The year 1976 will always be remembered as when the punk movement exploded into life. Punk's DIY element stimulated arguably the largest outpouring of new music from new bands ever seen before or since. Many punk bands petered out after a couple of years, but some went on to produce a catalogue of influential work that still stimulates wannabe musicians to actually get of their backside and do it. The Clash are undeniably a member of this club, and their bass player – and only constant member for the life of the band – was Paul Simonon.
Born in Brixton on the 15th December 1955, Simonon originally wanted to be an artist. He attended Byam Shaw Art School in Archway, London but was sidetracked when guitarist Mick Jones asked him to join the short-lived London SS, even though he couldn't play an instrument. After attempting guitar he switched to bass and Jones recruited singer/guitarist Joe Strummer from the 101'ers. It was Simonon who came up with the band's name and, with drummer Terry Chimes on board, The Clash played their first gig supporting the Sex Pistols on the 4th July, 1976.
The Clash's self-titled first album, released in 1977, was crammed with attitude-laden songs addressing the social and political situation in the UK but, as the band matured, they eagerly and fearlessly assimilated a variety of styles into their music, notably dub reggae, which was largely due to Simonon and his love of reggae bass grooves. The second and third albums (1978's Give 'Em Enough Rope and London Calling, 1979) were The Clash's most successful and featured many of their most enduring songs but by the time of their fourth album, 1982's Combat Rock, the band was in a downward spiral, fuelled by Headon's drug addiction and in-fighting between Jones and Strummer. Cut The Crap (1985) was The Clash's final album: Simonon played bass on only two of the 12 tracks.
Simonon developed into a damn fine bassist and is one of the most highly regarded to emerge from the punk melee. Although he toyed with Rickenbackers and Wals, his main bass was a Fender Precision, adorned with splashes of paint, worn impossibly low and attacked with pick in hand. By London Calling his grooves were splattered with melody and were often the most important melodic element behind the vocal. Simonon's dub influences also ensured that The Clash became a punk band that really grooved.
After a long period pursuing his first love, painting, Simonon returned to music in 2007 when Blur's Damon Albarn needed a bassist for his The Good, The Bad And The Queen project.