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The Clash picture, image, poster
The Clash

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Date of death : -
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Nationality : English
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-03-22

The Clash were an band that formed in 1976 as part of the original wave of British punk. Along with punk, their music incorporated elements of reggae, ska, dub, funk, rap, dance, and rockabilly. For most of their recording career, the Clash consisted of Joe Strummer (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Mick Jones (lead guitar, vocals), Paul Simonon (bass guitar, vocals) and Nicky "Topper" Headon (drums, percussion). Headon left the group in 1982, and internal friction led to Jones's departure the following year. The group continued with new members, but finally disbanded in early 1986.

The Clash achieved commercial success in the United Kingdom with the release of their debut album, The Clash, in 1977. Their third album, London Calling, released in the UK in December 1979, brought them popularity in the United States when it came out there the following month. Critically acclaimed, it was declared the best album of the 1980s a decade later by Rolling Stone magazine.

The Clash's politicized lyrics, musical experimentation and rebellious attitude had a far-reaching influence on rock, alternative rock in particular. They became widely referred to as "The Only Band That Matters", originally a promotional slogan introduced by the group's record label, CBS. In January 2003, the band—including original drummer Terry Chimes—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the Clash number 28 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.

The Clash formed from the fragments of a now near-mythical group called the London SS, which never played a gig or recorded a demo, but whose auditions in the winter of 1975/76 brought together nearly all the key players in the first Clash line-up – including manager Bernard Rhodes (a friend and rival of Pistols mentor Malcolm McLaren’s), Mick Jones and Keith Levene (guitars), Paul Simonon (bass) and Terry Chimes (drums). With the addition of the charismatic Strummer, poached from pub rock outfit The 101’ers, in June 1976 the group began rehearsing in a derelict warehouse in the old railway yard in Camden Town. They played their first gig on 4 July, supporting the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan pub in Sheffield. It proved to be an inauspicious start, but the boot camp mentality at The Clash’s warehouse HQ – where the group doggedly rehearsed everyday, including weekends – would soon pay dividends.

In the hot summer of 1976, The Clash began writing the material that would grace their extraordinary debut album released the following year. Rhodes pressed them to write about the everyday issues that confronted them, and they took his advice to heart, crafting classics like London’s Burning (about boredom amid London’s urban landscape), Janie Jones (dead-end jobs) and the anthemic White Riot, inspired by Paul and Joe’s experience of being caught up in the rioting at that year’s Notting Hill Carnival, London’s celebration of West Indian immigrant culture.

By this time – September 1976 – second guitarist Keith Levene was losing interest in the band and was unceremoniously sacked. The result was to create the iconic ‘three frontmen’ line-up of Strummer, Simonon and Jones, whose dynamic stage moves would make their live shows such an incredibly exciting spectacle. Drummer Terry Chimes was next to go: he quit on the eve of the ill-fated Anarchy In The UK tour with the Pistols, of which all but seven dates were cancelled due to the public backlash against punk. (He was briefly replaced by the unknown Rob Harper.) In January 1977, The Clash signed a long-term international deal with CBS Records for an advance of £100,000. Shrugging off accusations from some of the original punk crowd that they’d “sold out”, they launched into a frenetic year of touring and recording. Having brought back Terry Chimes to drum on the sessions for their self-titled debut album, which reached Number 12 in April 1977, they corralled in another former London SS member, Topper Headon, to fill the drum seat. The gifted Topper would quickly turn out to be The Clash’s secret weapon, allowing them in the future to slickly assimilate numerous music styles, from soul, funk, and reggae and jazz, rockabilly and rap.

The Clash had fanfared their love for reggae and Jamaican culture with a punk-ed version of Junior Murvin’s contemporary reggae tune, Police And Thieves, on their debut album. In September 1977, they took their “reggae addiction” a step further, inviting dub legend Lee Perry to produce their Complete Control single, before Joe and Mick set off on a songwriting holiday to Jamaica – much to the displeasure of the Simonon, who’d always wanted to visit the home of his reggae heroes. The following year would see The Clash fuse reggae and punk yet again in their rousing anthem, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, inspired by Joe’s experience at a reggae all-nighter at the West London venue. Today, many cite it as punk’s finest musical achievement.

Following the Sex Pistols’ split in January 1978, The Clash became punk’s undisputed generals, but they refused to be slaves to the musical blueprint they’d created for themselves the year before. Bringing in American rock producer Sandy Pearlman, the group cut their second album, the punchy and polished Give ’Em Enough Rope, recorded in Ladbroke Grove, San Francisco and New York. By now, relations between the band and the visionary but “difficult” Bernard Rhodes were becoming strained, and the manager was dismissed in October 1978. Give ’Em Enough Rope reached Number 2 in December, and buoyed up by Tommy Gun, The Clash’s first UK Top 20 single.

The group’s trip to the States was the beginning of their love affair with America, which was further fuelled by their first US tour in February 1979, with R&B legend Bo Diddley as support act. Back in London, the influence of rootsy American music – R&B, jazz, soul, Texan garage rock – seeped into the band’s new material, which was committed to tape in August 1979 with the help of lunatic-genius producer Guy Stevens (who’d schooled The Who in soul and R&B in the mid-’60s, before going on to work with Free and Mott The Hoople). The result was London Calling, the double album that many critics consider to be their masterpiece, and which Rolling Stone magazine would later declare as ‘the best album of the ’80s’.

If London Calling had explored exciting new musical territory, and further distanced The Clash from their punk roots, then its follow-up, the triple album Sandinista!, would take their pioneering fusions to extremes. Recorded in London, New York and Jamaica, and released in December 1980, it added dub, rockabilly, disco and rap to The Clash’s musical armoury; in the UK, its ambitious mix of styles and preoccupation with global politics (Sandinistas were Nicaragua’s Marxist rebels) received a lukewarm reception, but in the States it was deemed to be another triumph. By now Bernard Rhodes was back on the team, and his first new out-of-the-box idea was to bin the idea of touring America and instead play a residency at New York’s Bond’s International Casino on Times Square. The gigs – 17 in all – in May and June 1981 were ecstatically received, and, much to the group’s pleasure, The Magnificent Seven was picked up by local black music stations, knocked out by what was arguably the first British rap record.

The Bond’s shows consolidated The Clash’s profile in the States, and their next album, 1982’s Combat Rock, recorded in New York, reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic, spawning the smash hits Rock The Casbah (the music for which was written by Topper) and Should I Stay Or Should I Go. The atmosphere within the Clash camp was volatile at the best of times, and 1982 proved to be a particularly dramatic year. In May, Joe went missing for three weeks – it turned out he was holed up in Paris – and a week after his return Topper was sacked for his addiction to heroin and cocaine. It was a week before a 23-date American tour, so the band called on their old drummer Terry Chimes to fill the vacancy. The year ended with a prestigious support slot on The Who’s ‘farewell’ tour of US arenas – the provenance of The Clash Live At Shea Stadium album, recorded on 13 October 1982.

In some ways, the dates were The Clash’s own farewell tour too. The classic ‘three frontmen’ line-up would play their last gig together just six months later on 28 May 1983, in front of an audience of 150,000 at the Us Festival in San Bernadino, California. Growing friction between Bernard Rhodes and Mick – already increasingly estranged from the rest of the group – led to the latter’s dismissal that August.

Joe and Paul carried on, aided by Pete Howard (drums) and Nick Sheppard and Vince White (guitars), recording the swansong Cut The Crap album with Rhodes as producer; but even before its release in November 1985, heralded by the stirring This Is England single, Strummer had virtually disowned the record and gone into hiding, spelling the end of the band. Eighteen years later, in 2003, the group were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and rumours were rife beforehand that The Clash would re-form for the occasion. But then, on 22 December 2002, three months before the ceremony, Joe died unexpectedly due to a congenital heart defect. The Clash was over, but their reputation as the greatest rock’n’roll band of their generation, whose uncompromising attitude and steely vision of a multicultural society touched so many people’s lives, still survives in their extraordinary music.

In early 2008, Carbon/Silicon, a new band founded by Mick Jones and his former London SS bandmate Tony James, entered into a six-week residency at London's Inn on the Green. On opening night, 11 January, Headon joined the band for the Clash's "Train in Vain". An encore followed with Headon playing drums on "Should I Stay or Should I Go". This was the first time since 1982 that Headon and Jones had performed together on stage.

Jones and Headon reunited in September 2009 to record the 1970s Clash B-side "Jail Guitar Doors" with Billy Bragg. The song is the namesake of a charity founded by Bragg which gives musical instruments and lessons to prison inmates. Jones, Headon, and Bragg were backed by former inmates during the session, which was filmed for a documentary about the charity, "Breaking Rocks." Simonon and Jones were featured on the title track of the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach in 2010. This reunion marked the first time the two performers had worked together in over twenty years. They later joined the Gorillaz on their world tour for the remainder of 2010.

Studio albums:
-The Clash (1977)
-Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978)
-London Calling (1979)
-Sandinista! (1980)
-Combat Rock (1982)
-Cut the Crap (1985)


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