A Note I'd Like to Send Back Through Time

If you’re dealing with family photos back in the seventies, eighties, nineties, it’s great that you write the date and place on the back (thanks, Mum). That’s super useful. But could you please name the event and the people, too?

Yes, of course, you know what it was and who they were. But you’re not writing it for you. You’re writing it for your descendants, decades later, who want to know who these people were.

Why yes, I am scanning some old family photos, why do you ask?

Oh, and also: don’t waste film on scenery. The Scottish hills and moors are lovely, but I’m not interested in scanning old photos of them. Give me people, family, friends. Give me backgrounds, the wallpaper in the old house. Show me bookcases, wood-effect stereo systems. Old streets and shop signs.

And people, above all, people: that’s what casual photography should be for.

You know what no one took pictures of in the film days? Food. I’d actually love to see some old Sunday roasts or birthday cakes, but I don’t suppose they’d look that different from today’s.


Calling From London

Forgetting for a minute the slightly-disappointing conclusion of a 42-year-old story that we spoke about the other day, this month gives us the 40th anniversary of an even more significant creation, for me at least.

The Clash released London Calling in December 1979. Rolling Stone went on to call it the best album of the 80s, but it got a later release in America. And in any case, many wouldn’t have heard it until 1980. 1

Including me. I remember being at school, at the start of a term, so it must have been January, and Watty saying, “I envy you: you haven’t heard London Calling yet.” That idea of how important the first listen is. I’ve said similar things myself over the years, about various things.

But honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything about my first hearing. I had probably heard the title track — it was a single, after all — and I went and bought the album, most likely at John Menzies in Dumbarton (though maybe at Hall Audio, the nearby hi-fi shop, or Woolies, or Boots, who used to sell records in those days). I do know it cost £3.99, because the band took a reduction in their royalties so it — a double album — could be sold at the same price as a single album. Excellent value, for one of the greatest records ever made.

Though I paid for it a couple more times over the years. Someone walked off with my copy during a party at my student flat in Edinburgh. I replaced it with a second-hand copy, probably from Record Shak (sic) on Clerk Street. Though possibly that was much later and in London. I had a tape of it to tide me over. I do know that the replacement cost the same: £3.99.

The CD must have cost me a bit more, but I didn’t get that until the 25th-anniversary version, with The Vanilla Tapes, the rehearsal-room recordings of early versions of several of the songs.

I could probably tell you a few things about the 7852 2 times I’ve heard it subsequently, though. But it would be better for you to listen to it yourself.

And lastly, just a reminder that tomorrow is the 17th anniversary of Joe Strummer’s death.


  1. Or at any time in the intervening 40 years, to be fair. 
  2. Approximately.