For the first time in my life I feel old!
It isn’t my impending birthday that has brought this on but the realisation that it is 40 years since the release of the magnificent debut album by The Clash. I’m not sure how that happened or where all that time went but I do know that it is one of those rare records that still sounds as fresh and vital today as it did when it was released.
I can remember the day I bought the record and have clear memories of me and my mates playing it again and again, leaping around like four gangly idiots in the tiny back room of my Mum and Dad’s house.
I come from a large Irish Catholic family in Bootle. With all those mouths for my mum and dad to feed money was tight and records were relatively expensive in those days. Fortunately my birthday came just after the release of The Clash, so my birthday money enabled me to make the purchase as soon as it was out.
Our usual Saturday routine was to meet at mine – as young punks there was definitely safety in numbers- and get the bus into town. The most important port of call was always Probe Records. The only record shop that sold non-chart records in Liverpool. As a 14 year old it was a weird and wonderful place, dark and smelly and full of slightly scary and often odd looking characters. The staff were largely just rude and intimidating to young lads like us. It was like when you first start going to pubs when you are underage and you shuffle up to the bar and order a round of drinks with your eyes on the floor and a nervous warble in your voice. Sometimes at Probe the staff would just ignore you. Other times they would mock you and your choice of record. Very occasionally they would act like normal retail staff and take your money and give you the requested record without any sarcastic put downs. Fortunately we were on safe ground with The Clash record which was obviously deemed an acceptable purchase and we were let off with nothing more than a scowl or two.
For a bunch of 14 year old lads The Clash album felt incredibly important. 40 years later it still feels that way to me. It is easy to argue that the band made better records but at that moment in time The Clash was absolutely perfect and a real statement of intent.
From the opening ferocious roar of Janie Jones right through the gloriously anthemic White Riot and Garageland there isn’t a false step throughout. Their cover of Junior Mervin’s Police and Thieves was an early example of the band willingness to step outside the confines of punk. Career Opportunities brilliantly sums up the dreary political landscape of the moment.
I didn’t get to see The Clash live until a year or so later when I saw them play a stunning gig at an incredibly hot and sweaty Eric’s Club. They were everything you wanted to be and more, right through to their open door dressing room policy which meant they were always besieged by earnest young fans like me and my mates!
It isn’t only with the benefit of hindsight that The Clash are seen as so significant. At the time everything they did was analysed in huge detail by the music press and their fans. Their decision to sign with a major label caused a huge debate and many saw them as betraying their punk credentials or even worse of ‘selling out’. CBS showed just how much the majors actually understood what was happening when they chose not to release their debut in the US which just created a huge demand for the record on import.
The Clash were always political and were hugely influential for a mass of disaffected young music fans. They became synonymous, for example, with the Rock Against Racism movement, famously headlining the huge gig in Victoria Park after a 100,000 people had marched from Trafalgar Square.
Here at BME we are going to do our own tribute to the album with a special event: ‘A Celebration of 40 years of The Clash with Steve Levine’. Steve Levine, now a legendary producer, started his career as a Tape-Op on the early Clash demos and progressed to engineer on The Clash debut album recorded at CBS Studios’.
We'll be hosting a conversation with Levine and an audience Q+A on Tuesday 9th May. Doors open at 6pm with the event starting at 6.30pm. Tickets are available for £5 from the BME ticketing desk in advance, or £6 on the night. The Star Cafe will be open until 9pm for drinks and snacks.