In discussion with Roual Galloway on “Garageland” by the Clash (1977)
So what was your first encounter with ‚Garageland‘? Listening to the radio as a teenager?
I got a copy of the first Clash album in 1979 from a record shop in Edinburgh called GI Records, aged 11. My dad had done some work for the owner and payment was made to him in vinyl. Which meant that my sisters and I all had three records each to choose from the stock. I can’t remember what my sisters chose, but the three I selected were The Ramones “It’s Alive,“ The Skids „Scared To Dance,“ and the self titled Clash album. At the time we lived in a Scottish newtown called Livingston. In later life you realise that all newtowns are built in three stages, which are in the following order of building houses, attracting people and offering jobs. We moved there in ‘78 in between stage 1 and stage 2. This meant that unemployment was high and the youth were left disenfranchised. Like most newtowns it was badly designed and architecturally awash with concrete grey. Punk seemed like a natural rebellion against the injustices imposed on the youth of Livingston and had a massive following there. A local punk band called On Parole used to cover it and I suppose it became ingrained in my consciousness from that. I saw them live for the first time in 1979. I’ve always liked the sentiments of the lyrics, of standing up against selling out and of doing things for yourself.
Have you ever heard something like it before, or was this your first experience with Punk?
I was aware of punk in 1977, but I was too busy kicking a football about and chasing girls at the time. One of the first records I bought in 1978 was „Denis“ by Blondie, unfortunately the other two were „The Smurf Song“ and the Official Scottish World Cup Song of 1978. I bought these whilst I was living in Nottinghamshire just before we moved to Livingston, Scotland. There was no escaping punk in Livingston.
I have to ask this question. Why The Clash, and not The Sex Pistols?
The Sex Pistols released one proper studio album in 1977 and then Rotten left. They were never the same after that, although the cash-in albums were hugely influential at the time of release. The Clash on the other hand released six studio albums in their existence. They matured with each album, apart from „Cut The Crap“. The one regret that I have is that I didn’t see them at the time. If I had to choose between the Pistols and the Clash it would have to be the Clash every day of the week.
„Garageland“ was published as last song of their debut album. Did you like the album as a whole, or is this their standout track?
The first album is filled with classic song after classic song. From the opening with „Janie Jones“ to „Garageland“ it’s all thrillers with no fillers. How can you not like an album that’s as strong as this!
In terms of lyrics, Joe Strummer said the song was a reaction to a NME critic writing after their second gig that they „should be returned to the garage immediately, preferably with the engine running“. But it was also a statement against accusations that they were selling out when they signed to a Major label. The quintessential dilemma of a successful newcomer band. Could they solve it?
Did they solve it? Arguably not! They did however take control of their own imagery with the art on their sleeves, t-shirts and posters. They also refused to perform on Top Of The Pops, which was Britain’s biggest music show at the time. Then on the other hand in later life they’ve allowed songs to be used in advertising. Also the machine of Sony has worked their back catalogue with great regularity. The fact that the Clash signed to CBS/Sony bears no difference on the quality of music that they released.
From 60s Punk to 143 Reade St , the garage is a special place in music history. A refuge of authenticism. What is truth, and what is myth about it? Will the garage forever be betrayed by success?
It depends how you gage success. The garage is the natural breeding ground for all fledging bands. It’s generally when bands move out of the garage that they lose some of the magic associated with garage bands. I’ve always preferred listening to the underdogs than a bunch of fancy dans.
Does it even matter what music you perform when try to stand for certain ethics? Could the garage be located within any music?
Obviously ethics are extremely personal and subjective. There’s only two forms of music that exist. They are good and bad! We all make our own decisions based on our social existence. The garage is easily substituted for a bedroom studio these days. There should be no barriers with the creation of music.
The era of „Garageland“ is always portrayed as one of musical openmindedness, where for example Punk, Soul and Reggae could co-exist without further friction, and feed on each other. Is that a myth, too?
I have many friends who cross genres and have done from an early age. I try not to pigeonhole music these days because it limits what you can and can’t listen to. I used to be extremely militant with regards to music, but those days have gone and the barriers are down.
The Clash were always open to more music genres than Punk. How would you rate their influence on club music, or other?
The influential of Roland is far greater than anything that the Clash offered clubland. So on that comparision the Clash would be extremely low with regards to being an influence on clubland.
„There’s twenty-two singers! But one microphone
Back in the garage
There’s five guitar players! But one guitar
Back in the garage
Complaints! Complaints! Wot an old bag
Back in the garage
The DIY attitude of the last verse of Garageland lives with me today. Who cares about your tools? My advice to anybody would be to just do it and don’t let barriers get in the way. Don’t make compromises and don’t let the bastards win.
Can you think of true successors to The Clash and particularly this song? Is that spirit still alive in someone, in adequate measures?
I’m not sure about true successors to The Clash. Punk for me was the music of the streets whilst living in Scotland. It was when I moved to Manchester in 1983 that my musical tastes moved away from Punk towards the merging sounds of Electro and Hip Hop. These sounds were all over Manchester and it seemed like a natural progression for me. Arguably Public Enemy were the one act that offered new doors for learning and came with a power no other Hip Hop act had at the time. For me they were the last important musical group in history. These days people tend to go with mediocracy and we’ve allowed ourselves to be corrupted by the media and corporations. I feel for the youth of today because they don’t seem to have the get and go to make a statement against these injustices that we had as youth.