In 1980, The Clash lived up to their moniker of being “the only band that matters”, winning over hearts and minds across the world with their liberal forward-thinking attitude. The group had been catapulted into the mainstream thanks to the success of London Calling but that success only enhanced their performances as this rare footage from their legendary show at Paris’ Théâtre Le Palace.
1980 was a somewhat strange year for The Clash, a period which was marred by disagreements with CBS Records. When Joe Strummer and Co. had hoped to release a brand new single every month for the entirety of the year—an unprecedented proposition which proved ahead of its time—their label struggled to follow the ambition.
As CBS immediately baulked at the idea and refused to sanction the plan, ‘Bankrobber’ arrived as the only single announced ahead of the release of their new record Sandinista! that December. The European tour, which this clip of ‘Stay Free’ is taken from, would also be spoiled by Joe Strummer being arrested in Hamburg for attacking a fan with his telecaster who accused him of selling out.
This professional disarray, however, didn’t spill into their shows which saw the band graduate to bigger venues and still put on the kind of live performances that had earnt them such a wide-spanning fanbase. Armed with three albums in their repertoire as well as a fourth on their way, they now had an arsenal of songs that were the envy of bands everywhere.
‘London Calling’ is the archetypical Clash song which epitomises their knowledge of the political landscape and ability to write about what’s really happening in the world without coming across preachy in the slightest. Strummer’s fierce vocal performance alone paints a perfect image of his frustrated emotions about the way the world is going and is one of the truly great political anthems.
In a past interview with Uncut magazine, Strummer stated that the inspiration to write the song came following a conversation he had with his then-fiancee Gaby Salter in which they put the world to rights in a taxi ride home to their flat ironically situated in West London’s World’s End, he said: “There was a lot of Cold War nonsense going on, and we knew that London was susceptible to flooding. She told me to write something about that.”
According to guitarist Mick Jones in the book Anatomy of a Song, it was a headline in the London Evening Standard triggered the inspiration for the lyrics which read: “The North Sea might rise and push up the Thames, flooding the city.” Jones revealed how the band incorporated this into ‘London Calling’ and said: “We flipped. To us, the headline was just another example of how everything was coming undone.”
When the legendary trio performed ‘London Calling‘ live it felt like a visceral experience which you can reach even by just watching footage of the iconic song which immediately transports you to the Parisian evening in 1980 with the song still having a remarkable level of relevance so many years on.
Let The Clash transport you into their world, below.