Imagine this outrageous scenario, The Clash and The Sex Pistols the world’s most infamous punk rock bands both playing on the same bill at Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic. You are probably thinking on what parallel universe this all took place? Crazy as it may sound this all really happened in Coventry on 29th November 1976, 30 years ago tomorrow to be exact.
This was just 48 hours before Bill Grundy’s infamous “Say something outrageous” interview that famously ruined one career and help to create another. Punk rock had yet to reach critical mass, and it remained for at least a few hours or so, wacky column inches inside the pages of the dailies. Just 48 hours later though on 2nd December “The Filth and The Fury” headlines would kick in, and popular music would never be the same again.
But just before all that happened there was the Lanchester Polytechnic gig. Punk had arrived big time in Coventry. As I previously mentioned, this was just before punk became a household name. So local NUS representatives at Coventry’s Lanch, were confused where Strummer and Co and Rotten and Co stood politically. Songs like Clash’s White Riot and The Pistol’s God Save The Queen (this was it’s first ever live airing under the working title “No Future”) were considered fascist anthems by the unsuspecting students body, so subsequently payment for the gig was withheld.
Phil Dunn was the then President of The Lanchester Student’s Union. I asked him what he remembered of the night. “it was an intense evening all ways round”, replied Phil, “it was the days of tuxedoed bow tied, security men who could be a bit tasty. They were being confronted by all these punks in bondage strides, ripped T-shirts and chains. Some punks were wearing stuff like Myra Hindley is Innocent T-shirts to wind people up. The tension began to build. When the band came on the stage it was pretty electric, with wild pogoing. It felt like the coming of something, like an event. There was a few back stage dressing room problems, not with damage but lots of empty bottles of Benylin being found afterwards”. (Along with glue, Benylin Cough medicine was the cheap and cheerful punk rock stimulant of choice.) “It was the Treasurer who had heard the lyrics and deemed them racist and fascist, and refused to sign the cheques”, continues Phil,” at the end of the gig there was this stand-off, with the bands down by the stage and the Student’s Union at the back of the hall. Johnny Rotten came up to me, he was out of his head, and declared, “We’re not the fascists, you are the fascist”, or words to that effect, and I think it was The Clash’s Mick Jones who told us that we would never have a band play in this place again”. Despite the Treasurer’s feeling we all knew that the contract had stated that this sort of thing may happen, and we had to pay them. We basically gave them the petty cash to get home or whatever and sent the cheques the next day. Despite all this there was no actual trouble that night as such, and the gig went down really well”.
In truth these guys were of course anything but Fascists and we would soon learn that heart of pure Socialism beat under their hand painted pin-clad punk attire (certainly in the Clash’s case). The Clash were on first (for they were only the support band, and this was only the 20th time they had played as the Clash). Strummer with blond hair and a paint-spattered army fatigues, Mick Jones in Union Jack shirt and black tie, Paul Simonon looking cool as always in red graffiti white shirt and tie and Terry Chimes in red shirt. While the Pistols were far more conservative in their dress with much of the band wearing black tops with Johnny Rotten in a reasonably plain dark blue rubber jacket.
Kevin and Lynda Harrison soon to front one of Coventry’s most inventive bands The Urge were at the concert with Roddy Radiation of the Specials. “We got there early”, relays Kevin, “and heard The Clash sound-check. Roddy and I hit the bar with Joe Strummer for light refreshments, I had a good chat with Joe about the state of the country, and the price of life and Joe held his arm around me as we strolled through the crowd. I’d just been Joe’s best mate for twenty minutes or so. The Sound Of The Westway hit the stage. The songs were mostly from the soon to be released first album, ‘White Riot’, Janie Jones, I’m So Bored with the U.S.A, What’s My Name, London’s Burning, Police & Thieves, Career Opportunities, the one that never knocks, this still ranks as one of the best ever gigs I’ve seen! Afterwards Rodd & I had more refreshment and banter with Joe and he invited our little party of four into the backstage dressing room. In one corner stood alone was Johnny Rotten who kept aloof from the rest and was strenuously blowing his nose on his fingers and flicking the results on the floor. When the Pistols got on stage and started up the riff from ‘Pretty Vacant’, it was powerful stuff and the Pistols were tight and well drilled to cut to the bone, a shock for all the knockers who said they couldn’t play. Out near the front there was a hardcore group of pogo dancers, where we were and needless to say one big klutz lurched in Lynda’s direction and Backwards onto her foot. I can remember hearing Bodies, and Anarchy In The U.K followed by God Save the Queen, but Lynda was by then in no way fit to carry on, she subsequently passed out with pain. And she remembers coming round shouting ‘”No I’m not going! I need to see the Pistols”
Both the Clash and The Pistols would famously return to the city (The Clash to Tiffanies 8th Nov 1977 back to the Lanch 26th Jan 1978 and Tiffanies 7th Feb 1980. The Pistols at Georges 17th December 1977). Both bands would make a bigger impact on their return concerts, as more and more tired old glam rockers, stopped deriding punks and joined them. So in the space of a few months the punk phenomenon took hold and a year later British and Irish culture was full of bin-bags, safety pins and black-lipped attitude, with a million punks screaming for anarchy, even if they had no idea what anarchy was!
- Joe Strummer sent a telegram of support when students at the Lanch occupied the main Administration building over budget cuts.
- Photos courtesy of Black Market Clash at
- With Thanks to Kevin & Lynda Harrison, Dave’s wife Kathy, Phil Pilkington and Phil Dunn.
- Coventry born Steve Connolly was a roadie with the Clash, and was instrumental in the Specials meeting Bernie Rhodes and landing a support slot on the ‘On Parole’ Tour.