I couldn’t get through Saturday, March 18th, 2017, without mentioning a certain clarion call from the early days of punk, released 40 years ago today – the song that inspired this website’s name. Naive maybe, but so much energy to this day.
That first single from The Clash was a call to arms, although perhaps not in the way Joe Strummer and Mick Jones suggested in the lyrics. To the best of my knowledge, we never got to see Sten guns in Knightsbridge, as mentioned on b-side 1977, but this was more a revolution of the mindset and three weeks later was followed by the release of an inspirational debut album, a mighty influence on so many other great bands that followed and whom I grew to love.
You can go a long way back to pinpoint the seismic moments that shaped the punk and new wave revolution. From the more raucous moments of The Kinks. The Rolling Stones and The Who through to late ’60s/early ’70s US underground outfits such as MC5, The Velvet Underground, The Monks, The Stooges, Captain Beefheart and New York Dolls. Then came the swagger and fan appeal of The Faces and Mott the Hoople – as oppposed to the pomp and ceremony of most of the other prog and rock bands of the time – and back-to-basics thrills of Dr Feelgood this side of the ocean, or Ramones, Patti Smith, Television and Blondie across the Atlantic. The die was cast, and along came The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers and Sex Pistols at the forefront yet among many more great bands emerging or reinventing themselves.
White Riot certainly wasn’t the first shot across the bow. Blitzkrieg Bop was released a year earlier, and on this side of the water we had New Rose in October ’76, five weeks before Anarchy in the UK. Then there was Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP and my hometown boys The Stranglers’ (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) at the end of January ’77.
Incidentally, The Clash began their White Riot tour on March 1st, ’77, on my patch at Guildford Civic Hall, supported by local lads The Jam (who quit the tour soon after), Buzzcocks, The Slits and Subway Sect. London’s Burning sounded the start of a 16-song set that night, including two plays of 1977 (second in, and the final song).
OK, I wasn’t even nine and a half when the single came out, but this sub-two minute blast had consequences, and without The Clash …. well, who knows. I was only finding my feet around then, but my brother and his mates (eight school years above me) were along for the ride and I kind of absorbed it all, to the point that when I started earning a little cash through paper-rounds and weekend labours at a farm shop, Combat Rock was the first album I bought for myself, albeit on cassette. I was 14 and a half then, having little in common with Adrian Mole other than we shared the same school year. The family photos of the time might not suggest it, but I was a punk and new wave kid at heart.
While The Clash and third offering London Calling were rightly seen as seminal moments, it was the album in between – released in late ’78 – that first stopped me in my tracks, so to speak. Those first three songs on Give ‘Em Enough Rope – Safe European Home, English Civil War and Tommy Gun (and I knew all the words of the latter two, courtesy of Smash Hits) – really struck a nerve. In fact side one of that album remains a joy for me, and there’ll always be that added nostalgic element.
Anyway, I’ll stop there for now, other than to say this also gives me a chance to put a teaser out there about a major project I’ve just signed up to and which will be taking up a fair bit of my time over the next six months. As Joe Strummer put it 40 years ago, ‘Are you going backwards, or are you going forwards?’ Well, I’ll tell you more soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll have a riot of my own.