Often labelled “the only band that mattered”, The Clash were largely seen as one of the pivotal players in the punk scene, with many saying that the aforementioned phrase, arriving when the group signed a major deal with CBS, was the signal for the genre’s demise. Of course, The Clash would go on to have a career that transcended any subculture and, instead, helped to define an entire generation and beyond. However, like all world-conquering groups, they had to start somewhere.
That’s why we’re dipping into the Far Out vault to look back at a special moment for Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Heddon as they open up a 1977 show in Munich with their inflammatory jam ‘London’s Burning’. Watching the band in action, it’s easy to see how The Clash became the giants of anti-establishment music they were.
On October 4th, 1977, the crowd in Munich must have been a little wary of what they were about to witness. By this time, the term “punk” was being widely used by both British and US media, and the bands that had been born under the moniker were still just as happy to trash a stage and spit in your face as they were to sit and talk it out on a music TV show. It was a time when punk was becoming mainstream. It makes sense then that Strummer, clearly aware of the fading nature of such a fad-led term, proclaimed to the crowd: “This is rock and roll!”
The Clash had released their self-titled debut earlier that year and had gathered a good deal of great press for it. Even as early as their first record, The Clash set out their stall — they were the thinking man’s punks. It wasn’t all about attention-grabbing stunts but using one’s platform for good and moving the spotlight onto the societal issues that swirled around the entire globe.
“It’s fucking horrible,” Mick Jones proclaimed. “I never want to come back here again. It stinks.” While that’s no the best review of Munich, it did reflect the plight of many punk bands on the road outside of Britain. Punk had been widely accepted and accelerated in the UK. Having boasted the toast of the rock and roll set in the sixties, it was clear that London was happy to once again be in the musical limelight. However, take punk rock out of London or New York in 1977, and you were likely to find a little bit of trouble. Start playing punk music in Munich, and you may have a riot on your hands.
Paul Simonon shared a similarly guarded sentiment when he talked to Wolfgang Buld, who was filming the performance for his documentary Punk in London. “The police came around and dragged us out from the hotel,” explained to the bassist when noting Jones’ dissatisfaction. “We really want to like Germany. Well, I do, anyway.”
With such clear national divisions, one can’t help but make assumptions that the choice to open the evening’s proceedings with their song ‘London’s Burning’ was perhaps a little contrived. However, the reality is more likely that the song is a perfect opener. It powers out of the gate as soon as Strummer belts out the first lines of the song. It would lead the way for most of The Clash’s debut album to be played, closing the show with ‘Garageland’.
In the 18-minute clip below, we not only get a sense of the kind of power The Clash had in their mist – with a hometown crowd or not – but we also get a reminder of just how incendiary their songs were and how deeply shocking their new sound would have been to such a naive audience.
Watch The Clash perform ‘London’s Burning’ back in 1977.