London Calling

London Calling
London Calling

I don’t know if I stole it from my brother, or inherited it when he outgrew it or if it was a gift. But when I was a kid, I had a tshirt. I ratty, thread-bare tshirt that had the iconic album cover image from The Clash’s London Calling on the front. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know who The Clash were or what they sounded like but I knew I loved that shirt. The abandonment of smashing a guitar spoke to me. I was a reserved, ultra-shy kid. I could never in a million years imagine doing such a thing. But I loved it.

Growing up, music was important in my family. We had a quality stereo, with good speakers. It sat in 1 corner of the living room. The unit was home-built, cobbled together from some bricks and wood boards. The bottom shelf was storage for our LPs. The second shelf held the amplifier and the cassette-player. There was  half-shelf on top of that, which was cassette storage on the left. & the crown jewel: the record player. I’ve no idea if it was a particularly good player, but the sound that came from those speakers when listening to an LP was sublime. We had a stiff-cushioned couch that was perfect for building forts (or a tunnel) out of. I would put on an album – the Beatles, or Cat Stevens or something else from my parents’ collection, which tended heavily to singer-songwriterly & classical, and sit in the semi-darkness of my fort, dreaming of the wide world outside my windows, listening to the record player, bursting forth from my fort when it was time to change sides of the LP. It my memories these were always solo pursuits, but I think the truth is more that I was so lost in my world that I was oblivious to the rest of my family around me.

Much as the tshirt that preceded it, I don’t know if I stole the album from my brother’s collection, or if it was a gift – I’m certain I didn’t buy it. But it was the first gate-folded double-LP I can remember. There was some water damage, in the bottom-centre corner, and the cardboard had sponged out & torn slightly. The sleeve, yellowed & made brittle with age or use, of LP 1 had torn, and someone had taped it back together with cello tape. The album cover had that slightly musty smell of damp cardboard that I will eternally associate with good music. I’d pull the disc out of the sleeve carefully, so as to not further damage it – sleeves were always really important to me, despite their almost by-design replaceable nature. I’d lift the plastic lid up off the record player, situate the disc on the centre spindle, gently place the needle-arm at the start. Then always, always, turned it UP. The initial crackle and pop, and Oh, that opening riff. Snarling, choppy guitars howling scratchily out of the speakers. Then the surprisingly musical singing from Joe Strummer, London Calling. Heaven.

I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to London Calling. I’m by no means a good guitarist but I can play every song straight through. I know every lyric. Our LP had a scratch in the middle of Death or Glory – the first “just another story” was never sung, just bounced over. I’ve since bought this album on Cassette, CD & ripped it to FLAC, but in my mind’s heart, these digital versions are what’s wrong, not the scratchy version on my album.

I don’t own a record player right now. The convenience of the digital library, accessible anywhere, instantly being able to play any tune is just too hard to compete against. But digital music doesn’t have the soul of an LP. They say scent-memory is particularly strong. And it’s true. For many of my favourite music from when I was a kid, I have an olfactory response of the musty smell of the cardboard LP covers they lived in, the hot-dust smell of a record that had been played on repeat for too long. Liam won’t have that. When he wants a song, he’ll find it on our digital library, on on YouTube. There’s an inconvenience in flipping through stacks of LPs, but there’s also a joy of browsing too – how often did I put on something entirely different because my fingers happened to pause on that LP while searching for another one all together?