Monday, 19 April 2010

Turning rebellion into money: White Man in Hammersmith Palais

OF ALL the nonsense that is often thrown at The Clash, the most common criticism is that they were opportunist arrivistes always flying to Belfast for photo ops and using DM shod, biker jacketed revolutionary chic to sex up their meat-and-two veg rockism.
But that kind of cynical critique doesn't allow for the likes of myself who will be forever in their debt for opening my eyes to a legion of great music that I wouldn't ordinarily have heard of. They were a music library waiting to be explored, because unlike many, they always wore their influences on their sleeves - sometimes literally.
Guitarist Mick Jones once described their fabulously eclectic album fourth album Sandinista as 'music for people who work on oil rigs,  a bit of everything,' but I have always seen The Clash as a practical equivalent of those long lists of artists you got in the credits of Def Jam rap records: after listening to The Clash, I had to search out Prince Far I or Culture or Ken Booth or Vince Taylor.
It was more than just music. Through The Clash, I went and read about movie star Montomery Clift (from The Right Profile from London Calling) and photojournalist Sean Flynn (from Combat Rock). (He worked with John Steinbeck's son).    
On Thursday last, I was struggling with a mountain of work and fired on Under Heavy Manners by Prince Far I, you think I would have known about that 20 years ago living in a new town of roundabouts and little else without The Clash? Possibly, but it was thanks to interviews with them that I did.
The Clash back catalogue is like the big revolving racks of tapes that were in Craigavon library when I was an awkward, mostly friendless teenager stuck in his room. I got The Clash from those racks and those racks contained a lot of the music The Clash lionised and covered and I also listened to that.
The Clash, unlike a lot of commercially successful bands had the ability to make other worldly sounding music, stuff a band in their position would usually not make and 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais' is perhaps the best example. A reggae tinged story of being an outsider in a black venue, not the stuff of  zeitgeisty, successful figureheads of British punk in 1978.
And that's the point: it is Joe Strummer's story of being an outsider during an evening of the black culture they so loved. It's about people and love and enthusiasm before turning to pointing a finger at the cynical pricks who make life bad.
It also has the best 'Oooh A hooo A oooh' harmonies ever committed to tape. That might be the best thng about it, too.
Listen to the interviews below from Joe and Mick to tell the story.
(I'll hypertext this up soon)


  1. I only ever went to one blues dance sound system clash with my mate Richard many years back, in a darkened, oppressive room in outskirts Manchester with the bass so invasive that for every step you took in its presence it took half of it away from you. You could feel it in your bones, and some of that power and dread comes over in White Man. My second favourite Clash song, after Gates of the West. Cheers, Pad. A lovely tribute.

  2. This is how I feel about The Manics.
    Although The Clash have a greater quantity of quality tunes; the way you describe your teenage years is how I spent mine listening to This Is My Truth... to Generation Terrorists.
    Without Manic Street Preachers I would never have chosen the subjects I did in the latter years of school and ultimately my degree at Uni.
    I stuck on their last record yesterday and a George Bernard Shaw quote on the sleeve made my day.
    Bands that speak about more than music are the ultimate lifestyle choice.

  3. And that's the key point - we can all have a go at The Clash and the Manics for the poseur angle, but at least they have the passion to have a go and get the message across.
    People love the concept of sell out, but it's moribund when it comes to pop music, because everyone does it to some extent.