We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at two of punk’s finest bands clashing, as The Clash’s Paul Simonon and The Stranglers’ JJ Burnel duke it out in the car park of a Ramones gig. A proper punk punch-up.
Punk has a rather unfair reputation for being a baseless and violent genre. While the songs may feel razor-sharp and ready to cut through anything in front of them, the truth is that the majority of the bands involved were, on the whole, a fairly loving bunch.
Joe Strummer once even moved to say that any punks causing trouble at gigs were likely “mummy’s boys” rather than true blood punks. Perhaps he should’ve let friend and The Clash’s bass player Paul Simonon know that fact before the style icon went swinging.
Simonon has a reputation himself. Not for fighting or getting in trouble but generally just being one of the effortlessly cool men on the planet. Not just with The Clash, where he provided the best rock and roll image of all time when he smashed his guitar for the cover of London Calling, but then with Damon Albarn’s band The Good The Bad and The Queen. However, on this occasion, Simonon seemingly lost his cool.
It is somewhat widely known that back in those days, the coming-up making their name days, Simonon had a pretty disgusting nervous tic. The bassist would spit on the floor almost constantly. He did this just as The Stranglers were coming off stage following a performance in Camden’s famous venue Dingwalls.
The Stranglers had just supported Ramones and were clearly in a jubilant mood when they were met with the very special brand of gob that Simonon conjured up from the back of his punk mouth.
Burnell explained to The Guardian: “In 1976, we played with the Ramones. In those days, Paul Simonon had a nervous tic: he used to spit on the ground. He did this just as we came off stage at Dingwalls in London, so I thumped him and it all kicked off. We were thrown out by the bouncers and it continued in the courtyard.
“On one side were the Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones and a load of their journalist friends. On the other side was us, a few of our fans and me, nose to nose with Paul. Dave [Greenfield, Stranglers keyboards] had John Lydon up against the ice-cream van.”
Burnell later recalled that “Joe Strummer and (The Stranglers guitarist) Hugh Cornwell stood at the side, saying, ‘I think your bass player is having a thing with my bass player.'” He also went on to share that he believed the incident worked against both him and The Stranglers: “Ever since that, the press were against us. Those journalists are dead or retired and the people reviewing our records now don’t know about all that bollocks.”
Sadly, we’ve yet to come across Paul’s version of events. But, that may have something to do with the fact that JJ Burnel is, in fact, a Black Belt in Karate and so likely gave the bassist a bit of a bruising to his ego if nothing else. Equally they both likely got on with their lives following the incident and would cross paths on many occasions.
It goes to show that while some punks may be quick to throw a punch they’re also just as likely to forget about it.
Unless, of course, you’re J.J. Burnel.