Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Strummertime blues

Last night’s excellent BBC4 scheduling of The Clash documentary ‘Westway To The World’ and the hour’s worth of live footage that followed it had me going all misty eyed and regretful. To paraphrase Kevin Keegan, I would have LOVED to have seen The Clash live in action on stage. LOVED it. Sadly, age decrees that this was never to be, although I did once see yer actual Clash in the flesh in the strangest of situations.


Woo oo oo oo! Can you feel the force?

Clashophiles will no doubt correct me here regarding accuracy of the dates, but my story concerns the summer of 1982 (I think) when I would have been 11. John Menzies in Irvine Mall had a huge ‘Combat Rock’ display in the window and The Clash were playing at the Magnum Leisure Centre, 20 minutes walk away. It was a roasting hot day and my brother and I were wandering up the mall. Right across from John Menzies there was a huge something going on. 4 or 5 guys dressed head to toe in denim, leather, shades and the coolest haircuts this 11 year old had ever seen were surrounded by some of Irvine’s finest ambassadors. I recognised someone who was in 6th year at my school amongst it all. He seemed quite excited. “It’s the fuckin’ Clash! The fuckin’ Clash! For fuck sakes, it’s the fuckin’ Clash!” I looked at the Combat Rock display. I looked at the guys in leather and denim. So it was. It was The Fuckin’ Clash. Being 11, it didn’t have the same seismic effect on me, but I still remember it well. I mentioned this story to my brother about a month ago. He remembers nothing about it at all. But then, he was 9 years old.

Round about 1989 I started playing in bands and one of Irvine’s elder statesmen of rock told me how Mick Jones had given him a mohican in the dressing room after the Magnum show. Call me shallow, but I’m still dead impressed when I hear stories like that. By this point in my life I was a seasoned gig goer. The Pogues at The Barrowlands in December 1989 was one that sticks in mind for a number of reasons. Kirsty MacColl came on to sing Fairytale of New York. Joe Strummer played London Calling and I Fought The Law with the band during the encores.


The Barrowlands was jumping so much that night that I almost fainted. I sat on the floor at the end with my pal until the place had just about emptied. We went to the front of the stage where the roadies were dismantling the equipment. Strummer’s guitar was right there, in front of me. “S’cuse me mate. Can I have that plectrum?” I pointed to Strummer’s famous Telecaster. “‘Koff“. I didn’t give up. “C’mon!” He chose to ignore me. “Pleeeeease? Thanks!” This time, the roadie looked at me with total contempt, turned his back on me and pulled the plectrum out of the scratch plate. Fuck! He pulled the plectrum out of the scratch plate!!! “‘Koff” he grunted as he handed it to me. Joe Strummer’s plectrum! In keeping with his down to earth image, this was no gold-plated custom-made job with his name engraved in it. Just a simple white Jim Dunlop USA Nylon .48 plectrum. I’m looking at it right now. Looks like any other plectrum. But it once belonged to Joe Strummer. My own wee piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia.


But yeah, I’d have loved to have seen The Clash live. Here’s some Clash covers for you…

The Strokes do ‘Clampdown’, live from Alexandra Palace. I’ve taken this from a good quality FM broadcast bootleg that I’ve had for a while, although it may also have been a b-side to one of their singles. In keeping with later-period Clash it sounds less cheesegrater thin, more widescreen and wide-eyed thanks to the heavily delayed guitars. I like it.

Primal Scream do ‘Know Your Rights’. If The Clash original was a speed-induced rockabilly knee-trembler in an alleyway, this version is a downer-heavy, dirty blues riffathon that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Scream’s ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ album. It’s taken from the obscure ‘Repetitive Beats’ ep which I’ve written about before.

Of course, The Clash were no strangers to covering other folk’s material. Amongst others, ‘I Fought The Law’ by The Bobby Fuller Four, LLoyd Price‘s ‘Stagger Lee’ and ‘Brand New Cadillac’ by Vince Taylor And His Playboys have all been given the Clash City Rockers treatment. But you knew that already. Happy listening.

7 thoughts on “Strummertime blues”

  1. Brilliant post.
    My mate was sure that he saw Strummer wandering about the barras in 82 but the sighting was never confirmed but I tend to believe him.
    BTW Greg Dulli does a half descent cover of Lost In The Supermarket.

  2. Great post.

    On my way back home to London from LA in 2000, I spotted Joe Strummer and his family boarding the plane ahead of me. The same Joe I had thrashed my Les Paul copy along to (about a thousand times or more) after buying the “Tommy Gun” 45 in 1978. When he sat down in Cattle class with the rest of us, I thought this is my chance to finally meet the man. The opportunity arose when I awoke from a nap to find him standing in the queue for the toilet, but, there is something very wrong about meeting your Hero just as he is about to unleash hell on the Armitage Shanks.
    I decided against it and as we were walking towards Passport control,just ahead of me I could hear Joe ranting to his young Daughter about the evils of a certain Multi-National company – I made the right choice. Still Railing against the Man after all those years – Way to go Joe……

  3. aye,
    I was workin’ at Wilsons just along the road from the Magnum that day in ’82…..walked along at lunch time to seea massive game of football with roadies an’ fans etc.,got a great photo from the gig of Strummer playing the Bass for “Guns of Brixton”….i went along with a certain Trashcan Sinatra who blagged his way in by saying he was Lawrence Donnigan of Bluebells/Commotions fame,an’ if he wasnt on the guest list he bloody well should be……

  4. I never saw or met the Clash, but I did see Sonny Curtis perform “I fought the Law” with Nanci Griffith at the Albert Hall (and the Crickets too).
    Perhaps a bit less Rock & roll, but stuff it, who cares. I have all the Clash records obviously, as their appearance coincided exactly with my single-buying age. then I had to buy them again on CD, and again on the super deluxe London Calling and it goes on and on, but still the record companies moan if you share a radio recording of a gig that they won’t sell you (three times)

  5. My memory of The Clash was being in The Rock Garden in Queen Street in 1985 wondering why it was filling up so suddenly. Before we knew it, The Clash were playing an acoustic set of about 30 mins in length.

    Still cant believe it.

  6. I can’t believe your reminiscing about the Clash without mentioning that you once worked with a close personal friend of Joe Strummer.

  7. I was at the Magnum gig and talked to the guys on the mixing desk and then got backstage. They were giving mohicans to anyone who wanted one and Joe Strummer spoke to me for around half an hour and gave me a ciggie. They were exactly as you would have imagined/wished they would be.

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