Disc 8 is English Civil War.
The end of year polls in 1978 had been good to The Clash. They were still seen as being a band for the people, not willing to compromise or sell-out with the continued non-appearances on the likes of Top of The Pops to promote singles being held up as a particular example.
It was also known that they weren’t keen for singles to be lifted off albums, and indeed the decision by CBS to issue Remote Control off the debut LP had caused huge friction. But there was hardly an eyebrow raised in surprise when it was revealed that a second single was to be culled from Give Em Enough Rope a full three months after the LP had been released. Part of this was down to the band not making a fuss – indeed it seemed as if they wanted it released as they felt it was important to bring as much attention as possible to their fears and concerns around the growing rise of a neo-Nazi right-wing in the UK.
English Civil War was a loud and very punky track with a tune that was taken from an old marching song dating back to the American Civil War. Joe’s new lyrics to the jaunty tune drew attention to the fact that if the rise of the right continued in the way it was threatening to then it would be up those who cared most to fight against it in the streets. And as if to really drive the message home, the lyrics were printed on the rear of the single which had as its front cover, a still lifted from the animated version of Animal Farm as its front cover.
mp3 : The Clash – English Civil War
The fact that the band could their message across in graphic and musical fashions allayed any overriding concerns that fans were being ripped off – and besides, Joe told everyone that they would make it up to everyone in a special way with the next single.
The b-side was a punky cover of an old reggae tune recorded by The Maytals in 1969 and which came to wider attention when it was included on the soundtrack of the movie The Harder They Come:-
mp3 : The Clash – Pressure Drop
It reached #25 in the singles chart, which was an outstanding achievement for a song that most fans would already have owned. The essay in the booklet is a good one….
ENGLISH CIVIL WAR : Released 23 February 1979 : #25 in the UK singles chart
I bought Give ‘Em Enough Rope in the record department of Rumblelows in Northwich. I’d bought Sandanista a few weeks before, and I was at that stage where you want to hear everything you can. The first three tracks just blew me away – Safe European Home, Tommy Gun and English Civil War. I’d never heard a record which sounded so big and powerful.
I love English Civil War. It’s a marching song. The intro is all on one chord, then Strummer just screams “Alright!”. At 14, it sounded fucking incredible – all-guns-blazing rock’n’roll. I’d go round to my mate’s house and put it on and we’d all jump around the bedroom. It’s the sound of the last gang in town arriving through the speakers.
I think the lyrics are adapted from an old American Civil War song. I remember singing along to ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again’ but I never really knew what it was about. I just knew it must be about standing up for what you believe in. It really fired up my imagination. Looking back, dancing around that bedroom with my mates to English Civil war was my first experience of finding a community through music, outside of school. They were a gang, and so were we.
The Clash weren’t just a brilliant rock’n’roll band. they made me realise it was possible to live out my dreams.
Tim Burgess, The Charlatans