In 1977 punk was at its feverish peak, propelled by a host of snot-nosed bands pushing the boundaries and The Clash at the top[ of the pile. The group were touring across the country with their debut LP The Clash in tow. Alongside this, they had balls, brattiness and a keen sense of what was to come. Unlike any other punk band, The Clash really mattered.
The Sex Pistols and the Ramones may have had messages of their own but The Clash were the true voices of the disenfranchised youth of Britain in the mid-to-late seventies. As they toured the country the pulled down the barriers between artist and audience and connected their ascending energies together to make for some standout shows.
In the videos below, the band performs at Sussex University Brighton on May 25, 1977. This show, part of the White Riot Tour, marks the beginning of their time with CBS, shortly after the release of the debut album, The Clash. It also saw the integration of new band member, Topper Headon, on the drums following Terry Grimes’ departure.
“The only band that matters,” CBS employee, Gary Lucas, once said of The Clash. This statement came shortly after the band had signed a relatively lucrative deal with the ‘big-time’ record company and, in the eyes of many, had ‘sold out’. The editor of the ultimate punk fanzine, Sniffin’ Glue, reacted to the news of the time, writing: “Punk died the day The Clash signed for CBS.”
That may hold some truth with regards to the grassroots anarchic movement. But, in reality, the deal actually put punk and The Clash on the map. It spread the band’s message and got kids from all walks of life dying their hair and piercing their nose, across the globe almost overnight. Their impact was extraordinary.
The footage below sees the band in their more natural habitat. Away from the corporate money and in the guts of their audience. The clip’s resolution is grainy as all hell and the audio doesn’t hold much water either in comparison to some soundboard recordings. But one thing that is clear as day in these clips is that The Clash were always at the top of their game when they were in front of the crowd.
As Strummer gets the audience ready and highlights the need to “matter” once more, he unleashes the “Okay, ‘Capital Radio’ with words that mean something” and ploughs, along with the rest of the band, into the track and the set. A set which features ‘White Riot’, ‘Police and Thieves’ as well as ‘Cheat’ and ‘Remote Control’. It highlights a back catalogue that was quickly gaining notoriety for its intelligence and passion and a performance that throbbed the ears as a perfect punk punch.
Despite the poor audio and editing choices, the footage is a keen piece of archival film not only documenting The Clash and the start of their whirlwind journey to becoming one of the most important artist Britain has ever produced. But also a cultural, social and political sea-change in late-seventies as the youth made their voices heard. Loud and clear.
Watch The Clash tear through a stunning set at Sussex University in 1977.