Paul Simonon, best known as bass guitarist with punk band the Clash, was born in Croydon 15th December 1955 and grew up in Brixton, South London. He attended schools where his contemporaries were mainly African American and so developed a love of soul and Caribbean music. He also had a passion for art and showed talent as a painter winning a scholarship to the Byam Shaw School of Art.
Moving into Music
Whilst still at art school Simonon became interested in music and decided to audition as a singer for local band London SS. He failed to get the position but struck up a friendship with the band’s guitarist Mick Jones who taught Simonon to play the guitar.
Paul was not a natural musician and initially struggled to learn the instrument prompting Jones to teach him bass guitar instead. The pair then recruited guitarist and singer Joe Strummer and formed the Clash, a name conjured up by Simonon after reading an article in a newspaper. Paul dropped out of Art school in his second year to pursue his music career.
Unable to properly play Bass at the inception of the Clash, Simonon was mainly responsible for the artistic aspects of the bands efforts, the clothing, staging and promotional material.
The band’s image was an important part of their appeal and Simonon was to become punk’s pin-up boy. The group quickly developed a following on the growing punk scene with their distinctive sound underpinned by Simonon’s reggae influenced bass lines.
They were signed by Epic in 1977 finding immediate success with their first two albums, “The Clash” and “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”. The third album “London Calling” established the outfit as one of the world’s premier punk bands and the cover, featuring Simonon smashing his guitar, is one of the punk era’s most enduring images.
Rock The Casbah
The band released three further albums, “Sandanista!” “Combat Rock” and “Cut the Crap”, the latter after the departure of Mick Jones whose relationship with the other band members fell apart. Simonon played bass on the majority of the Clash’s tracks but notably not on “Rock the Casbah” one of the group’s most successful recordings. He was known for playing white Fender Precision basses and used his artistic talent to decorate these, but was once given a Black Rickenbacher by Patti Smith, which he also decorated but did not much like.
Demise of the Clash
The Clash parted company in 1986. Simonon went on to form the short lived Havana 3am before joining Damon Albarn’s project The Good, The Bad and The Queen. He collaborated with Albarn and Mick Jones on the Gorillaz album “Plastic Beach” and was the bass player on the live tour to promote the album.
Return to Art
Paul Simonon has now returned to his first love, Art and painting for a living. He admits to not having made a fortune with The Clash, “People think if you’ve got a number one single you’re loaded. But I have to make a living. This is not some sort of feet-up, chuck paint around thing”. He has designed album covers and has had several gallery exhibitions, with one of his works being bought by Lily Allen for £23,500.
Much of his work portrays his home city, London, and is painted outside from rooftops. He also produced a series of pieces inspired by bull fighting following a trip to Madrid. It is doubtful that he will return to music and has said “To be honest I’ve got to the stage now where I just want to paint – I’ve done my time with the music”.
In 2011 Paul joined a Greenpeace mission aboard the MV Esperanza. The mission was in protest at Cairn Oil’s drilling in the Arctic. He joined the ship’s crew undercover as an assistant cook and joined other activists in illegally boarding one of Cairn’s rigs. He was arrested and spent two weeks in prison. Only after this was his true identity revealed to the rest of the crew who declared him to be hard working and an excellent cook !
About the Author
Peterborough Music offer a great range of bass guitars if you want to ‘rock the casbah!’