Brixton, London

The Guns of Brixton by The Clash

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When the law break in
How you gonna go?
Shot down on the pavement
Or waiting on death row Read full Lyrics
Not a great range of options posed in the lyrics of this song. When the police make a forced entry to your property, are you going to be arrested or will you make a stand? If the latter, you may well get yourself killed. Hmm, not the ideal selection.

But what is the song really about? There would appear to be various opinions. Brixton is a suburb in the south of London, England, and in the 1970s it had a significant black population. It still has that racial mix today. Times were tough in the '70s and the police were not always regarded with respect. Criminal gangs were active.

Brixton Town Hall, London<br>Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Stuart Taylor</a>, Geograph Project, CC 2.0Brixton Town Hall, London
Photo: Stuart Taylor, Geograph Project, CC 2.0
Some see the song being about oppression or disrespect shown by some police to the mainly black residents. Others see the song being about the influence of gangsters and criminal gangs. Still others see it as being about making a stand against authority. Whatever might be the original meaning of this song, in the early '80s the streets of Brixton became the setting for some deadly and destructive riots. It's interesting that the name of the band summed up the activities found in Brixton over the years – a clash between various forces.

The creator of this song was the bass player for The Clash, Paul Simonon. It's said that he saw how money was made in the music business and it wasn't from playing in a band or designing posters, but rather from royalties. So Simonon got into the songwriting caper and this was one of his compositions. Not bad, either, as it did well, and his bass riff was copied by other players/songwriters, making him even more money.

Simonon perhaps should have stuck to playing the bass and leaving the vocals to others, because his singing was not always fantastic. So much so that sometimes fellow band members would turn up certain amps to reduce the impact of the bass player's vocals. When the track was being recorded, Simonon fixed his eyes on a record company executive outside in the control room. This enabled the singer to draw up all the required emotion as he sang or spat out the lyrics.

Brixton has seen its fair share of riots in recent times. But that's no reason to avoid the place. Brixton is not unlike Harlem in New York, which carried such a bad reputation that for years people avoided it. Not so anymore. And so it is with Brixton.

Locals have come up with all sorts of ideas to attract people to the area. The Brixton Heritage trail is just one example. You can wander Britain's first street to be lit by electricity. The food, arts and culture scene is dynamic with one of Europe's largest Caribbean markets being smack in the heart of Brixton. And bear in mind, it's only eight minutes (by tube) from Buckingham Palace.

There are plenty tourist trap sites to see, but if you want something different, if you want to see London's other history, Brixton is the place to be.

Cenarth Fox
August 10, 2014
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Comments: 1

  • Simon Beck from London, UkThe reference in the lyrics to "Death Row" is an interesting one - there has been no death penalty in the UK since the early 1960s. I wonder what it actually refers to.
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