It’s finally out there, nine months after I delivered the majority of the words, and a year and three-quarters after my first online hint about the project. This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash is available from Amazon or online/in store from Blackwell’s, Foyles, Waterstones and W.H. Smith, in time for Christmas and already being shipped out in encouraging quantities.
A few factors out of my hands put it back a little, but that at least allowed me to add an interview with Joe Strummer’s widow Lucinda and good friend Gordon McHarg, on the back of the JS001 boxset and archive project. Given the chance I’d add a review of that and the exhibition that followed, and more on Paul Simonon’s latest LP and live dates with The Good, The Bad and The Queen, the wondrous Merrie Land. But you have to draw a line somewhere, press the button marked ‘print, publish and be damned’.
Early on, I felt a bit of a fraud. Why me? I’m certainly not an insider on The Clash camp. But maybe that counts for more, arguably helping me see things a little clearer, not too close to the subject, able to make independent judgements.
If there was – I admit – an initial fear that taking on this mighty task (and I’m grateful, believe me) might colour my love for the band negatively, that hasn’t happened. In fact, I reckon I love and appreciate the band even more, and not once along the way did I regret getting involved. Granted, I only re-listened to Cut the Crap a couple of times, but even that, I felt, helped get a handle on the whole story.
What’s it all about, in a nutshell? This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash details the band’s rise from roots in bands such as the 101’ers to their memorable emergence, and beyond, their place in music history secured even before London Calling took them to a whole new level, putting them on the road to global success before the spark that ignited them ultimately burned them out.
But it’s about far more than that, appraising and examining the studio output, how they broke America, looking closely at the many tours and interviews, and how they fell apart at the height of success. I’ve also sought to detail individual members’ stories, examining post-split careers and the heartbreak surrounding Joe Strummer’s early death, profiling other key personnel involved in a group celebrated for their political stance, rebellious outlook and influential experimentation as much as their music, their legacy intact long after the classic line-up – Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Headon – last shared a stage.
The question I felt I had to answer from day one was, ‘Why even bother with a new Clash biography?’ Esteemed past works by biographers Pat Gilbert, Marcus Gray, Chris Salewicz and Keith Topping, plus film-makers Don Letts and Julien Temple, and former roadie Johnny Green told the story so well, while there are numerous in-depth online resources and quality pieces from magazines and newspapers over the years – from dedicated websites to a wealth of great features and interviews with key and fringe personnel, archived and more recent, out there from many respected writers.
But many of those publications are harder to find these days, and this is my attempt at lovingly compiling a ‘best of’ tome, fully crediting those who put in the hard graft before me. A lot of thought went into what should be included, and as well as an in-depth history of the band and its members – before, during and after The Clash – I’ve added insights from those on the scene and those inspired by the band to get out and do their own thing, including recollections of personal encounters from many of my own interviewees, while Damian O’Neill was good enough to give me his time for an introductory chapter in which he reflects on how The Clash inspired The Undertones and reminisces about their time together in America on such a landmark tour.
Then there are profiles of those around the band and who played their part – from earlier and later bandmates to management, producers and engineers, session men, key videographers, and those who toured with or knew Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper from other projects. There are also appreciations of each album, key moments like the early gigs, Rehearsal Rehearsals and Westway era, Rock Against Racism, the Vanilla and Wessex sessions, the Bond’s residency in NYC, the end of The Clash Mk. I and the painful tale of The Clash Mk. II. I compiled a ’50 Finest’ tracks section (that certainly wasn’t easy) and a piece on The Clash’s London landmarks too, and discuss the main books and films, adding a detailed discography, timeline and links elsewhere.
Hopefully you’ll glean from all this that this is no attempt to write a book replacing all that came before. It’s more my attempt to marry lots of that together, point you in the right direction or help fill any gaps, creating an all-encompassing go-to publication that sits nicely alongside the other Clash and punk rock books on your shelf, including plenty of fresh copy. Think of it as complementary to the rest of the best.
I also go into more detail about my own personal journey with The Clash, and regular visitors here will know there are clues to my love for the band in many of the interviews published on this website, not least in the title itself, and the piece I wrote to mark the 40th anniversary of ‘White Riot’ early last year.
An official endorsement? Well, I’d love to have talked to Mick, Paul and Topper over a pint or a cuppa, not least to explain how this isn’t just another Clash book and it has something fresh to offer. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hoping they’ll look kindly on the result, and interviews will finally follow, not least with a second book planned, he adds tantalisingly.
Update: December 31st, 2018 – Thanks for all your support for the book so far. There are still plenty of copies out there, and if you would like to buy a personalised and signed edition at £12 plus P&P, just send me a note via this WriteWyattUK page link on Facebook or through a private message on this website. You can also buy direct via Amazon.
Did you catch The Clash’s debut live appearance at the Black Swan in Sheffield supporting the Sex Pistols in July ’76? Unlikely, I know, but it’s worth asking. Perhaps you got to see ‘the only band that matters’ during those early years anyway, or at the height of their success, or even in the later days when Mick and Topper had departed. Either way. I’d love to hear your story, in the hope of putting together The Clash – The Day I Was There.
If so, when did you see the band, and where? And what stood out for you? Who were you with? Were you already a fan? Were you still a student or working? Were you a regular on a certain scene? Did you get a photo with your heroes? Did you keep your ticket or other memorabilia to mark the occasion? How did you get to know about the band? What was the spark that made you sit up and take notice?
Ever get to meet Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon or Topper Headon? Or do you go back to the earlier days, or through to Terry Chimes’ return or The Clash Mk. II? What sticks in your mind about those conversations?
If you’ve got a Clash-related story you’d like to share with me, for potential future publication, please drop me a line via email@example.com
For this website’s appreciation of The Clash, in a feature marking the 40th anniversary of the release of debut single, ‘White Riot’, head here.