Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Clash At The Dub-le

Affiliating yourself to tribal youth culture was once the be all and end all for musically-inclined teenagers, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Pre Stone Roses, the teenage Ian Brown was at various times a scooter boy, a northern soul disciple, a mod and a punk (a ‘monk’?!). When the future king of the swingers heard a local rumour that The Clash were in a Manchester recording studio he and his pal dropped any immediate plans they might’ve had and set about tracking down the only band that mattered to them. Unbelievably, they happened past a local music shop just as Topper Headon was trying out one of their kits. Even more unbelievably, after standing around watching The Clash’s heartbeat thrash seven shades from the kit, Brown and his pal were invited back to the studio by Headon to watch The Clash in action.

What unfolded was not any old recording session. The Clash were in the studio to record Bankrobber with reggae artist (and Clash support act) Mikey Dread in the producer’s chair. On the band’s timeline, the track would be released between the ubiquitous double London Calling and hotch-potch triple Sandanista! albums, a stand alone single that CBS originally refused to release. “It sounds like David Bowie playing backwards,” they argued stupidly. Only after import copies began selling in chart-bothering quantities did the label relent and release.

The ClashBankrobber/Robber Dub

It’s a terrific single, a million miles from the tinny, phlegm-spittled ramalama of their early stuff and a surprising left turn from some of London Calling‘s more arena-ready and FM-friendly tracks.

Bankrobber is epic, widescreen Clash; dub-inflected, full of twanging spaghetti western guitars and never-ending. Those doom-laden backing vocals went on for so long they ended up on The Specials’ Ghost Town the following year.

Bankrobber was the next logical step in dub for The Clash, coming a few months after their faithful attempt at Willie Williams’ Armagideon Time which appeared on the b-side of London Calling‘s lead single. In an unlikely instance of punk karaoke, the original plan for recording Armagideon Time involved the band visiting the famous Studio 1 in Kingston to record their vocals on top of William’s backing track. This was nixed straight away but as Mick Jones lamented, “they were happy enough to sell us the publishing for it though.”

Recorded (and renamed) with Kosmo Vinyl in London, The Clash’s version is free-form and ad-libbed after the 3 minute mark. Vinyl’s instruction for them to stop after ‘the perfect length for a pop single’ was roundly ignored, with Strummer shouting, “don’t push us when we’re hot!” Listen for Kosmo Vinyl’s voice and revel in The Clash’s musicianship and spontaneity from then on in.

The ClashJustice Tonight/Kick It Over

Willie Williams‘ ‘original’ version was itself built around the backing track for Real Rock, an early Coxsone Dodd/Sound Dimension release (and a future posting for sure), drawing a direct line from the pioneers of roots reggae to the trailblazers of punk.

I wonder if Ian Brown and his pal were aware of that back then in that recording studion in Manchester.

Willie WilliamsJustice Tonight