Ever since the Clash called it a day in 1985 there have been wishful rumours that the band are to re-form and play gigs, make records and take over where they left off. Every time the press published such rumours the band, via manager Tricia Ronane (who had been responsible for the existence of both Story Of The Clash Vol. 1 and On Broadway, the three CD boxed set) would have to issue denials. However, when rumours surfaced in 1998 about the Clash working together again, she couldn’t deny it: Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones have, indeed, been working on new projects. However, the band have not re-formed, neither will they. The projects that the three founder members of the Clash have been working on are a live album, From Here To Eternity, and a video documentary, Westway To The World, both of which will be released this Autumn.
The question has to be, then, why now? “Joe was moving house last year when he came across an old tape of a Clash gig at New York’s Shea Stadium in 1982 (when the band supported The Who)”, explains Tricia Ronane.” I asked to listen to it, so he gave it to me and I put in the cassette player of my car and it was fantastic; it took me right back to the last Clash gig I saw! The Clash were a great live band, one of the best ever, I think, and yet there had never been a live album. It made sense to me that this tape should be the basis of that album. It took a while, but after talking to Joe, Paul and Mick, they agreed that it might be possible to put together an album but,” Ronane sighs, “they all thought that there were other live gigs, which were recorded, that would make a better album than the Shea tapes.”
An enthusiastic Sony Records gave the Shea tape to Hugh Attwooll, an A&R consultant to Sony Music. Initially he agreed with Ronane that, “The Shea tape was the whole album, as far as I was concerned.” And, he adds, “it had been recorded by Glyn Johns who’s a great engineer and the performance of the whole band is very good.” However, the band themselves didn’t agree with their manager or Attwooll. “The thing about the Clash is that, just when you think that you have the finished article, they say “No”. And annoyingly, they’re right”, he smiles. All the members of the Clash rejected the idea of the Shea tape being the whole of the album, which sent Attwooll on a world-wide hunt for well-recorded tapes of the band playing live. “I faxed all of the major Sony territories asking if there were any live tapes in their vaults,” he explains. “The answer came back “no” from everyone. Eventually, via Jeff Jones at Legacy in New York, I contacted Bruce Dickinson who’d worked at CBS in the 1970s and 80s and was a fan of the band. He knew of a company in the States who specialised in archiving live radio tapes. They had two nights of the Clash at Bonds on Broadway and two nights in Boston.”
Attwooll travelled to New York in June 1998 and spent three days doing rough mixes of the tapes, and while there came across several other live Clash tapes which should have been in London, but had ended up Stateside. These extra tapes of performances at London’s Lyceum in 1978, and the Music Machine in 1978 were added to tapes of a 1980 Lewisham gig and others from the Rude Boy film and Victoria Park gig. Then, explains Attwooll, “It was a matter of sitting through all of these performances with the band, picking out the best tracks. I was still, at this time, in favour of using one whole gig, and thought that the Boston tapes were my favourite, although the Bonds gigs were better recorded.” The Clash didn’t agree with him. “Joe, Paul and Mick all listened to loads of tapes,” Ronane laughs, “Yes, it took a long time, and yes, it’s been painstaking. But”, she says emphatically, “this is positively the best live Clash album ever, and there’s not one single overdub on there aside from the Rude Boy tracks which were dubbed contemporaneously”.
“In the end,” says Attwooll, “The Clash knew what was right and what was wrong. Their quality control proved perfect.” With former Clash producer Bill Price handling the mixing of the tapes and the initial 23 songs were whittled down to the seventeen which now make up From Here To Eternity. The album, when released on 4th October 1999 will come wrapped in ingenious artwork designed by Paul Simonon. It is a complete, brilliant Clash production.
Westway To The World
“We didn’t want to do the usual, standard South Bank Show-style film and let this director or that producer put their slant on the story of the Clash. In the true spirit of the band we decided to do it ourselves.” Tricia Ronane, band manager and executive producer of Westway To The World is explaining how the film came into being. “We’d talked about it for some time, and over the years Joe or Paul or Mick had not thought that the time was right. For some reason, everyone agreed that the time was now right.”
When the decision had been made to make a documentary of the band’s story, which would see each member of The Clash sitting in front of a camera and going over their life, the decision as to who should direct was easy. There could only be one man; Don Letts, former DJ at the legendary Roxy club, ace video director responsible for all the band’s promos (including the great London’s Calling) and film director. “Don was the natural choice – the band and he had worked together for a long time,” says Ronane, adding, “As with the live album we knew that we had a big hunt for film footage of the band, although Don had some from the Bonds residency, and he knew that Julien Temple had some unseen early footage.’
“I knew that there was a great story waiting to be told on film,” says Letts, “And I knew that eventually I’d get the call because of our history. And the fact that I had a lot of tape in my attic of the band which was ‘unseen’.” Letts and the Clash had met at the beginning of their respective careers, and the two camps forged an immediate, sympatico bond. “We went through the punk era together,” says Letts, “and we turned each other onto our respective cultures; their DIY ethic inspired me to pick up a Super 8mm camera and record what was going on at that time.” He went on to become an award-winning video and film director, in the process accumulating hours of footage of the Clash in various states of play.
When he put his Clash tape collection together with a wealth of material from Great Rock n Roll Swindle director Julien Temples(“Even the Clash didn’t know this stuff existed” exclaims Letts), the director found that he had the makings of a film in which, “at least 50% of the material is genuinely unseen.” Added to the original interview material for which each of the band members sat in front of the camera for over 11 hours, is footage from the Rude Boy film and various television programmes.
The project took the best part of a year to complete. And just when he thought that it was finished, Letts explains; “After the almost impossible task of putting the story of the Clash into a 90 minute programme, the BBC heard of the project, got in contact with Tricia and said that they wanted to screen a 60 minute version”. It was duly cut and will be screened in the first week of October this year. Of course it’s good, but the ‘director’s cut’ 90-minute version of Westway To The World is the one to see.
The Clash had a huge effect on the music of the seventies and eighties which is only just now being acknowledged. This film brings that fact home in certain ways, “It is a social document,” shrugs the director, adding, “detailing the life and times of The Clash, proving that they are, still, a contemporary act even though they’re no longer a musical unit.”
Working with the band again didn’t feel strange to Letts. “Doing this film with them made me think that they were all born to be in the Clash,” he says. “Their roles in the making of this film reflected perfectly the roles each of them had in the band.”
A lot has been written and said about the Clash since they called it a day in 1984. Very little of it came from the band themselves. Until now.
Westway To The World is the best film about the Clash that has, or will ever, be made. It is the story from the men themselves; they were there, they and only they know what went on. And soon you will, too.
“Each generation needs a soundtrack and the Clash provided mine.” Don Letts