From Here To Eternity

The timing of this record must surely be a joke....

The timing of this record must surely be a joke. As 1999 hobbles towards its conclusion and the music industry collectively digs its fingernails into the cliff face and prays to God that something (anything) will happen soon, Columbia release this: a live snapshot of arguably the greatest British band of the last 20 years, and a record that throws all too much perspective on our current crop of
indie dobbins.

Unlike the pre-packed, Ryvita-flavoured class of ’99, The Clash had their basis in conflict and contradiction from the start. Their motto was ‘No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones‘, but in Mick Jones they had a guitarist transfixed by the romanticism and history of rock’n’roll. They preached urban revolution like the W1 wing of the Black Panthers, but singer Joe Strummer was the son of a diplomat and Jones lived with his gran. Despised by the Sex Pistols, they were accused of being pub-rock sellouts, but they were the only ones who kept a conscience to the end and who never – bar the odd, er, Levi’s scam – succumbed to the Golden Dollar.

And it was this that drove them. It didn’t turn them into the mythical Last Gang In Town (their personalities were too at odds for that – Strummer wanted revolution, Jones needed a line of coke just to get out of bed), but it did ensure every time they got onstage they did so with something to prove. It’s what made them such a furious live act, coupled with the fact that – in Strummer, Jones and bassist Paul Simonon – they were fronted by three of the most monumental egos in rock.

This album has been a long time coming, but thankfully its arrival now isn’t a precursor to another dismal reformation. Rather, alongside the [I]Westway To The World[/I] film, it has the feel of tying up loose ends, because after you’ve heard it there really isn’t much more anyone can add to the story.

Split roughly between London gigs from ’78 and their triumphant tour of America in 1982 (by which point the smacked-out Topper Headon had been replaced by Terry Chimes on drums), ‘From Here To Eternity‘ is the perfect introduction to The Clash – from their wired carpet bombing of reggae, punk and rockabilly, to Strummer‘s tooth-splayed invective and Jones‘ preening, self-loving guitar moves. And then there are the songs – ‘Clash City Rockers‘, ‘Guns Of Brixton‘, six minutes of ‘The Magnificent Seven‘, a righteous ‘I Fought The Law‘ and their two great stabs at pop, ‘Train In Vain‘ and ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go‘, all rendered here with an energy bordering on the rabid.

Considering that in their lifetime they never made a truly great album, it’s fitting that in their death they have. How we could do with them now.