Mark Godfrey

From punk rock to the terraces: the brilliant journey of Seven Nation Army

Mark Godfrey
From punk rock to the terraces: the brilliant journey of Seven Nation Army

BY CRAIG CAMPBELL

What exactly does James Bond have to do with Brentford or Halifax Town?

To answer that question you have to go back to an analogue studio in Hackney in 2002 and a songwriter attempting to create witchcraft within its consoles. Buried beneath the wires of dusty recording equipment is enigmatic Detroit frontman Jack White, lead singer and chief pistolero of punk rock band The White Stripes. He's in the process of cutting what will go on to be a multi platinum selling album; and he's cutting it quick. Within ten days the whole album will be recorded, just the way he likes to do things. For the scattering of people watching him work it's an extraordinary sight; a Catherine wheel of blues and punk ramping into the ether. There's just one problem. The tracks come and go in such a blur that it's hard to hold on to them. Well, apart from one. The one track that's cut that everyone agrees is going to change things. It's just too immediate not to. Like it's locked into the DNA of rock and roll itself. It's title is 'Seven Nation Army' and although no one knows it yet, in the future pretty much the whole world will be clapping along to it.

Shortly after Jack White had written the riff to 'Seven Nation Army' he joked that it was his James Bond theme. By the time it was released it could well have been.

Despite strange pressure from both the White Stripes' UK and US labels not to release it as a single from their forthcoming album, the frontman's insistence would eventually pay dividends. Pretty soon every alternative radio station and club night adopted it as a fist pumping anthem, the precursor to broken pint glasses and running mascara. Then it went further. It usually occurred that once a decade, a song or a band escaped the alternative barricades into the bright lights of the mainstream. For the nineties read Nirvana and their hymn to introspective slackerdom  'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. For the start of the millennium the White Stripes were about to take their turn.

And if that had have been it for the song, then it was more than enough, but fast forward a few years in 2006 and something extraordinary was about to happen. It was at the World Cup finals in Germany in fact that Italian football supporters would adopt 'Seven Nation Army' as their unofficial national anthem. It's visceral refrain could be heard on the terraces as the fans tried to rally Gli Azzurri, and strangely, as such it seemed to take on a prophetic edge. The Italians would go on to surprise the football world and lift the trophy and guess what? They'd had to defeat seven nations on their way to doing it.

From then on the song took on its role as the international torch song for clubs around the world. From Feyenoord to Frickley Athletic,  it's descending  rhythm would be hammered out on rusting terraces or through the atmospheric mist of multi coloured flare smoke. It had become one of those rare things that crosses over from one subculture to another. From punk rock to the terraces. Even its creator was surprised by it. 'I was kind of blown away by it,' Jack White would later recall. 'The way the song had left the realms of the jukebox or the radio station and become a folk song of sorts.'

Which it still remains to this day. Alongside various others whose strange allure suddenly bursts out from home and away ends as a vocal soundtrack to what's occurring on the pitch. It's a strange and wonderful club alright and one that the White Stripes just happen to be part of.

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