dimanche, août 15, 2004

London Calling

Punk's lost classic is found - 25 years after being left on a train

Tapes of the Clash recorded during the making of 'London Calling' were mislaid by the band's roadie when he fell asleep on the Tube

By Anthony Barnes, Arts and Media Correspondent

15 August 2004

One of rock'n'roll's great lost albums, a set of recordings made by the Clash, has been rediscovered 25 years after the songs were thought to have disappeared for ever when they were left behind on a London Underground train.

The recordings, which have become known as "the Vanilla Tapes", had previously been heard only by the band and are being hailed as a hugely significant find. It was long believed the only copy had been mislaid by one of the band's roadies on a Tube train.

But master tapes have now been discovered in a cardboard box by the Clash's guitarist and singer Mick Jones as he prepared to move house.

The Clash inspired a generation of musicians from U2 to Billy Bragg. They managed to transcend the three-chord thrash of their early days to embrace jazz, blues, reggae and hip hop, and are credited with putting a political edge back into rock.

"The Vanilla Tapes" date back to 1979 as the band worked on songs which would eventually become their third album, London Calling, widely hailed as their masterpiece. Now 21 of the tracks from "The Vanilla Tapes" - including five songs that were previously unknown - are to be released for the first time as part of the 25th-anniversary reissue of London Calling. The majority of the tracks are unpolished versions of the songs which the band put on the album.

Band biographer Pat Gilbert said: "There is very little unreleased Clash stuff. The idea that a whole album's worth of material has come to light like this is absolutely incredible."

The existence of the recordings took on mythical status when roadie Johnny Green wrote in his memoirs about how he had lost them. He had been asked to deliver a tape of the band's new songs to prospective producer Guy Stevens, to see if he was interested in working on the material, but lost it en route. "I was told to deliver it to Guy but I went down the pub and had a few, well, quite a few," he said. "I fell asleep on the Tube and when I woke up I realised I was at Warren Street where I had to change, so I rushed off, but left it on the Tube. One of the band had marked the tape 'Val Doonican' so I have this vision of someone finding the tape player and being really excited, then finding the tape and thinking 'what's this?' and throwing it in the bin."

However, a master tape survived, long forgotten in Jones's private collection.

The songs were recorded at Vanilla Studios in Pimlico, central London, where the band wrote and prepared their next album - with only their two roadies, Green and Baker Glare, in attendance. Using primitive recording techniques they set the tapes rolling each day to capture the works in progress. At one stage the band's other front man Joe Strummer - who died in December 2002 - had been keen to use the basic set-up to record the band's next album, but the idea was ditched.

The Clash were in a golden period, expanding their boundaries. "There was a point where punk was getting narrower in terms of where it was going," said Jones. "We thought we could just do any type of music." They themselves were also getting on famously, bolstering their camaraderie with regular football matches - a marked contrast to the bitter infighting that would follow.

After weeks holed up at Vanilla they moved into Wessex Studios in Highbury, north London, where the colourful and unpredictable producer Stevens used a variety of unconventional methods to coax out great performances.

"He'd pick up a ladder and then swing it around and then he'd throw six or seven chairs against the back wall," recalled Jones. Footage of his antics are contained in a documentary made by Clash associate Don Letts, which is being released as part of the reissued album.

Jones said "the Vanilla Tapes" would give an insight into the band as they limbered up for their finest hour. "They were just sketches, really. But I'm glad I found them. They tell you quite a lot about what we were like at the time."

Pat Gilbert, whose book Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash is published in October, said: "In some ways the mystique is washed away by hearing the basic construction of these songs, but they still stand up musically."

Property developers move in on legendary recording studio

It was the location for some of the most famous recording sessions in the UK with Queen and the Sex Pistols, as well as the Clash, passing through.

But now Wessex Studios, at one time beaten only by Abbey Road for its facilities, is to become a range of apartments costing upwards of £300,000.

The building started life as a Victorian chapel but by the 1970s it was attracting an array of star names for a new life as a recording venue. Among the diverse visitors have been Barbara Dickson, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Ash and the Pretenders.

The Sex Pistols recorded their one and only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, at Wessex and singer Johnny Rotten is reputed to have thrown up into the piano.

Spillages in the piano seem to have been something of a theme at Wessex. Studio engineer Bill Price recalled Joe Strummer sitting at the keyboard one day trying to write a new riff with a bottle of red wine by his side. The album's producer Guy Stevens walked up and shouted "Jerry Lee Lewis" in his ear.

Price said: "Joe just completely ignored him and carried on playing the riff, so Guy picked up the bottle of red wine and poured it across the piano keyboard and across Joe's hands. Unfortunately this caused about £6,000 worth of damage to the Bosendorfer."

Not all musicians are shedding a tear at the studio's demise. It was the first professional session for Jah Wobble when he recorded Public Image Ltd's first single. "We got barred after about five days because there was a punch-up in the pub with people from the studio," he said. "It's just another studio as far as I'm concerned, and it was a rip-off."

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd