15 Stay Free
Give ‘Em Enough Rope album track, November 1978
DON LETTS: All I’ll say about “Stay Free” is that it’s a south London thing. I don’t know if that makes any sense but it’s a south London thing – you either get it or you don’t.
PETE WYLIE: Mick had a great voice, and even though he only got to sing one or two songs, he made the most of them. “Stay Free” was a different kind of Clash song, very melodic. Mick’s finest hour.
NORMAN COOK: The Clash were the first band to get into politics and I know they had an equally big effect on the rest of The Housemartins. They talked about important issues in interviews and addressed problems like racism and unemployment in their songs. “The Magnificent Seven” took a scalpel to factory life, while “Stay Free” made me realise I shouldn’t waste a moment of my life. It was a seminal song on a seminal album and, whenever I see one of my oldest mates, we still sing it to each other.
TOMMY STINSON: It’s a song that I used to listen to a lot when I was hanging out with my friend David Roth. He was a kid I went to high school with. He and I used to be the two ruffians of our school. We’d get spat on and picked on a lot because we had spiky hair and little spiky bracelets and shit. You know, we were these crazy little kids, and “Stay Free” always reminds me of him. Most of The Clash records I got onto because of him, because his family had been to England right before I met him and he came back from England and he had bondage trousers and Give ’Em Enough Rope and he turned me onto a lot of cool stuff.
ALAN PARKER: Reminds me so much of my teenage years in Blackburn, with our little gang trying to stay free…
GIDEON COE: An excellent example of Mick Jones as lead singer, this song also contains one of his finest guitar solos. It has a special place in my heart because my friends and I used to play it busking on Canterbury High St. Tales of smoking menthol, fighting and doing time in Brixton rang very true with us middle-class grammar school boys. Our main concerns at the time centred on history homework and broken strings. I’d always leave out the profanities in case the Archbishop was walking past. Not that he ever gave us any money. Back to the record. It’s The Clash at their most wistful. It’s as affecting a tale of friendship and lost days of youth as I’ve ever heard in my life.
STEVE DIGGLE: Give ’Em Enough Rope got slagged to death because of its polished production, but “Stay Free” has to be one of the best Mick Jones compositions ever committed to tape. The whole song is really moving and poignant and it sounds just as good decades later.
Single A-side, August 1980
PAUL WELLER: That’s the thing, the arse-end of when you say you’re not gonna play Top Of The Pops. You get Pan’s People dancing to “Bankrobber”. So what’s worse, y’know?
MARC CARROLL: Strummer comes from this whole narrative lineage of songwriters, like Dylan and Woody Guthrie. He always said he was influenced by Woody Guthrie, and the lyrics to “Bankrobber” are proof of that, with this tale of an immoral lawbreaker. It’s exactly the sort of thing Guthrie sang about. If there was something going on, he’d let you know about it. And Strummer was the same. I met him about two years ago in Battery Studios and it was an unbelievable experience. He was the most amazing person, incredibly polite. I don’t get star-struck easily, but I phoned everybody I knew – including my parents – to tell them. I went into the room and he was asleep on the couch with his dogs. He was totally cool.
13 London’s Burning
The Clash album track, April 1977
STEVE DIGGLE: The Clash are one of my favourite bands and in my autobiography, Harmony In My Head, I actually admit I’d much rather have been in The Clash than The Buzzcocks. I know they’re not as popular or fashionable as they used to be, but they were an amazing live band and I don’t think they released a single duff track. We supported them on the White Riot tour in 1977 and I’ll never forget the shivers I used to get every time they played “London’s Burning”. I used to stand at the side of the stage and watch the audience go crazy every time Joe hollered the opening lines… It was like witnessing the rebirth of rock’n’roll through a punk perspective.
MARK PERRY: It’s about a time and a place, about The Clash as they were living then. All that stuff about the Westway, I mean Mick Jones actually lived in a flat overlooking the Westway, so the track just reflects the tension of living in London at that time. Skyscrapers, having the motorway running past your house, y’know what I mean? Literally, London’s burning with boredom. It’s superb. The Clash had these rallying calls which I think The Sex Pistols would have loved to have had. Apart from “Anarchy In The UK” and “God Save The Queen”, I don’t think the Pistols were that good at describing what it was like to be young, bored and frustrated in London. The Clash did that perfectly with “London’s Burning”.
PETE WYLIE: I still think of Joe every time I see the Westway. The night he died, me daughter was coming home from Australia for Christmas so I was staying with a mate in London so I could pick her up from the airport the next morning. About two in the morning the phone goes. It was me mate John McGee, who’d just worked on the Mescaleros tour. He said, “Joe’s dead.” I was baffled. I thought, “Why would anyone make such a stupid joke?” I was absolutely in bits. A few hours later I met me daughter at Heathrow and I was overjoyed, I hadn’t seen her in two years and I was ecstatic. But mixed in with all that jubilation was that thing of “one of me mates has died”. So on the journey home, we made a detour so we could go along the Westway. It was so poignant, there in the car with me daughter, the morning after Joe died, driving along the Westway singing “London’s Burning” to meself in this half-broken, shocked way. It’s still a bloody shock, when I think about it.
MARK REFOY: For me this song will always mean Victoria Park, April 30, 1978, and the Rock Against Racism festival. I was 15, I had my O-levels looming and I didn’t give a flying fuck. I came down on a coach organised by the local Anti-Nazi League. There were thousands of us in Trafalgar Square who then marched all the way to Hackney. When we got to Victoria Park we just legged it down the front to try and get as close as possible. Nobody was that bothered about the other bands. We just wanted to see The Clash. When they came on and Joe said, “For those of you who’ve just come down to London…” and went straight into “London’s Burning” it was utterly fucking unbelievable. Then Ray Gange coming out at the end, giving it “More Clash!”. It was chaos!
RAY GANGE: Victoria Park? Well I was just really pissed off that they were gonna pull the plug. I wanted to see more Clash so I assumed that if there were 60,000 people out there then they did, too. I went up there to gee them up, hoping everybody was gonna storm the barricades, but after a while people were just looking up at me a bit bored!
MARC CARROLL: I used to change the lyric to “Dublin’s Burning” when I was jumping around my living room. And I changed the line “Dial 999” to “Dial N-N-N-N-No-one”. Humorous now, but deadly serious when you’re younger and you’re raging against everything. When I first came over to England in 1988, I used to go down to Ladbroke Grove a lot. I still think of it as The Clash’s manor.
LYNDON MORGANS: A brilliant piece of myth-making, using words as a blunt instrument – sheer brute-force poetry – to endow the Westway/ Harrow Road area with all the sleazy glamour of a Bronx or a Bowery.
ROBERT ELMS: They knocked my family house down to build the Westway and I still love that road and this song about it.