In 1980, The Clash’s stock had never been higher thanks to the incredible success of London Calling, am album which allowed the group to live up to their own moniker of the ‘only band that matters’—a sentiment that this live performance of the moving ‘Stay Free’ embodies.
Given their meteoric rise, it wasn’t just in the UK that had been enthralled by The Clash, the group emerged as the face of youth a culture which represented the kickback from the Reagan/Thatcher era. Despite that, their track ‘Stay Free’ proves that they were just more than just a political outfit.
The song, which originally appeared on the band’s 1978 sophomore effort Give ‘Em Enough Rope, A record which also featured tracks such as ‘English Civil War’ and ‘Tommy Gun’, helped claim The Clash’s reputation as an essential societal voice and one that was much more than just another punk band.
1980 was a somewhat strange year for the group, 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.
‘Stay Free’ shows that The Clash weren’t just one-trick ponies only capable of writing about politics. The band proved that they also had it in them to show they a softer side. Mick Jones’ old school friend, Robin Crocker, beautifully reflected on the band as part of an interview with The Guardian in 2008, discussing his relationship with The Clash guitarist: “Mick Jones and I sat together at Strand boys’ grammar school [in south London]. We had a fight over who was better — I thought Chuck Berry and he thought Bo Diddley. It was a hugely disciplinarian school. The headmaster used to have a wooden leg, so he got the nickname, Hobbler.”
He added: “We were marched down to Hobbler’s office to explain ourselves and Mick said, ‘We were arguing about rock’n’roll, sir.’ Hobbler raged, ‘Rock’n’roll is not on the curriculum in this establishment!’ and was so furious that all this gob landed on his lapel. Me and Mick fell about laughing and that was it – firm friends and the end of any respect for authority forever. Mick had the longest hair and tightest trousers in school. I was a hooligan, basically, because I was bored.”
Crocker continued: “After school, I was working as a journalist and got laid off. I fell in with a bunch of people and we decided to rob some banks. I ended up in the Old Bailey. It was like being back in Hobbler’s office. I ended up in a maximum-security jail on the Isle of Wight. By the time I got out Mick had formed the Clash. One evening he came over with an acoustic and played me ‘Stay Free.’ Somebody once said to me it’s the most outstanding heterosexual male-on-male love song, and there is a lot of truth in that. It’s a memento of a glorious band, a glorious time and a glorious friendship. Unfortunately, I didn’t ‘Stay Free’. I did a wages snatch in Stockholm and got banged up again.”
Enjoy below one of the most perfect ballad’s celebrating friendship, from Paris’s Théâtre Le Palace in 1980.