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The Clash Artist Feature


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Biography
The wishful rumors began in 1984, virtually from the day they disbanded: The Clash were going to reform, to play gigs, to make records, take over where they left off. But each new rumor only prompted new denials.

But when a story surfaced in 1998 about the Clash working together again, it couldn't be denied: Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones were indeed working together on new projects, though they weren’t reforming the group and had no plans to either play live and record again. Instead, the three founder members of the Clash were setting their history straight with their first official live album, From Here To Eternity; and a companion video documentary, Westway To The World. The former is set for US release on Epic Records on October 19, 1999.

If not 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 [where the band supported The Who]," explains Clash manager Tricia Ronane. "I asked to listen to it, so he gave it to me and I put in the cassette player of my car. It was fantastic--it took me right back to the last Clash gig I saw."

"Joe, Paul and Mick 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."

Hugh Attwooll, a London-based A&R consultant to Sony Music, was the next person to hear the Shea Stadium performance. Initially he agreed with Ronane: "The Shea tape was the whole album, as far as I was concerned. It had been recorded by Glyn Johns, who's a great engineer, and the performance of the whole band is very good."

The musicians themselves didn't agree. "The thing about the Clash is that, just when you think that you have the finished article, they say no," says Attwooll--"and annoyingly, they're right," he adds with a smile.

The three band members rejected the idea of the Shea-tape-as-live-album, which sent Attwooll on a worldwide hunt for well-recorded live tapes of the band. "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 Sony Legacy in New York, I contacted Bruce Dickinson. Bruce worked at CBS Records in the Seventies and Eighties, and was a fan of the band. He knew of a company in the States which specialized in archiving live radio tapes. They had two nights of the Clash at Bonds on Broadway and two nights in Boston."

Attwooll traveled to New York in June 1998 and spent three days doing rough mixes of the tapes. While there, he came across several other live Clash tapes which should have been in London but had ended up Stateside. These additional performances, from 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 the Victoria Park gig. Then, Hugh explains, "It was a matter of sitting through all of these performances with the band, picking out the best tracks.

The result, says Tricia Ronane, "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 Hugh 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, the initial 23 songs were whittled down to the seventeen tracks which now make up From Here To Eternity. The album package features the ingenious artwork of Paul Simonon (today an acclaimed painter, with both solo and group shows to his credit) and rare photos by Pennie Smith.

Westway To The World

In creating a definitive film documentary, "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," says Tricia Ronane, band manager and executive producer of Westway To The World. "In the true spirit of the band, we decided to do it ourselves."

For a film which would see each member of the Clash recounting his life and times for the camera, there could be only one choice of director: Don Letts, former DJ at the legendary Roxy club, ace video director responsible for all the Clash song videos (including the great "London Calling"), and feature filmmaker.

"Don was the natural choice, he and the band worked together for a long time," says Ronane. "As with the live album, we knew that we had a big hunt for film footage of the Clash--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 Don 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.'"

"We went through the punk era together," he notes, "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." Don went on to become an award-winning video and film director; in the process, he accumulated hours of footage of the Clash at various career points.

When he put his Clash collection together with a wealth of material from Great Rock And Roll Swindle director Julien Temple ("Even the Clash didn't know this stuff existed," says Letts), Don 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 for the camera for over 11 hours--is footage from the Rude Boy film and various television programs.

The project took the best part of a year to complete. At this writing, a 60-minute version of Westway To The World is set to air on the BBC in early October '99; plans for the US release of Don's 90-minute "director's cut" are still being finalized. Letts calls Westway To The World "a social document, 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."

"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 Westway To The World reflected perfectly the roles each of them played 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 been or ever will be made. It is the story from the Clash themselves: They were there, they and only they know what went on. And soon you will, too.

"Each generation needs a soundtrack," says Don Letts, "and the Clash provided mine."
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