It was almost 40 years ago today that Joe Strummer taught the band to play. The band was called The Clash and their 1979 album London Calling was to prove a seminal moment in the history of rock music.
It is one of the most influential albums of all time. I remember staying up all night and then being first in the queue outside the record shop the following morning to buy a masterpiece which fused punk with reggae, blues and rockabilly. It totally, like, blew my mind, man.
Its iconic cover – bass-player Paul Simonon smashing his guitar to pieces on a New York stage – is one of the many evocative black-and-white photographs on display at the new Museum of London exhibition, which opens today.
I love that Pennie Smith photograph. In fact, I love everything about The Clash, from Strummer’s brilliantly-written lyrics to Topper Headon’s edgy drumming.
I love the way Joe’s uncouth bark was counteracted by Mick Jones’ melodic guitar riffs. I love Simonon’s angst-ridden bass playing.
And, most of all, I love their howl of rage on behalf of the voiceless and against the kind of self-serving political class which still thrives four decades later.
Or at least I used to love them. For earlier this week I had the misfortune to see the Conservative Party’s latest campaign video.
The film is the latest proof that politics and pop do not mix. At first I thought it was an homage to David Brent in The Office. Boris Johnson strolls breezily about the Tory headquarters, in the manner of Ricky Gervais’ most famous character, answering quick-fire questions posed by an off-camera reporter, doing man-of-the-people type things like saying “How are you? Nice to see you” to a confused work colleague, making himself a cup of tea and revealing his intense interest in Thai curries, Marmite and fish and chips.
So far, so cringe. Then comes the question no politician should ever be asked. And certainly never answer. “What’s your favourite band?” Johnson claims it’s either The Clash or the Rolling Stones.
Pull the other one prime minister.
Next Jacob Rees-Mogg will be declaring an obsession with Joy Division, Andrea Leadsom will be citing Rage Against the Machine as a huge influence on her political career and Nigel Farage will be urging all Brexiteers to embrace grime culture.
As soon as a political leader expresses his or her love of an iconic band I immediately fall out of love with them.
This is why I no longer listen to The Smiths or The Jam following David Cameron’s notorious endorsement of two of my favourite groups. Cameron singled out the former’s classic song Eton Rifles, insisting it inspired him as a schoolboy.
As he was an Eton schoolboy at the time this seems a strange revelation. As the song’s author Paul Weller once pointed out: “Which part of it didn’t he get?” For The Modfather was satirising Etonians not praising them.
I’ve never liked Arctic Monkeys since Gordon Brown declared that their music “really wakes you up in the mornings”. Unsurprisingly, in a later interview, he failed to name a single track by the Sheffield beat combo.
As for Tony Blair – supposedly Britain’s first rock and roll prime minister – well, he put me right off Oasis. The infamous Downing Street reception in 1997 was the embodiment of New Labour’s desperate flirtation with celebrity. Noel Gallagher never sounded as good, I’m afraid, after sipping champagne with Blair at Number Ten.
I even went off the Beatles when Harold Wilson awarded them MBEs in the 1960s and practically salivated over the Fabs during a press conference. However I started liking John Lennon again when he handed back the gong with a note saying: “I am returning this in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts.”
Let me be clear. Whether it’s D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better in the 1997 Labour election campaign, a baseball-capped William Hague bigging up Massive Attack or Theresa May dancing awkwardly to Abba – trying to appear “cool” is never a good look for our self-serving political class.