London still calling but north-south divide is as wide as it ever was
SOCCER ANGLES:With another super Sunday in store the geographic divide is again highlighted, writes MICHAEL WALKER
What would Guy Stevens make of Arsenal now? Admittedly this is a question not being asked up and down the streets of north London, where there may be more pressing issues, but it felt pertinent on the last visit to the trophyless stadium on Ashburton Grove, and did so again this week when newspapers looked forward to another ‘Super Sunday’ in the Premier League.
On each occasion it was the words ‘London Calling’ that provoked thoughts of Guy Stevens. With tomorrow bringing Manchester United to Tottenham after Chelsea have faced Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, and with United and Manchester City six points clear of Chelsea in third, the north-south geographic divide in English football is again being highlighted. For London Calling, it could be London pining.
Previously at the “Emirates Stadium”, it was the rapturous sound of the famous Clash song London Calling that boomed out before kick-off that brought back mentions of Stevens in Pat Gilbert’s book about the band, Passion Is A Fashion. Stevens would appear to have been a maverick genius record producer of the Phil Spector headbanger variety. It seems Stevens saw himself as a British Spector and even by the standards of late 1960s and early ’70s rock music, Stevens was legendary for his unreliability as much as his talent. When The Clash were about to make the album London Calling, they had to fight their record company because the man they wanted to produce it was Stevens.
The band won and Stevens began shaping what became a seminal, as they say, record. One of the tales told is of Stevens pouring beer into a piano in order to find a particular sound, while another example of his unusual approach was explained in an interview with Mick Jones many years ago. That’s Mick Jones of The Clash, not Mick Jones of Leeds United. That would have been strange.
What Stevens did every day on his way to the record studio was visit Highbury because, as Mick Jones put it in 1979: “He’s obsessed with Liam Brady and Arsenal.”
Stands in the middle
Jones did not stop there, adding of Stevens: “He always wears his scarf and on the way to every session he goes and stands in the middle of Arsenal football ground and pays the cab to wait for him.”
As if it mattered, Jones then says: “And nobody in the group supports Arsenal.” Gilbert confirms Jones’s tales. The album was recorded in studios on Highbury New Park and Gilbert writes: “Every day on the way to the studio, he [Stevens] insisted his cabbie drop him off at Arsenal’s ground.
“He was as passionate about Arsenal as he was about music and he’d struck a deal with the club where he was allowed to walk around the pitch. He would gaze up at the stands from the centre circle with tears in his eyes.”
These are details that should make every Arsenal fan happy for ever more, regardless of whether their team enters the weekend 21 points adrift of Manchester United, which they do.
It is enough that the album ranked eighth in Rolling Stone’s 500 best of all time owes something of its power and creativity to the left foot of Liam Brady – “produced with no-surrender energy by legendary ’70s studio madman Guy Stevens” as Rolling Stone reports – but the title song also gives Arsenal a degree of cultural credibility that is often, very often, claimed by football followers in Manchester and Liverpool.