Books - W

WASN’T THAT A TIME: The Weavers, The Blacklist And The Battle For The Soul Of America - Jesse Jarnow {312 pages, Da Capo}
The astute reader may realise, just from the front cover of this book, that this is not about a Punk band - not even in the very broadest sense. THE WEAVERS were actually a folk vocal quartet, which from the late 1940s through to the 1950s, took their sound to the Pop Charts. They also faced claims of Communism, had FBI Files and covert investigations around them, faced rock-hurling riots, battled addiction, performed benefits, sang songs of unity and political unrest, struggled with the compromise of taking People’s Music to the masses and found themselves blacklisted thanks to the Red Scare. Sure, they may not be a ‘Punk’ band, but it makes a more gripping story than that of OFFSPRING!
The book takes us right back to the days of WOODY GUTHRIE and the Almanac Singers from which The Weavers were born. Both of the band’s senior members, Lee Hays and Pete Seeger, were involved with the Almanac Singers and the latter with an organisation called People’s Songs. Pulling on board guitarist Fred Hellerman and vocalist Ronnie Gilbert, the quartet was born, with the intention of singing union songs, folk standards and topical songs. Much of the formative stages of the band were developed in Hootenanny sessions, which the band quickly out-grew but the premise of those sessions, to get people singing, is something that lived on.
From there, we get to read of how the song which the book is named after lead all four Weavers to be subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, suffered government investigation, public and private harassment and cancelled performances, including those on television. Then there was the riot in Peekskill where the band faced misinformed rock hurling patriots.
The four individuals make an interesting combination too; Seeger being full-on energy, Hays being more restrained and lethargic and both Gilbert and Hellermen coming over as more accepting of change with the desire to succeed. Seeger eventually left the band due to their endorse of a television commercial. By the end of Hays’s life, he had lost both his legs to diabetes.
Jarnow’s narrative is clearly well-researched - the 40 pages of notes relating to his text proves that. It’s not a pretentious read however; it’s free flowing mixing the political climate of the time with the story of the band.  He has probed sources far and wide, including those FBI files and conducted multiple new interviews to back up his research.
Jarnow is also adept at putting placement in all of the scenes in the book, whether that be the living arrangements of the band or touring locations. He doesn’t flinch from the individuals’ idiosyncrasies (of which there were many, especially in the case of Hays), but he also portrays their warmth and the uniqueness of what they created when together.  
The spectre of Woody Guthrie looms large throughout, as does that of BOB DYLAN toward the end of The Weavers tenure - and it’s interesting to read that he was ‘dismissed’ by a number of the band! Other notables mentioned include THE BYRDS, BEACH BOYS and even Punk Rock gets a little mention at the end.
The book is filled out with 16 glossy pages of monochrome photographs.
As said, this is not a story about a Punk band but it IS a story about a band that set out to inspire people, to sing for the people, to involve the people and, to a degree, educate the people. Whether ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE ever managed that is doubtful.
It is a story of turmoil and tempest, battle and validation and of the power of music to unite - and it has been executed with style, intelligence and verve.
And if the story of what could well have been the first band to successfully channel politically radical ideas into mainstream society appeals, then this could be the book you need to read. (23.04.19) 
WE ARE THE CLASH - Mark Anderson and Ralph Heibutzki {376 pages, Akashic}
“Another book about THE CLASH?”, you may ask. Well yes, it is, but this is unique in that it is the first to focus on the neo-CLASH - THE CLASH after Mick Jones; THE CLASH responsible for the infamous ‘Cut The Crap’ album; THE CLASH that went on the back-to-basics Busking Tour of 1985. It’s an era of the band’s tenure that is largely ignored by historians and other CLASH biographies in general. At best it is touched on in a few dismissive pages. Thankfully, in the hands of Anderson and Heibutzki, the balance has been redressed - and done with style, insight and intelligence.
The story really starts with the last stand of the Jones-aligned CLASH, performing live for the last time at the 1983 US Festival after which he was fired. From there, it’s an engrossing, engaging and traumatic telling of the formation of the neo-CLASH and all of the contradictions, disillusionment and bitching that went with it - not forgetting the highs and positive times that this line-up scaled and which are all too often forgotten in favour of the negatives.
Running parallel with the story of the band, the political climate of the day is woven in almost poetically. This was the time of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Arthur Scargill, the Miners Strike and the Cold War - fascinating times from a historical point of view, and scarily familiar to those of us who experienced them. Then, there was the omnipresence of Orwell’s 1984 looming large on a literary front. These socio-political times and events form a narrative importance to the book that is almost as prominent as the story of the band itself, and they certainly enhance that story, adding location and circumstance to events running parallel to those within THE CLASH.
There is one name, however, that embeds itself throughout the book that is instantly polarising, constantly contentious and frequently repulsive - manager Bernie Rhodes. The book never disputes his importance in the history of the band, but it certainly highlights his megalomania, egotism and inflated opinion of himself.  Guitarists Nick Sheppard and particularly Vince White felt the manager’s scorn and loathed him in return. Rhodes appears to have constantly put the musicians down; degrading them in a bid for self-criticism and reflection. These putdowns were often vicious, verbally violent disparagements. Add to that Rhodes’ take over of the ‘Cut The Crap’ album, literally removing all the work the guitarists (and drummer Pete Howard) had done and the disdain is totally understandable.
During all of this Strummer oddly acquiesces to Rhodes on just about every level - often to the point of contradiction. He was, however, fighting his own demons, which he kept quiet from the rest of the band. He was away touring while coming to terms with alcoholism, the passing of his father, the birth of a child and depression - with Rhodes manipulating in the background - all consipring to a very confused man. Simonon? He plays a minor role in the book, just cruising along with the flow of things. MC and Rhodes cohort Cosmo Vinyl has a bigger role.
The narrative of Anderson (founder of Positive Force DC and co-writer of Dance Of Days) and Heibutzki is eloquently written. It’s accurate, intelligent, free flowing and weaves the local and the global, the political and the musical, the hyperbole and the intimate to stunning effect. If there is one aspect of their narrative that is compelling above all others, it’s their conviction in the fact that this version of the CLASH had its merits - and plenty of them. A number of songs are name checked to be among the band’s best work; uplifting and musically impressive songs that should have found a place on the ‘Cut The Crap’ album. Instead, we got Rhodes’ version. Reading this, it would be great to have an official posthumous release of the band live, or of the demos they recorded, without Rhodes fucking them all up.
A number of graphics and a foreword by CLASH roadie, The Baker complete the book.
Given the number of books out there about THE CLASH, this is, as I stated, the only one to take a genuine, unbiased and in-depth appraisal of this era of the band. Given the quality of the writing, this could also be the most essential book about the band. (07.12.18)
WHEN PUNK ROCKED - Andy Francis {132 pages, Whymer Publishing}
Everything about this, from the rather cheesy title, to the very crass cover of SIOUXSIE standing in front of a huge, fluttering Union Jack pretty much yells "CASH-IN!!!". Reading the book’s text, that is unfortunately reinforced.
OK - the facts. This is an A4-sized book consisting of high quality photos printed on glossy paper with a diary timeline dating from January 1976 through to December 1981. The time line entries not only indicate pivotal Punk releases during the era, but also significant gigs, label signings and cultural and political events that occurred. These are all in soundbite form, reproduced on what appears to be lined diary pages and in a font that mimics (neat) hand writing. It’s a method that has been used before but is executed rather well here, with background images, the diary fragments, photos, press cuttings and gig flyers all slapped together giving it a high-sheen cut ‘n’ paste feel. Each year starts with a double-page spread of a band with the year emblazoned on the photo.
Unfortunately, there are multiple errors throughout the book. Most glaringly, both 1979 and 1981 use same live photo of BOOMTOWN RATS. The narrative of Francis only spews forth more errors. The most obvious example is as follows: 1 January 1977 - the opening night of The Roxy featuring THE CLASH and THE HEARTBREAKERS we’re told. The fact the club’s opening night was 14 December with GENERATION X should be embarrassment enough. Unfortunately, whoever proof read this screwed up hugely as, immediately below the diary entry is a flyer for said gig and yes, THE CLASH are there - but the other band was actually CHELSEA. I mean really? If shit research isn’t bad enough, Francis or whatever lackadaisical school boy intern who put this together should have at least picked up that the flyer is different from what the text states!
As for the photos, they do save the book. There are several here I have not seen before (particularly THE STRANGLERS and also THE ADVERTS) and apparently they were taken by either Steve Emberton or Alan Perry. Unfortunately, in keeping with the cash-in feel of the book, none of the photos are credited individually, nor are they captioned. Admittedly, the photos are of the major Punk players of the day so are readily identifiable but location, dates etc would have been hugely beneficial. The reproduction of those photos is also of high quality, being sharp, full colour and on high sheen paper.
Andy Francis writes a rather sterile preface and even states, "Choosing the timeline style requires lots of research and verifying of dates." Too right it does mate - bet the words "Must try harder," were often on your school report huh? He also states at the end of the same paragraph that the reader should not, "get too hung up if you spot a few errors." Thankfully he’s just a journalist - not a surgeon.
I can’t say a great deal more unfortunately. The book is definitely worth a cursory flick through as some of the photos are excellent and, if you don’t have any other photographic documents of the era, this would be a decent one to start with. Unfortunately, the rest of the product (which is how this comes off - a commercial product without too much sincerity) is sorely lacking. (11.01.18)