Joe Strummer, the legendary frontman of London punk-rockers The Clash, would have turned 65 today. In tribute to the ultimate rebel icon, we’ve asked some of our favourite musicians why they love the band so much. Enjoy.
They looked fucking amazing
“Without them, the Manics would be a completely different band – they’re the biggest road-to-Damascus moment I’ve ever had. When I was 17, I saw [former Factory Records supremo] Tony Wilson doing this TV show full of footage from his So It Goes programme. It showed some footage of The Clash in Manchester doing ‘What’s My Name’ and ‘Garageland’ and Joe Strummer looked absolutely fucking amazing.
“It was earth-shattering. I remember me, Nick [Wire], Sean [Moore], Richey [Edwards] and our old bass player Flicker calling each other and just saying, ‘Wow…’ Knowing how political they were – and remember, back then, you equated politics with smoke-filled rooms full of people talking about dogma and drudgery – to see them…well, politics looked glamorous for the first time ever. (James Dean Bradfield, Manic Street Preachers)
They were amazing live
“I saw them at the old Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park – one of the first nights of the White Riot tour in 1977. They completely had it. They had a backdrop from the Notting Hill carnival riot the year before with the line of coppers charging along Ladbroke Grove, and they just had the best sound – they really connected with the crowd.
“I think they started with ‘London’s Burning’ and then it was just mad jumping up and down for 45 minutes. The audience sitting further towards the front trashed the seats – it was reported as a riot, but wasn’t really, it was just exuberance, I think that show was the moment when punk stopped being a cliquey phenomenon and really grasped the popular imagination. It was the most amazing thing.” (Billy Bragg)
They broke punk in America
“The Clash are the British punk band who made the most inroads into America. They’re the most important British punk band to Americans – no question. How did I get into them? I think it was hearing Big Audio Dynamite, Mick Jones’ band after The Clash. I had a friend who loved that band, and he said, ‘You should check out this dude’s earlier group…’
“When MCR first started, we used to play at this place, the Loop Lounge in New Jersey, where they’d show films on a screen between the bands. I remember standing there and watching the ‘London Calling’ video and just being amazed. This other time, I went to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and got to walk through the Clash exhibit – it was a big deal because they’ve got the actual bass Paul Simonon smashed on the cover of ‘London Calling’. They were a great band.” (Gerard Way)
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Without them, there’d be no Libertines
“I came to the Clash late and it wasn’t until I met Mick Jones when he recorded the first Libertines album that a picture of The Clash formed for me. Consequently, I was lucky enough to hear The Clash’s back catalogue for the first time with one half of that brilliant songwriting partnership. Not only that, I got to see Mick dancing along as well – it was almost like watching a Clash musical.
“I think Mick recognised the parallels in mine and Peter’s writing partnership, and how a certain way of life manifests itself as a band. The funny thing is I actually met Joe when I was a kid – my sister used to babysit for him. It would have been great to meet him when I knew who he was, though – I was going to before he died. Joe and Mick had got back together onstage and Joe wanted to hear what Mick had been working on. I’d like to think he heard our debut, though I don’t know if he did…” (Carl Barat)
They embodied the band as a gang
“The Clash are The Maccabees’ favourite band ever – they’re the best gang band that have ever existed and we owe everything to them. I remember us watching Westway To The World when we first started out, back when we were shit, and it was like our rulebook.”
“There’s this line in it where Joe says something like, ‘If you find something that works, do everything you can to make that thing work…’ He’s talking about his regrets at kicking Topper out, and his voice is quivering, like he’s about to cry or something. Whatever problems our band has had, it’s about being a gang and sticking together. Because of Joe and that line, that’ll never change…” (Felix White, The Maccabees)
Their inspiration lives on today
“The Clash were the band that made me want to form a band. When I was younger, everyone was into metal, but I listened to Desmond Dekker and old ska stuff, then got into ‘70s punk. I listened to ‘London Calling’ again recently and it made me want to get a band together.
“It’s got such different styles, and it’s all coming from different members – it can’t be done solo. Last time I went to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire was to see Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros. I met him and he was a lovely man. People in bands are often pricks, but he was a really, really great guy.” (Jamie T)
“I absolutely fucking love The Clash. What is there not to love? It’s all about the songs for me – I really like ‘White Riot’ and ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’. Amazing songs. I remember running around the dancefloor with all my cousins, dancing like a dick to ‘London Calling’ at my auntie’s wedding when I was six. My auntie was cool – she was into ska and stuff. And bingo…” (Frank Carter)
They wrote loads of brilliant songs
“They wrote the coolest, most attitude-filled songs I’ve ever heard. I find their attitude absolutely inspiring, and those tunes – man, I’d kill to have written ‘Clash City Rockers’! You’d think by listening to them that they’d be the easiest thing to write – yet, if you listen to them closer, there’s loads more about them than you’d first think. I’d give my left eye to go back in time and see them play…” (Kyle Falconer, The View)