A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash

Overview

Johnny Green was a footloose slacker who loved punk rock, stumbled into being a roadie for the Sex Pistols, then tripped again into a job pushing sound equipment for the Clash and driving their beat-up van to performances in the mean industrial towns of England. Disaffected youth anointed the Clash as their spokesmen and made the group synonymous with punk itself in the late 1970s. Eventually becoming the band's road manager, Green had a unique vantage point from which to witness the burgeoning punk rock movement...

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Overview

Johnny Green was a footloose slacker who loved punk rock, stumbled into being a roadie for the Sex Pistols, then tripped again into a job pushing sound equipment for the Clash and driving their beat-up van to performances in the mean industrial towns of England. Disaffected youth anointed the Clash as their spokesmen and made the group synonymous with punk itself in the late 1970s. Eventually becoming the band's road manager, Green had a unique vantage point from which to witness the burgeoning punk rock movement while helping the band in their perpetual search for women, booze, and drugs. Green was with the Clash when they conquered America, bringing with them their bad behavior and great music, and burning out after their third, too-long tour. Written in a tell-it-as-it-was style and accompanied by contemporaneous drawings by Ray Lowry, who tagged along with the Clash on their American tour as their official "war artist," A Riot of Our Own pierces the heart of the culture and music of punk rock and the people who lived it.

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Editorial Reviews

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

Joyce Millman

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

Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews
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!
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780571199570
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber
  • Publication date: 2/12/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.54 (d)

First Chapter

Chapter One

    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 released.

    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 said.


And now I have. When I told Mick about this project he had no objections.

    `Don't worry, I won't go on about the cocaine and the birds,' I said.

    `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.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2004

    FINALLY!!! someone gets it!

    A lot of Clash books read 'this was important cause...' or 'This was smart cause...' and end up very dull cause everyone knows the Clash are the greatest band ever I don't need a book to tell me why. 'A Riot of their Own' is diffrent. He puts you there with the Clash from their days as a budding London band hardly making it to their skyrocket to sucsess with 'London Calling'. He puts you in the basement of 'Rehersals, Rehersals' hearing 'White man in Hammersmith Palis' blasting from upstairs for the first time, In a London pub watching the News as Joe Strummer jots down the Lyrics to 'Spanish bombs' and in the studio while peoples jaws drop listening to 'Guns of Brixton' played for the very first time. The books a trip and it will change the way you love the Clash and the way you love music.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2003

    check it out

    anybody whose a fan of the clash should read this and even if your not, its a good book, easy to read, and doesn't drag on. its told from a roadie johnny green, if you've seen rude boy he is the roadie in that. the book tells of the time from autumn 1977 to sometime in 1980, before sandinista. it touches on the touring, before and after the shows, its like behind the sceines. also it tells of the rehearsals and the recordings of give'em enough rope and london calling. but the best part of the book in my opinion is seeing or reading how the clash worked as a group and getting to know each charecter. after being a fan for years it cool to see what each band members was all about at the time of their prime. the only down fall of the book is its not written by strummer or jones. anyway,its worth reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2003

    clash fans, your ship's come in.

    this is the best book about the clash i've ever read. i've read quite a few. it's vivid and almost story-like in it's writing and makes you feel like you're in the day-by-day life of a roadie with the clash. go read it. now!

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