Monday, 13 March 2017
Something About England
Following Saturday's feedback I've thought about having a Clash week over the weekend. There doesn't seem much point just posting five obvious Clash songs and I don't know what I've got to add to the story of The Clash- on the other hand their music and history is so rich and full of people, characters and songs that there is always something else to focus on. They are a band that still mean a huge amount to many, many people. Joe's death means that they haven't sullied their legacy by either reforming for pots of cash or making a water treading album (they did that after sacking Mick and releasing Cut The Crap). Apparently they were on the verge of reforming for the Hall Of Fame induction but it didn't happen (Paul said no- well done Paul). Their back catalogue is so large and there are so many lesser known Clash songs that doing a week of Clash posts that skirt the outer edges shouldn't be too difficult. So I'll start with this.
Bernie Rhodes insisted that their songs should be about something, and that as a writer Joe should look at the world and engage with it. Joe was at times dismissive of Mick's more straight love songs and considered that the subject of love was largely covered. Instead Joe wrote some songs that dealt with things very simplistically (White Riot say) and some that were more complex and showed more depth. Something About England is tucked away at the end of side 1 of Sandinista! and it's one of the most complex songs the group wrote and performed. The song is a conversation between Joe's narrator (sung by Mick), a man looking at life in late 70s Britain, and a homeless man in a dirty overcoat. Mick opens the song with Joe's attention grabbing first verse
'They say the immigrants steal the hubcaps of respected gentlemen
They say it would be wine and roses if England were for Englishmen again'
Mick continues, noticing the old man as the sirens wail and the bars close for the night. The old man (Joe) then joins in, berating Mick's young narrator...
'You really think it's all new
You really think about it too?
I'll tell you a thing or two'
Then the song lurches from a dark piano music hall tune into something more urgent and Joe takes over...
'I missed the fourteen-eighteen war but not the sorrow afterwards
With my father dead and my mother ran off
My brothers took the pay of hoods
The Twenties turned, the north was dead
The hunger strike came marching south
At the garden party not a word was said
As ladies lifted cake to their mouths'
In full flow now and the next verse takes in the Second World War and then the men returning home limping around old Piccadilly and Leicester Square, the world rebuilding itself and architects who 'could not care'.
The penultimate verse finds Joe/the old man raging against the follies of government and people, sending young men to die in wars and 'photos in wallets on battlefields', the English class system of 'masters and servants and servants and dogs' and the gap that the country has never closed. The old man winds up, addressing Mick for the final time...
'The memories that you have dredged up
Are letters forwarded from hell'.
The song plays out and Mick's voice returns to conclude as the lights go out down the street and in the bedsits- 'old England was all alone'.
In a world of Trump and Brexit and Farage and Breitbart and countless other revivals of the hatred and divisions of the 1930s Something About England rings as true and as important in 2017 as it did in 1980. The people that blame the immigrants for their own woes and misfortunes are still with us, quietened for a while but now loud again. We still need The Clash.
Something About England