It was 40 years ago today: Niall Stokes on his memories of The Clash at Trinity College

"Joe Strummer raged visibly from the stage, as the spittle rained down and told the offenders to fuck off!" he recalls...

The Clash in Trinity College was the first major gig by an international punk outfit here, and so there was a huge sense of anticipation in advance. It was a real coup for Ian Wilson, who was President of the Students Union in Trinity, attracting one of the buzz-bands of the moment. But the setting was exceeding strange!

The gig took place in the hallowed environs of the Exam Hall in Trinity – a place that was certainly not built to house a punk rock gig. In fact the demand was sufficient to require two gigs, with an interval in between. I went, ready to be blown away.

The place was relatively dark and gloomy. And of course the lights and sound were very far from state-of-the-art! If I remember it right, the stage was very low, and so it had that democratising effect that seemed appropriate to the music. But it had the impact too of making the band smaller than they might have seemed, if they were on a high stage, and creating the more familiar, heroic illusion of Rock Gods in Full Flight.

I loved the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash of 1979’s London Calling. But I didn’t think the band sounded exactly like the Second Coming at the gig in Trinity. There was a lot of shouting and roaring from the stage and plenty of energy on display. But the sound echoed around the cavernous venue, and it was all hugely fuzzy and indistinct.

There was also loads of gobbing – which a bunch of stupid yahoos seemed to think was de rigour at the time. The band hated it even more than I did. What the fuck was it supposed to be about? Joe Strummer raged visibly from the stage, as the spittle rained down and told the offenders to fuck off – and generally looked and sounded like a man who had snorted a load of amphetamines and was ready to commit murder. Thankfully, he kept going instead.

Frankly, in many respects the gig was a mess that tipped over into outright unpleasantness on occasion – as a lot of gigs did at the time. But the crowd went crazy, because that was what they were supposed to do.

In a sense, as Bill Graham said at the time, you could see it all as a kind of rite of passage. Dublin could do punk rock! We could spit and pogo with the best of them. And if anyone got rabies, well, that was their problem.

The sense of history, of a cathartic moment having taken place, was sufficient for us to make it the cover story of Hot Press. The cover was a mad collage of contact sheets of live pix from the night, thrown down at odd angles. It was hardly of great aesthetic merit. But then that too was the mood of the moment. It looked like something from a documentary in the making and in a sense it was.

The Clash would resile from the extreme punk aesthetic and go on to make great records, that still sound amazing nearly 40 years on. But their Trinity College show was all about adrenalin and sweat. And of course, it gave a greater sense of purpose to a lot of the bands that were coming into existence at the time.

On the one hand, The Clash inspired with their energy and conviction. On the other hand, they were not scarily great. Irish bands saw, in a way, that it was not so hard to be a band on the cusp of stardom. If this was the best that London could offer, then every Irish punk rock contender was in with a shout...


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