The Clash in Belfast - Sounds 29th October 1977

At first The Clash were reluctant to have their picture taken anywhere near the soldiers. ìThey'll think we're here to entertain the troops," said Strummer. They all felt they didn't know enough about the political situation. They learned fast.

Belfast is one nervously obsessive security check. You can't cross a road, drive down the street, walk into a shop or hotel without passing through an elaborate system of flashing lights, concrete and steel barricades, high barbed-wire fences or road blocks. At each of these frequent checkpoints, the hands of uniformed men and women feel over your body and pry into your personal possessions. Jesus (in whose name the fighting continues) Christ! The eroding invasion of privacy liquifies your guts in seconds. You're just about to scream and question the necessity of the process when the words "bomb scare" pass from mouth to mouth. Army trucks roll by, soldiers run and crouch with their rifles loaded. Your palms begin sweating. There's no dynamite hidden in your handbag. But suspicion and fear prevail. On what side are the people next to you? Do you look Catholic or Protestant? And anyway, extremists on either side are frequently apologising for killing the wrong person. Danger stranger? You'd better believe it. "Where are you playing tonight?î a man asks The Clash at the airport. The Ulster Hall. "Well, that's a nice part of town. You won't get kneecapped there." Gulp. Ha ha. An Irish joke already.

"You see," the local BBC reporter explains later in the bar of the Europa Hotel, ìwhen there have been people dying at your feet for eight years, you've got to laugh." For all the tension in the air, coming to Belfast is a positive gesture of optimism. Within minutes of arriving in town, The Clash are surrounded by fans. Heavy punks. Safety pins through their cheeks. Dog collars. Bondage straps. The lot. The Clash are examined as if they are visitors bringing a magic interlude from another planet. The atmosphere is feverishly excited. "We've come to play for all the kids here," says Paul Simonon, "whoever or whatever they are." George, 19, a Protestant laboratory worker tells him: "It's so great you're here. We've been waiting for this for weeks. Nobody ever comes here. We're going to love it." Will there be Protestants and Catholics at the gig? "Oh yes. We all mix and we get on. Everybody's bored with the fighting. Only a minority are fighting. It's music we want to hear, not religion." The Clash are in the right place. Definitely.

It's the first night of their second UK tour and they are psyched-up to give an all-time great performance. Never have they been so certain before a gig of the extent to which they are wanted. Joe has a brand new Telecaster. Paul is wearing Patti Smith's high school T-shirt. They are all on full alert and ready. Then the news breaks. The gig is OFF. It can't be. Panic. Two hours before the show is due to start! There must be somewhere else to play. Confusion. The promoters can't get insurance. Medical And Professional Insurance Limited refused to insure punk music at the last minute. Already, hundreds of fans are outside the Ulster Hall just a stone's throw from the hotel. The Europa is besieged. "We want The Clash. We want The Clash," they roar from behind the wire bomb guards. Police materialise out of the darkness. Paul and Nicky Headon realise the situation is explosive. They both speed through the security check and into the mob. "Please keep calm," they implore. "We're trying to find an alternative venue. Pass the word to keep calm. If there's trouble tonight we'll never be able to play here." Word filters through that fans outside the Ulster Hall refused to disperse. Bottles were thrown. Kids lay in front of police Land Rovers. Two have been rushed to hospital. Again Paul and Nicky, joined by Joe, decide to face the angry fans themselves. Outside the Ulster Hall they are mobbed. "Come on Joe, play!" "Don't sell out, Paul." "We wanna play," The Clash yell back. And their presence and pleas to "Keep cool" reassures the fans and the angry scene turns into a mammoth, good-humoured autograph session and talk-in.

"Whether you're a Protestant or a Catholic here, you get it if you're a punk," say Maggie. On her way across town, she and her friend were stopped by soldiers. "Go home," they were told. They climbed over the security barricades to get to the gig. Back at base, manager Bernard Rhodes is trying to salvage the situation. The social secretary of Queens University offers a hall. The gig is on again. The word spreads. Punks converge on the university. The band arrive to a resounding cheer and push through the crowd. But the place is like a morgue. Kids rush up to the band. They are crying. ìThe bastards have called the gig off again," they say. In a back room, two university officials are deliberating, negatively. Deputations from the band, the promoters, the press and the fans beg them to change their minds. The phrase "acceptable levels of violence" hangs in the air. Two huge, uniformed police inspectors enter. The crowd outside are calm, they say. They can easily, sir, be dispersed. What do you think will happen if the university allows the gig to go ahead, I ask them. "Every window in the place will be smashed." The band are stunned. Accusations of a publicity stunt make them feel sick. Mick Jones is refusing to leave the dressing room until he is allowed to play. Slowly, the fact that there's nothing anybody can do to save the gig sinks in. Go home everybody. The Clash are silent, inwardly seething, outwardly setting an example of responsible cool. Paul is the last to leave the dressing room. He rips a leaflet from the student notice board.


The Clash in Belfast - Private World Fanzine - December 1977

This was more important than any gig played in Belfast. The last time The Clash attempted to play they were thwarted by authority and were attacked by the cops. The group suffered from the trip because of those Army photos. They said they'd be back, I didn't believe them, but they kept their word.

I prefer to forget about the controversy over the cancellation of one of the shows. So let's start about 8:00. The queues getting bigger and bigger, the fuzz are getting worried, I'm getting drunk and carried away (literally) and The Clash are tuning up. Because of a disagreement (I got lifted), I missed The Lou's, but I was back just in time to hear the opening Clash number - Complete Control. It sounded great. Proving that it was the single of '77, no matter what anyone says. I don't know what the sound should've been like (Strummer says it should have been better), but it didn't matter to me or any of the other 600 kids or so in the hall. U.S.A., Janie Jones, Protex, 1977, all those fucking classics from that fucking classic album and Capital Radio. The music was the best I had heard and especially the new numbers - Clash City Rockers and White Man, both have a heavy reggae influence that works. White Man must surely be their best song yet. Garageland came on and it was over. The encores - What's My Name and White Riot - sent us wild and the stage was invaded.

The next day between autographs and mouthfuls of egg and chips, Strummer and Jones held court in the Europa. They didn't say much of interest. They were probably afraid to say anything in case they said it to the wrong person. Even I feel that way sometimes and I fucking live here.
Mick's asking Matlock and The Rick Kids to come over here so watch out for that. You know what you've read about The Clash and from what I've seen it's all true.


The Clash at the McMordie Hall, Belfast 19th Dec 1977 - review from NME ñ January 1978 Edition by Colin McClelland

"Hiya! Shouted Joe Strummer, punching savagely a big Christmas balloon decoration hanging from the ceiling above his head. A sweating hall full of Ulster's punk population leapt in the air with a great roar. The Clash had come back to Belfast.

The roar continued more or less unabated throughout the hour-long set, which also saw a lot of frenzied gobbing. At one point Mick Jones had to stop playing to unclog his strings.

There were two Saturday shows originally scheduled for Queen's University Student's Union - which had tried to stage the band's aborted Ulster Hall gig in October, but which was also stymied on that occasion by insurance problems (see Thrills 29.10.77). This time around, only one Clash performance actually got off the ground, the first one falling down over a travel hold-up after The Clash apparently missed their plane.

About 650 punks bought tickets for Saturdays show. Each ticket was accompanied by a personal note from student organiser Emanon McCann, appealing for cool on the part of the audience, "so that other punk concerts might be possible in the New Year."

The entrance hall to the union looked almost like a pet shop as the show got underway. Tables groaned under assorted belts, buckles, leads, studded collars and safety pins, all taken off fans as they came in and each carefully labelled with the owner's name.

The Clash lashed into their programme at sub-sonic speed, throwing almost unnoticed Northern Ireland asides into familiar songs (`Police And Thieves" became "Police And Priests"), and pausing only to wipe down between numbers.

The set finished on "Garageland", which seemed to catch the crowd by surprise. It took them a full 30 seconds to realise that the show was indeed over, and the mighty roar then started up again with a vengeance.

The band came back onstage almost immediately with "London's Burning", only it was now called "Belfast's Burning". The audience went ape. By the final encore `number, "White Riot", the bouncers were no longer able to hold the front-line control, and several people broke through onto the stage to share vocals with Strummer. He passed the mike to one to finish the song for him.

The band left the stage as chaos became general.

When they got outside the fans were in for a shock. In the normally middle-class Elmwood Avenue four or five armoured Land Rovers were pulled up, ringed with police carrying rifles.

The crowd, which had shown no hint of aggro throughout the evening, stood about in groups, looking bemused. The police, several with rifles held on the hip, moved amongst them, presumably looking for the expected violence. None came.

Suddenly a ligger at the back of the crowd, jumping piggyback on his mate's shoulders, became the target for action, and a handful of cops rushed in to collar him He was hustled off into one of the waiting Land Rovers.

As the punks moved off down University Road the Land Rovers kerb-crawIed beside them, occasionally stopping for armed constables to lump out and stand guard at street corners. If it was provocation, as some of the fans muttered, it didn't work. Most of the crowd seemed to be in a hurry to get to a party somewhere.

The success of the Clash concert means that Queens will now be able to go ahead with their projected New Year programme.