London’s burning but I live by the river

Few rank the Museum of London among the great treasure houses of Britain’s metropolis.  Isolated on the edge of the City by roads, concrete and a bewildering 1960s brutalist design, it attracts fewer visitors than it deserves.

Today is different.  The museum is buzzing, with a different demographic to the usual school and foreign tourist visitors.  Mostly middle aged, generally well-heeled, all paying homage to London Calling: Forty Years of The Clash.

Staring intently at the live footage, restraining their rhythym, they move appropriately among the relics with a touch of reverence.  Nostalgia they remind us, is just a matter of time.

The curators say:

“London Calling was and is a hugely compelling melting pot of musical styles, driven by a passion for action and a fierce desire for social justice.”

But a man’s gotta live and Strummer and Co moved on to a creative world in which the bourgeois values of free exchange, contractual commitment, international touring, success and some comfort also had a role to play.

Which adds more than a touch of ambiguity to the next assertion:

“The album’s music and lyrics remain as relevant today as they were on release.”

It would be astonishing if some triteness hadn’t crept in over forty years.  But the music has aged well – sure they got it wrong with the Ice Age is Coming, but they did better with the Nuclear Error.  The revolution hasn’t come but there is no shortage of social conflict.

And if the apocalyptic social prophecies haven’t been borne out, the performance reality is as powerful as ever.  The exhibition’s looped footage records its energy, capturing a rare musical synthesis that was more than the sum of its parts.

London is still calling to the faraway towns.

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