Medium clash

“we ain’t particularly talented, we try harder”

07.07.17

“Do you have a business card?” the CEO asked me.

“ Sure” I said and took out my tin of business cards – the one with the famous Penny Smith picture of Paul Simenon of the Clash, apparently battering his bass guitar on the stage floor.

“You’re a Clash fan” the CEO observed, “well, I wanna work with an organisation whose chief is a Clash fan”.

Being a fan of the Clash has made me a cool parent in the view of some of my kids’ friends (never, of course, in the eyes of my kids themselves – that was never going to happen) but I didn’t expect it to bring me business as the head of a charity.

What I loved about the Clash was their raw honesty and that they never claimed to be anything they weren’t – singer Joe Strummer once said “we ain’t particularly talented, we try harder”. We currently seem to live in a world where we make giants out of our icons and I don’t want to do that with the Clash. However, they did teach some of us – the angry Thatcher generation – that we need to try hard, to stand up for what we believe. They wrote about hypocrisy (Death or Glory; White Man), about corporate greed (Remote Control), social justice (Armagideon Time), oppression (Know Your Rights). Yet they didn’t campaign and they didn’t preach – and their bass player seemed about the coolest man on the planet.

The Clash grew out of the punk movement. Punk was an expression of its time – it was angry & nihilistic; it was working class. It was a rejection of and a deviation from what was expected of rock bands – punk gigs were volatile. The physical distance between the bands and the fans was minimal and often the musical ability just as much so. (Punk was self-consciously amateur – Paul Simenon couldn’t play the guitar when he joined the Clash and had to have the names of his bass strings labelled by guitarist Mick Jones). There was an implicit DIY message in punk: that we could all do it – even females could play guitar and not just do vocals or decoration.

Reflecting back, being a Clash fan has well equipped me for working in today’s not-for-profit sector and so maybe it wasn’t so surprising to find another Clash fan working here also. I wonder how many more of us there are?

The times we are in currently seem to be edging towards DIY in very different ways, with state support being removed and vulnerable individuals urged to support themselves more. As a sector, we have to be able to name what we are seeing before we can address it. And so, to leave the last words to Joe: “don’t write slogans, write truths”