Sometime in the spring of 1977 journalist Tony Parsons boarded a train on the Circle Line to meet all three members of The Clash, and so began one of the defining interviews of the era.Parsons had responded to an advertisement in the New Musical Express ‘hip young gunslinger wanted’. I remember the advert well and considered briefly applying myself. An album review was requested and in my hopeless naivety I would have reviewed a reissue of The Faces first two albums I had just purchased. In the hopeless earnest style of serious musical commentators I would have gone into track by track musical analysis of the band’s music, it was a nonstarter so it was just as well I didn’t start it. Parsons was older than me but could actually write. The other recruit ‘gunslinger’was to be Julie Burchill who would subsequently go on to have a relationship with Parsons and then spend the next few years slagging him off in the media at every opportunity. I had a lucky escape really.
Parsons, by virtue of his relative youth and working class credentials was intended to be the punk commentator which meant that he needed to go to a lot of gigs as there were, at this point, no new records to review. Arranging to meet the band on the Circle line was a stroke of genius. For the price of just one ticket it was possible to spend all day travelling round in circles which amounted to pretty cheap entertainment. These days the London Underground is full pretty much all the time but in the 70’s outside of rush hour the tube was the domain of the homeless and the workshy, even tourists were being put off a visit by tales of strikes and rotting piles of rubbish in the street.
And so Parsons and The Clash could travel round and round drinking lager and snorting the new drug of choice amphetamine sulphate which, as might be anticipated, involved much talking of bollocks.
The interview, published under the heading ‘thinking man’s yobs’ concentrated on certain aspects of the band’s evolution. There was talk of the band being on the dole, of Mick Jones living with his Gran in a high rise flat, of Paul Simenon being an ex-football hooligan and of Joe Strummer being recently beaten up by a Ted in some public toilets. There was no mention of Strummers pub rock, or public school, past or Jones’s glam rock fixations or Simenon’s tenure at art school.
This was the beginning of the year zero approach, it was, for a while as if 20 years of rock and roll had never existed, new was good, old was bad and if you were associated too closely with the old you may as well not exist. The music media bought into this big time. Although there were still journalists at The Melody Maker making a case that Sad Café, for example, could be the next big thing many other writers were falling over themselves to fawn over new bands that could barely play.
The Clash were, in comparison, horny handed old musos but here they were on the front page of the New Musical Express, a band who had not released a record, or headlined a tour, a band that in fact did not even have a fixed drummer. In addition to putting them on the cover the NME actually released a disc which included clips from the interview along with pieces of music including ‘Capital Radio’ which was one of their best early songs.
Luckily it would transpire that the band had other songs to back up the hype. They were about to rival the Pistols for the number one punk spot. The Clash were a gang, the individual members inspired each other and Strummer and Jones were about to prove that two heads are better than one when it comes to song writing. The Pistols, by comparison were a group of ill matched individuals, Rotten had a lot of charisma but he was generally a grumbler. To this day Rotten is generally disparaging about the Clash’s ‘politics’ and their orthodoxy of thinking but that is exactly what gave the band their positive energy. And even during punk positive people were more popular than negative people.
The Clash were about to enter the recording fray with ‘White Riot’. This was a song we had to be reassured was ‘not racist’. Our politics were being moulded, racism was bad, being on the dole was good, and being skint was good. If you weren’t working class then you had better learn to fake some proletarian credentials.
There were going to be a whole new set of rules, we were in for a tough time.