The Clash,Guy Stevens and the making of London Calling.
This interview with ‘London Calling’ producer Guy Stevens is sourced from Charles Shaar Murray’s book of collected reviews and interviews called ‘Shots From the Hip’, which was first published in 1991.
The Clash had history with both Stevens and Murray. Mott the Hoople and Spooky Tooth producer Guy Stevens was responsible for not only Mick being sacked from his pre-Clash band Violent Luck (‘Lose the skinny second guitarist!’), but he had also got wasted and made a bit of a mess of the mixes on the band’s now legendary ‘Polydor Demos’, in 1976.
Charles Shaar Murray is the infamous NME writer who had famously remarked in 1976: ‘The Clash are the sort of band who should be returned to the garage that they came from as soon as possible…preferably with the engine running!’ This would inspire the band to write ‘Garageland’.
Clearly, and thankfully for Guy and CSM (who would become a staunch Clash advocate), The Clash were not the kind of band to hold a grudge..
‘The Clash were really great to work with. I found ‘em in 1976. I produced demos of the first album, ‘White Riot’ and all that. This character called Bernie Rhodes [Clash manager] who owned a garage in Camden Town and happened to live opposite where they rehearsed..I was living near there at the time and I wandered in when they were doing “White Riot”’
Stevens launches into an impromptu performance of the song, spittle flying, hair bouncing and eyes bulging, “WHITE RIOT! WANNA RIOT! A RIOT OF MY OWN!!”.
‘And then Bernie got very tricky.’...as was his way....'Bernie Rhodes knows, don't argue'.
The conversation then saunters into the minefield of The Clash’s financial history, a topic over which a discreet veil should be drawn. Suffice it to say that anyone thinking that The Clash’s popularity and influence has created a proportionate bulge in their bank accounts is suffering from severe delusions. If anyone’s ‘turning rebellion into money’, it certainly ain’t The Clash.
Which is why we find The Clash in a room in a West London office building winding down after a business meeting. The previous day the ‘London Calling’ video had been shot in the Battersea drizzle, and an evening’s rehearsals have just had to be cancelled because their equipment is still waterlogged and as such is unfit for immediate use.
The single is out and has been warmly received. Everyone who’s heard the album thus far thinks it’s marvellous, so everyone’s telling their Guy Stevens stories and anecdotes.
Joe Strummer looks like a Ted on his way from a building site to an oldies shop hot on the trail of Jerry Lee Lewis out-takes. Paul Simonon looks like King Of All The Rudies. Topper looks like a punk rockaaah. Mick Jones looks like Al Pacino in The Godfather.
‘I well remember searching through all of the pubs off Oxford Street looking for him,’ Strummer recalls. ‘I found a row of blokes sitting at the bar, slumped over and staring into their beer. I looked down this row and then I spotted Guy because of his woolly hat. I went up to him and tapped him on the shoulder, he looks round and it was just like one of those son-finds-father scenes in a corny film! He looked up at me and said, “Have a drink!”
“He had a few bust-ups during the sessions,’ Mick chips in. ‘He had one with Mister Oberstein [Maurice Oberstein, head of CBS UK] where he lay in front of Maurice’s Rolls-Royce. He had fights with Bill Price too [legendary studio engineer].
‘We highly recommend him to anybody who wants to make a great record’ announces Strummer.
‘There was this big pile of chairs,’ reminisces Jones, ‘all stacked up neatly on top of each other like at school and he rushed over during a ‘live’ take and grabbed the top chair, and they all started to lean over, so he pushed them back, went for the top one again, pulled it down and smmmaasssshhh! Then he says, “I’m Guy Stevens..this is what I do…especially, when I’m thinking about my mother” and then he starts behaving …eccentrically.’
During the sessions, Guy would periodically phone Ian Hunter [Mott The Hoople] in the States for pep talks. Guy was telling Hunter that he couldn’t go on, and Hunter would tell him to stop pissing about and get on with it. He would hang off the hallway for literally hours while The Clash worked in the studio.
‘We paid for the calls! We paid for his minicabs as well. He brought in a year’s worth of receipts – every cab he’d taken since the fifties. One day he had a bodyguard with him..’
The ‘bodyguard’ eventually turned out to be a cab driver who’d come in to get paid as Guy didn’t have a penny on him. Guy forget all about him and started the session..The cab driver ended up waiting there for eighteen hours and it ended up costing the band £65 because he left his meter running.
The Clash had received considerable opposition from CBS when they proposed to use Stevens. ‘They hate his guts!! They said they refused to use him until he was bankable again. We plan to use him again, and we’re going to tell all the rest of CBS’s acts to use him. We’re gonna make him CBS’s in-house producer!
‘It gives me heart when Guy tells us about his history,’ continues Strummer. ‘At least there’s someone around who’s as bad as us...if not worse. All the dreadful life-wrecking things that have happened to him…’
Jones: ‘His presence in a studio definitely makes all the difference. It’s like Dorian Gray’s portrait: all this messy sound goes into him and it becomes him… and then what’s left on the tape is…clarity’
Joe: ‘People tend to be wary of him because he’s off the wall, to put it mildly. And they should be. There’s a little bit of an act in there too, though it’s not all an act. It puts a lot of people off. They often think, “Christ, get this man home.”
Jones says beautifully: ‘Even when he’s unconscious he can still recite his address.’
Apart from applying time-honoured Guy Stevens production techniques such as the Mott furnishing-smashing standby..
Strummer: ‘He invented some new ones for us. Like pouring wine into the piano to make it sound ‘better’...’
Jones: ‘Like blowing the mixing desk up. Like hitting the guitarist with a ladder. All these we could take...but pouring wine into the grand piano…we nearly killed him for that’
Strummer: 'Lucky there were no Space Invaders about or he’d o’ done them in too…but then Simmo would’ve killed him!’
Jones: ‘He’s obsessed with Arsenal and Liam Brady. He always wears his scarf and on the way to every one of the sessions he would take a taxi to Highbury and go and stand in the middle of the pitch. Pity no-one else in the group supports Arsenal.’
Despite or because of all this The Clash unhesitatingly recommend Guy Stevens. Strummer pronounces him to be, ‘The ultimate cure for musical constipation!’ How would they react to the dictum – oft-voiced by such bands as PiL or The Stranglers – to the effect that record producers are basically parasites?
Strummer grins broadly: ‘They should try Guy…they’ve never met a parasite like this one before!’
In assessing himself, Stevens stated, "There are only two Phil Spectors in the world... and I'm one of them!"