Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Clash Star in Rare, Long-Lost 1980′s Gangster Parody 'Hell W10'

Behold fans of The Clash! I present for your viewing pleasure a very rare gangster parody film titled 'Hell W10' (named after the post code of Notting Hill in London) that Clash frontman Joe Strummer wrote and directed during the summer of 1983. It features his band mates and was filmed while the band was on a break from touring. Its bittersweet to watch, as this is the very last creative project the band worked on together before Jones was ousted from The Clash in late 1983.

'Hell W10' is a 50 minute-long, Super-8 silent film that plays like Mean Streets on a shoestring budget. It tells a tale of gang warfare between a brigade of punks led by bassist Paul Simonon and a bunch of sharp-suited gangsters fronted by guitarist Mick Jones. The film is an amateurish, funny, gory, and fascinating document of the early 80's.  It was lost to time until a pair of fans found a copy at a garage sale a few years back (the film was later released as part of the Essential Clash DVD collection).

While it's not exactly the kind of thing you watch again and again, it's worth viewing at least once for the images of London in the early '80s and the gusto with which the band members throw themselves into their roles -- Jones camps it up like a pantomime villain as Mr. Socrates, while Simonon plays his Jimmy Cliff-channeling rude boy nemesis Earl.  Strummer puts in a cameo as a mustachioed crooked cop (prefiguring his later movie work in Alex Cox's 'Straight to Hell' and Jim Jarmusch's 'Mystery Train'). Both Tony James and Martin Degville who later went on to form Sigue Sigue Sputnik also feature in the film.

The plot focuses on Earl (Simonon) and a drug-lord/porn director/crime lord named Socrates (Jones). Earl's girlfriend gets involved with Socrates and soon enough Earl becomes the man's number one enemy. Socrates tries to get his goons on Earl's case, especially after he sells a batch of Socrates' X-rated films, but Earl manages to wrangle up a group of his friends to rebel against them.

Watcher be warned: 'Hell W10' is no masterpiece. The camera work is sloppy at times and individual scenes last longer than they need to. Still, it’s hard not to enjoy any movie with an all-Clash soundtrack, and I got a huge kick out of watching Mick Jones scowl in his white tuxedo like a silent-film Scarface.

The soundtrack is a highpoint and features excerpts from a mix of instrumentals of well known Clash songs, as well as a few rarities including in order "Version City", "Rudie Can't Fail", "First Night Back in London (Instrumental)", "Know Your Rights (Instrumental)", "Long Time Jerk (Instrumental)", "Cool Confusion (Instrumental)", "Ghetto Defendant (Instrumental)", "Junco Version (Instrumental)", "Atom Tam (Instrumental)", "Silicone on Sapphire", "Wrong 'Em Boyo", "Overpowered by Funk (Instrumental)", "The Call Up", "Red Angel Dragnet (Instrumental)", "Jimmy Jazz", "Mensforth Hill", "Junkie Slip", "Time Is Tight", "Armagideon Time", "Listen", "The Equaliser", "Police on My Back", "One More Dub" and "Rock the Casbah (Instrumental).

Without further ado I present in its entirety Hell W10:

Friday, April 7, 2017

Rude Boy George: 80's New Wave Goes Ska!

In the shameless self-promotion department, the band I'm in  -- Rude Boy George -- has just released its first single of 2017! Its part of a suite of ska and reggae versions of 80's songs we've been recording and releasing every few months during the last year and a half (stream the latest songs on Bandcamp or listen to our first album "Confessions" released in 2014 on Spotify.) The latest song is our new wave meets reggae version of Blondie's "Atomic. "  It joins our 2-Tone ska and reggae take on other 80's tracks including songs by Soft Cell, The Cure, Wang Chung, Kim Wilde and Howard Jones.

Truth be told, the twin pillars of 2-Tone ska and 80's new wave music sustained me through much of a challenging youth during the 1980's. 2-Tone revealed harsh economic, social and racial injustices with a power and a fury that was undeniable but also danceable. It forever influenced my world view and moved me to learn an instrument and start a ska band -- Bigger Thomas. Though I tend to be a religious secularist, I've worshipped at the Church of 2-Tone for most of my life.

While new wave retained the vigor and irreverence of 70's punk music that had fueled 2-Tone, it incorporated style and art in a way that opened my world to ideas of love, friendship, sex and fashion and helped give form to my own burgeoning identity. I sought refuge in new wave's incredible diversity of nervy pop (XTC), synth pop (Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Human League), new wave songwriters (Elvis Costello), pop bands (Squeeze, INXS), pop-reggae (The Police) and more mainstream rockers (Billy Idol, The Cars). Here in the U.S. 2-Tone was lumped in with new wave, so in many ways, despite their completely different musical world views they are inextricably linked in my musical consciousness. A yin and yang that forever form the soundtrack of my life. And that is how I see Rude Boy George -- a combination of the two music forms that have sustained me most of my life.

So if you like the idea of some of your favorite 80's new wave songs wrapped in a loving ska and reggae embrace, we hope you will consider giving our songs a spin. Many thanks!

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Story Behind General Public's Other, Much Darker Video For "Tenderness"

For anyone who came of age in the 80's, General Public's video for "Tenderness" was nearly ubiquitous. It featured smiling, happy children, interspersed with moody shots of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger singing and dancing in front of swirling lights.  When paired with the songs upbeat sound, the video highlighted the brighter side of the lyrics more melancholy undertones. Otherwise, the video didn't stand out significantly from the many other pop and new wave videos of the era.

That said, if you really paid attention, the lyrics were deeper than they appeared.  According to Wakeling:

"I used to like traveling with the trucks that carried the gear. I'd always been a big fan of that TV show Cannonball when I was a kid, and thought that the idea of American trucks was very romantic. So when we came on tour, I used to love to drive overnight with the truck drivers and talk rubbish on the CB in there. And so it was as if the trucks were driving in what's called "the endless gray river." And the notion was that you were driving around in there in America searching for the tenderness, whereas, of course, it's in your heart all the time. So it's like you're looking in the outside world for something that can only be discovered in yourself, because love is a verb, not a noun. That was the notion of it. But also there was a darker side to the song, because it came out in that period of AIDS, fear of AIDS. Nobody really knew much about it, and everybody was all of a sudden terrified to touch a door handle. Being a terrific hypochondriac, and everybody was always having colds on the road on tour, it's like any time anybody sneezed, I was like, could that be AIDS? So it was to do with that, but in sort of non-obvious way."

And to that end, there was another, much darker and more adult version of the video for "Tenderness" which was filmed in the U.K. (by the director of Bronski Beat's cutting edge video for "Small Town Boy") that never aired here in the U.S. The story behind the two very different videos is a classic case of American puritanical views on sex and a U.S. record company that was aiming to place the song at the top of the pop charts (it reached #27 in the Billboard Charts) and record a video that would garner regular rotation on MTV. According to Wakeling:

We did two versions. We did one in England with Nicholas Roeg’s son, who’d just become a video director, and he’d just done a Bronski Beat video. I really enjoyed that video, and so our first one had this female lifeguard, and we’re all playing around in the swimming pool. I’d been a competition swimmer, so when they proposed a swimming pool, I said yes yes, thinking I could show off a bit. So the girl and I are supposed to be eyeing each other and then we end up in the shower, and she takes off her jacket and she’s actually a female bodybuilder with a crew cut. She tosses off her wig and embraces me, and that’s the end of the video. Everyone in England thought it was amazing. We brought it over to Miles Copeland and his crew and they said [in a barking tone] “No no no no no.” We said we didn’t have any money to re-shoot, but IRS Records came up with the money. They introduced us to [director] C.D. Taylor whom I like very much, and I think the theme of that video was that Roger and I were very attractive people at sunset. (laugh) We shot much of the performance on the A&M lot. C.D. Taylor found these eye drops that made blue eyes look even bluer with the right lens on. It ended up being my mom’s favorite video. I showed the two cuts to my mom, and she said, “ah, your eyes do look lovely in that one.” 

Check out the radically different UK version of the video for the song below. The risque visuals and storyline of a family man dealing with temptation and infidelity while on the road is far more compelling than most pop videos of the day and completely changes your view of the song forever. Too bad Miles Copeland was so shortsighted!