In 1979 the Clash were the best band in the world. And that year at London's Vanilla studios, they began work on their classic, London Calling. But the rehearsal tapes were left in the underground by a drunk roadie and thought lost. Now for the 25th anniversary, London Calling is being re-released with the newfound "Vanilla Tapes." TIME's Hugh Porter spoke to former Clash guitarist Mick Jones.
your roadie recently confessed to losing the vanilla tapes. how did they turn up? They were thought to be the only copies, but at the start of this year I moved house. While sorting through a box I saw the tapes I knew immediately what they were. I don't think anyone has heard them since we were making the record.
it's a BIG find. any surprises? Some will be surprised by our choice of material, but we used to play anything we liked. Nobody walked out going, "I don't want to play country-and-western. I'm not coming back till you let me know I'm punk." We were pretty diverse. The main thing for me is that it's a real band playing, and that's almost lost now in modern recording techniques. You can really hear that it's four guys working at it together.
it includes a cover of bob dylan's the man in me. an unusual choice? There was a British reggae band around at the time called Matumbi, and they covered that song. We had seen them play, so we were doing a Dylan song but it was the Matumbi version.
did you think you would still be talking about london calling 25 years on? No. I'm pretty sure none of us did. A lot of it was to do with Joe [Strummer, the singer/co-writer who died in 2002] and that people liked our group; it reached them at a certain place that it stayed with them. At the time of London Calling we felt most dedicated to our work because we were so close and we'd built up that kind of playing relationship between us.
Producer Guy Stevens had some unconventional motivation methods in the studio. Did they work? They definitely did, and Guy's part was integral to the record. Guy was very similar to us in a lot of ways. We'd just split up with our manager, lost our rehearsal place and we found ourselves as the only band in town really, after the [Sex] Pistols had broken up and Sid [Vicious] had died. We felt outside and I know that Guy was an outsider. He used to be a catalyst by directly physically interacting with us in the studio while we were recording.
What do you mean by "directly physically interacting"? He'd get quite close indeed, especially if you were on the piano where he got right in your ear. He chucked a bit of stuff around he had some issues with some of the orchestra chairs. We'd still be trying to do the track at the same time; mostly we just played through. Maybe he thought that if he acted in that way, then the group could get on with the music.
Joe Strummer's lyrics were politically impassioned. Why are so few artists driven in the same way today? When you mention politics now it's like a bad word almost. It's synonymous with corruption and unfairness. At the time it came across as political but we were just talking about what affected our lives. We were never allied in any way to any political party though obviously we were from the left and we cared about things and Joe especially taught us all how we should treat people. We learned a great lesson from him. How Joe was, he taught us all.
If Joe had survived would we have seen a clash reunion by now? I don't know, to be honest. We talked about it a few times but it never seemed right. In a way we've been spared it now. I did get to play with Joe one last time a few weeks before his death. I went along to a striking fireman's benefit in Acton [London], to see the show, and I had no intention of getting up, but when I heard [Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros] start Bank Robber I felt compelled. And of course it was a fireman's benefit so we played London's Burning at the end. It was very much like our old days a town hall, and it was for something we felt was important. It somehow seemed right.
You now produce the libertines. Do you see similarities between them and the clash in their day? I would say the two main guys are a bit like brothers, they are the two main writers, and also they are great rivals of each other that's a bit like us. They've only made a couple of albums but they've made a great impact, they are great songwriters and their stuff means a lot to people.
are you proud of the clash legacy? Yeah I am. I grew up on music that influenced me that told me how we might live. I found myself in a position where I've helped carry that on. Yes, very proud.