Thursday 21 August 2014

December 1979


On the day that Hugh Cornwell gets a two-month jail sentence for drug possession, Harry Casey of KC & The Sunshine Band tells me he collects parrots. ‘I have fifty in my bedroom at home. One, Sparky, can sing all my hits. The parrots are more intelligent than a lot of people I’ve met in the music business.’

I think it’s a travesty of justice − Hugh, not the parrots − and smacks of one of those make-an-example-of sentences, given purely for the sake of publicity, I used to see a lot as a court reporter.

Hugh had tiny amounts on him when randomly stopped in a car he wasn’t even driving, amounts for which anyone else would’ve been fined or even conditionally discharged. It’s anti-punk hogwash. Hugh doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. The Stranglers’ tough stance and despicable reputation is derived almost entirely from Jean-Jacques Burnel; Hugh is more big softie than arch villain but his fierce intelligence helps him adapt to any situation.

I feel so strongly that I write to him in prison and he writes back. His letter is long and intimate − unlike many of his interviews – and he mentions he’d like to talk to me about the whole experience in an extended interview when he gets out. Until then I think it’s time to renew my acquaintance with the Clash, who are growing bigger by the minute…

The James Cagney of punk, Joe Strummer – stone-faced, steel-capped, stacked high − sneers and stares, as usual. He’s holed up in the Clash house, a terraced tenement teardrop twenty-four hours from Tulse Hill. He sticks his gun out of the window. ‘Political power grows from the barrel of a gun,’ he screams. And smiles.

Next to him Mick Humphrey Bogart Jones is looking depressed. Maybe, he thinks, he wasn’t really cut out for this. Casablanca is a million miles away and Claude Rains supreme.

Paul Muni Simenon − or Skaface (don’t call me that) as the Streatham Locarno lotus-eaters dubbed him − sits patiently in a corner. He never did like Mondays anyway.

Edward G. Headon works flat out in the basement supplying the ammo. He smiles. Whatever else may happen, the humdrum will never snare him now.

Outside they put the batteries into the loudspeaker.

Next door Lester bangs on the wall. It’s raining. Naturally.

The guy holding the loudspeaker is wet through.

‘Come out with your hands up.’

‘Come in and get us, Topper -- sorry, copper,’ says Joe. ‘There’s no way we’re gonna appear on Top of the Pops alive. You won’t get us standing there like pricks propping up a load of old shit. How can we bash our guitars with passion when they ain’t even plugged in? How can we sing when the mike is phoney? The show’s like an anaemic rice pudding. Give me Tiswas any day.’

Mick turns to Joe. ‘But we do lose out by not playing on it. I can’t see us ever having a Top Ten single as a result.’

‘Mugs!’ The word leaps from the loudspeaker and reverberates around the street.

‘We’ll never change our attitude,’ screams Mick, changing his attitude. ‘We’ll never prostitute ourselves.’

‘You might as well go and give someone a blow-job for ten bob than appear on Top of the fucking Pops,’ yells Joe.

Lester bangs on the wall again. ‘Hey, you guys, will you shut your fucking noise?’

The loudspeaker guy decides to goad the band. Snipers are positioned on rooftops.

‘Your new album’s crap.’

‘The world is full of assholes,’ screams Joe. ‘No matter what you do or which way you turn, there’s always twenty people ready to slag you off − and they’re always the fucking loudest. Well, they can all go fuck themselves. Imagine if you saw your imitators getting hits and glory with their imitations? Wouldn’t you feel like leaving them to it and moving onto a new pasture? It makes me sick, watching all these blokes in zipped pants piss-arsing around.’

Mick lights a cigarette and talks through the smoke. ‘Maybe we should’ve brought the first album out again for these idiots, blue eyes.’


‘No,’ says Joe. ‘Maybe we should’ve brought out a hammer. A nice hammer. Those people who were expecting something heavy from London Calling probably think we sound like Frank Sinatra. But it’s a damned sight better than most of the other plastic shit like PIL or the Jam. I don’t get any kicks out of listening to that.’

‘Yeah, but that’s you,’ says Mick. ‘I don’t think these bands should be lumbered together just because they don’t move you emotionally.’

‘I’m not lumbering them together. They’re just examples. It’s their style of rock − bam bam bam.’

Joe aside: ‘I certainly feel better these days. I’m more in touch with reality, the reality of all this monkeying about. Before, we were losing a ton of money, packets of it. On our first tour everyone would just jump into the nearest hotel and smash it up then leave. It never occurred to me that they’d send the bills to just us ’cos everyone was smashing it up − all the support acts. No, we got all the bills for it. That brings you down.’

Mick aside: ‘I used to be optimistic. Not anymore. Maybe it’s because they wouldn’t give me a mortgage. I’m just a misery guts these days. I guess it happened ever since I started getting involved in the Clash.’

In the flashing blue moonlight, Loudspeaker Man calls: ‘You can’t stay in there for ever.’ There’s no reply from the house. ‘You’re just a bunch of publicity-seeking losers.’

‘The press love us,’ says Joe. ‘They’re orgasmic about the Clash. That’s because we’re not dummies. Like with Lester Bangs -- he ended up driving round in our van or six days. He must’ve revelled in it. But I thought all that stuff he wrote was rubbish. You must be able to say it better than that.’ Lester stops banging.

Family priest, Spencer Tracy, tells Loudspeaker Man he’s going in. He dances in and out of the puddles that lead like a daisy chain to the Clash house. The band watch him enter.

‘This is no place for you,’ says Joe, as Father Tracy walks in.

‘Bejasus, we all became too complacent too fast.’

‘I’ve never been complacent,’ says Joe. ‘I’d be scared if we had a mammoth hit. Is there anyone in the whole world who can write a good song after selling a million? You can’t say John Lennon. You can’t say Bob Dylan. The proof is, as soon as they make it they don’t seem to be able to write decent songs anymore.’

Father Tracy fondles his rosary. ‘But, boys, don’t you think you write better songs if you suffer?’

‘If you suffer and write bad songs you’re suffering even more,’ replies Mick, philosophically.

‘Yes, my sons,’ says Father Tracy. ‘But a lot of people have lost faith in you. The band are now doing everything they once vilified − like touring America.’

‘Look, Father, we’ve got to take care of business,’ says Joe. ‘Instead of sitting in this shithole not selling records, we might as well go to that bigger shithole over there and not sell any. We haven’t been to anywhere like Japan yet but we’re certainly gonna try to get there this year. I hear it’s a bit creepy over there.’

‘It’s only creepy,’ insists Paul, ‘because they’re all down there and we’re all up here.’

‘But what about the things you said? People believed in you,’ says Father Tracy.

‘That was business,’ says Joe. ‘I don’t care about business. I piss on it from a great height. I’m only interested in the music. If that’s going great that’s all that matters. It’s depressing when you lose a lot of dough or when something goes wrong. But it doesn’t really affect me as much as the music. If that’s cool it dictates all the rest. You’ve got to realise that I love music. I’m obsessed with it. Surely you don’t think I wander round worrying about the economy all the time. Look, if I had a weekend off I’d spend it twanging a guitar, not going to Karl Marx’s grave to make a brass rubbing.

‘People took us the wrong way. When I sang "Sten Guns In Knightsbridge", it was about them shooting us. But people started saying, "Yeah, the Clash have got the Sten guns." We haven’t got any Sten guns, the army have. I tried to make that point clear in interviews afterwards but it was no good. They still kept saying, "If you ever keep that promise to go to Knightsbridge with Sten guns we’ll be with you." And then everyone thought we used to wear army fatigues. They weren’t. They were Clash trousers.’

‘Yeah,’ says Paul. ‘We designed them with so many pockets so you could hide your dope easily. And they were better than the bondage trousers ’cos you could run in them and hop over walls. With bondage ones you kept tripping over the chains.’

‘But the songs on London Calling,’ says Father Tracy, ‘they’re not as emotive as before.’

‘We’re just expanding our subject matter,’ replies Joe. ‘We don’t want to repeat ourselves − that’s the most heinous crime you can commit. I mean, do we have to be like the Ramones and release seven albums of the same stuff? If people want that all the time they can get it from the Ruts or the UK Subs. There’s plenty of groups playing good head-banging music. London Calling is a musical shark attack. The saxes on it are great. It’s best not to tart the songs up too much. I mean, I wouldn’t put horns on everything. But one day I’d like to have a horn section on stage, not standing at one end all night just blowing but like when they have a funeral in New Orleans and walk in a long line. I’d like them always walking, maybe out into the audience.

‘I’m getting nervous now . . . Here’s looking at you, kid,’ he says to Father Tracy.

‘But I’m supposed to say that,’ says Mick.

‘Well, there’s no way you’re gonna get me to say "you dirty rat".’

‘You fucking dirty rat,’ says Mick.


Next: Queen

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives



Friday 8 August 2014

June 1979

The Spoiler

Part Three

‘I wanted to make Sid a star.’

But you just said you prevented the Pistols from becoming such animals.

‘Ah, but that was before I realised people wanted a star. And the last star they wanted was Sid – that’s why I would have made him the biggest star of them all. He would have been number one now, had he lived. Let’s face it, he had one of the best rock ’n’ roll voices in years. He had the right attitude, plus the one basic self-destruct ingredient to make him the tops – he never, ever saw a red light. Only green. He would do anything, anywhere, anytime.

‘Do you know the song I was going to let him sing –"Mack The Knife"? See, all the songs have been written. It doesn’t matter anymore about writing. Just take the culture by its throat, like we did with "My Way". He could have competed with Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, all of them. I wanted to take him to Las Vegas, to let him perform in the nightclubs. But he missed the boat and so did I.

'I was very upset when he died. Sid was the one to be the star and he was the ideal person for me to abuse. I suppose I was partly responsible for his death. I wish I could’ve been there. He wouldn’t have died if I’d been around. The man had to go and that was what he was destined for.

‘He wanted to be accepted. He loved the razzmatazz of show business. That’s why Rotten hated him. The Pistols were the ultimate showbiz group. After Sid died I tried to promote him as being THE Sex Pistol.’

Wasn’t it a big mistake to head for the States with the band?

‘Of course. I was against it. I wanted them to go to Leningrad.’

East meets West with McLaren as mediator.

‘It’s a question of knowing what you’re doing. Sometimes you work on your gut reaction, sometimes your intellect. Most times I’m able to combine the two and that’s why I’m successful. I can make money,’ contradiction time, ‘but it never really bothers me. Oh, it does now because I don’t have very much. When you’re riding on the crest of a wave like I was you get to know when to seize the moment and take the initiative. Like making a record with a fifty-year-old ex-train robber.’

Are you immoral?

‘Johnny Rotten was a good Catholic boy who didn’t have the immorality that I possess. He had this silly idea about honour. Kids don’t want to be honourable. They want to be destructive and fabulously immoral and at the same time they want to be exploited or to exploit. If they don’t have the expertise for the latter they take the first choice. That’s why they get onto a stage. That’s a tremendous sexual release and an alleviation of all that they’ve lived through for the past sixteen years.

‘One of the Sex Pistols great contributions was getting rid of the music. Kids got more interested in reading about them going up the Amazon with a train robber than sitting in their bedrooms listening to bland old music. It added adventure to their lives. It stimulated them on their way to work.

‘Oh, how I hate all these abominable groups. How I hate all these silly little record labels like Rough Trade. How I hate Rock Against Racism. Who cares? It just makes people join silly little armies.

‘Do you know something? More hippies listen to punk now. They’re the ones who buy the records. The actual punks are still on the streets, the nearest thing to the Dickensian image of the urchin. You don’t see them in the shops buying Human League records – but you do see the hippies. It gets less exciting every day. It’s a good job the audience jump up on stage and try to strangle Jimmy Pursey. They should try and destroy such silly people.

‘I’m convinced the kids don’t want that. The record industry is dying, it’s not important any more. The 1980s will be the decade of the painter. There will be a big visual explosion – that’s why records are appearing in a variety of colours now. If a kid can pick up a guitar he can just as easily pick up a tin of paint.

‘Okay, I shot my bolt, but I’m proud of it. As far as I’m concerned there is a fantastic excitement in Europe, excluding England. All those kids on the streets in France, Spain and Italy want to share in that attitude – maybe I can find a niche. The kids are bored. They don’t care about these singers. They would enjoy going to a fashion show and seeing dancers with music providing just a background. They don’t care who’s up on that stage. Look at Ian Dury’s new album – punk à la Weather Report. It’s wallpaper music.

‘People in the record industry are useless. They’re only interested in pinewood furniture and getting Jimmy Pursey on the golf course. It’s all so cosily liberal. That’s why they hate me. I hit them where it hurts.’

So, what projects loom on the horizon? ‘I’m thinking of doing a TV film on the history of Oxford Street set around child thieves through the ages. They’re all in search of their mother and they find her in the end – a fabulous Faginesque character carrying twenty-five handbags. And I’d love to open a music-hall style club where the music itself would be demoted to the toilet. Kids can tune in to what they want down there while upstairs they’re busy telling each other jokes and performing in front of audiences made up of themselves.’

Malcolm McLaren, punk’s most famous iconoclast, has a recurring nightmare: ‘I keep seeing these huge Edwin Shirley trucks going up and down the M1. Up and down, up and down, up and down.

‘Who needs it...?’

Next: Queen

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives



Tuesday 5 August 2014

June 1979

The Spoiler
Part Two

‘I was born into a wealthy Jewish diamond-dealing family and brought up in a rambling Victorian mansion in Clissold Park, Islington. My second cousin is Danny Kaye and I believe the spectacularly ugly Marjorie Proops is some kind of niece of mine. Anyway, she was brought up in the same house.

'My grandmother was extremely middle class. She taught me a lot and told me wonderful stories about how she used to sell fake diamonds to pawnbrokers and how she and Agatha Christie were the greatest of friends. My mother was man mad and my father, whom I hardly ever saw, was involved in the second-hand car business. I haven’t seen my mother for twelve years. Last time I heard she had suffered a heart attack. I never did care much about family ties.’

The family eventually moved to Hendon and Malcolm remembers cleaning Bob Monkhouse’s car because he lived in the house opposite. ‘At the age of thirteen I was a real West-Ender. I used to go to a club where lesbians would copulate on brass bedsteads. My mother was a snob so she insisted that my first job should be a wine-taster. I became a real expert and they asked me to go to Portugal. But I didn’t fancy that so I left.

‘I then went from job to job à la Brook Street Bureau and finally ended up working for an accountancy firm in Devonshire Street, W1, a few doors away from Stephen Ward during the Christine Keeler affair. The milkman used to tell me about the goings-on he often saw.’

There followed a short stint at Fyfe’s bananas where he booked people into cabins on their cargo lines.

‘Then my mother decided it was time for me to learn French so she packed me off to Cannes. Upon my return I entered an art college and got involved in graphic design.

I started hanging around with beatniks in coffee bars and stayed out all night on one occasion. There was a blazing row when I got home so I left. I was seventeen.’

For the next six years he attended a succession of art colleges all over the country. ‘I used to obtain grants under different names. I even married a French Turk when I was twenty for fifty pounds to enable her to stay in Britain. I found myself working in galleries with people like John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

‘I got involved with the French riots of ’68 and helped create a huge festival when I was at Goldsmiths College in London during the week of Brian Jones’s death.’

It transpires that McLaren ‘gave up’ listening to rock music between 1964 and 1976. ‘I knew everything there was to know about rock ’n’ roll between ’58 and ’64. People like Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, they were the ones. The fifties was one of the most anarchistic decades in history. But then the industry took control and throughout the sixties and early seventies music meant nothing.’

The day the music died for him was when the Beatles arrived on the scene. ‘They were the worst thing that ever happened to rock ’n’ roll. All that nice-boy-from-an-industrial-wasteland nonsense. In fact, when the Pistols started being compared to the Beatles in terms of their importance their days were numbered. The Pistols’ nearest equivalent was the anarchistic fifties, not the lukewarm sixties.’

He had built up a collection of over five thousand rock ’n’ roll singles and they were his only contact with music. ‘But then I thought it time to pick up on the music I’d refused to listen to. I used to go around stalls in the markets listening to things like Velvet Underground. It was awful.

‘Then I went to see the movie Woodstock and I started to realise there was a rock ’n’ roll revival in the air. I thought the time was ripe to create an oasis in this hippie desert. I would walk down the Kings Road looking very Elvis Presleyish and one day I was grabbed by a guy who ran the Paradise Garage. We started selling fifties clothes and I would bring my records to the shop to provide the right background music. I started getting acquainted with the new rockers, the Rod Stewarts, the Faces. I did all the clothes for the David Essex movie That’ll Be the Day and then the shop really caught on. Even Lionel Blair came in one day to buy a drape suite.’

He was now aware that he was in on something big. ‘My ideas were strong − but they were also revivalist. I decided it was no good being retro. I had to get the feeling of the day. So I started the Sex shop. It was so obvious. There were all these designers trying to make people look sexy. All I had to do was take the crudest points of this − like tight black plastic trousers, bondage gear and so on − and adopt sex as an attitude. I needed the music, though. I needed vulgar music. Oh, sure, there were some fairly interesting things around at that time, like Iggy Pop, but it still wasn’t right. So I split to New York and managed the New York Dolls for six months.’

When he came back to London he was still searching for the ‘right’ sound. ‘I had all these kids in my shop who looked Bowieish and Ferryish, but they really didn’t want to be either. Then Steve Jones and Paul Cook walked in one day . . .

‘I used the expertise I had obtained from working in the shop to create this band. They didn’t possess much musical ability, but I realised that didn’t matter. It was simply a question of selling an attitude in as hard a way as possible. I thought it must be better to make a success out of a group who couldn’t play rather than a group that could − and I did.’

Er, isn’t that a little callous? I venture, as he lifts his fourth cup of tea. He casually places it back in the saucer without taking a sip.

‘But I am callous,’ he assures me. ‘It’s my job to be callous. I don’t set myself up to be portrayed as a nice guy. In fact, I much prefer to be portrayed as a gangster. I don’t want to be associated with the Mick Jaggers and the Rod Stewarts of the world. They’re another kind of gangster – the gangsters of love. They take love away; I leave it where it is. I’m more money-orientated. Those people are the music business.’

I tap my crème brûlée. It has a hard surface with a soft, creamy interior. I wonder if the soul across the table is simply a human crème brûlée.



Are you . . . No, it doesn’t matter. We sit awhile in silence. So, now he’s told me his motives, though I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s devoid of such artifice. Maybe it was purely a game, y’know, the one I mentioned at the start. Some he wins, some he loses. He doesn’t like losing: that’s why he’s now talking so freely. Losing sixty grand would leave me very bitter.

And he’s also told me his life story. Now seems the appropriate time for his views on one Sidney Vicious, punk of this parish, deceased…

Next: More Malcolm

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives




About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
I'm your Flexifriend blogger for all your Flexipop! needs.....