Saturday, 7 January 2017

A Riot Of Our Own - Night And Day With The Clash - Johnny Green


There's been a fair few books written about The Clash but none by any of the members themselves. Joe Strummer, of course, has now passed away but there's still Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper. Isn't it about time Mick Jones wrote his autobiography? Could somebody have a word with him, please? Until that happens, however, the closest we've got to the story of The Clash as written from the perspective of the inner sanctum of the band is A Riot Of Our Own - Night And Day With The Clash by Clash road manager Johnny Green.

Johnny first got involved with The Clash in October of 1977 so wasn't actually there from the outset. He had helped transport their music gear over to Ireland for a gig at the start of the Out Of Control tour, and though he was by then already a fan of the band he hadn't at that point actually met any of them.
It was support band Richard Hell and the Voidoids who first offered him a job as a roadie and from there, due to the departure of both The Clash's regular roadie (the legendary Roadent) and their driver, was invited to step in and help out with The Clash. By this time, of course, The Clash train was already in motion going full pelt down the rails but Johnny jumps on board (and starts his story) and soon becomes almost a fifth member of the band; working for them full-time and becoming friend and confidant to all the members.

So what tales, insights and anecdotes from the Punk Wars does Johnny supply us with? Well, as you might hope, quite a few, actually. Firstly, he tells us (though not explicitly) that Joe had issues with identity, credibility and public perception - though we kind of knew that anyway. Mick was a prima donna though in many ways it was encouraged by everyone (Johnny in particular, it would seem) kowtowing to his demands. Paul was always more of an artist than a musician, which is what he eventually became. And Topper could play the drums, thus holding the band together musically but at the same time could also be inexplicably stupid.
There was no single leader of the band though fans thought Joe to be it, whilst Mick Jones presumed he himself was. Each member was integral to the success of the functioning whole though it was only once they had split up that this became clear to them. And by then it was too late.

Johnny tells us about some of the dealings he and the band had with manager Bernie Rhodes though it leaves us none the wiser as to what to make of him. Quite the enigma is Bernie and even Johnny fails to understand what he's about. A clue is given when Johnny visits Bernie’s flat and there being no place to sit due to the stacks of Marxist Internationals in the front room (along with hundreds of copies of the original Capital Radio EP, which was supposed to be a rarity).
Leading up to the the Rock Against Racism carnival of 1978, Bernie chips in by asking Johnny if The Clash members know what they're doing by getting involved with the event? "Do they really want to be knocking about with these student types?" he asks "Isn't it all a bit safe and cosy? Aren't they preaching to the converted? And what's it going to achieve?"
Johnny can't tell if it's a wind-up or does Bernie actually mean what he says? Interestingly, Johnny himself reveals a political naivety about Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League when he asks 'Just whose pole were The Clash tying their flag to? Was there a Left-wing group behind the Anti-Nazi League? Would The Clash be seen to be endorsing their politics?'
Which begs the question: Did Johnny (and The Clash) really not know that the Socialist Workers Party was behind Rock Against Racism and that the Anti-Nazi League was a front?

At a time when all the music press were throwing their weight behind The Clash and declaring them to be The Only Band That Matters, John Peel wasn't very impressed with them and their attitude when they were invited to the BBC studios to record a session for his show. The session was never finished and Peel accused The Clash of being 'unbearably pretentious'.
This was an extremely cutting criticism, made all the more powerful by the fact that it was coming from John Peel. Perhaps this is the reason why Johnny mentions the incident in his book, though he fails to give any real explanation as to why the session was abandoned. Was it simply a case of Mick Jones being a diva again?

For all this, Johnny Green is an amusing storyteller and tells us of such golden moments as when bumping into Lionel Blair after returning to a hotel following Joe and Paul having spent a night in police cells. He's wearing a full-length fur coat, a suntan, wrinkles and a huge cheesy smile.
"Morning, boys!" he says, having clearly heard about the previous night's fighting with bouncers following a Clash gig at the Glasgow Apollo. "Well, that's showbusiness," he smiles. "We're all in it together." As Johnny and the band just stand and stare at him.
And then there's rock god Ted Nugent trying to get backstage at a Clash gig in America because he'd like to jam with them. To Johnny's surprise, Joe agrees but then hands him a pair of scissors. "The band are looking forward to it," Johnny says to Nugent "But could you cut your hair first?" as he reaches for his locks. "The hell - " Nugent says, before storming off.

And then there's actress Vanessa Redgrave regularly calling the band in a bid to get them to play a benefit for the Revolutionary Communist Party. The Specials playing support to The Clash on a tour but having to camp out each night in a big Boy Scout-style tent on the outskirts of every town they're playing because they can't afford hotels. Martin Rev from Clash support band Suicide having his nose broken whilst performing one night by a disgruntled skinhead who's failing to appreciate their art. Topper taking over Sid and Nancy's flat in Maida Vale and having to wash the blood off the bathroom walls that Sid has sprayed with his syringes. Radio 1 DJ Mike Reid putting his arm around Joe's shoulders and congratulating him on getting an Ivor Novello lifetime achievement award: "Well done, well deserved," he says - and this from someone who never once played a Clash record on his show.

All of these tales and many others make for one of the best books written about The Clash. Johnny is clearly in love with the mythology of rock'n'roll and he's perfectly aware that The Clash now also fall into that pantheon of music legends. This, however, leads to the only fault in the book, that being his reluctance to shatter any of The Clash Myths and as we all know, there are quite a few of these.
For sure, he opens up about such things as the tantrums and the cocaine and heroin use but he also shores up walls around The Clash so as to protect The Myth. But then it would be naive to expect anything different because The Myth was erected by band, journalists and fans alike and to what and to whose benefit would it be if Johnny was to tear any of it down? No-one's. Which means that with The Clash, at the end of the day the dream may be over but in a strange way... the dream still remains.

John Serpico

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