The excruciating moment The Clash appeared on kids TV show ‘Tiswas’, 1980
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you an excruciating clip of The Clash on Saturday morning children’s TV show Tiswas, back in 1980 as they promote their seminal album London Calling.
In 1977, The editor of the ultimate punk fanzine, Sniffin’ Glue, reacted to the news of The Clash signing a major record deal for their self-titled debut album, writing: “Punk died the day The Clash signed for CBS.”
It was a statement that accurately captures the feeling of lost possibilities from the original punks. The groups that gathered din darkest corners of the country, with safety pins and glue dangling from their noses, were the ones quickest to reject the popularisation of ‘punk’. Suddenly it had become a dirty word.
That statement has always been largely laughed off by musos today. While it’s a provocative statement that highlights the incendiary beginnings of a movement that would, for the most part, burn into different factions within a few months, it’s also a rather obtuse one. After all, one of the genre’s most beloved albums, The Clash’s London Calling came out two years after they signed with CBS, and is arguably their finest work.
London Calling would go on to affect millions of listeners and influence thousands of different bands or artists. It is, to this day, still regarded as one of the best albums rock and roll has ever produced and has infiltrated genres as music across the globe, with a devastating amount of cross-punk-pollination. But perhaps what Mark Perry of Sniffin’ Glue was referencing to was the kind of antics that we see in the below clip.
The clip sees Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon all sitting awkwardly as a fresh-faced and bouncing presenter gives them a short interview about their new album, London Calling as part of the kids TV show, Today Is Saturday Watch And Smile, AKA Tiswas.
Recorded in January of 1980, the show had been running since 1974 when the quartet appeared on the episode. The show may have been one of the first in a brand new decade but the series was still largely stuck in the seventies. That means some awkward questions and some rather benign chat, all while the band hold up pictures of their new record. It’s excruciating.
That’s not to say that any of the answers given aren’t authentic or that any of the band appear churlish or embarrassing, despite Headon looking somewhat stoned. But the mere fact that the band, with some major label overlords to impress, had to be seen promoting the record wherever they could. In the clip, they speak about how The Clash won’t perform for a TV show if it is a lip-sync, and so options were becoming limited.
With a renewed focus on kids TV, the shows were offering a host of previously anti-establishment acts the chance to venture on to Saturday morning TV. For what reason, we can’t really be sure. If it was to see Paul Simonon spit on the floor in front of a bunch of kids, or Joe Strummer wax about the pitfalls of commercialised music, then mission accomplished. Otherwise, we’re out of ideas.
We can’t imagine that many of the pre-teens in the footage are picking up the new album, nor would many of their parents want them to. It does allow us a sneak peek at the band just before they were lifted to icon status and despite the tedious questions all the members of the group come off as an authentic punk voice, but the venue had changed so dramatically it feels unnerving to watch.
In 1980, it’s fair to say, punk wasn’t actually dead. But when you sit back and look at The Clash appearing on a kids TV show early on a Saturday morning it’s hard to argue it hadn’t been turned into Frankenstein’s monster.