Good evening all, part one of this one appears back on July 5 if you want to get current.
This night (May 9-1977) was the biggest platform yet for The Clash on the White Riot tour. What I still find berserk is the tour schedule, the prior 2 nights were in Edinburgh and Manchester. Not that Britain is huge but that makes for some bad planning and a lot of driving. Considering the support bill of The Buzzcocks (at that stage less than a year playing live and one EP to their credit) and The Jam (debut single ‘In The City’ only 10 days old) it was a chance for the new breed to show what they could do.
According to Sounds the Buzzcocks were very focused, to the point where concentrating becomes the adjective used. Obviously playing within their limits but even as early as then the Manchester band has a fistful of great songs to belt out. What I’ve always loved about them is the initial simplicity of their song structures that is just simply propelled along with a buzz of angst. The band won the expectant audience over with a short tight set which left it open for The Jam.
Sounds reports that interest in the stage was limited as the bar was doing very brisk trade, the writer also doesn’t understand why the front rows of seating were not removed. The Jam were apparently ‘flash, tight and energetic’ working through their set at full throttle just added to the event. I must admit that the Jam had amazing authority on stage – always a controlled and very inspired band who could literally assault you with sound and energy. Already finding their own live persona, they didn’t fail to make more inroads to riding what was to be a comet of success for the three piece.
The writer from Sounds (Jon Savage) has some pedigree having seen The Clash earlier in Nov 76 and inferred prior to that also (?). You sense that he expected to be let down, for him the Rainbow may as well have been Wembley stadium such was the upgrade in stature and expectation for what was truly little more than a splinter scene the previous Autumn. He admitted that the raw fury of The Clash had captured his senses before and he waited to see if they could rise to this higher level.
Savage wrote that the band were much tighter than before without losing the critical rough edges so important in their ferocity. As soon as they hit the stage the entire audience were focused on the top of the bill. A large 25 foot backdrop of the artwork (rear) of the new album adorns the stage and The Clash land in a wall of frenzy. London’s Burning kicked out and they were in their city, with their fans and celebrating (?) what was a shit time to be young and in the capital. Strummer has grown in stature, taking the role of front man to new levels and seizing the moment to be a part of the band and yet the M.C. of the whole event.
The writer goes on to explain that the band have improved in every way imaginable and Strummer taking the lead role seems to allow the others to better focus on what they do best. Topper Headon has now taken the job that was always his and concerns (based on my history lessons) that Paul was still learning bass seem unfounded. Even though this was at the zenith of what Punk was (first wave) it’s really funny to read Jon Savage saying the following “One neglected aspect, among the sociology and mythologizing of the album, was the playing. I mean, great rock ‘n’ roll, man!”
In truth it’s that brutal fact that ensured The Clash not only leaped over the barriers of 1976-77 and the chains of punk to loftier heights but also defines why we’re still discussing them. They were a brilliant Rock band (whatever that may mean). The piece of the event that is recorded in the books, 200 seats got ripped out and there was a lot of fighting. I’m sure worse was happening at Millwall and West Ham that very Spring, what the books should also report – The Clash were faced with their biggest hall to date and went out and owned it.
I’ll follow up with a conclusion to The Rainbow posts but close with a Jon Savage quote about that night.
Rock ‘n’ roll can be one of the few honest things left in this world.
An event, a gathering of the clans.
But it was all down to the Clash.
Savage is a great writer and if you have never had a chance to read England’s Dreaming I suggest you try and track it down. Speaking of great writers from the good old days – I learned a little late about the sad loss of Steven Wells to cancer a week ago. He was a huge part of the NME and a superb music and in more recent years football journalist. He coined the word ‘saddo’, he didn’t play the industry game, he made a lot of people laugh, he was just 49.