing along and feel that belief in a moment that must have meant everything to him despite his own righteous back catalogue.
It’s that sort of set and the backdrop of demanding Justice For The 96 puts it into a very powerful context. Playing this music may be a Boys Own dream for everyone here tonight but everyone understands what they are there for and the calls for “justice for the 96” are echoed by the audience who put aside any partisan football rivalry and understand perfectly the bigger picture and sporadically break into chants for justice for the 96.
The Clash classics keep coming, god knows how they chose what to play from that catalogue but they deliver ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ with Mick on vocals and the six (count ’em) guitarists in perfect unison. Mick delivers the always empowering ‘Stay Free’, and the anthemic ‘White Man In Hammersmith Paialis’ with Peter Hooton stepping up to sing his favourite all time song brings the house down. They end the set with another run through of the Farm’s ‘aAltogether Now’ with Mick’s Cheshire cat grin threatening to swallow up the whole venue. It’s the coolest smile in rock n roll, a smile of pure pleasure that sums up the whole evening.
They exited to a mighty cheer and with no plans for an encore but you can’t refuse this racket and return for ‘Janie Jones’.
Whilst I’m doing the compere thing, Peter Hooton hands me the mic and yells ‘sing the choruses’, I shout back ‘I’m the compere, that’s your job’ but he’s not having it. The song kicks in and for two minutes I’m in the fucking Clash! I dive in the crowd and everyone is on the mic. It’s a great pit.
Post gigs Peter laughs. ‘I asked you to sing the song not start a fucking riot’, but then he has seen me play with Goldblade and knows that starting a riot is what we do.
As the band exit I sit at the side of the stage and chat to people as they leave. There is a great cross section turned up for this – showing the cross generational pull of the Clash. These are are people who want to do stuff, the people who are still awake out there. There are at least three teenage writers who want to start writing and may appear on this website soon. It’s the proactive, do anything, get up and go spirit of Joe Strummer that’s in the room.
Don’t consume take part!
Even now, after all these decades, a teenager can come and listen to this music and want to make and do something – the spirit of DIY, the most revolutionary thing that came out of punk peppers these conversations and it’s thrilling. There are some hopeful young bands and a bunch of swopped CDs. The future is in safe hands. There are also older people. People who grew up with punk. Who were there when it was the soundtrack to youth but stayed with it all their lives. These songs mean everything to them and they are buzzing on the gig. They talk of Mick like he is part hero, part mate, part of their soundtrack but also someone they feel they know. The Clash were that kind of band.
That’s the point of these kind of gigs. They are about community. The spirit of rock n roll that sometimes goes missing. On this tour no-one gets paid. Everyone is here for the cause. That cry of justice, that is not only for the 96 but for everyone in these dangerous times…