From the NME, 22/29 December, 1984
Phoney Clash Mania!
A sad night. For all Joe Strummer’s renewed vigour and Smiley Culture’s wit and wordage, this was one of the worst rock shows your reviewer has witnessed in ages.
From the same South London stable as Asher Senator, Smiley Culture is the prince of the new wave of fast-patter deejays, delivering his raps in double-quick time and with tongue-twisting diction. Remember the days when reggae was supposed to be laid back? Smiley don’t and his “lyrics of quantity” spout from that grinning mouth at an alleged rate of 195 words a minute.
Backed only by a tape of some looping dubwise rhythms, the man in the tam and the sky-blue tracksuit slam-bammed his way through ‘Police Officer’ and ‘Cockney Translation’, the latter now embellished with Yankee-style abridgements, but his impact was severely dampened by an overdose of mid-song balderdash.
Stoned exhortations of “Everybody say Clash” and sermons on the joys of sweet sensimelia only punctured the pace and timbre of Smiley’s double-time talkovers. In the course of half-a-dozen toasts, there was simply too much twaddle and not enough serious talk.
Under the banner Arthur Scargill’s Christmas Party and in front of a backdrop depicting the bleak post-industrial silhouettes of a dying mining town, Strummer’s three new apprentices struck up the stark opening chords of ‘One More Time’ and it immediately felt good to know that The Clash were back.
Drawing liberally from a catalogue that now stretches back eight years, The Clash play for close on two hours but there is little coherence or crispness to their set. Compared to, say, The Redskins scampering through ‘Unionise’ or ‘Lean On Me’ in Hammersmith only a week earlier, Strummer and company dilute much of their political force by their fanciful and romanticised imagery.
And judging by their reception afforded the speech of a striking miner before their set – gobbed at, splattered in beer and eventually subjected to the indignity of having his papers torn up by a marauding punk who had forced his way on stage – any political points being made by The Clash are lost on certain sections of their audience.
The absurdness of regurgitating 1977’s sermon in 1984 aside, some of the new songs previewed on the last tour – ‘This Is England’ and ‘Are You Ready’ – promise better once they have been captured, litigation permitting, on vinyl.
But on stage, The Clash at the moment are a case of an excess of energy at best being misdirected and at worst going to waste. Like a rabbit caught in a snare, the more they kick the more entangled they seem to become.
It’s time they quit holding out and drew another breath.