Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Clash - Westway to the World (2000) - Don Letts

Bloody hell, no one told me about The Clash. It wasn't until I moved to Sweden before I realised just how great they were. I was well into my twenties by then, having been weaned on the lie that Punk had been a British invention, and that The Sex Pistols were the main thing to check out from year zero. Well that's what you get if you grow up believing what you read in the N.M.E. I guess. So it's my own fault.

Except as I said no one told me about The Clash. Of course I knew the odd song here and there, and they sounded pretty good, I can remember giving their first album a go just to see if they were for me, and thinking that it was pretty ordinary. Then I happened to be at a friends house drinking and talking, with Sandinista gurgling away in the background. Gradually I started to wonder just what the fuck were we listening to? I bought it the next day, and from then on made sure I told everyone about The Clash.

Westway to the World is essential viewing whether you have been told about the genius of The Clash or not. For the five year period between their eponymous debut and their last hurrah, The Clash developed at a phenomenal rate, taking in just about every kind of music there is. They covered reggae tracks, put out double and then triple albums and played Shea Stadium before imploding. All of which (and a whole lot more), is covered in fine style in this documentary. There's stories about being run out of Kingston, playing 17 (or was it 16) nights in a row in New York, squatting in London, signing to a major label (Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS) and recording the first British Hip Hop single. All that and Mick Jones' awful hair.

Much like the equally essential The Filth and the Fury from the same year, the story is told by the band members themselves, mix into that stacks of rare footage and you can't go wrong. The Filth and the Fury is the slightly better documentary, but I'd say both should be not just seen but owned and watched at least once a year. Of course they don't go beyond Combat Rock, so Cut the Crap isn't mentioned. You'll find similar things happening in documentaries about The Doors and The Velvet Underground. But that's a small niggle, and to be honest for the sake of ending the documentary well it's probably the right thing to do.

The Clash really clicked when Topper Headon joined. It all started to fall apart when they booted him out for being a smack addict. If The Smiths had been able to have seen this doc when touring The Queen is Dead, then they might have survived a few more years. There's a moral in this film. When a band works, do not, no matter what, fuck about with that which makes it work. This is where a decent manager should earn their percentage. You can't go booting out someone who you think is 'just' the drummer or bass player, it might take a while but it's either the end, or at best things are going to change radically (and normally not in a good way). Anyway if you don't own anything by The Clash and with Christmas just around the corner, why not stick London Calling on that wants list? Or if you're feeling really brave, the unwieldy beast that is Sandinista. You won't regret it, I promise.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...