Books - W

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)