Joe Strummer once directed a bizarre gangster punk-noir film starring The Clash
(Credit: John Joe Coffey)

Kings of New York: The Clash reign over the Big Apple in 1981

As one of the pioneers of punk rock, The Clash have a place in the history books for their incredible contribution to music. But it was their passion and connection with their fans which made them legends.

There’s no better evidence of this fact than when the only band that matters became the Kings of New York, reigning for 17 blazing evenings at the Bonds nightclub in the summer of 1981.

The Clash had booked a seven-night stint at the Bonds nightclub in Times Square opening on May 30th, 1981. The only American dates the band had booked in support of their LP Sandinista!, the small venue (1750 capacity) guaranteed The Clash a sell-out.

A huge scramble for tickets for the run of shows ensued and the Times-Square-camping masses gathered some great press. But things would soon kick up a notch, when the venue, a former department store, would vastly oversell the available tickets on the opening night.

It would cause the Fire Department to arrive on opening night and try to shut the shows down. The news carried outside to those still hoping for a chance to see Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon. Soon the rumblings of riots began to tremor across Times Square. That incident would garner even further attention from the press and with the cameras all pointing on how The Clash would respond, the tension was high.

The Clash, true to form, condemned the brazen greed of the promoters while demonstrating their connective integrity to each and every ticketholder. The band doubled the original booking with a total of 17 dates extending through June. It would result in some of their most notorious live moments across the pond.

The shows were intimate and intense they offered fans the chance to connect with the band on both amusical and personal level with the crowd often joining the band on stage for raucous singalongs.

It also saw the band possess the hottest ‘opening’ slot in the city, it saw Strummer and co. offer spots on the bill for the Fall, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Dead Kennedys, Allen Ginsberg, and Lee “Scratch” Perry. With an opening act as inspiring as the headliner, the series soon became a moment in rock history.

Luckily, some of the nights were professionally recorded either for CBS records or for FM broadcast. The 9th June performance appears on many bootleg records and several songs have appeared on official Clash releases. It means we can look back at the moment The Clash became Kings of New York and took Times Square.

It was a crystalline moment of everything that is pure and good about punk rock and you can see a small glimpse of it below. Watch The Clash perform ‘Safe European Home’ from June 9th, 1981.

Listen to the full recording below:

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