Possibly the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world?
Formed in 1976 they were one of the first punk bands to grace the British music scene, along with others such as The Sex Pistols, The Damned and various others only to willing to exploit a gap in the British music scene.
The original members all came from similar middle class backgrounds in London. Joe Strummer [Lead vocals and Guitar] was the son of a diplomat, who went to the Fettes School (with Tony Blair) and the Art College but had dropped out to live in London. Mick Jones [Lead guitar and vocals], an art sudent obsessed with music and Warholian cool was disillusioned with the apathy of the supergroups of the time and a music press telling him what to buy. Paul Simonon [Bass guitar], had earned a council scholarship at an art school but was always more interested in music, in paticular Bluebeat ska and Reggae.
Joe Strummer, perhaps the most experienced member, had already been in a semi-successful pub band, the 101-ers by the time he joined the Clash. The 101'ers were named after the house number of the squat the band all lived in. This was in the Elgin Avenue area of London, a huge area scheduled for demolition which had now become a large squatters community. The band had a large following among the disaffected squatters which spawned a whole music scene around North Kensington captured on the album 'Elgin Avenue Breakdown' (Virgin) and a soon released a single 'Keys To Your Heart'/'5 Star Rock and Roll Petrol' on Chiswick records.
Mick Jones meanwhile was a member of the group London SS. A group nurtured by Malcom Maclarn and Bernie Rhodes as a foil for the sex pistols. The group were formed by Jones and Tony JamesLater of Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and The Sisters of Mercy., and had a large unstable line up with seemingly hundreds of members flowing in and out of the band, including Paul Simenon, Bryan James, Ray Burns (Captain Sensible) and Chrissie Hynde. Eventually the latter three were coaxed away by manager Andy Czezowski to form what would become the Damned.
Meanwhile Strummer had something of a religious experience. His personal revelation came in the form of The Sex Pistols, who had been booked to support the 101'ers. Having watched their performance he disbanded the 101'ers at the end of their set. Eager to get closer to the cleansing fires of punk rock he got talking to Bernie Rhodes at the end of the night who had a proposition for him.
"One morning I was signing on and there were these people looking at me on the bench. I was thinking there was going to be a ruck. It was Paul Simonon, Mick Jones and Viv Albertine, this was the week Bernie had pulled Mick and Paul out of London SS. If they'd come up to me I'd probibly swung for one of them. Bernie had fallen out with Malcolm over the swastika, his mother was a refuge from Europe. Bernie called and I agreed to meet Keith Levene. We drove over to Shepards Bush to the squat where Paul, Mick and Viv stayed - that's why they'd been staring at me - and we put the band together there and then"Bernie made the introductions and told them their London SS monika offended him and so the Clash were born.
On the 4th of July the band played their first support slot with the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan in Sheffield. A few days later their ex-London SS colleagues the Damned supported the Pistols for the first time. And on the 29th of August they supported them again, at the famous punk showcase at the Screen on the Green: the Buzzcocks, the Clash and the Pistols. And with that the Punk 'scene' had arrived
The Early days of Punk
At the Screen on the Green 'Midnight Special' the Clash unveiled their new 'Jackson Pollock' image. After decorating their rehearsal rooms they'd become splattered with paint, this ex-artschool crowd could hardly fail to see both the down-at-heel chic and the abstract expressionist verve this had, and set about spraying all there stage clothes. So keen were they to make this style innnovation their own they hid their clothes, and dressed in the alley behind the club so no-one would see their new image before the show.
100 Club. Radio.
Their first single 'White Riot' was released in March 1977 and closely followed by their eponymously titled first album. Perhaps their best album. The whole album can almost be viewed as a historical chronical of the late seventies, covering most of the main themes of the time, from racial and political tension on the streets of London to the ever increasing presence of American cop shows on the TV. Side two of the album also featured the bands first reggae track a cover version of Junior Murvins 'Police and Thieves', reggae and many other styles of music were to heavily influence the bands recorded and live work throughout their career.
After the release of the album the band line up was completed when Nicky 'Topper' Headon joined the band, the group had been drummerless for almost a year - Terry Chimes (aka Tory Crimes) had played drums on the album but was not interested in being in the band full time. Topper met Mick Jones, whom he had known previously, at a Kinks gig in London, and was suitably impressed enough to join the band. A second single followed 'Remote Control', but it was released buy CBS whithout the bands knowledge. The band were furious it was always their intention to give Value For Money (VFM) and not over stretch the pockets of their ever increasing and possibly unemployed fans, buy keeping album tracks released as singles to a minimum. It was possibly the first time the group realised they had a record contract with CBS (now Sony) that was going to dog their careers until the present day. The band reflected on this in their third single fittingly entitled 'Complete Control' which opens with line, "They said release Remote Control but we didn't want it on the label".
There then followed a spate of singles each enjoying moderate chart success including 'Clash City Rockers' and 'White Man In Hammersmith Palais' another Clash reggae song. The second album 'Give Enough Rope' followed but the band were not happy with the record companies choice of producer, the sound is perhaps too polished and over produced yet the lyrics are a sign of the bands broadening horizons and political influence. Almost all of the tracks on the album were best heard live and hopefully this will be borne out later this year with the release of a live album. The album spawned only two singles 'Tommy Gun' and 'English Civil War'.
'London Calling' was released in 1979 and marked a change in musical direction the album has a lot more different styles of music inluding blues and some serious reggae 'Revolution Rock'. This also became the album that was to break America and the band enjoyed phenomenal success in the States, it also produced the bands first top ten hit in the UK with the title track.
The fourth album 'Sandinista'  a triple ablum with 36 tracks saw the group seriously start to experiment with different musical styles, including 'a new genre' from America called Rap music (The Magnificent Seven and Lightening Strikes), they also started using samplers and dubbing to great and often startling effect.
The last album to be released with the original line up was 'Combat Rock' and was a return to more standard format, a single album that was heavily influenced by what they had learned from 'Sandinista'.
Following the sucesses of 1982 Mick Jones left the band and things were never the same again. The last Clash album 'Cut The Crap' featured the wonderful "This is England" which Jon Savage called 'the last great punk single', but beyond that was empty and stale. Strummer split the band and vowed never to reform.
The bands political credibility was called into question unexpectedly in 1991, when their track "Should I Stay or Should I Go" was used in a Levi Jeans commercial. Following a string of adverts that had revived classic tunes and spawned hit singles the single was rereleased on the back of the advert and promptly went straight to number one, the bands only top chart placing. Many long term fans felt that the band had sold out, cow-towing to the advertising industry and the multinationals in a way they had always refused to do ten years before when the song was written and none of them had morgages to pay.
In the late ninties a retrospective box set was issued featuring almost their complete recorded output, and a new documentary film on the band "Westway to the World" was shown in cinemas worldwide. In 2003 the band were entered into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of fame.
Mick Jones went on to form Big Audio Dynamite. He currently manages The Libertines and has just produced their first LP.
Joe Strummer continued to work in music and films, acting and writing soundtracks, joining the Pogues and later forming his own band the Mescalitos which he felt was his finest work. He died, apparently of a heart attack, on the 21st of December 2002. He will be remembered for his uncompromising work with The Clash.
White Riot / 1977 (#38)
Complete Control / City of the Dead (#28)
White Man in Hammersmith Palace / Jail Guitar Doors (#35)
Tommy Gun / 1-2 Crush on You (#19)
English Civil War (#25)
Cost of Living EP: I Fought the Law / Groovy
Times / Gates of the West / Capital Radio (#22)
London Calling / Armagegideon Time (#11)
Train In Vain (US #23)
Bank Robber / Rockers Galore (#12)
The Call Up / Stop the World
The Magnificent Seven / Magnificent Dance (#34)
This Is Radio Clash
Know Your Rights
Should I Stay or Should I Go Now / Straight to Hell (#17 - 1982; #1 1991)
Rock the Casbah (US #9)
This is England / Do it Now / Sex Mad Roar
The Clash (#12)
Give 'Em Enough Rope (#2; US #128)
London Calling (#9; US #27)
Black Market Clash
Sandanista (US #24)
Combat Rock (#2; US #7)
Cut the Crap (#16)
The Story of the Clash Vol 1
Super Black Market Clash
Clash on Broadway
From Here to Eternity
This is Video Clash
Westway to the World