My life as an opening act for the Clash

Nacho serrano

Updated:01/24/2021 00:43h

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After playing a Glasgow hall one night in 1978, The Clash They went to their hotel to rest before heading to the next city on their tour. There, like a Beatlemaniac, a seventeen-year-old boy named Martin McLeish was waiting, who longed to shake hands with his idols. It would not take long to achieve that and much more: shortly after he formed his own band, The Plastic Flies, and returned to assault the Joe Strummer in another hotel to give them a tape with his first demo. The Clash liked them, they accepted them to be the opening act for their tour and ended up sharing life, experiences and social and cultural concerns in one of the most turbulent moments in the history of the United Kingdom.

Martin McLeish now lives in Badalona. He runs a beverage import company, he is a successful businessman, a serious man, but his punk past has left him with endless anecdotes screwed into his memory. What he remembers most clearly is that “the Clash were not ‘superstars’, they were normal people, who wanted to connect with their followers and understand life and the problems of those times”. Strummer was older than them, and when they became friends he treated them without superiority or paternalism. “I remember when we met Joe asked us for our opinion of things, of his songs and of British society. In England there was a certain post-war parenting culture, in which we seemed to have no opinion of our own just because we were young. In those times at school, at home, everywhere you lived with screams, instructions and orders ”.

Martin recalls the ferocity with which British society rejected punk music and culture, “because it broke with what was established in the society and music of the seventies. Punk was a reaction that sought to change everything, socially and musically, and later had a huge effect on politics, art or fashion. It was like a rebellion, almost peaceful, but it had its moments of violence as well. The Brixton riots and the anti-racist movement were products of punk, with people well informed by the lyrics of the songs and the multitude of interviews with the musicians. In the end the message of punk was impossible to avoid or ignore. Much less if the one who taught you was Joe Strummer «an intelligent and very well educated man, which I imagine detected something similar in us. We were guys who liked music with a message, and we were able to communicate it well. He must also have liked that we didn’t act like fans when we were together either. There was enormous mutual respect.

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The search for purpose, for authenticity, in the face of the badass self-sufficiency of the Sex Pistols, was something that obsessed Strummer, the Clash and all those who lived with punk near them. “We debated a lot about the limits of punk,” Martin recalls, “and being authentic was an ongoing debate. Joe came from a middle class family and he was an educated boy… He was like a Johnny Rotten but in reverse. He was nine years older than us, and that was important because The Clash was targeting an audience much younger than them. Bernie Rhodes, her manager, had a lot to do with the content and message of her lyrics. And Bernie was eight years older than Joe Strummer or Mick Jones, so that age difference I think was also very significant. They spoke from an experience that we still did not have much of.

Debating with Joe Strummer for endless nights left a deep mark on The Plastic Flies, which ended up becoming a small ideological vanguard of the movement. One night when they were not accompanying The Clash, they were performing at a festival in the city of Dundee when suddenly, the public address of the event announced that Margaret Thatcher had declared war on Argentina by the conflict in the Malvinas. Inexplicably (especially in a punk festival) the public celebrated with shouts of joy, leaving Martin and his companions speechless, who took the stage and to reproach their fans for such an absurd attitude. “There were more than 1,500 people in the room and we were the headliners,” recalls Martin. “Although we had a very military look, we were against wars and the idea of ​​fighting another country for irrelevant islands seemed stupid to us. We got angry with the audience at the beginning of the concert. Given that situation I have no doubt that Joe Strummer would have canceled the performance.

Martin (right), with Joe Strummet
Martin (right), with Joe Strummet

The Plastic Flies, which were described by the great John Peel As “a good band with a horrible name,” they were “very post-punk, approachable, and musical quality,” describes their leader. “Mike was a guitarist with his own style, Morris had a touch of very unusual musical sensibility, rather classical, and Paul was a good drummer. We presented the songs quite aggressively and live our show was impressive, with image, style and emotion. I always wrote the lyrics with relevant messages, although when I look at them today, I see that we were very young ».

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That stage was short-lived, as the canons of the genre dictate, but decades later Martin would continue to follow in Strummer’s footsteps, leaving to live in the country that the author of “Spanish Bombs” loved so much. «Joe had a glamorous vision of Spain, with that image of people in the Civil War fighting for a more just society. He was a man of words, of poetry and incorporated the visions of García Lorca in several of his songs. He had a girlfriend from Granada for a while and went there often. More than being a communist or a socialist, Joe wanted to draw attention to the flaws in society and politics in general. He was an observer of the reality of Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia … With his lyrics our generation learned more about the real world than in schools! ».

His band, The Plastic Flies, failed because “to be successful in anything you have to have individual, group ambition and total commitment,” laments Martin. «I wanted to dedicate myself to that, but not the whole group was so clear about it. It was not a hobby, for me it was a vital mission and it was frustrating not to achieve it when we had everything going for us: music, content, image and personality. Every successful group needs a manager, someone with maturity to fix differences, be the guide and manage individualities. We never had this figure. We were too free. In fact, our parents never came to see us play or ask anything when our single was playing on national radio at home. “

Forty years after all that, Martin has gotten the bug to reunite the band. It has not been easy, because he has had to overcome several obstacles that at a certain age seem insurmountable. Each member of the group lives in a different country, and has obligations that are no small thing. The bassist, Morris Fraser, is currently an adviser to the Scottish Parliament, and the drummer, Paul Gilroy, is one of Mourinho’s lawyers.. But both they and guitarist Mike Patterson have been seduced by Martin’s youthful momentum, and have come together again for a new project aptly named The Resurrection Club, which already has several songs published. “Morris is in Edinburgh, Mike in Melbourne and I in Barcelona, ​​so we recorded between the three cities and mixed in the Sol de Sants studio in Barcelona with Alberto Pérez and local musicians”, explains Martin. «With the group, although we were more than twenty years without contact, we are still friends. It’s interesting to see how life gives you second chances and to do better. We are creative and eager to express ourselves. With a punk spirit, but 59 years old and a very interesting life behind him. Now I have more voice, head, opinion, maturity and I know what love is. We have much more to say and we know how to express it in the new songs.

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Martin, recording with The Resurrection Club
Martin, recording with The Resurrection Club

The first song of the Resurrection Club, an electropop ballad titled «Stone me in Paradise», is inspired by everything that has happened to us this last year. «I am a businessman in Spain, I have my wife and my daughters with me, I have employees, people who depend on me and with COVID I see, like many others, how everything can go to hell after a life of hard work. It’s scary, and I know I’m not the only one like that. During the confinement I found myself mentally blocked until one night on the couch, with a couple of whiskeys, I began to bring out my emotions. “Stone me in Paradise” is one hundred percent Martin. Describe how I feel and how I see the world. It is the song with which we have had the most reaction ».

The BBC has already done a report on this reunion, and they have plans to try to hit hard again. “Now we have finished a project with Dj Khat with a remix of “Stone me in paradise”. There are more new songs in the works and we have realistic ambitions. We want our music to reach as many people as possible and for the message to be received and understood », says Martin, charged with adrenaline after this session of youthful nostalgia, warns:«We are scheduled to do live shows with The Resurrection Club when possible.. We want to go up on stage again, take the mike and transmit our musical message as we did in the eighties ».

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