Amazing Free Audience & Circulation
Before The Clash's founding, the band's future members were active in different parts of the London music scene. John Graham Mellor sang and played rhythm guitar in the pub rock act The 101'ers, which formed in 1974. By the time The Clash came together two years later, he had already abandoned his original stage name, "Woody" Mellor, in favour of "Joe Strummer", a reference to his rudimentary strumming skills on the ukulele as a busker in the London Underground. Mick Jones played guitar in legendary protopunk band London SS, which rehearsed for much of 1975 without ever playing a live show and recording only a single demo. London SS was managed by Bernard Rhodes, a sometime associate of impresario Malcolm McLaren and a friend of the band McLaren managed, the Sex Pistols. Jones and his bandmates became friendly with Sex Pistols Glen Matlock and Steve Jones, who would assist them as they tried out potential new members. Among those who auditioned for London SS without making the cut were Paul Simonon, who tried out as a vocalist, and drummer Terry Chimes. Nicky Headon drummed with the band for a week, then quit.
After London SS broke up in early 1976, Rhodes continued as Jones's manager. In February, Jones saw the Sex Pistols perform for the first time: "You knew straight away that was it, and this was what it was going to be like from now on. It was a new scene, new values—so different from what had happened before. A bit dangerous. At the instigation of Rhodes, Jones contacted Simonon in March, suggesting he learn an instrument so he could join the new band Jones was organising. Soon Jones, Simonon on bass, Keith Levene on guitar and "whoever we could find really to play the drums" were rehearsing. In late May, Chimes was asked to audition and became the band's full-time drummer.
The act was still searching for a lead singer. Chimes recalls one Billy Watts (who "seemed to be, like, nineteen or eighteen then, as we all were") handling the duties for a time. Rhodes had his eye on Strummer, with whom he made exploratory contact. Jones and Levene had both seen him perform and were impressed as well. Strummer, for his part, was primed to make the switch. In April, he had taken in the opening act for one of his band's gigs. That act was the Sex Pistols. "I knew something was up," Strummer later explained,so I went out in the crowd which was fairly sparse. And I saw the future—with a snotty handkerchief—right in front of me. It was immediately clear. Pub rock was, "Hello, you bunch of drunks, I'm gonna play these boogies and I hope you like them." The Pistols came out that Tuesday evening and their attitude was "Here's our tunes, and we couldn't give a flying f*** whether you like them or not. In fact, we're gonna play them even if you f****** hate them.