Keith Levene, founding member of the Clash, dies at 65

Publish Date
Monday, 14 November 2022, 11:06AM

Keith Levene, the innovative guitarist who was a founder member of both the Clash and Public Image Ltd, has died at the age of 65.

Levene, who had liver cancer, died at his home in Norfolk , leaving a lasting legacy of influence on British rock music.

His influence on the post-punk music scene was hailed by musicians as news of his death broke. Among his fans is Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, who once described his style as “spectacular”, saying “he explored the possibilities of what you can do with the guitar”.

Forming the Clash with guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon when he was only 18, it was Levene, alongside the band’s manager, Bernard Rhodes, who asked Joe Strummer, frontman with the 101ers at the time, to join them. Luckily for the Clash, Strummer had just seen the Sex Pistols play at the Nashville Rooms in London and had become convinced that punk was the way forward.

Levene, who was born Julian Levene in Muswell Hill, north London, remained in the Clash long enough to appear in early gigs and to contribute to songs, including What’s My Name on their 1977 debut album. But he grew apart from the Clash’s increasingly political direction and went on to greater success with PiL.

Levene said in 2012: “People thought I was classically trained, which was bollocks. I knew the E chord, and ventured into E minor. We laid the music out on a plate for Lydon. He was very hip at the time and did really good work.” He played synthesiser on 1981’s The Flowers Of Romance, which was his last released work with PiL, but he played with Wobble again in subsequent years.

In 2021, the website the Quietus described him as “one of the architects of the post-punk sound, his guitar style occupying a space between angular abrasion and pop opulence”.

Levene enjoyed building guitars and had been working on a book about PiL with writer Adam Hammond. His partner, Kate Ransford, who, with his sister, Jill Bennett, and her husband were with him in his final hours, said he had died “peacefully, settled, cosy and loved”. The family have asked for privacy.

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