For me, growing up in a 1960s/’70s generation which had the likes of Rory Gallagher, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and the Allman Brothers, Strummer and his band struck me, initially, as another classic example of all spit and no polish.
Playing support to the Sex Pistols in 1976, the Clash made their first stumbling attempt at punk rock. The Pistols at the time were providing buckets of shark bait in a media feeding frenzy which caused them to become a strange corporate/anarchy hybrid.
Business suits were quick to cotton on to the fact that there was money to be made in skinny, yobbish punk rockers and if the Clash were good enough to support Mr Rotten, et al, well, they were good enough to be signed up.
CBS landed them after just three concerts and their eponymous debut album was on the streets faster than you could say White Riot.
They had started off as a raggle-taggle band of angry young men and evolved to become a socially grounded, outspoken musical force who had no less than 16 top 40 hits, including I Fought the Law, Rock the Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I Go?
London Calling, their third album, was hilariously and famously declared the greatest album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine, despite the fact it was released in 1979. But nobody really cared about this chronological clanger as London Calling stands as one of the best albums of any decade.
Strummer, who died of a heart attack in 2002, was born in Ankara, Turkey – the son of a diplomat. His real name was Mellor, he was middle class and after boarding school ended up in art college.
Mick Jones came from a broken working-class background in Brixton. He was also an art college student. “I decided that I’d go to art school in order to meet other musicians and get a grant so I could buy some equipment.”
The pairing of Jones – who in his early days almost formed a band with Chrissie Hynde – and Strummer provided the Clash with two solid songwriters. Then along came Paul Simonon, who joined the group as a bassist in 1976, and drummer Topper Headon.
“I wasn’t a great drummer until I joined the Clash. I was a good drummer, had all the chops, but no power behind it. When I joined the Clash I had to relearn the whole thing. And we evolved together, our chemistry or whatever made us what we were musically.”
Most books about rock outfits can be placed in one of three categories – the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The Clash (book) is in a different class. Here, Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon tell their own story in their own words.
While death has denied fans a Clash reunion, this book gives its reader a great sense of what it was like to be on the road and in the studio with the band. It reads, in places, like an adult rock comic book; snappy, pithy, illuminating and never boring – pure amplified energy.