The Clash: Through Malcolm Wyatt

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Malcolm Wyatt and I met a while ago, when he interviewed my band Bluetrain for his ‘Captain’s Log’ fanzine in the late ’80s. Malcolm also used to attend the Buzz Club .

He has just written a rather splendid book: ‘This Day In Music’s The Clash.’

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I asked Malcolm a few questions about his youth and how he  came to write a book about The Clash.

In his own words and pictures –

 

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Above – From Easter 1976, the month Joe Strummer saw the Sex Pistols at the Nashville Rooms and decided it was time to move on from the 101’ers. Me and my Dad, in those days before replica kits, when all that was needed was a little imagination to see yourself as Johan Cruyff, dazzling opponents with Holland. I was eight and a half.
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The above pic was taken in the summer of 1979, I reckon, around the time The Clash joined Guy Stevens and Bill Price at Wessex Studios to work on London Calling, I was 11.
Brightstone Bay, Isle of Wight, 1985, another lads’ camping holiday across the water (our third), in the very same week Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon‘s Clash Mk.II played their final gig in Greece. We were served in a holiday camp bar each year, despite looking so young.
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I was the lone indie kid, doing my best to steer the majority of them away from Iron Maiden and Kiss, largely failing. I think I’m right in saying that like me, Liam, whose aunt is treasured actress Brenda Blethyn, was definitely not a heavy metal kid, and at least avoids invites to Monsters of Rock reunions by living in South America.
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The summer of ’85 and my sole visit to the Enterprise pub, Chalk Farm, aged 17. A week or so before I chanced upon That Petrol Emotion at the Pindar of Wakefield, Kings Cross, their debut single ‘Keen’ out on the Pink Label. That was great, but upstairs at the Enterprise was even better, with a pure electric atmosphere, a low stage meaning those in the first row had to more or less link arms to keep band and audience apart. As our trips to the capital from Guildford and thereabouts involved long drives and bad traffic and we needed a pint on arrival, I missed the support, a certain Go! Service. But rumour has it they were so impressed by Dan Treacy’s Room at the Top events that they were inspired to set up club dates on their own patch. And I just so happened to be at The Agincourt in Camberley for that first event under the Buzz Club banner, with That Petrol Emotion and support The Mighty Lemon Drops both impressing, and each band’s debut LP among my all-time favourites.

That Petrol

I’d soon be a regular at the Buzz Club in its new base, Aldershot’s West End Centre, although still not putting two and two together about the girl in the band behind it all in. For me, it was a case of finding kindred souls not far from home with similar independent tastes.

 

March 1989, three days after seeing the Stone Roses at the Buzz Club, off to see The Chesterfields at Surrey University. Photo by Paul Sherwood, who also snapped the band that night. In my trusty Ford Escort Mk. I What I’d give to have that now. It is a wider shot, but I’ll leave my girlfriend at the time out of it. Busy with Captains Log stardate IV at the time, an issue including The Beautiful South (probed and cassetted at the Buzz Club), Bob and The Chesterfields, but somehow never published. Life took a turn and no more than three issues ever appeared.

 

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The Undertones were always a major factor for me. here i am sometime in the late 80s in my old room at home, a poster of The Sin of Pride behind me.

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The Clash

My brother’s copy of Give ‘Em Enough Rope was the gateway LP. I was too young to experience first-hand the thrlll of their self-titled debut LP but remember hearing on Capital Radio (most likely Nicky Horne) ‘Tommy Gun’ and seeing the words of ‘English Civil War’ in Smash Hits. As for my first play of ‘Safe European Home’ … goosebumps. What a great first side. I understand all the arguments favouring the debut LP and marvellous London Calling, but pure nostalgia always leads me back to the second instalment.

 

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What drove me to them? Those guitars, Mick Jones’ harmonies, the fact that they wore such great influences on their sleeves (I was unaware of those for a while, but knew instinctively I loved the songs), and they looked so cool. In Mickey Bradley’s wondrous Teenage Kicks – My Life as an Undertone, he describes the two bands’ first meeting and how The Clash ‘looked like sun-kissed gods who’d just stepped out of a Marlo Brando movie in order to meet the extras from a public information film about the dangers of poor nutrition and bad haircuts.’ Their politics and world view resonated with me too, part of the reason I read up on the Sandinistas, the Spanish Civil War, and more.

Besides, 1982’s Combat Rock was the first cassette I bought with my own money – by then working Saturdays at a village farm shop. And I’ve interviewed so many bands in recent years where the name of The Clash comes up a major inspiration in those acts getting a band together in the first place.

At first, I was unsure of taking the project on. There are many great books on the subject, and I didn’t want to tread on any toes. But my take on the subject began to take shape, deciding what I wanted to achieve. I saw an opportunity to pay tribute to the band and all the great books, films, interviews and articles about The Clash over the years. This would be complementary rather than definitive, adding to and referencing Marcus Gray, Pat Gilbert. Keith Topping and Chris Salewicz, and other writers, broadcasters and filmmakers who played a part. I also added more personal content and fresh ideas and input, including new interviews like those with Joe’s widow, Lucinda and their good friend, artist and Strummer archivist Gordon McHarg. And I like to think the finished product reflects that approach.

 

I feel mightily privileged in getting to know Damian and his brother John through my love of The Undertones and That Petrol Emotion, and with the approaching 40th anniversary of the amazing London Calling, it made sense for a first-hand account from the Take the Fifth late-’79 US tour, his band supporting The Clash on several dates, just before that record was launched on the world. Dee kept meticulous diaries (he’s one of the few citing the proper date Paul Simonon smashed his bass at New York Palladium for Pennie Smith’s cover shot, for example) and like his bandmates was a true fan of the band. The Undertones played Clash covers in their formative years in Derry, and met them during recording of that third album before their joint travels across the Atlantic. And what an experience for Damian, 18 at the time.

 

A limited number of signed copies of This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash by Malcolm Wyatt are available from Action Records, Church Street, Preston, Lancashire, and Ben’s Collectors Records, Tunsgate, Guildford, for £12. You can also order from Amazon and direct from the author, with more details via

https://writewyattuk.com/2018/12/09/introducing-this-day-in-musics-guide-to-the-clash/

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