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Cracking Clash by night

BOB ORAM reports on an outstanding event celebrating the release of an iconic album 40 years ago

RMT 77 Clash Night

Rich Mix, London


THE CLASH'S incendiary eponymous debut album of 40 years ago was a landmark in the history of punk. It channelled energy and anger into 14 surging up-tempo numbers but added depth with reggae influences and cogent social commentary.

Anti-establishment, and with a steadfast socialist message, it offered a positive message for the youth of Britain Fittingly, this commemorative night begins with a superb film of Syd Sheldon's iconic images of the band and Rock Against Racism, all perfectly showcased to Steel Pulse's classic, bass heavy Jah Pinkney-R.A.R.

Poets from the Picket Line are in the audience and give authentic and powerful spoken-word pieces and the talented Lone Groover pays homage to his mentors with a specially commissioned song 77 in 2017.

RMT president Sean Hoyle praises members across the country on strike over passenger safety and receives a huge cheer when he calls for the renationalisation of the railways.

A panel discussion with nine authors and activists, including ex-Clash manager Caroline Coon, reflect on punk not only as a reaction to the period but also to hippy culture. It was the influence of artists like Woody Guthrie that enabled Joe Strummer to capture the anger of the zeitgeist, shaking up the music industry as well channeling his frustration about the plight of young people and the need to give hope.

Feminist activist Janey, lead singer with Dream Nails makes it clear though that the night is no “fossilisation” but a celebration using the past to inspire hope in people today. As a DIY artist she encourages everyone to “do and make the things you wanna see, get involved in a band, in politics and union organising. It is all interconnected and not just about music.”

Attila the Stockbroker, clearly loving the event, stands at the front of the audience dancing and singing along as if still the young punk artist he was starting out nearly 40 years ago. His tribute to Strummer, Commandante Joe is heartfelt, Farageland bitterly scathing, Bob Crow moving and My Doctor Martens draws smiles.

48 Thrills, a passionate punk-rock jukebox tribute band, feature Steve North from the acclaimed stage play Meeting Joe Strummer. Fuelled by a passion for the band, they play the first side of the Clash's album in its entirety with the same unadulterated rage and fury.

Though the cliche about punk rock is that the bands couldn't play, the Clash only gave that illusion and, like them, 48 Thrills play hard. The charging, relentless rhythms give the songs a vital energy and North's slurred wails perfectly complement Joe Williams edgy, anthemic guitar breaks.

Every song, especially White Riot, has the crowd singing as if it was the original. After a storming London's Burning they encore with Complete Control.

Original rude boy Comrade X lashes up the Westway to This Land is Your Land before blasting out a rousing rendition of Jarama Valley, then it's back to side two of the Clash album with Sean Mcgowan, a brilliant young talent. He has experience today of being on the dole and zero hours contracts and makes Career Opportunities his very own.

Nia Wyn takes us back to 1977 via the Deep South. An amazing singer, her superb resonator guitar silences a crowd transfixed by her power as she performs Cheat.

Joe Solo, Scarborough's very own Joe Strummer and a huge Clash fan, celebrates not only their 40th but also the fourth anniversary of the death of Margaret Thatcher. Updating Protex Blue, he gives an intense and charismatic performance that goes down a storm.

The thing that set the Clash apart was their joy of reggae and the standout achievement on the record was their six-minute cover of Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves and this brilliant reworking of a reggae classic gave the first indication that they would push the boundaries of rock and roll itself. Captain Ska do it more than justice before Emily Harrison gives a perfect spoken word version of 48 Hours. 

Dream Nails, one of the most exciting young bands around, make a perfect connection as they play their anthem DIY before the final Clash song Garageland.

The closer on the album, it was written after Charles Shaar Murray's review of the Clash's early appearance at the Sex Pistols Screen on the Green concert: "The Clash are the kind of garage band who should be

returned to the garage immediately, preferably with the engine running," he pontificated. A legendary mistake, on a par with Decca Records' classic comment on the Beatles: “We don't like their sound and guitar music is on the way out.”

Bouncing around the stage exuberantly, they are the female modern-day garageband heir to the Clash and end by mixing up a spicy hex for the US President: “Sriracha on your dick, Sriracha on your balls.” Deep Heat is a brilliantly catchy tune inspired by his election.

The brilliant Captain Ska return to the stage and have the packed crowd dancing straight off. Slipping Back in Time is glorious. Ska beats and a mournful horn punctuate this take on how neoliberalism and austerity are taking us back to the late 1970s.

Shame on You skewers Tory financial ethics, while War Crime is their verdict on the Chilcot report.

Lyrically superb, the Ska's foot-stomping rhythms and energy linger long as does the memory of this tremendously ambitious Philosophy Football event — a triumph.


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