On The Road With The Clash.

‘The Myth Of The Clash’ (copyright Marcus Gray) was not the only thing I had to contend with whilst growing up with The Clash – there was also ‘The Myth Of How Many Times I Actually Saw The Clash (in reality)’ to deal with. The truth is: I bullshitted quite a lot. I was a committed bullshitter when it came to The Clash. A one-man crusade to prove myself as the ultimate Clash fanatic numero uno!

The first bullshitting incident occurred around early 1978 (having ‘lived with’ The Clash since 8th April 1977 – UK release date of “The Clash”) – some 6 months or so before I’d even seen the fuckers – when I spent an evening in some back-street dive in Leamington Spa bullshitting various fellow Punks that I’d caught the Barbarellas show on the White Riot tour on the 3rd of May 1977. I dubiously claimed I’d caught the bus from Stratford Upon Avon (some 7 miles walk from my home) & had to leave the gig after only a handful of numbers to catch the last bus from New Street Station in order to return to Stratford - & then walk the 7 miles or so home. Trouble is – once you’ve started – you just don’t know where to stop. In those days, having witnessed such an event was akin to having been present at the virgin birth of our Lord & my bullshitting attracted me the questionable reputation of having ‘been there when it mattered’. Obviously I had to concentrate very hard when re-bullshitting in the ensuing months to avoid blowing the gaff - & my meagre ‘street cred’ in the process.

This virgin bullshitting incident eventually became a yoke around my neck. Whenever I was out in Leamo with any of my close mates I’d have to immediately manoeuvre anyone away from them who approached us asking to hear the tale one more time. My homeboy, John Henderson, eventually sussed me out - & subsequently took the piss long & hard (even threatening blackmail – probably involving the requisition of some highly sought-after 7” 45rpm disc or other). By the time John & I finally got to see The Clash for the first time – I was a fucking nervous bullshitting wreck!

By spring 1978 I’d scored a Saturday job at Discovery Records in Stratford Upon Avon along with my schoolmate, Olly Little. Discovery was a small independent concern run by a large cheeseburger loving Mott The Hoople fan called Bob Barnes. Bob had taken a shine to us as we’d spend every school lunch break hovering around the 5 square foot surrounding his till - drooling over the 7” 45rpm box to the left of it - & making his shop look busy! We slowly turned our mates & associates onto the shop & Bob’s customer base began to grow accordingly (we also brought our fair share of nubile young women into the shop as well – another reason to employ us!). Bob offered Olly a job first – I was gutted & extremely jealous – but eventually he decided there was room enough for two - & I joined the ‘staff’ a matter of weeks later. Most weekdays we’d return to the shop after school & kill the hour or so before our respective buses left - enabling Bob to pop up to the nearby Wimpy Bar with some rep or another to catch up on cheese burgers at the label’s expense (Bob’s second favourite pass-time – after talking about Mott!).

Bob was matey with the promoter of Friars Aylesbury - & soon invited us down to catch a gig. I forget our first Friars experience – but I was unlikely to ever forget my second: 28th June, 1978 – The Clash (Out On Parole Tour). I talked Bob into letting John Henderson come along for the ride - & we set off from Stratford in Bob’s reasonably flash motor for the 50-odd-mile trip (via Banbury) down to Aylesbury. John & I were so fucking nervous & loaded with excitement we hardly said a word all journey. Bob blasted out Mott, derided Punk groups & talked about how many times he’d seen Mott (& met Ian ‘Unter). If I hadn’t been so wired (Dodo’s) – I’d probably have fallen asleep!

We parked close to the venue & Bob insisted on taking us round the corner to see the window of a record shop run by Kris Needs (Zig Zag/The Vice Creams) – usually the pass time of kings, as far I was concerned – but not when The Clash were less than a few hundred yards away! Almost as soon as we were through the door - Hendo & I made a b-line to the merch store & eagerly purchased our 1st Clash t-shirts, posters & badges (stashed safely for us until after the gig by one of Bob’s Friars buddies). We finally felt a part of what was going on for the very first time.

From the moment The Clash exploded onto the stage (we’d missed The Specials) I was addicted – from the Meserschmidt backdrop to the cut of their jib – The Clash were the most intimidating, rage-fueled, genuinely affecting sight I’d seen in my relatively short term on this planet thus far. Strummer’s leg pumped like he was riddled with amphetamine – Jonesy stalked the stage like a gobby guitar hero – Simmo was the epitome of studied cool - & new boy Topper smashed his kit to fuck like his life depended on it.

Sucked into the mosh-pit almost immediately – & loosing a shoe in the process (I ducked to retrieve & put it back on - & got kicked to fuck in the process) – I was soon separated from Hendo. The smell of the sweat (not the grease paint) filled my nostrils as I surged backwards & forwards with the tide of the crowd. The set was rammed with new tunes (from the forthcoming “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” LP) – “Police & Thieves” bled into a cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop” – we even got to witness an airing of “All The Young Punks” (a tune The Clash would rarely performed live again). It was all over way too soon & I was literally dripping with sweat – not all of it mine, I might add. It was like a fucking swimming pool. I soon found Hendo & we excitedly searched out Bob – who’d not left his position at the bar for the duration - & was just about pissed enough to drive us home.

We stopped off at the Wan King in Banbury for Texaco Havoline spring rolls (Bob excitedly showed us how to wring the excess grease from one over the windscreen of an adjacent motor – a ritual that would become commonplace on all future Friars trips). We eventually arrived back home in the small hours, clutching our goodies with pride & saying ‘what’ quite a lot (due to earfuls of feedback & volume damaged lug-holes). Needless to say I didn’t take the t-shirt off for quite a few weeks – my mother eventually threatened to cut it off if I didn’t surrender it to the wash box!

A few months later, on the 10th of November 1978 to be precise (half term), I was rudely awoken from my slumber pit at some ungodly hour (10am-ish!) by a shout from my mother – Hendo was on the phone. I wasn’t impressed, but stumbled down to the phone regardless (which was big of me - considering John would often great early morning phone callers to his abode with a curt ‘fuck off’ & a slam of the receiver). “Heard the new Clash LP yet?” - he gleefully exclaimed. He’d only gone & bummed a lift into town with TC (his dad) & gone & scored a copy on the day of release before I’d even woken up! Bastard. The rest of the morning was taken up hitching into town – arriving at Discovery in somewhat of a flurry – desperate for my Clash fix. I’d been done over by the curly-haired little fucker - & I wasn’t best pleased. I was the SECOND Punk in Norton to own a copy of “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” - & that hurt.

Revenge was not long in coming – I bussed it into Coventry to Poster Place & scored two tickets for The Clash for the 28th of November (Sort It Out Tour) at Tiffanys - & proceeded to wind Hendo up that I was going to take Moz along instead of him. On the night TC gave us a lift into Cov & (somewhat amazingly) even agreed to pick us up after the show.

Tiffanys was a far more oppressive atmosphere than friendly Friars – maybe it was the memory of being beaten up a few times at Highfield Road in the past – but Coventry seemed predisposed to scaring the living shit out of us rural yokels! I scored a superb ‘Sort It Out’ t-shirt & another poster – Hendo couldn’t afford any merch & I seem to remember some sulky shapes in the area (in the end I bought him a badge – generous, or what?). The set was fairly close to the one they’d played at Friars & all I can really remember is being totally in awe (a new backdrop consisting of flags of the world draped the back wall of the stage) – & constantly expecting to be hit very hard at any moment (without warning).

On the 22nd of December 1978 I returned with Bob & others to Friars for the Friars Xmas Party featuring The Clash. My main memory of the night was being introduced to The Blockheads road manager who had once worked with Eddie Cochran or Gene Vincent – I can’t remember which. I guess you’d call it ligging – but of course I didn’t know that then. I decided to watch the show from the balcony on this occasion (remembering my shoe losing kicking from the last Friars Clash gig) & got a whole new perspective in the process. The Clash were unstoppable – moving inexorable towards their prime. Little did I know it then – but they would rarely reach these levels of total intensity again.

On January 3rd 1979 Hendo & I hitched our way down to the bright lights big city of London Town to see The Clash complete their 3-night stint at The Lyceum Ballroom. This could well have been the group’s finest live hour – it was definitely the best gig of our lives, as far as Hendo & I were concerned (even if Topper did look a twat in his yellow catsuit!). As we spilled out onto the streets after the gig we were surrounded by a gang of cockerney herberts who began demanding our money with menaces. I bullshitted (I was quite a convincing exponent of the art by this stage) that we only had enough money for our train fares back to Stratford (true-ish – we would have hitched back anyway – but what cash we did have WAS for emergency transport) – they thought we meant Stratford (East End) - & obviously, assuming we were talking meagre tube fair pence – thought we were not worth the bother & backed off. I still got a dig from the ring leader for my troubles (a smack on the chin) – by which time Hendo had fled off down The Strand at pace - with me not too far behind! We didn’t stop running for several blocks & by the time we came to halt in a hail of coughed-up phlegm - wheezing badly & swearing to give up smoking very soon – I laid into Hendo for his chicken shit stance in the fracas (but not too hard – as we were crashing on the floor of his sister, Mary-Anne’s, flat). I can clearly remember feeling very relieved to have escaped with my bollocks intact from that little showdown - & sleeping with yet another new t-shirt over my old Clash t-shirt because it was fucking freezing on that floor! When we awoke the next cold morning we had no idea that we wouldn’t see The Clash again until the next year – 1980!

The Clash spent most of the rest of 1979 touring the US & recording the follow-up to “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”: “London Calling”. Press shots showed that the fatigues were giving way to suits & homburg hats – suspicion held sway in my mind - were The Clash about to sell out after all? I spent much of 1979 fucking as many girls as I could, playing in my own Punk group & seeing as many different groups as I could. Hendo & I holidayed in France on a PGL Adventure holiday (my second PGL trip – the first, a year earlier with my mate Andy Gilbert – RIP - had resulted in my ‘running away’ to stop in Barnett for a few weeks with a girl I’d got off with in France, called Sarah. I remember buying “Hong Kong Garden” by The Banshees in Barnett during my stay – & smoking a ton of opiated black hash) & I copped of with a girl called Jayne from Poole in Dorset. I began attending Stratford College doing a Business Studies course in September 1979. I started dating a girl by the name of Rebecca & was generally as happy as Larry (whoever the fuck he may be?). On November 10th 1979 I met the woman who would turn out to be the love of my life (although The Clash didn’t know that then!).

On Monday 14th of December 1979 I bought an early doors copy of “London Calling” from Bob at Discovery - & Jenny & I bussed it back to Norton to listen to the LP in the comfort of my bed. We had to skulk about the village for a while waiting for my Mother to go to work – but eventually gained access via my bedroom window. We listened attentively to side 1 – bonked our way through side 2 – cuddled along to side 3 - & fell asleep during side 4. Jenny wasn’t overtly impressed with either my performance or The Clash’s – a bit of work was needed in both departments. I was obviously not the stud I’d previously considered myself - & “London Calling” was not “The Clash” x “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”!

Jen’s first Clash gig was Friars at the offset of The 16 Tons Tour. It was the first UK live airing for the “London Calling” material & the first time I’d seen The Clash in almost a year. I still hadn’t completely come to terms with the LP & - judging by the hostility from certain sections of the audience – neither had the general public at large. We’d been blown away by Ian Dury & his Blockheads earlier on - but watching The Clash later – I had serious reservations. The group seemed rusty – the newer material lacked the power of their earlier gear - & it was only during the older numbers that the vibe became anything approaching charged. Jen was impressed, nonetheless, so I simply revelled in my newfound love buzz & basked in the glory of being a (self-proclaimed) seasoned Clash gig goer (God only knows the bullshit I’d spouted at her by now).

A month or so down the line – with 16 (?) tons of repeated listening to “London Calling” under our belts – we reconvened at the Birmingham Top Rank on the 5th of February. Skanking toaster Mikey Dread supported & Birmingham’s heavy manners presence of home-grown rastas provided able shotgun backup. My over-riding memory of this show was The Clash halting the set early on & bringing a giant fan onto the stage in an attempt to stem the tide of gob that was being directed at the stage. Joe ranted that gobbing was passé & disgusting & that the group would continue the show from behind the fan. This stance lasted a couple of songs before the fan was removed & normal service was resumed. After 25 odd shows practically back to back – the set had now assumed more swagger & power. I was inclined to feel that Clash adrenalin rush again almost from the off. By this stage Jenny was as committed as I was too - & the show was truly something to savour.

Two nights later, on the 7th of February, we queued up the stairwell of Tiffanys in Coventry for a repeat performance. The show was notable for some skin headed twat gobbing off on mic & causing a bit of a rumpus - & then Joe stating that ‘he’d taken a 1000 gobs & wasn’t gonna take any more’ - before jumping into the crowd to smack some poor spitter with his trusty Telecaster. Explosive performance – charged atmosphere – it threatened to kick off at any moment & we were eventually happy to make it out of dangerous Cov in one piece!

We didn’t see The Clash gain for almost 18 months – in the interim the group had delivered the triple LP, “Sandinista”, & the waters had become truly muddied! Our next Clash gig was for Jen’s birthday treat, on October the 18th 1981, when we headed down to the Lyceum for the opening night of the group’s 9-night residency (Radio Clash Tour). Throughout the gig the memory of my earlier visit to Lyceum with Hendo two-&-a-bit-years earlier haunted me. I hated to admit it to myself – but The Clash were way better then. Jen enjoyed it all the same – she was a massive fan by this time & much preferred their later material to the more raucous early gear. Who was I to argue?

By the next time we saw The Clash I was becoming a little too over friendly with heroin chic - & The Clash had dropped the equally wretched “Combat Rock” LP. Our compadres for the trip to Brixton’s Fair Deal on 10th July 1982 (Down At The Casbah Club Tour), Eddie & Annabelle, were also in the throws of addiction & Jen (as the only non user in the party) was beginning to feel just a little bit put out by it all. At one stage, following Eddie’s Mini Cooper across London to score prior to the gig – Eddie jumped out of his car on the middle of a traffic island to berate me vociferously for failing to keep up adequately. The night was marred by a crashed out Eddie nodding out all over the shop & a fish out of water Annabelle fussing all over him like a bruise. Jen & I decided to dump them for the duration of the gig & found them both slumped in the foyer afterwards. The gig itself was as overwrought as our circumstances – a sprawling, wounded, compromised beast of a contradiction in terms. The venue had allegedly been turned into a ‘casbah’ for the night with lots of extra attractions – but we didn’t find them. The stage set did look impressive, however – yellow & black barriers & flashing orange emergency lights. The best moment was the pre-tape & The Clash’s arrival on stage. It all seemed to go rapidly down hill from there on in - it wasn’t a great (Fair) deal of fun!

8 nights later on the 18th of July we headed to Bingley Hall, Birmingham, to do it all again (thankfully without Eddie & Annabelle this time) – & we enjoyed it all the more. The set was more fluent than at Brixton & the bonus of many a jaunty fellow Stratfordian in the audience made it one to remember for Jen & I.

On the 2nd of August we headed down to Bristol with Jen’s older brother, John, to catch The Clash at the Bristol Locarno. As well as Mikey Dread, the group were also supported by an Asian Elvis impersonator called Elvis Patel. When The Clash hit the stage we were just in front of the mixing desk – the crowd went absolutely apeshit – pogoing en masse - & making the dance floor bounce in the process. I swear to God that for a good 5 minutes we were absolutely convinced that the movement from the floor was going to bring the PA stacks crashing down from the stage onto the front rows of the audience. John was utterly blown away – a decade or so older than Jen or I – it was his first belated interface with that thing the papers called Punk Rock. He looked like an excited little kid at his first gig - rather than the experienced veteran of 60s counterculture that he in fact was. Jen & I seemed to enjoy the gig even more than Bingley Hall – maybe because John enjoyed it so much – maybe because it was the last time we ever saw Mick Jones & Joe Strummer on the same stage together (although we didn’t know that at the time).

Our final Clash gig was at De Montford Hall Leicester (Out Of Control 2 Tour) on the 12th of February 1984 (see “Goodbye Comrade Joe” elsewhere in this issue) – a horror show I’ve spent much of the subsequent 20 odd years trying to erase from my memory. The bullshit I was party to on that fateful night was far worse than any of the bullshitting I may have been guilty of during my 8 year affair with The Clash.

At the final count I saw The Clash live 12 times – as opposed to the 20 odd times my bullshitting had claimed by the time the group fell apart. Setting the record straight here for posterity has been a cathartic exercise that was well overdue - & I feel strangely cleansed by the process. In retrospect those 1st 5 shows were the ones that really meant something to me - & I will continue to wear their significance like a badge of honour for the rest of my days. The Clash at their best are still the greatest rock n roll memory of my 27 years of gigging - & I doubt any group will ever eclipse them. I never saw the original Pistols line up (apart from the re-union gigs) & regardless of all the other Punk Rock groups I had the pleasure to see when it mattered – no one came close to the power & the glory of The Clash in full flight.

For those of you who were there at the time – I salute you. For those of you who missed out – I commiserate with you. The Clash: The Greatest Punk Rock N Roll Band Of All Time? Discuss.

Jean Encoule – tMx 12 – 11/03

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