Well, you’re all probably thinking to yourselves, ‘The old bugger promised us a brand new spanking page, no more lazing around drinking tea/Southern Comfort and what have we got? No posts for three weeks!!! Get it in gear,mate.’ Well, I do have an excuse. My hard drive just stopped working. Like that. I lost a scad of stuff that I had, and have been scurrying around trying to get it back.
A lot’s happened since then, hasn’t it? Part of my youth was wiped away again this week with the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, and the commons expenses row has come and gone (but left an indelible mark). Oh, and some people thought the BNP was a viable and sensible alternative to the Labour and Conservative parties. Ahem.
I thought it timely to post probably the greatest song of all time to celebrate my return. Hammersmith Palais, for those of you who may not know, was a music venue in London that started life in 1919 as a dance hall, but as the decades wore on, began to host live music more and more often. Punk gig frequenters were treated to concerts by the Cure, the Sex Pistols, the Cramps and PiL. In 2007, however, it was condemned, and the last ever gig (something which would have touched a nerve with Peel if he had been alive to see it) was by the Fall on April Fool’s Day that year.
The Clash’s fifth single, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais (FF 1978 #7, 1979 #3, 1980 #5, 1981 #10, All-Time 1982 #10 and All-Time 2000 #5), eulogised the venue’s dance past, but also used it as a metaphor for groups riding on the back of punk who had their priorities all wrong. It starts as you would expect a punk single to start, with a power chord, but then abruptly stops again and Joe Strummer counts in a revelatory fusion of ska and punk that must have made fans all over the country sit up. The band paint a picture of a stale music scene (based on an actual reggae showcase that Joe went to) that is content to play it safe with Four Tops all night, and laments that ‘on stage they ain’t got no roots rock rebels.’ The lyrics are poetry in its purest and most damning form: in fact, Strummer’s line, ‘If Adolf Hitler flew in today/They’d send a limousine anyway’ seems to me to be extraordinarily prescient in view of what I’ve just said. (I would have posted the Dead Kennedys’ ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’, but that somehow didn’t make Peel’s chart.)
The final lines seem to evoke the Palais’ future, as Strummer whispers, ‘I’m only looking for fun/Please mister, just leave me alone’, before the haunting melody that permeated the song from the outset comes to a strident halt in eleven notes. The bleeding and battered country they describe so vividly here and elsewhere had suffered much, but worse, far worse was to come.
Clash, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais