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Robb Johnson, A Break in the Clouds

Man Walks Into a Pub

Stay Free

There are so many things I could say about this song.

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When I first (mis)heard it, I thought it was awful, and everything punk was supposed to not be about. Rockstar Mick getting sentimental with his own rockstar mythology and patronising his old chum by saying “if you’re in the crowd tonight, have a drink on me.”

But it’s not like that at all. It’s just a brilliant song about friendship, with enough particulars and details to make it both convincing and universal. Weekends, I didn’t go dancing down Streatham, I went watching the bands at the Greyhound and the Winning Post, but I know exactly what you mean, Mick, and I remember trying those awful menthol fags too…

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How long does it take for a song to be allowed to become a folk song? Jim Woodland tells an amusing story about upsetting a folk club with a song about the Falklands; you can’t write folk songs about things that are happening now, spluttered the outraged organiser. How long do I have to wait before I can write about something, asked Jim. 50 years, declared the outraged organiser, with supreme and arbitrary authority. Well, it’s over 30 years since Mick and Joe put this one together…

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So what is a folk song anyway? Bernie Rhodes, the Clash manager, famously gave Mick and Joe some very useful advice when he said: write about what you know, which is what folksong writers are famous for doing, because the unspoken subtext to that statement is that you are also writing about what your audience knows. Folk songs express the common, shared experience. That can be the common, shared experience of folk lore and myth, and it can also be the common, shared experience of a social condition, the day to day living of ordinary people (as opposed to the daydreams of a privileged elite).

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I often seem to get into trouble for my use of Language. My feeling is that songs should reflect the language of everyday speech, and I think my use of Language is generally used to a particular effect, with some occasions of rhetorical use that are a bit like Harold Pinter’s, only less torrential. In this song, the Language is just as it should be, it’s not there to be self-consciously offensive (unlike a lot of rap and metal lyrics), it‘s there because it’s a poetic translation of the singer’s everyday vocabulary. and it’s the only bit of swearing on this album too, I think, which I find quite amusing.

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Funnily enough, reading various Clash biographies, I was surprised to find how me Mick’s paths kept sort of crossing in our musical development. The closest we came was probably the Patti Smith gig at the Roundhouse. None of my mates had wanted to go, so I went on my own, as apparently did Mick and most of the future London punk scene. Perhaps somewhat unwisely, I then went off to Sussex University and discovered folk clubs instead.

 

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