West London’s Calling
Written by LBRadio on 16th December 2020
by Stephen Payne
Many great bands came out of the first wave of British punk rock. While groups such as the Sex Pistols would come to represent the movement as a whole, there were many other bands that used the time to try new and experimental music. None had quite the same lasting impact as The Clash. While many punk bands would fizzle out as the 70s came to an end, The Clash would stay relevant well into the 80s. Their combination of fast-paced rock and ska/reggae vibes would appeal to an audience much wider than just punks, and would influence a number of bands for years to come, but how did this all start?
Unlike many bands of the time, most of The Clash’s members were already part of other bands and in some regards were even professional musicians. John Graham Mellor, better known for his stage name Joe Strummer, was already part of the pub rock band the 101ers. The guitarist Mike Jones was also part of a band called London SS. While these two may have had experience, the other members of the band were, in typical punk rock styles, a number of teenagers who just picked up an instrument.
The band came together after going through a few different members. After rehearsing with their current members for just a month, The Clash made their debut on the 4 July 1976, supporting the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan in Sheffield. London SS had another spin of band; a little group called the Damned. Apparently, The Clash wanted to make it on stage before them, which they did by two days. Although they wouldn’t play on stage for another five weeks.
Over the coming months, the band would rehearse religiously, pushing themselves to become better and better. After they felt that they had become tight enough, they started to perform on stage with the other members of the punk movement. They would appear on the same bill as names such as the Buzzcocks and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
As 1977 came around, punk was now a mainstream sensation and record labels began to take notice of the groups. On the 25th January 1977, CBS Records signed The Clash for £100,000, A very high amount for a band that had only played around 30 gigs and had never headlined. Some members of the punk scene would say that the band was “selling out”, but it appeared it wasn’t a great deal for The Clash after all, as they still had to pay for their own tours, recordings, and expenses.
The band released their first single White Riot in March 1977 and their debut album The Clash came out only a month later, it would reach 12 in the UK charts. After this point, the band’s popularity would rise, with them even having an international breakthrough later on. While many punk bands would not stick in the public consciousness, The Clash’s charged political commentary and songs about their lives in west London, still resonates to this day.