Being Also The True Account Rob's Undoubted Influence Upon The Clash.
I grew up in a little village called Codicote. Even after having lived in London for twenty years, I am embarrassed to tell you how much I still get a buzz from finding myself in the real actual city where all those Clash songs were set. And never more so than when cycling through London after dark, which is when I find myself singing "Groovy Times".
At night the streets are pretty empty. Singing helps the cyclist keep out the cold, and sets your pedals whirring to a rhythm. "Groovy Times"í is good for this. Its verse has four chords, D/A/ B minor/ G, thereís no long notes in its chug-a-lugging four-four time, and so, though it is nobody's favourite Clash song, it is a very good song for getting you home on your bike late at night.
Cycling past rows of drop-lock shuttered shops, or a bit of urban blight brings the opening line to the lips: "The high street shops are boarded-up..." An alternative cue is broken glass by the kerb: "As they were picking up the dead, Out of the broken glass, Yes, itís number one, the radio said, Groovy times have come to pass!"
Now, there's other songs good for singing as you cycle along: "Ain't Nobody" by Chaka Khan or "Blind Willie Mctell" by Bob Dylan, but "Groovy Times" connects you to the cityscape in a way that Bob Dylan "travelin' through East Texas", or Chaka Khan "flying through the sky" do not. They don't have the geography, and they don't have the history either...
In my mid-teens at a CND rally in Hyde Park, having grown bored of the speeches, I wandered away from the 100,000-strong crowd towards an empty space far behind the stage, and stood in a patch of grass between some mighty oak trees. Walking towards me came Joe Strummer holding an acoustic guitar, with his girlfriend Gabrielle. When they were five yards away, I asked:
"Are you going onstage?" They stopped and Joe said:
"Nah, they wonít let me play." Shaking like a leaf, I stammered out a speech about how the Clash had to stay together.
"You've got to go on, you're the only ones telling the truth. You've got to keep going."
"Don't worry", he said, "we will."
Two weeks later the Clash split up. That heartless bastard Strummer had sacked Jones. In my bedroom I listened to the the unexpected and beautiful acoustic guitar arpeggio with which Jones introduces "Groovy Times", and to the audacious flamenco solo instrumental he plays. His days were numbered from then, I supposed.
A year before that, when I was about fifteen, I had phoned up the Boy shop in the King's Road to ask how much a pair of white bondage trousers were. The voice on the other end of the line saying "eighteen pounds" was unmistakeably Strummer's, and so I phoned back half an hour later and asked for Joe. Someone went to get him. This time I lied that Bernie Rhodes (The Clash's sometime manager) had given me this number because I was in this band that were really good and he said I should show them my songs. The phone was passed to Topper, the group's great drummer, who arranged for me to drop the songs off at an address in Brixton.
At the end of the call, Topper said he never hung up first, but I didn't want to break the connection, and so there followed a battle of wills lasting a minute of dead air. He was still there after two minutes of silence, and so I hung up.
Two problems. No band. Never had been, though there was a band-name: Plastic Rebels. (Yeh-hey!) And a logo. Next problem: no songs. None at all. So in green felt-tip on some A4 foolscap I quickly wrote the lyrics to a list of songs.
I cycled to Knebworth station, got the train to Kingís Cross, and because I was very, very lucky, there was no answer at the Brixton tower block address. And so, through a bore-hole in the door where an old lock had been removed, I posted the rolled-up pages lyrics to songs whose mere titles now make me pink with embarassment: "There's a Bomb In London", "War In Action", "Princess Anne Is Ill", "Rock The Casbah", "Straight To Hell". Ah, I do sometimes still wonder if any of those songs of mine were ever found and used.