They’ve never reformed, despite lucrative offers to do so, and the surviving band members swear they never will now that front man Joe Strummer is no longer around.
Which just might be why, 37 years after they played their first riffs, The Clash are still adored by a global army of fans as one of the greatest bands in the history of rock.
In Paris this week to promote a new box set that involved guitarist Mick Jones salvaging the original master tapes for their five seminal albums, the three surviving members of the band were more keen to talk about how their music has been passed on to a new generation.
“I love it when fathers share our music with their kids,” said Jones. “Saying ‘see, there was something good from my time.’
“It makes them both proud. The Clash is a force of its own, it’s bigger than us by far.”
Jones, 58, bassist Paul Simonon, 57, and drummer Topper Headon, 58, don’t rule out playing music together but it will never be as The Clash, out of respect for the memory of iconic lead singer Strummer, who died of a heart attack 11 years ago.
Instead, they are happy to concentrate on cultivating their legacy and enjoying the memories of their emergence from the British punk scene to conquer the world.
“We had everything,” recalls Headon. “The music is great, we were good looking, we were young and rebellious. We had, we still have, a lot of integrity. Everywhere we go we have people coming to us and say ‘you changed my life. The Clash changed everything to me.'”
When the idea of putting together a comprehensive collection of The Clash’s recordings was first put to them by their record company three years ago, Jones and Simonon made the remastering of every track a condition of their involvement.
“From the beginning of the band, and to this day, we were always involved in the creative process of our work,” Simonon said. “It’s not like some bands who have no control on what comes out. This boxset is from us, we made it and it’s a big difference. It’s personal.”
Designed by Simonon, the new collection is contained in packaging in the form of a ghetto blaster — the now defunct radio-cassette players that were also known as boom boxes and became synonomous with a period Bob Marley celebrated as a punky-reggae party.
“We all had one box, always carrying it with us, always playing it everywhere we would go. So the box was the perfect thing to do. No empty space, every box inside is stuffed. It’s a work of art,” said Simonon, who has spent much of his post-Clash time painting.
“I took a photograph of my original cassette machine, that I stil have. I made a model with cardboard. I took it to a meeting with the record company and said: ‘this is the idea.'”
Jones meanwhile was getting to work on the original tapes, a task that was to prove far more complicated than he initially envisaged.
“Lots of the tapes were getting so old. They were in different archives facilities around London, warehouses. But before you could play the tapes, you had to bake them in an oven, because of the oxide on the tapes. If you play it, it all falls off and that’s where the music lays. So you have to bake them and then you have may be one or two plays to get it. It’s a real restoration and it’s really important to us. The early tapes are 35 years old. These tapes are rotting, like an old film, so we’ve saved our music for the future.
“It was a very interesting part of the process. It’s great music, and great music always lives up to it. I heard the songs like I never heard them before.”