London’s Calling: The Revolutionary Sound of The Clash

By Freya Thomas, Second Year English Literature.

Source: The Clash, Chateau Neuf, Oslo, Norway (License)

Set up in London in 1976, English rock band The Clash – formed of vocalist Joe Strummer, lead guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Nicky “Topper” Headon – was not only to become fundamental in the first wave of the British punk rock movement, but revolutionary in the world music scene as a whole. Their music was innovative and experimental, with heavily politicized lyrics and a fresh sound that captivated public audiences both at home and abroad.

The Clash brought a new spirit and energy to the rock and punk rock arena.

I recently visited a free exhibition at the Museum of London, ‘London Calling’ – a collection looking back on the ground-breaking work of The Clash. On display were band photos, music, memorabilia and objects belonging to the revolutionary rock group – including the iconic Fender Precision Bass smashed by Paul Simonon at a 1979 New York concert.

Photograph taken by Freya Thomas: the Fender Precision Bass smashed by Paul Simonon at a 1979 New York concert.

The museum exhibition focuses primarily on The Clash’s third studio album, London Calling, which was released just over 40 years ago and became ‘an anthem for London, Londoners and music lovers globally’.[1] It was announced ‘best album of the decade’ in the 1980s by Rolling Stone, who praised the album for the way it ‘stormed the gates of rock convention and single-handedly set the agenda — musically, politically and emotionally — for the decade to come’.[2] The age demographic at the exhibition was broad: clearly the band’s appeal was an enduring one.

it seems that The Clash were a band loved by the people, for the people

While the band were hugely successful on record, they were perhaps even more renowned for their energy and power on stage. London Calling’s album-cover image of Simonon smashing his guitar in concert, captured by photographer Pennie Smith, perhaps exemplifies this: The Clash brought a new spirit and energy to the rock and punk rock arena.

The exhibition centres not just on the music of The Clash and their lives on stage but also explores the unseen, backstage personalities of the band through the memories of those who knew them. A quote from Johnny Green, one of The Clash’s road managers, recalled how he was told by the band, ‘once we’re on stage, nip out the back of the gig – see any kids that can’t afford to get in – let ‘em in the back door.’ A reel of footage showing The Clash pulling eager fans up through a window confirmed and brought life to Green’s memory: it seems that The Clash were a band loved by the people, for the people. 

Photograph taken by Freya Thomas: Quote by Johnny Green.

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls
London calling, now don’t look to us
Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain’t got no swing
Except for the ring of that truncheon thing

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growin’ thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
‘Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river

Source: The Clash – London Calling at the Museum of London

[1] https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/london-calling-40-years-clash?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI5YGDr9745gIVVODtCh3Y0A0TEAAYASAAEgKgGPD_BwE

[2] https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/100-best-albums-of-the-eighties-150477/talking-heads-remain-in-light-2-162186/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s