COMBAT READY - Tim Satchwell
When an author writes a book about a band, it usually encompasses a sweeping brush approach to the whole of their existence. That way it's much easier to concentrate on the more salacious and sensational events and thereby diminishes the necessity for fastidious research into the minutia of their career. However, Tim Satchwell has effectively done the opposite. His weighty tome, running to over two hundred pages, is an in-depth study of the making of just one album, Combat Rock by the Clash.
Clearly this was a labour of love for him. The books introduction humorously highlights that its writing took longer that the album did to be recorded, mixed and released. What Tim has done is amass a wealth of information on an album that both broke the Clash commercially (double platinum sales), especially in the USA, but in so doing took a heavy toll on the band with two members leaving shortly thereafter.
The main combatants (no pun intended) are introduced - Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon - as well as a cast of lesser known contributors to the album including beat poet Alan Ginsberg, girlfriends Pearl Harbour and Ellen Foley, graffiti artist Futura 2000 and Tymon Dogg (later to be part of Joe Strummers solo band The Mescaleros).
The salient years around the production of the album (1981 and 1982) are reviewed both in the context of the domestic/global situation, as well as the mindset of the band at that point. Events are recalled and explained that would ultimately shape the album itself - Bernie Rhodes returning as manger, their extended residency at New York's Bonds Casino, the first UK gigs in 15 months, groundbreaking Far East tour, Joe and Mick's egos, Strummer's unscheduled disappearance and Topper Headon's escalating drug problem. All are covered in meticulous detail.
Each track is examined, explained and dissected in minute detail and the story behind them related with gusto. From the possible love letter of Mick Jones to Ellen Foley that was "Should I Stay or Should I Go", the almost single-handed creation of "Rock the Casbah" by Topper Headon, through the uncredited lyrics of Alan Ginsberg on "Ghetto Defendant" and the law suit that followed the use of part of a toilet cleaner advert in "Inoculated City", Satchwell clarifies the meaning of each track and gives a retrospective insight into how each has stood the test of time.
But that is only half the story, the album's design, reviews, worldwide formats, marketing and promotion, TV & radio reception, merchandise, single releases, chart position, bootlegs and subsequent cover versions are painstakingly outlined in both word and picture. One article even shows the individual band members stickers that adorned the US release, meaning that to be a Clash completist you needed to buy the album four times over.
However, the real high point for me is the beautifully reproduced, ultra clear, previously unpublished colour pictures by Joe Streno of the band and retinue back stage at Bonds Casino and both on and off stage at Asbury Park. These do much to convey the band at their most charismatic and give a sense of the sheer electricity they generated when on stage. I should know as I caught the band touring the album, not in the heady heights of New York, but in the rather more sobering surroundings of Bristol Locano.
One very minor quibble is that there is so much information, and consequential acknowledgement of the source of the material, that it can be a bit overpowering and somewhat disrupts the flow of the narrative. However, that is just being pedantic and, given the wealth of information the book contains, I can only tip my hat to Tim Satchwell for the obvious time and effort he has put into producing what is probably the most definitive record of the recording of any album. If you are a Clash fan, really there is only one question? Why haven't you already bought a copy?