Music has always been my passion! I simply cannot live without it.
I particularly love rock and its thousands of shades so I am going to talk about a group which took my heart when I was young: The Clash, the legendary British punk band.
I was living in London when on the 14th of December 1979, The Clash released the double album London Calling. It was the third album that the punk band had released since 1976.
Although many people think that London Calling is only a nice melody inviting to visit London, in reality it is about the downsides of contemporary progressive society.
Joe Strummer, alias for John Graham Mellor, the singer and guitarist of the band, was so impressed by all the catastrophic events and bad news reported by newspapers in 1979, that he decided to write a song about the many ways the world could end. Starvation was one of the issues as England itself was going through a very bad period of recession. The river Thames, on the other hand, was threatening to overflow and London was at risk of being flooded..
I remember my teacher of English at school using many social problems as a subject to make us pratice the language and improve it. Immigration was increasing a lot in the UK and many riots were breaking out in the suburbs of most British cities, as well as in London, as a response to police brutality grown all over the country. Margareth Thatcher came to power and discontent arose everywhere in the UK. Unemployment caused many social problems and poverty increased while racism outspread. England was in a state of social upheaval.
In February 1979 the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva (Switzerland). Weather conditions were already considered extreme and many articles and books were written about the risks of Global Warming causing a new Ice Age, which for someone had already begun.
In March of the same year, the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in the Susquehanna River, near Harrisburg, in Pennsylvania (USA) melted, due to one of the feedwater pump breaking, and it started leaking. Although no deaths or bad injures were reported, the world started thinking about the risk of nuclear power. Many other probles arose in the world. Russian invasion of the Afganistan gave start to the Soviet-Afghan War, the Pol Pot brutal regime in Cambodia was close to its end but still people were being killed, the overthrow of the Shah in Iran and the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua were all events which shook society. The film Apocalypse Now was also released that same year in the cinemas.
This was the catastrophic picture that induced Joe Strummer and his band to release London Calling.
The BBC catchphrase for BBC’s Overseas Service Radio broadcasts during the Second World War, ”This is London calling…” was used as the title for both a single track and the double album.
London Calling was full of references to various political actions and it was an invitation to become aware of the severe impact of local and global crises on society. Considering that there was no internet yet, it was not an easy task to get information about wat was going on in the world.
Joe Strummer was really worried about it. The SOS morse code message of the song was used to pose more of an apocalyptic picture of the possible future at risk of wars and natural disasters.
The Punk Movement which started at the beginning of the 70s in US and England was born as a form of rebellion against the establishment and it became a lashing out against injustice caused by the regime. Although punk music was never meant to be heard by the masses, many punk bands started using music to invite the public to take political actions.
Joe Strummer had been against the “authority” as a system of control since he was a child, and when he decided to write London Calling, he had the clear purpose of sending a political message throughout the entire album inviting people to rebellion. DIY (Do It Yourself) which was the message sent by punk rock movement against the regimes was strong in England where other punk band like Sex Pistols were rebelling against the establishment. While other punk rock band had a more aggressive style, both in music and lyrics, The Clash, however, were mixing Caribbean and Latin American music styles in their songs and used political lyrics which made the band be considered the rock band symbol of the punk movement. What distinguished in fact The Clash from all the other punk rock bands was the foray into different genres which they managed to alchemize into a unique style. Reggae, first of all, then soul, funk, blues, ska, dub, glam and early rock like the rochabilly of the track “Brand New Cadillac”.
London Calling features an iconic cover. A picture shot by the British rock music photographer Pennie Smith in New York during a concert that The Clash had at the Palladium. Paul Simonon, the bass guitarist, out of frustation when he realised that the crowd attending the concert could not stand up due to fixed seats, smashed his fantastic Fender Precision Bass guitar on the stage. It was exactly 9.50 p.m. as proved by his watch which was broken too in the process. Paul Simonon and Pennie Smith did not know at that time that the epochal picture would become a supreme cover in music history. The cover was designed in pink and green letters in homage to Elvis Presley’s first album which also features him smashing his guitar.
In 2010 London Calling cover was even turned into a Royal Mail Stamp for music lovers.
Many other albums were produced later by the band, like the double album Sandinista (12 december 1980) and Combat Rock (14 May 1982).
I was lucky enough to see The Clash in Italy, on the 6th of September 1984. No one was expecting them to come to South Italy but the town of Cava dei Tirreni, in the surroundings of Naples, invited The Clash to held a concert at the city stadium and thousands of people came to see them although no proper publicity had been given. It was the word of mouth which made the concert known and it was a real success.
On that occasion, Joe Strummer was seen while going around the town of Naples on a Vespa scooter. All the tracks of the albums London Calling, Sandinista and Combat Rock and others were performed.
I will never forget that amazing concert.
The punk rock band was bestowed the honor of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, with tributes by Bruce Springsteen, Little Steven and other rock stars but Joe Strummer did not have the chance to see it. He unfortunately passed away in december 2002.
© 2020 Maria Sannino