I came late to London Calling, the Clash album being celebrated with a mini exhibition at the Museum of London. When it came out I was 17 and more into heavy metal than punk, but I still remember the effect the album had on me when I finally bought it in around 1982 (still have it, gatefold cover, vinyl); from the first thuds of the first, title, track – a march, a wail of rage, a dystopic vision of a dying city. Remember that in the 70s London was dying, it’s population falling. No one wanted to live here, it was grey, cold, oppressive, violent, and closed on Sundays.)
For those brought up on streaming or even CDs, London Calling is a double vinyl album – two records, four sides. I still contend that record one (“London Calling” “Brand New Cadillac” “Jimmy Jazz” “Hateful” “Rudie Can’t Fail”, “Spanish Bombs” “The Right Profile” “Lost in the Supermarket” “Clampdown” “The Guns of Brixton”) is just about the greatest 40 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll committed to vinyl, at least in the 70s. In fact, so fantastic did I find this record that it was literally years before I played the second half of the album.
40 years on from the album’s release, the Museum of London have packed a small space with Pennie Smith photos, various memorabilia – Joe Strummer’s white brothel creepers, shirts, instruments, lyric sheets – album and single sleeves, original artwork, fanzines, videos of the band and – centre stage – Paul Simonon’s bass guitar (yep, the one he’s smashing up on the album cover). For people of a certain age (cough) it’s a crashing tidal wave of nostalgia, a reminder of a time that is becoming history, so utterly different to ‘now’ that it could be happening to strangers.
You also get to listen to the magnificent London Calling on a loop (video below), and marvel at how this snarling rage of a lyric became an official anthem of the city at the Olympics – ‘turning rebellion into money’ with gold-plated knobs on.
The Clash: London Calling is at the Museum of London until 15 April 2020. Entry is free.