The Guns of Brixton

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"The Guns of Brixton"
Song by The Clash
from the album London Calling
Released14 December 1979
RecordedAugust–September, November 1979
StudioWessex, London
Songwriter(s)Paul Simonon
Audio sample

"The Guns of Brixton" is a song by the English punk rock band the Clash. It was written and sung by bassist Paul Simonon, who grew up in Brixton, South London. The song has a strong reggae influence, reflecting the culture of the area and the reggae gangster film The Harder They Come.

Origins and recording[edit]

"The Guns of Brixton" was the Clash's first song to be composed and sung by Paul Simonon.[2] By the time of London Calling, Simonon had learned to play guitar and started contributing more to the songwriting.[3]

"You don't get paid for designing posters or doing the clothes", he said in an interview published by Bassist Magazine in October 1990, "you get paid for doing the songs."[3]

The band, separated from manager Bernard Rhodes,[4] had to leave their rehearsal studio in Camden Town and find another location. They began work on London Calling during the summer of 1979 at the Vanilla Studios in Pimlico.[5][6] The band quickly wrote and recorded demos, and in August 1979 entered Wessex Studios to begin recording the album. Produced by Guy Stevens, who at the time had alcohol and drug problems and whose production methods were unconventional,[7] it was recorded within a matter of weeks, with many songs, including "The Guns of Brixton", recorded in one or two takes.[8] It was also revealed that while recording the lead vocals for the song, Simonon sang while staring directly at a CBS executive who had visited the studio during the sessions, giving Simonon the desired amount of emotion in his voice.[9]

A section of the song is sung by a very young Maria Gallagher, accompanied by her father Mick Gallagher on the keyboard, as a reprise at the end of the song "Broadway" on the 1980 Clash album Sandinista!


Lyrics and meaning[edit]

"The Guns of Brixton" predates the riots that took place in the 1980s in Brixton but the lyrics depict the feelings of discontent in the area because of the heavy-handedness of the police, the recession and other problems at the time. The lyrics refer to a Brixton-born son of Jamaican immigrants who "feel[s] like the end of The Harder they Come", referring to Ivanhoe Martin's death in the 1972 film The Harder They Come. Simonon was originally doubtful about the song's lyrics, which discuss an individual's paranoid outlook on life, but was encouraged to continue working on it by Joe Strummer.[2]

Return to Brixton[edit]

"Return to Brixton"
Return to Brixton by The Clash 1990 standard edition.png
Artwork for 7-inch vinyl and standard CD editions
Single by The Clash
ReleasedJuly 1990
Songwriter(s)Paul Simonon
Producer(s)Guy Stevens
The Clash singles chronology
"I Fought the Law"
"Return to Brixton"
"Should I Stay or Should I Go"

"The Guns of Brixton" was not initially released as a single, but a version of the song, taken from the remastered version of London Calling and remixed by Jeremy Healy, was released by CBS as a CD single, 7-inch vinyl and 12-inch vinyl entitled "Return to Brixton" in July 1990 (catalog number 656072-2). It reached #57 on the UK Singles Chart.

CD single track listing

  1. "Return to Brixton" — 3:47
  2. "Return to Brixton" — 6:55
  3. "Return to Brixton" (SW2 Dub) — 6:00
  4. "The Guns of Brixton" — 3:09
Chart (1990) Peak
UK Singles (OCC)[10] 57

Live performances[edit]

"The Guns of Brixton" was a mainstay in the Clash's live set. When performing the song live, Simonon would switch instruments with Strummer because he was unable to play the bass line whilst singing lead vocals at the same time.

A somewhat heavier, faster version than the one found on London Calling appeared on the 1999 live compilation From Here to Eternity: Live.

Covers and samples[edit]

Norman Cook (also known as Fatboy Slim) sampled the bass line for Beats International's 1990 song "Dub Be Good to Me", which became a #1 hit in the UK. Simonon, interviewed by Scott Rowley in October 1999 for Bassist Magazine, said that he "was surprised that it became number one that was quite shocking. And the fact that it was my performance that they had lifted. The smart thing would've been to copy it and change it slightly, but they just lifted it straight off. So, really, I have done Top of the Pops, but I met up with Norman [Cook] and we came to an arrangement which was much needed at the time. But I thought it was a really good idea and it was quite reassuring for that to happen to my first song."[3]

Cypress Hill sampled the baseline on "What's Your Number?" from the 2004 album Till Death Do Us Part. The song also features Tim Armstrong on guitar.[11]

Jimmy Cliff covered the song on his 2011 Sacred Fire EP, and 2012 album Rebirth, produced by Armstrong.[12] Will Hermes has called the cover "the sound of history circling in wondrous ways" because the song references Cliff's character Ivan from The Harder They Come.[13]

Other legacy[edit]

Reverend and the Makers frontman Jon McClure stated that his band's song "Nostalgia" from the album ThirtyTwo was "my attempt at a modern 'Guns of Brixton'".[14]

Brix Smith Start (born Laura Salenger), a former member of the Fall and the ex-wife of Mark E. Smith, derived her name from the title of the song.[15]


  • Gilbert, Pat (2005) [2004]. Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash (4th ed.). London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-84513-113-4. OCLC 61177239.
  • Green, Johnny; Garry Barker (2003) [1997]. A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with The Clash (3rd ed.). London: Orion. ISBN 0-7528-5843-2. OCLC 52990890.


  1. ^ Thomson, Ian (14 December 2019). "London Calling 40 years on: How The Clash rewrote the rule book". The Irish Times. Retrieved 29 December 2020. The standout reggae-inflected track on London Calling, Guns of Brixton, written by the band’s bassist, Paul Simonon, alludes to the Jamaican outlaw Vincent “Ivan”, or “Ivanhoe”, Martin, who terrified the island’s capital, Kingston, in the 1940s with his armed hold-ups, until a police manhunt left him dead.
  2. ^ a b Sweeting, Adam. (October 2004). "Death or Glory". Uncut. p. 67.
  3. ^ a b c Rowley, Scott. (October 1999), Interview with Paul Simonon. Bassist Magazine.
  4. ^ Gilbert 2005, pp. 212-213.
  5. ^ Green 2003, p. 156.
  6. ^ Sweeting, Adam. "Death or Glory". (October 2004). Uncut. p. 58.
  7. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 235.
  8. ^ Sinclair, Tom. (24 September 2004). "The Best Album of All Time". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 23 August 2009.
  9. ^ The Clash - The Last Testament -Making of London Calling 2/3 on YouTube
  10. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  11. ^ Sinclair, Tom. (19 March 2004). "Cypress Hill sample the Clash on new single". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  12. ^ Rachel, T. Cole. (11 August 2011). "Progress Report: Jimmy Cliff". Stereogum. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  13. ^ Hermes, Will (2012) "Jimmy Cliff Rebirth", Rolling Stone, 13 July 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2016. Nouvelle Vague released a cover of the song in 2016
  14. ^ "My Insight Into 'ThirtyTwo' the New Album From Reverend and the Makers".
  15. ^ Meter, William Van (18 September 2013). "Brix Smith-Start Has a Second Life as a Fashion Retailer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 July 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]