The Clash, London Calling @ The Museum of London

19 January 2020 – London.

Opening with a twice repeated ratatat burst of snare drum, followed by quick fire down and up strum of overdriven distorted six string and bass guitars, mimicking the sound of that famous weapon; Tommy Gun burst into the ear drums of the 17 year old me. The music, the words, the voice; this was everything that had been missing in music. Working class, political punk rock snarl at its finest.

My memory is poor, but I do remember this song being played two weeks in a row on the Barry Jenkin’s hosted Radio with Pictures TV show in New Zealand. I am pretty sure no other song was treated with such reverence. It is a good song, my favourite song by The Clash; and they wrote a lot of very good songs.

Tommy Gun was the the first track on ‘Give ‘em enough rope’, The Clash’s second LP. It was released in 1978 and was the first LP I bought with my own money, I am guessing I bought it very early in 1979. I am imagining that I had the first album on a cassette, taped off a friends older brother’s record. I didn’t buy that first LP until much later. Cassettes worked just as well for my teenage years (and teenage ears); plus I could play cassettes on my walkman or the small single speaker boombox I had in the early 80s. Music portability was as important then as it is now.

The third album, London Calling, was released in 1979 and the song and video for the title track were on fairly high rotate, at least on the TV and radio channels aimed at me and my tastes. I loved the song, though recently went off it due to over playing. I bought the album at the time, but was pretty disappointed with it not being as ‘punk’ as I wanted, I never really got over that. Eventually going off The Clash.

All my records were stolen in a burglary in 1981, and I didn’t replace London Calling, though I did buy the first two LPs again, then sold them with most of my collection in 1985 when I moved to England for the first time. Replacing them yet again between then and now, and now I can only find ‘Give ‘em enough rope’, and the single.

The Museum of London is holding a small, free exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of London Calling. Black Market Clash was another small exhibition in Soho of The Clash memorabilia that El and I visited back in 2013. It had a slightly different focus to this one so it was good to see some different things. The famous bass from the London Calling album cover was at both. As it should be, the finest album cover of all time. Apparently Pennie Smith, the photographer who took this photo in New York did not want them to use it for the cover as it is too out of focus! It is one of the best rock photos ever; capturing the energy, the anger, the frustration of that show.

Every few months our Walthamstow social group do some sort of day time social activity, usually involving an exhibition, a walk and some food and/or drink. Today eleven of us caught the train to Liverpool St and walked to the museum via the Barbican. I love the Barbican, though haven’t been there for a good explore for quite a quite a while. I will have to go back again.

The exhibition was good; busy, with a lot of middle aged men and women walking down memory lane. As I mentioned above it was not big, there were three guitars, some photos, clothing, a couple of screens, some smaller memorabilia, notebooks and lyric sheets.

Even though it is a long way from my favourite The Clash LP I very much enjoyed the exhibits, and it was great checking them out with a group of friends who all had similar, youthful tastes in music.

The exhibition displayed a very good map of Clash London, places they hung out, rehearsed, gigged and recorded. I discovered that the London Calling rehearsal studio from 1978 was in a building I walk past every day I go to work. The now ‘London Dioceses House’ (rather ironic) at 36 Caulston St in Pimlico. 

After a coffee and a long chat we left the museum of London with half of us going to a food hall off Brick Lane for lunch. I haven’t been to Brick Lane for ages, I could not believe how many people were there. It was a really nice day so I guess it was a good day to be out. And it is tourist central these days.

We walked back to Liverpool St via a passage in the back of one of the office blocks that runs alongside the station. Another place to come back to with the camera…