Paul Simonon on his Lon­don accent

Catholicism, communism and multiculturalism shaped the punk icon’s upbringing.

From raves to church­es, accents to ges­tures, E8 to SE22, no Londoner’s sto­ry is the same. In our first series, Audio Sto­ries: Lon­don, we asked indi­vid­u­als from all walks of life to share an account of their city.

Paul Simonon, 63 years young son of Croy­don, co-found­ed The Clash in 1976. That’s him on the cov­er of the still-mighty Lon­don Call­ing (1979), smash­ing up his bass onstage. Uncom­pro­mis­ing then, uncom­pro­mis­ing now, these days he’s an acclaimed painter and also Damon Albarn’s wing­man in The Good, The Bad and The Queen. See them on tour this spring/​summer, in sup­port of their Brex­it-inspired Eng­land-hymn­ing sec­ond album, Mer­rie Land. Simonon is also a won­der­ful, evoca­tive sto­ry­teller, as demon­strat­ed by this exclu­sive audio of his Lon­don, his city…

Audio tran­scrip­tion:

Hel­lo, my name is Paul Simonon and I’m from The Good, The Bad And The Queen. And I would like to tell you about accents.

I went to school in Lad­broke Grove just off the Gol­borne Road, a place called Isaac New­ton, the class was pre­dom­i­nate­ly West Indi­an. We did have a Chi­nese fel­la in the class but nobody would pick on him because at the same time Bruce Lee films were com­ing out and they thought if they messed with him they might get Kung Fu’d, so he drift­ed through school­ing with no bul­ly­ing. But in terms of accents it’s, it’s fun­ny how you fall in with your cir­cle of friends and to the point that I left school I had quite a strong West Indi­an accent and I had adopt­ed cer­tain slang, West Indi­an terms so it was a bit strange when I went to art col­lege with this West Indi­an accent because I wasn’t from Jamaica, I was from South Lon­don. Any­way, it took me a while to adjust back to my nor­mal, what­ev­er my nor­mal accent was. But it was a com­bi­na­tion I sup­pose is what devel­oped in me. But I do remem­ber when the film The Hard­er They Come was released and watch­ing them at the cin­e­ma with my friends. They even had sub­ti­tles up, but I didn’t need the sub­ti­tles because I knew exact­ly what was being said. So that was sort of an edu­ca­tion in itself.

I’d like to give you a lit­tle glimpse of a mem­o­ry that I had grow­ing up. I grew up in quite a few dif­fer­ent places but what I dis­tinct­ly remem­ber is grow­ing up in South Lon­don in the Brix­ton area and I sup­pose as a child you just accept every­thing how it is, in so far as there were bomb sites that we could play on that were near the rail­ways and also at this peri­od is of the first wave of the peo­ple that came over from the West Indies, the Win­drush. So we had quite a mixed school of peo­ple from quite a lot of dif­fer­ent cul­tures and back­grounds. And for me it was just fas­ci­nat­ing going into some­body else’s house and see­ing for exam­ple, like there’s one West Indi­an fam­i­ly that, their son was a good friend of mine at school and he invit­ed me into his house, and it just threw me the fact that he had a pic­ture of the Queen on the wall and we didn’t even have a pic­ture of the Queen on our wall at our house. And I sup­pose I was invit­ed to have some din­ner and that was when I first had chick­en, rice and peas and then the fol­low­ing week my friend came over to our house and he had shepherd’s pie and I don’t think he had had shepherd’s pie before. So it was just sort of a fun­ny expo­sure to some­body else’s home, and like­wise for them hang­ing out in our house. 

But also we used to have Sun­day school which was sort of inter­est­ing, I remem­ber being in Sun­day school and I was work­ing on this cru­ci­fix­ion scene with papi­er mâché and I had one more week to go where I knew I could fin­ish this piece and I got home and my dad said right well we’re not going to be Catholics any­more. He said we’re going to be com­mu­nists, so sud­den­ly I didn’t have a cru­ci­fix any­more but I was giv­en a red star from my father and so I nev­er ever got back to Sun­day school to fin­ish my cru­ci­fix­ion scene. So maybe it’s still there, I don’t know. So from that point on, I sup­pose I was giv­en a polit­i­cal aware­ness and I was aware of the peo­ple used to have march­es about ban the bomb. So that’s sort of part of the envi­ron­ment I grew up in which is sort of quite artis­tic in so far as my dad always had aspi­ra­tions to be a painter. But this was dif­fi­cult because he had to find work to sup­port my moth­er and me and my broth­er and so we trav­elled a lot around the coun­try but pre­dom­i­nate­ly start­ed off with being in the South Lon­don area, Brix­ton, because it was quite cheap to live there in that time.

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