The UK’s premier Clash tribute act ‘London Calling Band’ are bringing the Clash’s second album ‘Give ‘em Enough Rope’ to live venues this year, in lieu of the fact that the album will be fully four decades old in December.
This is a rare chance to hear the album played in its entirety, from the driving and stunning opener ‘Safe European Home’, to the climatic and anthemic ‘All the Young Punks’. It’s an opportunity for those who were fortunate enough to have witnessed the ‘Only Band That Mattered’ first time around, and for those who love the Clash through their albums and videos, to get a little taste of the next best thing to ’The Westway Wonders’ themselves.
Here the band discuss some of the challenges of bringing ‘Give ‘em Enough Rope’to the live arena for all the young, & not-so-young, punks alike.
A quick bit of backstory please guys. How long have you been together and why did you decide to concentrate on playing Clash songs exclusively?
Well, I formed LC a year after Joe’s death as a one-off tribute for charity. I’d been to Joe’s house in Ashcott to give him a guitar a few months before he died, so felt I should do something. Was so well received that I decided to keep going-I had people stopping me in the street asking when the next one was! The Clash were and are the best rock’n’roll band ever. I was lucky enough to see them four times as a kid so easy decision just to do this. This version of the band has been together about a year and a half I guess. Dave and Joe get their 10-year service medals this year!
The Clash were one of those truly special bands that original fans of the band have retained their fire and enthusiasm for. Why do you think that is?
Probably because there’s been nothing better since the Clash. Possibly some better musicians, but they had the tunes, the look, the attitude, the desire to get out there, and a genuine connection with their fans. When you listen to them you can hear four guys giving everything to the music! It’s also a soundtrack to growing up wanting to be a bit different, not just agreeing with the powers that be-something that’s missing in the current situation I’d say.
There are several Clash tribute bands around the UK, all of whom are of a very high standard, what sets you apart from them do you think?
Difficult that. I don’t really know much about the other tribute bands doing The Clash. People at our shows that have seen other Clash tributes like our attitude, attention to detail and our dedication to a really high standard of playing. We do work really hard at getting it right. We listen to the Vanilla tapes, bootlegs, live shows, anything really to give us an idea how it was all put together.
This album was given some criticism at the time because: (a) it was always going to be next-to-impossible to match impact of their stunning debut album, and (b) because some of the songs suffered because of the album producer Sandy Pearlman’s ham-fisted, ‘muddy’ mixes.
Glad you said that. I hate the production on that record. Mick should have done it himself. When we play those tracks live they do sound a lot fresher and punkier than Sandy’s production. Great to play live because they are not hampered by that crappy dry mix.
Some of the songs don’t conform to the standard guitar, bass, drums and vocals template that the Clash usually used ‘live’ For example ‘Drug Stabbing Time’ features saxophone and ‘Julie’s Been Working For the Drug Squad’ is piano-driven. How are you dealing with this?
Haha, the ‘Rock The Casbah’ situation. Well, we check out live versions to see what they did and jam it out in the rehearsal room. Dave puts a bit more guitar in, like we’ve done on White Man. Basically, volume and attitude fixes that problem..
Clash drummer Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon’ gets to show his not inconsiderable drumming ‘chops’ on ‘Rope’. He’s renowned for being both a technical and powerful drummer, which songs are particularly challenging from a drumming perspective?
Actually, all the Terry Chimes stuff is extremely difficult as he plays some of the craziest beats out there. Janie Jones is REALLY hard to get right, surprisingly enough. Every drummer I’ve worked with tears their hair out working out his chops. By contrast, Topper is a classic drummer, so if you are a good player you can work out what’s going on. His hardest to copy tunes are ‘London Calling’ and ‘White Man’, especially the hi-hat beats. Your band’s only as good as your drummer!!!
Sadly, the Clash’s singer Joe Strummer passed away in December 2002. Bearing in mind that you must all feel a responsibility to present the songs as ‘authentically’ as possible, is ‘being Joe’ particularly challenging?
Yup. There’s no way you can ‘dial it in’ if you aren’t in the mood. 100% commitment or don’t bother. I’m always hurting myself onstage-I wear a ‘Strumguard’ because it’s actually necessary, otherwise I’d tear my skin open on my wrist. Clash fans get it, and they would soon let you know if you had fallen short of their expectations. I got a set of ‘Unbreakable’ guitar strings recently. They only lasted one gig and three songs into the second! I’m definitely not a singer, as the rest of the guys will tell you, and this is the first time I’ve played guitar and sang ever but it’s really more about attitude. Also the rest of the group are superb! at The 100 Club gigs recently it really felt like an emotional release-we had people come from all over Europe to see us; Sweden, France, Portugal etc. Last year a couple from Iceland!
The Clash were renowned for including non-album, quality ‘b-sides’ on singles that were culled from albums. Will you be including the ‘b-sides’ of ‘English Civil War’ and ‘Tommy Gun’?
We’ve done Pressure Drop pretty much since the group started, it’s dropped off the list recently, but we should really get it back in! We’ve never done 1-2 Crush On You. Might be worth a go. We’ve also done ‘1977’ ‘Armagideon Time’ and ‘Capitol Radio’ at different times over the years.
On a similar tack are you including any other non-‘Rope’ album & single songs in the set?
Yes, we do about an hour and a half in total, so tracks like ‘London Calling’ ‘White Man’ ‘Janie Jones’ ‘Should I Stay’ ‘White Riot’ ‘Clampdown’ ‘Police And Thieves’ ‘I Fought The Law’ ‘Complete Control’ and others get an airing.
Visual presentation was also important to the Clash, as evidenced in videos, photo sessions and stage backdrops etc. How meticulous was your research in terms of presenting the band from a visual perspective?
Massively so. We get our shirts made to our specifications, I wear George Cox creepers or motorbike boots onstage. Black Levi 501’s, studded belts. Backstage is a blizzard of hair grease! The ‘Strumguard’ for me of course. We have a giant backdrop featuring the back cover off the first album for larger shows with world flags etc.
Are you using the same set up instruments and amplification-wise that the band used in their live shows? Mick was famous for using Gibson guitars and latterly a Mesa Boogie amp for example?
Pretty much. Dave has a collection of Gibson Les Pauls and Les Paul Jr’s painted up the same as Micks, Joe has a classic Fender Precision Bass, and I have two ratty old Telecasters-one white one black with the same artwork-Ignore Alien Orders sticker, NOISE stencil. Amp wise we use the modern equivalents of what they used. Modern gear is a lot more reliable! To get the sound right you do need to use similar gear, and play in a similar way.
You are about halfway through the shows, what has audience feedback been like?
Amazing! Great tour up to now. We just did Glasgow and Edinburgh-stage invasions both nights. Lots of people hanging around for a chat after-lots with their stories of seeing the Clash when they were younger. Also, great audience reaction gets us going as well..
Lastly, and a not entirely serious question! I see from your *Facebook page that you toured the album ‘London Calling’ last year. Any plans to tour ‘Sandinista!’ on its 40th anniversary in 2020?
We actually toured the first record last year and are looking into doing the full London Calling album for 2019. I don’t believe there’s enough weed in the world to make that happen!! Ho Ho!
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