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

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Robber Dub Dub

Back in 1990, when I provided shaky lead guitar and wobbly vocals in a promising local band that would soon cease to be, myself and two of my bandmates, deep in the midst of a songwriters’ block, visited the local market where an old guy sold older records at knock-down prices. We went specifically to look for records no-one had ever heard of in order to rip off a chord change here or a melody there. It would be the nail in the coffin of our creative process and we limped into insignificance shortly after.

Last week I was flicking through my records, looking for something different to play, when I chanced upon one of the albums we’d bought. Quite what ‘Try To Be Mensch‘ by Element Of Crime brought to the world of guitar-based music is anyone’s guess. I’d picked it up after spotting John Cale credited with keyboard duties. Whether or not it’s THE John Cale is open for debate. A quick Google has proven fruitless and the record, if my 27 year-old memory serves me well bore little resemblance to anything like the Velvet Underground. At 99p it proved to be a waste of money. However….

…when I pulled it out to look at it the other day, wedged inside was my copy of Black Market Clash, an album I’d long-since assumed to be lost forever. How The Clash album had managed to find its way inside the sleeve of a record I’ve never ever played all the way through is a mystery, but when it fell out, it was greeted like a long lost pal. And ever since, it’s been spinning on heavy rotation.

I love Black Market Clash. It’s a pot pourri of everything The Clash were; rare mixes, re-recordings and interesting cover versions, all helped along by a generous sprinkling of filling-loosening reggae basslines. It’s as far-removed from the spitting, snarling, rabid dog of punk as is possible. You might go so far as to say that with all their eclecticism, yer Clash were rock’s answer to Brian Wilson; ideas fully realised, gung ho experimentation, risk-taking, rule-breaking, chart-making hits. The full version of Bankrobber/Robber Dub is nothing short of sensational. Crucially, the version on vinyl is a full minute and a half longer than the slightly edited but still superb CD edit. Technology being what it is in my house, you’ll need to make do with the shorter take though…

The ClashBankrobber/Robber Dub (CD edit)

Elsewhere, there’s a version of Booker T‘s Time Is Tight that somehow failed to make the cut on Sandinista! and a faithful reworking of Willi William‘s Armagideon Time that first saw the light of day on the b-side of the London Calling single.

The ClashTime Is Tight

Booker T and the MGsTime Is Tight

The ClashArmagideon Time

Willie WilliamsArmagideon Time

These days you can buy Super Black Market Clash on CD (although it’ll be missing (Armagideon Time as well as the extra 90 or so seconds from Bankrobber) a turbo-charged version of the original 10″ EP/LP, but if it’s a quick fix of eclectic Clash you’re after, that midi-sized slab of vinyl with a police-defying Don Letts on the cover is all you’ll need.