Lost tapes, synchronised hat buying in Detroit and Californian copycats were on the agenda when Paul Simonon talked to Stuart Clark...
LONDON RECALLING (2005)
Forget all that “Thank you for changing my life, Mr. Simonon” baloney.
What I want to know is how does the perfectly cheekboned Clash man intend to atone for all those third-rate copyists they’ve spawned?
“Who you do you mean?” he asks.
Rancid, Green Day, Good Charlotte and just about every other person living in LA who’s got crazy color hair.
“My attitude is the same as it was when The Clash were going – if you don’t like it go and start your own group. Good, bad or indifferent it’s their right to sound the way they do.”
The reason Simonon is discussing matters punk rock again is that 25 years after redefining the genre, The Clash’s London Calling is back in the shops together with a bonus disc of lost demos and outtakes which went missing in the run-up to the album’s release.
“We set a four-track up in our rehearsal room so we could work on the arrangements, which was great until our roadie, Johnny Green, lost the tape while he was delivering it to the London Calling producer, Guy Stevens,” Simonon resumes. “He said it’d been wiped clean by the engine magnets on the underground, but the truth is he was pissed, fell asleep and forgot it when he woke up in a start and jumped off.”
That was that until February this year when Mick Jones was rummaging through his lock-up.
“None of us realised there was another copy until he was shifting some stuff around and found it at the bottom of a box.”
Named after their rehearsal space – “which was a complete shithole” – The Vanilla Tapes’ curios include a version of ‘London Calling’ in which the famous “Don’t look to us/Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” line reads as “We’re the Kings of the South/Hated all over, the Kings of the Mouth.”
“Joe was a habitual tweaker,” Simonon reveals. “He’d sing the same lyrics for God knows how long in rehearsal, and then change them while he was doing the take. It was the same on stage when he’d start putting in random phrases or bits of other songs – very rarely was it rehearsed.
“Conversely, the Vanilla Tapes version of ‘Rudi Can’t Fail’, which was Mick’s baby, is almost identical to the London Calling one. He was better at letting a song go.”
As intriguing as the prototypes of ‘London Calling’, ‘Death & Glory’, ‘Koka Kola’ et al are, the real Holy Grail for Clash fans are seven previously unreleased tracks – ‘Lonesome Me’, ‘The Police Walkin’’, ‘Walkin’ The Sidewalk’, ‘Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)’, ‘The Man In Me’, ‘Working & Waiting’ and ‘Heart & Mind’.
“That was the weirdest sensation, listening to songs I had absolutely no recollection of and realising, ‘Fuck, that’s me playing bass!’” he laughs. “I wouldn’t be promoting the re-release unless there was some new stuff – well, new old stuff – to pick over.”
Despite being “the type of person who looks towards tomorrow rather than yesterday”, Simonon talks of those halcyon punk days of yore with genuine enthusiasm.
“The 100% effort we put in – even when we were on holiday we worked – meant that we went from point ‘A’ to point ‘R’ in an extremely short space of time. The Sex Pistols had broken up and Sid had died, so we were out there flying the flag on our own. There was a constant feeling of wanting and needing to push things forward.”
Like all the best rock ‘n’ roll bands, The Clash looked as good as they sounded. How in control of their image were they and, this is a stylist friend of mine’s question, did they go shopping together?
“Shopping together, that sounds really funny!” he chortles. “Not really, although I remember being on tour in Detroit and ordering the bus driver to stop so we could all run into a hat shop we’d spotted!”
Tough question, but if Paul had to pick one magical Clash moment, what would it be?
“The show we did on the Anarchy tour with the Pistols where we arrived in Caerphilly and found all these people outside the venue singing hymns ‘cause they thought we were in league with the devil,” he smiles. “That’s when I realised we were in the middle of something big.”
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