Friday, 5 April 2019

This Day In Music's Guide To The Clash by Malcolm Wyatt - One of the most essential and rewarding books published on The Clash so far


If I were going to be stranded on a desert island and had to take one book on The Clash with me then I would grab my copy of Malcolm Wyatt's superb new book This Day In Music’s Guide To The Clash. In fact, thinking about it, if I was going to be stranded on a desert island and had to choose between a box of matches, a machete, a how-to-build-a-raft manual, Bear Grylls or a copy of "This Day In Music" then I'd still reach for the latter any day. Don’t be put off by the slightly disappointing choice of cover photo or the title that hints at one of those lazy day-by-day chronologies of the band, as I feel they both do the content a disservice. Get past these admittedly minor gripes and you will discover one of the most essential and rewarding books published on The Clash so far. This is a masterclass in research from a fan who wanted to collate all the disparate, and often contradictory, stories about The Clash together in one place. Malcolm makes his intentions clear from the start and although there are no new interviews with surviving band members, you are constantly being surprised by some snippet of information or other. Did Robin Crocker really knock out the producer Sandy Pearlman when he tried to get backstage after a gig? Why did the band never record a John Peel session and was it true that Vince White was forced to change his name, as Paul couldn't face being in a band with someone called Greg!

Paul Simonon and my Retro Man Blog colleague, photographer Paul Slattery at the Black Market Clash opening night - Photo by Retro Man Blog
Malcolm’s writing comes into its own in the excellent retrospective reviews of each of the albums, where it is his own voice and opinions that are being heard. He writes with an infectious enthusiasm that will have you constantly putting the book down to reach for all those classic records. Personally, I can identify with Malcolm’s relationship with The Clash, as we are both just too young (how nice to be able to say that...) to have been there from the start. Our entry point was the band's second LP "Give 'em Enough Rope", which was one of the very first albums I bought with my own pocket money and, like Malcolm, I never understood the critical bashing it took. In fact when I bought the debut album shortly after being blown away by "Rope", I remember being disappointed as I thought it sounded pretty weak and tinny in comparison to the full-on power of Sandy Pearlman’s guitar heavy production. I was also especially pleased that Malcolm highlighted a small but crucial moment that left an indelible mark on me. That moment was seeing the band play “Complete Control” in the movie “Rude Boy”. The way the audience sings along almost as one with the band causes goose bumps even to this day and I must have watched it 100 times or more.

Clash memorabilia at the Joe Strummer 001 exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
The book is split into different sections which cover all the bases from the pre-Clash days right up to last year’s stunning Joe Strummer 001 retrospective box set. It all kicks off with a thoroughly entertaining foreword by Damian O'Neill who gleefully recounts his experiences with The Undertones who were special guests on The Clash's Take The Fifth US tour. The book can be read cover to cover but is also a perfect reference book that you can dip into at any time. It is especially refreshing to see the healthy nod to the pre-Clash years too, in particular the importance and influence of The 101'ers. The second section “Classic Clash” takes us on the journey from the band’s formation to the bitter end and the book doesn’t ignore their often contradictory and confused politics. In hindsight, some of the self-mythologizing backfired, after all, stealing pillows from a Hotel, shooting pigeons with air rifles or trying (and failing) to set light to a car during the Notting Hill riots were not exactly going to cause the authorities any sleepless nights. Yes, Joe’s well-intentioned but naïve political statements could be contradictory but the band were inquisitive and most of all they cared so you can understand why they had such a huge impact on people’s lives.

Clash memorabilia at the Joe Strummer 001 exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
The Clash’s open-minded attitude to multi-culturalism and willingness to embrace outside influences, in particular the importance of Reggae on their music is highlighted. This also leads on to an interesting feature about the legendary Rock Against Racism festival and the background to the organisation itself, inspired as it was by Eric Clapton’s mindless on-stage racist rant and the worrying rise of the National Front. The book does not shy away from the rather messy and dispiriting ending of The Clash and Malcolm isn’t afraid to tackle the much-maligned final Clash LP “Cut The Crap”, which is often airbrushed out of books and documentaries completely. The thought of Joe, the guy who wrote "Complete Control", ceding so much artistic control to Bernie Rhodes at this point in their career is baffling and somewhat depressing. With Mick sacked from the band prior to the album’s release, it seemed that Joe and Paul had just lost all enthusiasm for The Clash and I think the results were probably worthy of the airbrush treatment after all.

Joe's mix-tapes at the Joe Strummer 001 exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
The later sections of the book boast an excellent in-depth look at all the post-Clash music too including Big Audio Dynamite and The Mescaleros. In the chapter “The Clash’s 50 finest” Malcolm eloquently argues the case for his 50 favourite Clash songs and I’m sure that this will cause some debate among fellow Clash fans. There is a comprehensive Discography and a Clash Timeline, which lists notable dates throughout the band’s career and beyond including birthdays, gigs, record releases and events right up to the release of last year’s “Joe Strummer 001” box set. Next up is a chapter that highlights the impressive legacy and the various bands and artists that have been influenced by The Clash over the years. Then there is a look at selected key London locations, which is handy if you want to set off on your own Clash related sightseeing tour. Through Malcolm's excellent writewyatt web site and his work for The Lancashire Post, he has interviewed many other musicians and The Clash often seem to pop up in conversation. This has enabled him to collate some fascinating first-hand tributes and stories about the band from artists such as Belinda Carlisle, Richard Jobson, Roland Gift and Peter Hook for the chapter “Still Talking about the Clash”.

Mick Jones at the Joe Strummer mural unveiling - Photo by Retro Man Blog
There’s also a selection of the best quotes from the mouths of the band themselves and from various high-profile fans. In one of the only completely new and unpublished sections of the book, Malcolm includes an original interview he conducted last year with Joe’s widow Lucinda and Clash archivist Robert Gordon McHarg. The chapter “They Also Served: Clash Conspirators” features potted biographies on all the additional musicians who played with The Clash over the years. From the more familiar early band members such as Terry Chimes and Keith Levene to the final “Cut The Crap” era line-up along with other contributors including Mikey Dread, Norman Watt-Roy, Ellen Foley and more. There’s also detailed information on the various movers and shakers behind the scenes such as the management, roadies, moviemakers and notable producers and engineers.

Clash memorabilia at The Black Market Clash exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
I hope this feature gives you an idea of the depth of material crammed into This Day In Music’s Guide To The Clash, the book is bursting with as much energy and passion as The Clash themselves and I can’t say fairer than that. I am sincerely hoping that if he's not still too exhausted from all this research, Malcolm can turn his hand at a completely new subject in the near future; maybe he can tackle another of our shared passions, The Undertones for example!

Clash memorabilia at The Black Market Clash exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
You can check out Malcolm's thoroughly recommended writewyatt web-site here. If you'd like a personalised, signed copy of the book at £12.00 plus £3 p&p (UK), you can send the author a private message via the WriteWyattUK page on Facebook, his writewyatt website or by email at thedayiwasthere@gmail.com. The book can also be ordered from Amazon here or from other bookstores with good taste. Damian O'Neill is still touring with The Undertones as well as playing guitar with his former That Petrol Emotion colleagues in the superb band The Everlasting Yeah and has recently released an excellent debut solo album "Refit Revise Reprise".

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