As the 40th anniversary of The Clash’s acclaimed London Calling double-LP approaches, it’s time to not only remind you that a few copies remain of my biography of the band, This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash (subtle hints, we got ’em), but also treat you to an interview featuring the latest fan of this seminal punk outfit to tackle their story in print.
And a splendid tome it is too, Ignore Alien Orders: On Parole With The Clash the result of a joint project involving Tony Beesley and Anthony Davie, this colourful new 300-plus page hardback comprising fans’ accounts of seeing them live and in person.
So many great books have been written about the so-called ‘only band that matters’ since Marcus Gray’s trail-blazing Last Gang in Town in 1995, yet Yorkshire-based Tony still felt there was a gap in the market for his ‘history of The Clash by the fans and for the fans’, co-written with a fellow fan who previously penned Vision of a Homeland: The History of Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros. However, there’s no ‘better than all the rest’ posturing here, Tony instead suggesting they’ve ‘created a new, vibrant and enjoyable volume to sit alongside the shelves of Clash literary work’.
He describes Ignore Alien Orders – its name taken from the slogan Joe Strummer pasted on his battered Fender Telecaster, a phrase thought to have originated among California’s 1960s’ ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ generation – as ‘the definitive Clash fans’ scrapbook’, and I get that. There’s certainly a look in places of the old ’70s and ’80s colourful music annuals, and I mean that in an affectionate way. A touch of nostalgia, yes, but with proper depth and substance and plenty to draw you in, not least through lots of seldom seen photographs and the accounts of those who were actually there, either out front or joining the band backstage or between live engagements.
I won’t give you a full-blown review here – put it on your Christmas list, maybe, and find out for yourself. But I’ll give you a little taster, starting by mentioning the illuminating accounts of Steve Bush and Nigel Lockwood, there at the very first Clash gig on July 4th, 1976, at Sheffield’s legendary Black Swan, aka the Mucky Duck (later regenerated as the Boardwalk), when a five-piece Clash including Keith Levene supported the Sex Pistols. Then there’s Ant Davie himself (on a ‘trip out into the sticks’ from South London) and Steve Carver (with The Jam camp) recalling the first date of the ‘White Riot’ schedule on my old patch at Guildford Civic Hall on May 1st, 1977, before a bust-up between respective managers Bernie Rhodes and John Weller led to The Jam leaving that noteworthy tour.
As with all these fans’ account type books, it’s the early stories in particular that fascinate me, however accurate they can be after all these years. After plenty of research on the subject myself, accounts of 1976 and 1977 appearances will often be at odds with the acknowledged versions, but personal testimonies from London’s 100 Club (Michelle Brigandage stepping up), Screen on the Green, the ICA, RCA, and Fulham Town Hall, plus Barbarella’s in Birmingham and further pre-Bill Grundy Today shows at Tiddenfoot Leisure Centre, Leighton Buzzard; the Nag’s Head, High Wycombe (from Kris Jozajtis); and Lacy Lady, Ilford, will always appeal to this scribe.
Even before that, there are tales from Joe’s Woody Mellor days with the 101’ers, courtesy of old friends Cathy Cooper and Paul Roundhill (who also writes about and supplies photos from a May ’77 University of Sussex show), Derek Humphries, and Don Hughes (who adds a nice piece about New Year’s Day ’77’s Roxy opener in Covent Garden). Similarly, Steve Emberton’s photos of the band in their stencilled shirt era are great to see, presumably snapped at Rehearsal Rehersals, Camden, of which Ray Gange – in the book’s foreword – writes that it was ‘a cold, damp shithole, but it was The Clash’s cold, damp shithole, so it was hallowed ground and I felt privileged to walk through its doors and shiver with everybody else’.
As well as Ray, who played the lead role in the 1980 film, Rude Boy (the ‘fakeumentary movie’, as the man himself puts it), which also starred The Clash, contributors also include key member of the entourage/close friend of the band, Robin Crocker (aka Robin Banks), music journalists Kris Needs and Jonh Ingham – who also supplies some amazing early gig photographs – broadcaster and WriteWyattUK interviewee Gary Crowley, and several musicians duly inspired by the band, including Duncan Reid (The Boys), Andy Blade (Eater), Chris Pope (The Chords), and Brian Young (Rudi).
Apparently, Tony’s co-driver here, Ant Davie, was working alongside the BBC for a Clash documentary project based around fans who attended Clash gigs, when the pair first made contact. He ran the Mescaleros’ official strummerdsite.com site, which later combined with the superb blackmarketclash.com site, giving him handy access to a database of some 12,000-plus hardcore fans.
“He got in touch late last year and I contributed a piece for his prospective Kindle book about The Clash, later a paperback. We met and threw some ideas about merging aspects of this with what I was already doing and in no time at all it started to come together. My idea of a fans’ scrapbook, highly visual, containing scores of rare and unpublished photos fit perfectly with his existing idea of grass-roots fans’ experiences.
“I did all the layout and design apart from the cover (designed by Tony’s friend and regular cover designer, David Spencer) and Ant meticulously collated a smattering of fan accounts along with some of his own experiences, which merged perfectly with what I already had.
“It was all perfectly cohesive and right from the outset we were on the exact same track. We have had some superb Clash-related chats, bouncing ideas around throughout the period of this project. And it’s been a real pleasure to work with Ant, a fantastic bloke who always has a great story to tell.”
As well as the contributors already mentioned, there are those from Tony himself, this 54-year-old father of two (his sons now aged 29 and 27) from Rawmarsh, near Rotherham, whose past career opportunities (the ones that never truly knocked) included spells as a painter and decorator, running his own market stall, as a storeman, a brief stint with Royal Mail and a 12-year spell running WH Smith’s book section in a large retail park unit, before he turned his attentions to self-publishing.
While that was going on, he also played in a series of bands, writing his first songs as far back as 1978, coming closest to the big time with The Way, who once got a demo tape to Paul Weller after a gig. But while Weller protege Tracie Young later joined them, Tony had already left by then, and of all that, he simply adds, ‘I no longer own a guitar’. Instead, he focused attentions elsewhere.
“It was about writing initially. I always wanted to move into that direction, from fanzines I created to discarded manuscripts I did on music and film. My first book, Our Generation, was self-financed and published in 2009 and sold around 1,000 copies in a few months, so from there it just snowballed.
“Being made redundant in 2015 was the perfect time to give it a go full-time. Since then our small independent company has moved on to publishing books by other authors, most successfully Boys Dreaming Soul by Neil Sheasby of Stone Foundation (who also contributes to Ignore Alien Orders and was the subject of a recent WriteWyattUK feature/interview, with a link here).”
Beyond Our Generation, Tony’s overriding punk/post-punk/ mod theme continued with two other titles, and he’s now written and designed eight books as well as published three by other authors. So what’s next for him as a publisher? What’s on the pre-production list?
“I have a few prospective book project ideas, but in all honesty, nothing confirmed as yet. A couple may be photograph-based books, but I’ve not decided yet.”
Not giving a lot away there, so let’s go on a bit of an Odyssey, in a Richie Havens style – zipping up our boots and going back to his roots. Who was the first artist/band he saw live or caught on the radio or on record and thought music might be where it’s at for him?
“Probably a series of defining experiences. My first music experience was hearing ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)’ on a small transistor radio as a very young kid, towards the end of the ’60s. That and the later ‘Wand’rin’ Star’.”
Well, that Scott McKenzie hit ended its 16-week run in the UK Top-40 the week I was born in late ’67, while Lee Marvin’s sole vinyl success was in early 1970, with Tony pretty young himself at the time. Anyway, carry on.
“My first gig, of sorts, was a local hard rock band called Bitter Suite, who my brothers followed around on the club circuit. They sneaked me into one of their gigs in 1975. I had to stand right at the back and keep away from the bar. Not really my style of music, but their tight sound and volume made an impression.
“I also used to listen to my older brother’s Bowie, Marc Bolan and other glam and pop records, taking it upon myself to look after them and later claiming most of them as my own.
“But the real surge of ‘I wanna do something in music’ was when I first caught The Jam playing their single ‘All Around the World’ on Marc. I was way too young to take any serious steps, but it was kinda in the pipeline for me. That was the catalyst, I suppose.”
Your books often cross cultural, tribal camps. Were you an out-and-out mod or punk or something in between?
“Those influences have always been a huge presence for me and will always remain so; more the attitude of punk nowadays – though I still love the original punk and post-punk music – and the attention to detail of mod.
“My take on punk was probably a poorly-improvised look and nothing like the striking look that those far more clued-in older fans had. But, it was genuine, and the desire to be creative and follow an alternative path – one different to the adults I knew in my life – was completely driven; obsessive in a way.
“I don’t need labels now, but yes, as a teenager, my life, attitude and music were firmly in line with punk; it was an amazing time to be young, even for us younger wide-eyed and naïve punk rock obsessed kids.”
Which bands meant more to you than any other back in the day? And what about now?
“It’s hard to say really. My tastes are so diverse. I’m a huge soul fan too, so there are lots of artists I really like within that genre … but at a push it would have to be The Clash!”
And why not. At what point did you decide you had to write a book about the band?
“I always wanted to, but didn’t want to do an historical biography. That’s already been done a few times, and very well done too. But about seven or eight years back, I started compiling photos, memorabilia and some of my own Clash memories with this in mind.
“I did a two-part Clash in Sheffield feature for a local magazine and this helped formulate the idea somewhat. The project did go on the backburner for quite some time, but last year – after positive encouragement from friends and my wife – I decided to go for it. The only way I wanted to do this was through the experiences of fans. At that point, to my knowledge, it had never been approached.”
Bearing in mind your Yorkshire links, I should ask if you have recollections within the book of The Clash’s live debut, supporting the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan – aka the Mucky Duck, later reborn as the Boardwalk – on July 4th, 1976.
“Yes, there are. A couple of older friends of mine were there, so their memories are included, along with some little-known facts I uncovered about the actual gig while doing my research.”
And your own Clash live debut followed in the same city.
“Yes, on the 16 Tons tour (promoting London Calling) at Sheffield Top Rank, and there are some amazing full-colour photos of the gig included in the book, along with artefacts.
“It was a life-defining experience and completely changed my outlook to music. I started buying the records in 1978. I’m probably a Clash obsessive but not a completist – I don’t collect all the memorabilia as such, although I’ve had some very nice items over the years. But their music and hugely profound influence on me has been a constant force since discovering them and will always be part of me.”
Ever get to meet them back in the day?
“With a lot of effort and persistence me and a mate managed to cajole ourselves on to the guest-list at Sheffield Lyceum, in October 1981, on the day. I spoke briefly with Mick, got my Clash t-shirt signed, the inside of my leather jacket by Joe – someone somewhere may have that jacket still – and chatted with Paul and Topper for a while. We had pics taken with them but sadly they didn’t develop!”
I guess I should ask what your favourite Clash song and album is.
“The debut and London Calling are my two faves. Sorry, I can’t separate them, ‘though I do love all the albums … Cut the Crap aside! I also have a very strong fondness for Sandinista, which I loved right from release. In fact one of the conversations I had with Joe when I later met him was my love for the album, and he was very pleased to hear this after all of the derision towards it. I clearly remember him saying he thought it would have made a much better single album, or maybe a double. Fave songs? These would be ‘Complete Control’, ‘White Man’ and ‘Spanish Bombs’ – along with ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ and ‘Stay Free’. But there are few I don’t like or love with a passion.”
How about your favourite post-Clash record or project from ex-members of the band?
“Do y’know, I loved Joe’s soundtrack for Walker. I’ve always been a big fan of film soundtracks and really enjoyed that one. I also enjoyed most of Big Audio Dynamite and Topper’s Waking Up LP from 1985. Havana 3AM, I am sad to say just about passed me by at the time, but a mate later gave me their LP. Good songs, but I wasn’t keen on the overall sound as such. Perhaps I need to revisit that album.”
And when was the last time you saw Joe?
“Post-Clash, I spent some time with him at an after-show party in Sheffield, and we sat chatting for hours about all sorts of subjects. He was very accommodating, generous and friendly: a memory I will always cherish.
“He actually inspired me to get back into my writing after I mentioned my fanzines, and he offered to help. I suppose that was yet another inspirational milestone for me in influencing my eventual move into writing full-time.
“I last saw Joe live when he and the Mescaleros were touring with The Who in 2000. Little did we know, at the time, that he would soon be no longer with us.”
To order a signed copy of Ignore Alien Orders, and find out and catch up on other books on Tony’s publication list, try www.tonybeesleymodworld.co.uk. The book is also available via Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, eBay and other outlets, and in-print titles can be ordered from most good book stores.
Meanwhile, for information about this blogger’s This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash, and how to get hold of a copy, follow this link, scrolling towards the end for details.