The Clash

Staged by their record com­pany as a trip to a war zone, for the first date of their au­tumn 1977 UK tour The Clash flew to North­ern Ire­land. In an ex­clu­sive ex­tract from brand new book Trou­ble Songs, this is the story of the band’s can­celled gig, ri­ot­ing a

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Stu­art Bailie

A can­celled gig, ri­ot­ing, fights… How the re­al­ity of life on Belfast’s mean streets proved to be too hard-hit­ting for the band’s ur­ban guerilla pos­tur­ing.

On 20 Oc­to­ber 1977, the Clash took the 8.30am flight from Lon­don to Alder­grove Air­port, County Antrim. The Ul­ster Hall in Belfast was the first date of their ‘Out Of Con­trol’ tour. By now, the band had been tough­ened by events. They had taken part in the An­ar­chy Tour with the Sex Pis­tols and oth­ers in De­cem­ber 1976. The tabloid me­dia had af­fected out­rage and only seven of the 21 sched­uled shows had ac­tu­ally taken place. In the fol­low­ing May the Clash head­lined their own ‘White Riot’ se­ries of gigs, an­other tur­bu­lent pas­sage. At the Rain­bow The­atre in Lon­don, fans ripped out 200 seats. There was no tour sup­port in the band’s record­ing con­tract. They ac­crued a loss of £28,000.

The self-ti­tled al­bum sold well, but the Clash bris­tled about their re­la­tion­ship with CBS Records. The la­bel had put out a sin­gle, Re­mote Con­trol, with­out their con­sent. They an­swered with a 23 Septem­ber re­lease, Com­plete Con­trol, with a lyric about the cost of own­er­ship, press in­famy, the chal­lenge of rev­o­lu­tion and the duty of a band to its au­di­ence.

This was the key­note of the new tour. It was about em­pow­er­ment, about keep­ing the move­ment straight. Out­wardly, the Clash seemed stern. “The sit­u­a­tion is far too se­ri­ous for en­joy­ment,” singer Joe Strummer had re­marked to Sniff­ing Glue fanzine.

Mean­time, gui­tarist Mick Jones was trou­bled by the stage back­drop for the new dates – a reportage pho­to­graph of youths from North­ern Ire­land in mid-riot. It was per­haps ques­tion­able to use this in Belfast. “I feel we might be rub­bing their faces in it,” said Mick. “It’s great in Bournemouth be­cause ev­ery­one is fuck­ing asleep. But in Belfast you don’t need to be re­minded.”

North­ern Ire­land had much to be con­cerned about. The death toll was cur­rently at 2,062. Re­cent fa­tal­i­ties included fire­man Wes­ley Orr, killed by an IRA bomb at the Ul­ster Brew­ery on 16 Novem­ber. A Royal Ma­rine, Gareth Whed­don, had died, aged 19, af­ter be­ing in­jured by a booby trap in Cross­ma­glen on 9 Novem­ber. Wil­liam Smyth was shot in the head on 25 Oc­to­ber by the UDA as he re­turned home from a Catholic Ex-Ser­vice­men’s Club in North Belfast.

While the Clash visit would make the cover of the Belfast Tele­graph, the lead story next day was a po­lice warn­ing to busi­ness own­ers about the threat of in­cen­di­ary de­vices. Civic premises had been tar­geted from the start of the decade, and since Bloody Fri­day in 1972 the prime in­stru­ment had been the car bomb. Con­se­quently, the city cen­tre was sur­rounded in 1974 by 17 steel gates, 10-12 feet high. Two years later and the plan was ad­vanced to cre­ate a sin­gle se­cu­rity zone out of the four se­cu­rity quar­ters. This was ‘the ring of steel’.

“The most hor­ri­ble thing was the way the kids were treated. They were pushed around. We ain’t an army, we’re a rock’n’roll band.” Mick Jones

The pho­tog­ra­pher Pen­nie Smith said that work­ing with the Clash was like a com­mando raid staged by the Bash Street Kids. There was drama and pos­tur­ing, comedy and bathos. Now here they were, headed for a reck­on­ing with the most per­ilous lo­ca­tion in the UK. In the af­ter­math of the Mi­ami Show­band Mas­sacre, few tour­ing acts had both­ered with Belfast. So this gig was a test for the band and also an important mea­sure of the move­ment. The sub­cul­ture had emerged from New York and Lon­don, a fu­sion of deca­dent poets, garage bands, sedi­tionary French thinkers, de­viant ap­parel, camp codes, stu­dent ri­ots and Baby­lon burn­ing. Here then was a test: punk’s proof of con­cept in the city of the dead.

“They’ll think we’re here to en­ter­tain the troops,” Joe mused. As the plane de­scended, a stew­ardess de­liv­ered a mes­sage from the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture. It was a re­quest for any­one who was trav­el­ling with food or live­stock to make a dec­la­ra­tion.

“That in­cludes me,” said Mick. “I’m a chicken.” The Clash trav­elled with new drum­mer Nick ‘Top­per’ Headon, man­ager Bernie Rhodes, Caro­line Coon from Sounds and Ian Birch from Melody Maker. CBS had brought along a pho­tog­ra­pher, Adrian Boot, who had al­ready worked with the band, tak­ing their first record com­pany ses­sion by the con­crete but­tresses of the West­way fly­over in Lon­don’s Not­ting Hill.

Adrian had lived for a time in Ja­maica, teach­ing physics in Port An­to­nio. He be­came friends with the singer Ju­nior Murvin there and later the MC Mikey Dread Campbell. He was an ama­teur pho­tog­ra­pher and came to doc­u­ment Rasta­far­ian cul­ture in a book, Baby­lon On a Thin Wire. So when he was tak­ing shots of the Clash in Not­ting Hill and he saw posters and graf­fiti about Ja­maican mu­sic, he found a cre­ative back­drop and also a shared in­ter­est with the mu­si­cians.

“It pro­vided a con­tact with the band,” he says.

“It en­abled me to have a con­ver­sa­tion about some­thing that was in­ter­est­ing. Oth­er­wise it would have been dif­fi­cult. I wasn’t a nat­u­ral born punk. I was quite scruffy but more in­clined to be a hippie. I hadn’t much of a clue what punk was. I had missed out on quite a lot of this by be­ing in Ja­maica. Punk was al­ready a force by the time I’d got back.”

Be­sides her role as the punk di­arist in Sounds, Caro­line Coon had co-founded the Re­lease or­gan­i­sa­tion in 1967. This was a le­gal sup­port ser­vice for drug-re­lated ar­rests. She had a par­tic­u­lar con­cern with the po­lice’s stop-and­search pow­ers.

“As a youth in the 60s, I was en­gaged in pol­i­tics in my art and also in di­rect po­lit­i­cal ac­tion on the street. We con­fronted an ever-more mil­i­taris­tic po­lice force whose tac­tics, we be­lieved, were honed on the streets of Belfast. The po­lice in the UK first got shields af­ter the riot in Lad­broke Grove that was the foun­da­tion of the White Riot song. But the po­lice then got tooled up with the same man­u­fac­turer who was mak­ing tools for North­ern Ire­land. Be­fore that, they didn’t have shields.

“As naive as we were about the pol­i­tics of North­ern Ire­land we were very close. It af­fected us. We were be­ing warned that if we go into Ox­ford Street on this Sun­day, you could be bombed. And many peo­ple were. Not as many as peo­ple as in North­ern Ire­land, ob­vi­ously, but it was very real for us. Real for the Clash to their own eyes.”

The Ul­ster Hall gig was pro­moted by the North­ern Ire­land Polytech­nic Stu­dents’ Union (NIPSU), based at Jor­danstown on the north shore of Belfast Lough. They trans­ported the band from the air­port to the Europa Ho­tel on Great Vic­to­ria Street – fa­mously the most bombed stopover in the western world – and ex­plained that the sound check was go­ing to be de­layed. As a courtesy, the NIPSU minibus was at their ser­vice and so was the driver, Peter Aiken, Vice Pres­i­dent of Clubs and So­ci­eties.

At this stage, the band was un­aware of a lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lem. The pro­mot­ers, headed by Austin Smith from the Polytech­nic, did not have a let­ter of li­a­bil­ity cover from an in­sur­ance com­pany. This had been ex­pected from Med­i­cal Pro­fes­sional In­sur­ance Lim­ited and all had seemed

fine three weeks ahead of the event. But the cover was not con­firmed on the day of the gig. It had ac­tu­ally been with­drawn. Austin had of­fered a pre­mium of up to £500, but this was turned down. Given that the Ul­ster Hall was the prop­erty of Belfast City Coun­cil, there would be no gig with­out a cover note.

“As the gig ap­proached,” Peter says, “there was a prob­lem with in­sur­ance. Be­cause the mu­sic was quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary, given the con­text of Belfast and the un­rest and the trou­bles, the in­sur­ance com­pany felt that there could be el­e­ments that could pos­si­bly hi­jack this, and then there could be end­less prob­lems. It was as a re­sult of that, and I re­mem­ber the dis­cus­sions in­ter­nally, with­out let­ting the Clash man­age­ment know any­thing about this, [that we thought] ‘What are we go­ing to do? What can we do?’ This was a few days be­fore. ‘Let’s see what we can do in try­ing to or­gan­ise al­ter­na­tive in­sur­ance for it.’”

This de­lay al­lowed the band more time in the city, and the photo ses­sion was the next pri­or­ity.

As Adrian re­calls: “I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to take pho­to­graphs of the Clash in the street, I was ex­pect­ing sim­ply to cover the event, to do back­stage shots and some live pho­tog­ra­phy. That’s what I was com­mis­sioned to do. That’s what it was meant to be. Just a photo ses­sion, of the kind that I had done many sim­i­lar pho­tos ses­sions be­fore in the street with bands. Ex­cept the street here, of course, was Belfast in 1977.

“I saw an op­por­tu­nity. ‘Can I do a photo ses­sion?’ They agreed. There was a bit of reser­va­tion about where we went. The record com­pany guy sug­gested that we just wan­der around the Europa and find a few rooms or a white wall to shoot against. But I thought, ‘Well look, this is an amaz­ing city…’ Amaz­ing in the sense that it was al­most like a war zone. A per­fect back­drop for pic­tures of the Clash. Luck­ily, the band wanted to go out, so that over­rode any­thing that the record com­pany said.”

As it was a win­ter day, the light was poor. Adrian was us­ing a Leica M4 cam­era, small, quiet and un­ob­tru­sive, favoured by doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phers. Peter Aiken took them on a tour of North and West Belfast. They stopped near the Crum­lin Road Gaol, their backs to the Carlisle Me­mo­rial Church. They en­coun­tered an army pa­trol and Adrian got a se­ries of mem­o­rable shots.

“For me, vis­ually, they were re­ally good. The Clash cer­tainly didn’t look or­di­nary. And they didn’t have to pose – they just wan­dered around and I could just shoot. Their dress sense was good, their at­ti­tude was good. So it was a very easy thing to do. They were very pho­to­genic. I was look­ing for au­then­tic­ity, if you like. I was look­ing for the right back­ground. So wher­ever there was barbed wire or graf­fiti or some­thing like that, I would try to get the band in the shot, jux­ta­posed with what­ever else was in the back­ground. I was con­scious of that.’

In 1976, the band had used their art school back­grounds to accessorise old cloth­ing with slo­gans and paint splat­ters, ref­er­enc­ing the likes of Jack­son Pollock. The Sex Pis­tols were at an ad­van­tage in that Vivi­enne West­wood and Mal­colm McLaren cre­ated their fierce cou­ture. The Clash be­gan us­ing two seam­stresses, Alex and Christina, but were also styled by Se­bas­tian Con­ran and his emer­gent Up­starts brand. The NME writer Nick Kent dis­missed the re­sult as ‘pop star army fa­tigues’. On the af­ter­noon of Oc­to­ber 20, this look caused some alarm dur­ing a brief visit to Down­town Ra­dio in New­tow­nards, just out­side Belfast, when Joe and Mick were mis­taken at re­cep­tion for paramil­i­taries. Now, here they were, in their zip­pered com­bat pants on the Crum­lin Road, hav­ing small talk with Keith, a mous­ta­chioed squad­die from the Mid­lands.

“Joe did men­tion in the van that he was very wor­ried be­ing pho­tographed next to sol­diers,” says Adrian, “al­though it was ac­tu­ally him that walked over to the sol­diers and had a chat with one of them.”

Peter Aiken drove them to the Shankill Road and the Falls Road. There was also an op­por­tu­nity at Spring­field Bar­racks, in front of a con­fi­den­tial phone num­ber on a large sign out­side. They stopped out­side the Henry Tag­gart Po­lice and Army Base at the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween the Protes­tant Spring­martin and Catholic

Bal­ly­mur­phy es­tates. This was a bru­tal for­ti­fi­ca­tion with cor­ru­gated iron, link fenc­ing, chains and ce­ment. The tow­er­ing de­fences were there for good rea­son. This had been one of the scenes of the so-called Bal­ly­mur­phy Mas­sacre in Au­gust 1971, when 11 civil­ians died. In May 1972, the Bat­tle of Spring­martin had taken place here, a cross­fire of ag­gres­sion from the Of­fi­cial and Pro­vi­sional IRA, the British Army and the UVF West Belfast Brigade. It was the most in­ten­sive bat­tle of its time, with 400 strike marks on the Spring­martin flats alone. Seven peo­ple were killed in two days of vi­o­lence, four of them teenagers.

The Clash en­tourage ar­rived here in the blue col­lege bus with the NIPSU logo on the side. Im­me­di­ately, the mil­i­tary came out and wanted to know why peo­ple were stand­ing out­side the fort. At which point, Peter in­tro­duced him­self. In ad­di­tion to his col­lege role, he was a part-time mem­ber of the Royal Ul­ster Con­stab­u­lary. He had his se­cu­rity ser­vice war­rant card.

“I very specif­i­cally re­mem­ber some of the army guys com­ing out – ‘You can’t park here, you can’t stop there’, and again it was a war­rant card and,

‘That’s okay’. So the pho­to­graphs were al­lowed.

But oth­er­wise you wouldn’t have got some of those pho­to­graphs. There were a lot of lo­cals who came out to see what was go­ing on. “What’s this and what are all the pho­to­graphs?” Be­cause Adrian was very much there and he was po­si­tion­ing peo­ple and do­ing his bit. I re­mem­ber be­ing able to turn around and say, “Look, these guys are al­right and I’m vouch­ing for them”.’

The fi­nal im­ages of the af­ter­noon pic­tured the band on Done­gall Place in the City Cen­tre, en­ter­ing the ring of steel, each tak­ing a body search as they came through the se­cu­rity cordon. Adrian was first through and so he doc­u­mented the oth­ers be­ing frisked be­fore stand­ing at the top of the av­enue. Be­hind them, an Ul­ster­bus headed out of the city while a heav­ily ar­moured Sara­cen ve­hi­cle steered for­ward into Done­gal Place. Civil­ian trans­port and the ton­nage of the British Army.

“You can look back at the pic­tures now,” says Adrian, “and think, ‘Oh, great, it worked out well’. But at the time, no one ex­pected much more than just a quiet photo ses­sion – ‘Let’s use the time use­fully’. So the fact that the pic­tures turned out the way they did, it was more to do with Belfast at the time than the Clash. I could have wan­dered around the streets with­out the band and shot pic­tures and it would still be quite dra­matic. It was a dra­matic back­drop.”

Aweek ear­lier, the Sex Pis­tols had re­leased their fourth sin­gle, Hol­i­days In The Sun. It was a manic ac­count of shift­ing eco­nom­ics and tourist glut­tony. The nar­ra­tor wants an al­ter­na­tive to the usual Mediter­ranean beach pack­age. He’s think­ing about the Ber­lin Wall and a di­vided city. He wants his­tory. He wants to visit ‘the new Belsen’. A visit to a con­cen­tra­tion camp will give the vis­i­tor some brag­ging rights. Johnny Rot­ten is decades ahead of the con­cept of Dark Tourism. And while there is no ob­vi­ous judge­ment passed in the body of the song, the vo­cal­ist squalls a crit­i­cal line in the record’s open­ing bars: ‘a cheap hol­i­day in other peo­ple’s mis­ery’.

It is per­haps the most moral line in the punk story. In each jour­ney, in each en­counter and in ev­ery trans­ac­tion, there is a per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. The Clash mem­bers were not un­touched by this guide­line dur­ing their Belfast visit.

“I just felt like a dick,” said Mick Jones. “The best time was when all the kids were in the pho­tos with us. That was the only time it was hu­man and real. The kids thought we were dicks. We asked some, ‘Do you want to be in the pho­to­graph?’ and they said, ‘Bol­locks’ on the Bal­ly­mur­phy Es­tate. I thought the group stuck out like a sore thumb.”

None of this had reg­is­tered with the fans at the Ul­ster Hall. Many had ar­rived early and were en­joy­ing the pre-gig cer­e­mony as they queued along Bed­ford Street. The Ul­ster Hall had been de­signed for the work­ing class of this in­dus­trial town – a place to en­joy the arts cheaply. It had opened in 1862 with Han­del’s Mes­siah, and had hosted Charles Dick­ens. Paul Robe­son had en­joyed his visit in 1936, re­mark­ing: “I’ve been made to feel you peo­ple un­der­stand me, the warmth of your wel­come has gone to my heart.”

Led Zep­pelin would not re­turn af­ter the pre­miere of Stair­way To Heaven in 1971. Rory Gal­lagher kept play­ing blues there to the faith­ful. The venue had no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence with punk rock and the at­ten­dant sub­cul­ture.

Mau­reen Lawrence was a punk en­thu­si­ast, and the ad­ver­tised Clash gig was important: “That gig did give us the sense of nor­mal­ity. The an­tic­i­pa­tion was un­be­liev­able. Up un­til then, we went to the lo­cal punk gigs with Rudi. The Out­casts were the lo­cal band that we fol­lowed all around East Belfast and be­yond. But the fact that, all of a sud­den, the best band ever was go­ing to come to Belfast, it was affirmation that we were now part of the scene. Up un­til then, we just thought we had our own lit­tle thing go­ing on. Maybe about 50 of the core group of peo­ple went to the gigs. We didn’t know there was any­body else there.

“To go along, turn the cor­ner, and see all these peo­ple who we didn’t knew

“The Clash were com­ing to Belfast. I couldn’t be­lieve that it was go­ing to hap­pen. And it didn’t.” Fanzine ed­i­tor Gavin Martin

Pho­tos: Adrian Boot

“The kids thought we were dicks. We asked some: ‘Do you want to be in the pho­to­graph?’ and they said: ‘Bol­locks.’”Mick JonesNoth­ing to de­clare: a full frisk wasn’t un­com­monin Belfast in ’77.

The Clash leave Queen’s Univer­sity Stu­dent’s Union af­ter the gig there wasn’t al­lowed to go ahead.“The punks in­formed us they were the only in­te­grated peo­ple in the whole coun­try. Let the child teach the man!”Joe Strummer

Mean streets: the Clash ona photo shoot in Belfast.

Not with­out good rea­son, it was a ner­vous time dur­ing the Belfast photo shoot.

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