From the Publisher
“This touching, angry, uproarious tale sustains 238 pages because it never lets go of the notion that as one day follows another something more than a pop group's career might be at stake.” Greil Marcus, Artforum
“Hugely enjoyable...Green's great achievement is to recapture exactly how those moments felt, but remain sufficiently detached about the whole thing to render the experience honestly. A Riot of Our Own feels real.” Mark Hagen, Mojo
“Finally...a Clash book worth its salt.” Ian Fortnam, New Musical Express
The Clash's short, glorious career began in the British punk clubs in 1976 and ended in the American arenas in 1982. Along the way, the Clash -- the first British punk band to break big in the States -- made some of the most vital, intense and political rock 'n' roll ever heard. Decked out in their Sandinista rebel gear, mixing up reggae rhythms with a good old-fashioned rock backbeat, quoting Marx and Bo Diddley in equal measure, the band reigned, for a bright shining moment, over the hearts and minds of punk-intellectual-lefty music lovers. In concert, ripping through "I'm So Bored With the USA" and "Clampdown" in full storm-the-barricades mode, they really did make you believe the silly record company hype -- that they were the only band that mattered.
But away from the spotlight, the Clash fell victim to some of the clichés of the trade: drug addiction, internal squabbling, untrustworthy managers. Or so says a former roadie, Johnny Green, the first member of the posse to break the code of silence that has surrounded the group in the 17 years since its breakup. (None of the band members agreed to be interviewed for Marcus Gray's 1996 biography, Last Gang in Town.)
Clash fans will remember Green as the tall guy in studious horn rims who was always bounding onto the stage to adjust the Clash's guitars or to pull excited fans off the lead singer, Joe Strummer. With Garry Barker, a freelance journalist, Green has written an engaging if messy memoir of life at the height of the band's powers, from 1977, just after the release of their first album in England, to 1980, when he quit in exhaustion during an American tour. A bookish punk fan with degrees in Arabic and Islamic studies, Green had been pulled into the Clash's orbit at the comparatively mature age of 27 when they asked him to help work a spotlight at a gig; he ended up as a combination workhorse and nursemaid, hauling their equipment, brewing their tea, scoring their dope and washing out their socks in his hotel-room sink.
Since Green admits in the book to being drunk or chemically enhanced throughout much of this period, you may wonder about his reliability as a reporter. The fact that Strummer has written the foreword seems to put a semi-official stamp on Green's version of events. However, it's a version that makes Strummer look very good (an unpretentious, caring anti-star) and makes Mick Jones, the lead guitarist (who lost a power struggle with Strummer and was tossed from the group in 1982) look like a lost member of Spinal Tap. Green depicts Jones as a prissy coke-hound who put on rock-star airs even as he was living with his grandma in a council flat; in one particularly low blow, Green reveals that he was regularly summoned to dye Jones' thinning hair black to make it look fuller.
Scenes like this might have broken the hearts of fans who believed the Clash to be above the rock prima donna-isms and infighting that brought down lesser mortals -- if Strummer and Jones hadn't already broken them with their acrimonious split. (They've worked together off and on since then.) But, for all his dirt-dishing, Green still carries a true believer's torch for what the Clash meant in their time. He offers sweet examples of the band's generosity toward fans (they'd let ticketless kids into shows through the back door and give waifs a lift in the van) and details just how the Clash did it their way, despite greedy managers, clueless record company execs and the band's own lack of discipline. In a long, triumphant section, Green puts us in the studio during the wild, fertile, around-the-clock recording sessions for "London Calling," the band's exuberant 1979 double album, and makes you feel the thrill of Strummer, Jones and bassist Paul Simonon's reaching musical manhood.
A Riot of Our Own will bring nostalgic tears to the eyes of anyone who lived and died by the New Musical Express in 1979. And though Green walked away from it all, he still exudes the aura of dazed good fortune that Clash fans felt at the time, the sense that rock 'n' roll couldn't possibly get any better than this. And, in many ways, it hasn't. -- Salon
Familiar to American fans for their megahit "Rock the Casbah," a music video staple during the early days of MTV, the British group The Clash have emerged in the ensuing 20 years as one of the most memorable and significant punk rock bands. Green, who was their road manager and procurer of assorted drugs and women, here recollects with considerable zest and humor just what it was like to be on tour with The Clash. Though bawdy and occasionally lurid details spice up the narrative, there is a remarkable sense of lighthearted fun throughout, splendidly enhanced by Ray Lowry's cartoonlike drawings. Green manages to make this chronicle of overindulgence, wrecked hotel rooms, and police arrests seem much less menacing than the events themselves might suggest. A rollicking insider's account that nicely complements the definitive bio, Marcus Gray's Last Gang in Town: The Story and Myth of The Clash (LJ 9/15/96). Recommended for rock music collections.--Richard Grefrath, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno
A roadie's engaging and often amusing memoir of life in the eye of the punk rock storm. Green, who served the Clash as road manager from their commercial breakthrough in England in 1977 through their emergence as an international colossus in 1980 or so, lets it all hang out, giving his fond remembrances of life on the road and in the studios. While Green was with the Clash, the band's fortunes skyrocketed (quite coincidentally, the author gently contends). All through this account, we see the four band members in their unvarnished glory-vain, dope-smoking, lazy (except when it came to writing, recording, and playing music), curious, and terribly irresponsible with money. Yet despite such facts, Green's slightly nostalgia-tinted memories will serve to further endear the Clash to their fans. As described here, we see the band as innovators and agitators and decent blokes. We also get a deft account of the creative process at work, of how the band extracted great music from ordinary experiences and sensations. Without excessively touting his influence on band members, Green (aided by British freelance writer Barker) reveals how his presence gently affected them: he introduced them to the music of country guitar legend Joe Ely (who opened for them on a leg of their 1980 US tour), for instance. Also evident is how other musicians of the punk era-Sid Vicious, John Lydon, the Dead Boys, Souixie Sue (who seldom comes off well in this type of retrospective), and others lesser known-affected the Clash and their music, for better or worse. That the Clash's music is now known mostly as soundtrack fodder or as an influence for current acts makes the timing of this book most curious indeed. Betterlate than never!
Read an Excerpt
We were broke. The Clash then had no manager and were
lurching from one financial crisis to the next. The band
was recording London Calling at Wessex Studios, although the
crisis of confidence between record label CBS and the Clash
was so deep that no one was sure if the record would ever be
Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon had no money.
Topper Headon certainly had none. Neither had I or the Baker,
who between us shared in all the band's decisions, did all of
the Clash's administrative tasks and lugged around and set up
the amps and PA. CBS was trying to soften the Clash -- toning
down the band's image and its political stance -- by withholding
money. The last-minute offer to appear at a music
festival in Finland was a chance to earn some cash which was
too good to miss.
But it had to be cash. We owed money to banks, and all
accounts had been frozen pending a deal with former manager
Bernie Rhodes. The Clash's appearance at the Russrock
Festival, Finland, had been set up by Ian Flooks. He had
recently set up his own agency, Wasted Talent, and was
touting for trade, with a watchful eye on the managerless
Clash. I had to impress on him that we were not interested in
cheques or banker's drafts, just British pound notes -- up
front, in the hand.
I conducted lengthy negotiations from the wall-mounted
telephone in the corridor of Wessex Studios. Eventually the
fee was agreed. That left just one more problem -- equipment.
All the Clash's gear had been set up in the studio for the
recording session. There wasn't time to dismantle it and send
it to Finland. And anyway it had taken three days to get the
right sound, and we just couldn't afford the cost in studio
time to go through the whole process again.
From phone calls to Scandinavia, I achieved a personal coup
through Thomas Johansen, Abba's road manager, who agreed
that we could use Abba's PA and sound equipment. Abba were
the only group which had ever made me star-struck. I anticipated
the tingle of excitement when I would plug my
jack-plug into Agnetha's amp ... As it turned out, I received
more than a tingle.
We flew to Finland with the minimum crew. Rob Collins, a
sound engineer whom we had used before, was called in at
short notice, and Jeremy Green, the tape operator at Wessex
Studios, was recruited on the spot to look after the guitars and
amps. With the lift-off of the plane we all felt the lifting of
pressure on the band. A kids-out-of-school atmosphere took
over, which lasted for the whole trip. We were away from the
pressures of recording and our money problems, with the
prospect of earning cash-in-hand. We were on holiday!
The festival site just added to the holiday feeling. The
changing rooms were some caravans behind the stage, next to a
beautiful lake, with fir trees and sunshine. It was a long way
from the streets of Notting Hill and the garages of Camden
Town -- the subject matter of most Clash songs. And the band
were playing outdoors, in the daytime -- almost unknown for
them. The Clash had second billing at the festival, after Graham
Parker and the Rumour. They hadn't played support for any
band since the Sex Pistols on the Anarchy in the UK tour of
December 1976. We knew Graham Parker and his gang, and
they couldn't understand it: `How come you're playing support?
How much are you getting paid?'
We played dumb and giggled up our sleeves.
Shortly before the Clash were due to play, the band asked:
`Where's the money?'
`It's OK. It's safe back at the hotel' said the organizers,
surprised at the demand.
`No, we want it now, in our hands, before we go on'
I was dispatched to the hotel with one of the Finnish
promoters to fetch the money. He found it hard to believe that
I was standing in the hotel room counting out 7500 [pounds sterling] in
sterling, all wrapped in 100 [pounds sterling] bundles. This wasn't the normal
way of doing business. The festival was funded by the Finnish
government, under a youth arts development programme, so it
was unlikely that they would have paid us short. But we had
learnt from long experience not to trust anyone. Satisfied that
it was all there, I bundled the notes into my atomic pink
flight case and rushed back to the stadium.
`We've got the cash, lads. On you go!'
The band prepared to run on-stage when I noticed a buzz
from the PA. I rushed on to connect a loose jack-plug, grabbed
a mike-stand with my other hand and performed a backward
flip across the stage as an electric current took a short cut
across my chest. The crowd went mad with excitement.
They thought my acrobatics were part of the act. I went mad.
Grabbing the microphone, I yelled abuse about incompetent
Finnish technicians and generally called for the whole of
Scandinavia to plummet into an obscene hell, led by the
cheering folk in the audience. They loved this even more, and
as I went backstage to resume my grip on the case full of cash,
the Clash went on-stage to a huge roar. The band put on a
good show, fuelled by the Finnish vodka they'd demanded
backstage before the set.
After the set the holiday mood continued. We watched
Graham Parker's band from the stage wings, shouting
encouragement and taking the piss. I had a cheap camera, and
went on-stage and asked Parker to smite for a photo mid-song.
He would sing a line and then say, `Fuck off, fuck off', to me
out of the corner of his mouth.
After the concert all the bands and their entourages went
to a huge banquet in the dance hall of the hotel. Everyone
was working hard at getting wrecked -- Finnish beer is state-licensed,
and labelled with one, two or three stars according
to strength. We went for three-star. As was my way, I got
more wrecked than most, and fell into a stupor, still with a
dead-man's vice-like grip on the case of cash.
Eventually Joe and Paul decided to carry me to the
bedroom. They told me the next day that they couldn't lift me
and had had to drag me across the floor to the lift. My back
had the carpet burns to prove it. As Joe passed Graham Parker,
pulling me and the pink cash bag, Parker had shouted to him:
`Who is that cunt?'
`He's our road manager,' said Joe. `He's looking after us.'
Waiting at Turku airport for our return flight, we were still
in high spirits. We felt like we had got away with a bank
heist. As photographer Pennie Smith said later: `Being on the
road with the Clash is like a commando raid performed by The
Bash Street Kids.' During the flight I sat with the briefcase on
my lap and handed out wads of cash, making a real game of it.
`One for you, one for you, one for me ...'
Everyone stuffed wedges of notes into their pockets, to the
shocked astonishment of the other passengers and flight staff.
We had cash at last and wanted to flaunt it. We had bypassed
our creditors and the banks, and had been fellow conspirators
throughout the gig. Little did Graham Parker and the Rumour
know that although we had played support, we had been paid
more than them.
We changed planes at Stockholm, and each of us bought a
copy of Playboy for Tony Sanchez's expose of Keith Richards
and the Rolling Stones. Mick Jones was a `Keef' lookalike, and
he knew it, but his attempts to live a Keef-like lifestyle were
better hidden from the public gaze. He leant across and
swiped me across the back of the head with his rolled-up
Playboy. `Don't you ever do the same thing to us, Johnny,' he
And now I have. When I told Mick about this project he had
`Don't worry, I won't go on about the cocaine and the birds,'
`That's a pity,' said Mick. `I could do with the credibility.'
`Fuck authority,' said Joe. `I loved that, "Who's in charge?"
"He is ..." and there was you completely out of it,' and he
leapt on to the burning log straddling the bonfire, sparks and
flames leaping up around his fire-dance, his frame, still
sporting a fine quiff, silhouetted in the aureole surrounding
the eclipsing full moon. He looked just slightly older, slightly
wiser, than the figure he cut on-stage twenty years previously.
And I clicked and slipped backwards. The Clash were filming
a video for London Calling ...
The Baker and I had turned up at Battersea Park at midday. A
bright spark at the council had thought of installing sleeping
policemen in the park road, presumably to slow down runaway
wheelchairs. It was murder manoeuvring the Clash's atomic
pink flight cases of amps and speakers over them to the
floating jetty, grandly called Battersea Pier, which bobbed up
and down with the tide. Don Letts, who was doing the filming,
turned up on a motor launch, dreadlocks flying, with the film
crew. We set up the backline as if we were playing at the
Lyceum -- amps, leads, mikes, stands, PA to roll back the
sound. And we waited and waited for the band to arrive. We
buttoned our coats against the growing cold of the afternoon
and even Letts' good humour began to wane. Cold hours
passed and the sun set. It began to rain and the Clash turned
up. All the band's equipment was standing in the drizzle
getting soaked. Don had sent out for some lights and I sent
out for some Remy Martin. I wanted to pack up and go home.
The boat pulled out, riding the swell of the river, and Letts
was shouting instructions to the band through a megaphone,
like he was at the Boat Race.
`All right, hold it. When we do that section again all gather
around the mike then spread ...'
It was so weird it cheered me up, and the band ran through
it again and again, patiently and professionally, looking urban
and urbane, and wet. It was as if they had known it was going
to rain, and known it was going to be filmed at dusk. Joe
wielded his faithful old guitar, with its `Ignore Alien Orders'
sticker. Paul sported a wide-brimmed gangster hat; Mick was
in a dark suit, with a red tie and handkerchief sending off
flashes of colour. Every time Topper hit the drums spray
bounced up into his face, sparkling in the artificial light.
Between takes I mopped at their rain-soaked guitars and faces
with towels in a little wooden hut nearby, as they slugged
Remy and hugged each other against the cold.
Finally, it was done and the band pissed off in a cab. Baker
and I, cold, wet and starving, were left to pack everything
away, without even the roar of the crowd to see us home.
Baker whinged. `Look at this stuff -- it's soaked. How are we
going to dry it off? It's ruined."
I grabbed a mike-stand and dumped it into the water.
Anger welled into strength, and I picked up a wedge monitor,
hired from Maurice Plaquet, and with a roar hurled it into the
Thames. To our surprise it floated, and, rocking with laughter,
we watched it bobbing under the fairy lights of Chelsea Bridge.