The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

French Letter


The video for Snow Patrol's latest single, "Open Your Eyes", features a high-speed drive through the early-morning streets of Paris. The footage comes from a 1976 short film called "Le Rendez-vous" made by renowned French director Claude Lelouch.

FYI, for any Paris-lovers, the drive starts on the Left Bank of the Seine, crosses the river and cuts through the Louvre courtyard, goes up past the Opera, then crosses Boulevard Haussmann at Galerie Lafayette and goes round the church of Notre Dame de Trinite before heading to Pigalle and round Montmartre - finishing on top of the steps to Sacre Coeur.


Too shy to comment below? Just e-mail frenchletter(at)cluas(dot)com. Your blogger regrets that he can't "pick you up off the bus from Beauvais airport".

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Just like Rambo resting up in a Buddhist monastery before waging war on the Commies, your blogger has been relaxing in his native Kingdom in advance of the Paris marathon on 15 April. Now you may think that long-distance running is hardly the stuff of rock n’roll living, but you’d be wrong. This is the story of how Joe Strummer, at the height of The Clash’s fame, ran the Paris marathon.

It’s April 1982, and The Clash are the hippest band in the world (much as how Arcade Fire or Radiohead are today’s untouchable groups). However, their previous album, the wildly ambitious reggae-punk triple disc ‘Sandinista’, had received a ‘Kid A’-style poor critical and commercial reception, and the forthcoming release of ‘Combat Rock’ (a deliberate reference to the ongoing Falklands War, and a title guaranteed to minimise official radio play but maximise rebel cred) on 14 May would therefore be crucial for their career.

As told by Chris Salewicz in his recent Strummer biography Redemption Song, Clash manager Bernie Rhodes had several publicity stunts in mind for the release, one of which was that Strummer should ‘disappear’ in order to generate hype and sales.

Strummer, though, trumped his manager by deciding to disappear for real. So, on 21 April 1982 – three weeks before the album’s release date – Strummer took the boat and train from London to Paris, accompanied by his then-girlfriend Gaby Salter, who had a friend offering the pair the use of a flat in Montmartre.

As The Clash were huge in France (so much so that for the next twenty years nearly every French rock band would depend on reggae beats, punk guitars, lame sloganeering and leather trousers), Strummer grew a beard as a disguise and kept low-profile. He did his own bohemian sightseeing tour of Paris, visiting museums and locations made famous by artists and writers (he was a fan of Rimbaud, the quintessentially dissolute 19th century French poet). Salter, in Salewicz’s book, says that the pair travelled around the city by metro, reading articles about Strummer’s disappearance. And together they ran the Paris marathon.

I fought the wall: Strummer in the London marathon in 1981...

It wasn’t Strummer’s first marathon; he ran the 1981 London marathon (right)and - sponsored, rather incongruously, by the right-wing Sun tabloid - did so again in 1983 (below right). In the 1982 Paris marathon Salter finished last and, if we extrapolate from a 1999 interview Strummer gave to US magazine Steppin’ Out, her boyfriend could not have been too far ahead:


Q: Didn’t you once run in the Paris Marathon?
Joe: Yep. I ran three of them.
Q: Correct me if I’m wrong but is it also true that you never trained for any of them?
Joe: You shouldn’t really ask me about my training regime, you know.
Q: Why?
...and again in 1983.
Joe: Because it’s not good and I wouldn’t want people to copy it.

Q: Don’t make me beat it out of you.
Joe: Okay, you want it, here it is. Drink 10 pints of beer the night before the race. Ya got that? And don’t run a single step at least four weeks before the race.
Q: No running at all?
Joe: No, none at all. And don’t forget the 10 pints of beer the night before. But make sure you put a warning in this article, “Do not try this at home.” I mean, it works for me and Hunter Thompson but it might not work for others. I can only tell you what I do.

Strummer claimed that he ran the 1983 London marathon in 3 hours and 20 minutes. Now, your blogger (tall, svelte and athletic) has been training to run next Sunday’s Paris marathon in 3:20 too. So, we’d like to see some documentary proof that the Strummer routine can produce those results, please. Either our Joe was secretly doing regular laps of the Casbah before rocking it every night, or else this is just one more legend in the Clash mythology.

‘Combat Rock’ was released in Strummer’s absence on 14 May 1982. It was a critical success and chart-scaling hit in both the UK and US. However, with their singer missing The Clash’s short UK tour had to be cancelled and their scheduled US summer tour was now in danger of collapsing and bankrupting the band. A May 20 warm-up appearance at the Lochem festival in the Netherlands was selling poorly as punters justifiably feared a no-show. The Clash teetered on the brink of a break-up.

Fortunately, on 17 May a Dutch journalist spotted Strummer in a Paris bar and contacted the Lochem promoter, who in turn got on to the Clash’s people in London. One of them, ‘creative director’ Kosmo Vinyl, went to Paris and, finding Strummer in another bar, talked him round. On 18 May 1982 Strummer returned to London and The Clash.

Two days later The Clash played the Lochem festival during a violent storm and even more violent scuffles between security and fans, all of which provoked Strummer into inviting up to 500 fans onto the dangerously sagging stage. On their return to London the band sacked drummer Topper Headon as a consequence of his heroin use, re-recruiting original drummer Terry Chimes and heading to the States for their 29 May tour-opener in New Jersey.

So, Joe Strummer survived the Paris marathon – and more importantly for rock fans, so did The Clash.

From 'Combat Rock', here's one of The Clash's finest moments - the utterly brilliant 'Rock The Casbah':


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Mon Dieu, we must have been very innocent pre-teens back in 1988 to have found this raunchy - but even today 'Joe Le Taxi' and Vanessa Paradis (at the time, barely a teen herself) tends to raise a reaction of 'phwoar' and 'ooh la la'  from people who were 11 or 12 when this single came out. Really, it's JUST about a guy driving a taxi!

Today Mlle Paradis is the rather emaciated partner of Johnny Depp but her most famous single sounds fantastic. Unlike a lot of '80s French music, it isn't trying to sound like The Clash - and the sparse production sounds so refreshing in today's age of compressed ADD clutter. Also, when your blogger mentions to Irish people that he writes about French music, the Pavlovian response is 'Joe Le Taxi!'.

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French electro-pop duo Cassius are playing a one-off Irish show tonight (8 April) at the Trinity Rooms in Limerick.

They first came to prominence in 1999 with a smashing house remix of their single '1999' from an album of the same name, but only got around to following it up in 2006 with '15 Again', a so-so record of electro-tinged R n'B. However, the album featured a ripping single called 'Toop Toop', replete with snarling Arctic Monkeys-style guitars and punk attitude to burn - one of the best French tunes of last year. Check it out for yourself:



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Having loved their latest album "Wincing The Night Away", we went to see The Shins live at the Elysee Montmartre last Sunday night. It was fairly boring, a big disappointment.

In truth, I should have expected as much when lead singer James Mercer came on stage - short hair, trimmed beard and shirt-and-tie set making him look like Babydaddy's brother in the civil service. Finicky retuning between every song, almost no interaction with the audience (it was his lackeys - sorry, bandmates - who fulfilled that obligation) - in short, the image of a humourless muso completely at variance with the joyous, romantic impression his lyrics and melodies give.

The concert opened with the first four songs off the album, in the same order and reproduced note-for-note - always a sign of overseriousness at work. The huge crowd (about a thousand people, I guess) seemed fairly sedate from where I was standing - only a rockin' encore cover of 'Girlfriend' by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers brought people to life i.e. a bit of jumping and excitement.

But then, Richman is a master live performer who writes all his songs with a view to entertaining a concert audience. By contrast, The Shins seemed to think they were playing in the Louvre and we would just watch in reverential awe. Only guitarist Dave Hernandez seemed to get into the rock n'roll spirit - pulling rawk poses, talking to the crowd and (best of all) chopping out some killer riffs. I'd like to see HIS band if he ever has one.

And it was all over at 10pm! Now I know there are curfews in some Paris venues but it didn't help dispel the final verdict of a thoroughly boring night out. So out we spilled onto Pigalle, the seediest street in Paris, like leaving midnight mass in Temple Bar.

The concert was filmed for eventual DVD release - probably with the title "Yawning The Early Evening Away". Get the album; leave the tickets.

Anyway, you can judge for yourself - here's 'New Slang' (the song that Natalie Portman in the film 'Garden State' says will change your life) live from the Elysee Montmartre last Sunday:

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Very impressive show by Nina Hynes at the Flèche d'Or in Paris last night, performing tracks from her new album 'Really Really Do' (featuring her backing band The Husbands). You can read a full review in the CLUAS gig review section. Nina Hynes

Despite recurring technical problems, the songs sounded great - catchy, dreamy pop songs along the lines of Saint Etienne and Goldfrapp. The album promises to be one of the best Irish releases of the year.

Having surmounted the sound problems during the show, afterwards she was well able to deal politely with your blogger interrupting her while she was chatting with a former collaborator of hers - none other than Hector Zazou, the esteemed French electronica producer most famous for his 1995 album 'Songs From The Cold Seas'.  In fact, Nina is a former Paris resident herself, having spent several summers here in her late teens.

Now based in Berlin, Nina's in the middle of a short jaunt around Europe, taking in all the major rock capitals: Berlin, Paris and next stop The Stables in Mullingar on Sunday 8 April, followed by shows in Dublin (13 April at The Sugar Club) and Cyprus Avenue in Cork on 1 May.

Check out Nina's new material, tour dates and snazzy white outfits at or

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Nina Hynes and her band The Husbands are playing in Paris on Monday 2 April at La Flèche d'Or, for many reasons the best live music venue in the city.

First of all, it's free - and unlike other 'free' music bars in Paris you're not constantly being harrassed by aggressive floorstaff into continually buying an overpriced 'consommation', the obligatory drink often imposed instead of a cover charge (for this reason, stay well away from the Guinness Tavern near Les Halles, no matter how much the guidebooks rave about its great live bands). In other words, you can just come for the music. The staff are chilled out and friendly - even the doormen.

La Flèche d'Or, Paris Secondly, the music is usually great - three or four young, up-and coming bands from France or elsewhere before a DJ comes on at midnight. The current Paris fad is for Franz Ferdidand-like art-school indieness, sung in English - but there's room for punk, guitar pop, techno and even Balkan and Turkish folk music (courtesy of a recent show by French actor Tcheky Karyo). Walking up without checking who's playing is a no-risk way to have a good night out.

And the venue itself is impressive. A former train station, it's large and spacious, with room to move and breath. But be warned - no doubt for an authentic rock n'roll experience, the toilet (singular and unisex, like in most old French bars) is of 'Trainspotting' quality.

La Flèche d'Or is in the 20th arrondissement (not far from Père Lachaise, all you Doors fans!), a direct metro ride from Montmartre on line 2, and there are some really great little bars and restaurants in the vicinity. Our own favourite is the Bar de la Reunion just down the street, where the pool table is red and the walls are covered in photos and texts of Spanish and North African poets.

If you like live music and you find yourself in Paris some night, here's where you should go.

* More info (for punters and bands) is available at or

Contact this blog with discretion by email at frenchletter(at)cluas(dot)com

Check out Aidan's previous articles in the French Letter archive

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Recorded on 16 March 2007, below is Duke Special performing 'Freewheel' live on French music programme Taratata. The song is taken from the Duke's fairly wonderful 'Songs From The Deep Forest' album. 

Unfortunately, the clip ends just as the presenter calls Mr Wilson and the lads over for an interview - and as I haven't seen the full programme and haven't yet found a longer clip, I can't yet enlighten you as to whether they do a Damo Rice and speak in French!

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Nuggets from our archive

2000 - 'Rock Criticism: Getting it Right', written by Mark Godfrey. A thought provoking reflection on the art of rock criticism.