In the late 70s I stood in the now long-gone Sophia Gardens in Cardiff and waited with baited breadth whilst the house lights dimmed and four silhouettes strode onstage to the sound of 16 Tons by Tennessee Earnie Ford. And in the time it took for the opening salvo of Safe European Home to fill the auditorium my life was changed for good. The Clash would forevermore be my group. No ifs, no buts, they were the greatest f*cking band to have walked Gods good earth!
Little did I think that just over thirty years later I would find myself in the less auspicious Cardiff Barfly watching Clash tribute band REBEL TRUCE. I must say it was with an element of trepidation I awaited their appearance. Would they be worthy of the great men, or would I have to curse them with some kind of punk jihad? And then something mystical happened, they opened the night with, yep, Safe European Home and for one brief moment I was transported back to being young, slim and good looking (actually that last bits bollocks, I was never good looking!).
Facially they might not look exactly like the band, certainly not in the way that, say Kid Vicious and Johnny Rotter of the Sex Pistols Experience are spitting images of their mentors. But believe me these Northern lads are true devotees of Messrs Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon. There are some nice touches like the battered sticker-strewn (Ignore Alien Orders) Fender Telecaster of the lead singer, complete with his gaffer-taped strum guards. Also the cut-off stencilled shirts. But overall what sells them as a fine band is the sound. It just reeks of the attitude the Clash brought to the stage.
Each member of the band is a consummate professional. And whether its amphetamine-drenched songs like 1977, Career Opportunities, Bored With The USA or Garageland from the first album, or the more musically intricate numbers like Death or Glory, Spanish Bombs Clampdown or Brand New Cadillac from the career defining London Calling, they were all played with note perfect precision.
The thing about loving a now defunct group is that with no new releases its hard to keep up the intensity of devotion. Shamed as I am to say it, I had forgotten how truly great these songs sounded live and why so many people of my age will always site the Clash as an influence. I can honestly say the ninety minutes flew by as classic followed classic. Whilst there was nothing from Cut The Crap and only Somebody Got Murdered and Police On My Back from Sandinista, the first three albums were covered in nearly their entirety. And just to show that they were aware that some audience members would only know the band from their later, more radio-friendly, commercial era they dropped in Rock The Casbah and Should I Stay Or Should I Go just for good measure. And just to round everything off nicely, I got to vent my anger that I never did get a riot of my own by finishing the night with White Riot.
I did wonder after if there set-list was too top-heavy with earlier Clash numbers. But when I checked with the four work colleagues that I had brow beaten into attending, they had enjoyed it as much as me, even though some numbers they werent that familiar with. And there is surely the ultimate compliment that can be paid to any tribute band in that they stand as a excellent band in their own right.
So put down your Vampire Weekend, Drums and Them Crooked Vultures CDs and start listening to the Sound of the Westway that was the Clash. And whilst youre at it check out REBEL TRUCE to get an idea what it was like to see them live and in all their glory.