Rare Live Footage Documents The Clash From Their Raw Debut to the Career-Defining London Calling (1977–1980)

For all their left­ist polit­i­cal fer­vor, musi­cal rich­ness, and fierce­ly uncom­pro­mised deliv­ery, The Clash still suf­fered accu­sa­tions that they sold out when they signed what looked like a rel­a­tive­ly lucra­tive deal with CBS records in 1977. Those charges came from grass­roots fans and crit­ics like Mark Per­ry, who wrote in his sem­i­nal British punk fanzine Snif­fin’ Glue that “Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS.” A a cou­ple years lat­er, they were grandiose­ly billed as “the only band that mat­ters,” a quote then CBS employ­ee and NYC-based gui­tarist Gary Lucas takes cred­it for.  While they would come to regret the CBS deal, even after their breakup in 1986, it’s also undoubt­ed­ly true that their uncom­fort­able tenure with the cor­po­rate giant helped their ear­ly, career-defin­ing work reach a much wider public—and, as one writer argues,  may even have bro­ken bar­ri­ers for the rise of inde­pen­dent punk labels.

But enough about commerce—I’ll let the music speak. In video above, 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 debut album, The Clash. In very washed-out, grainy black and white, watch them play “Cap­i­tal Radio,” “Pro­tex Blue,” “Cheat,” and “Remote Con­trol.” Joe Strum­mer begins the set with a nod to the band’s own sense of how much they “mat­tered,” mum­bling “Okay, ‘Cap­i­tal Radio’… with words that mean some­thing” before they tear into the track.

In the sec­ond part of this footage (above) the band bangs out “White Riot” and “Police and Thieves.” It’s hard­ly a qual­i­ty edit­ing job, here, and the audio is most­ly boomy reverb (despite the major label deal), but it’s still some pret­ty amaz­ing archival footage. One thing to note is that this 1977 film doc­u­ments the band after a cru­cial line­up change.  While drum­mer Ter­ry Chimes played on record­ed ver­sions of these songs (cred­it­ed as “Tory Crimes” on record), he left the band soon after, to be replaced by the excel­lent “Top­per” Head­on (Chimes returned in 1982 when Head­on was over­come by his hero­in addic­tion). Their head­lin­ing White Riot Tour includ­ed sup­port­ing bands The Jam, The Buz­zcocks, and The Slits.

If debut album The Clash was most­ly raw, grit­ty punk rock with sprin­klings of reg­gae, and the fol­low-up Give ‘Em Enough Rope a lit­tle too pol­ished for some fans (at CBS’s insis­tence), the dou­ble album Lon­don Call­ing sure­ly marks the band’s writ­ing and record­ing apex. It tops so many crit­ics’ “top” lists that I hard­ly need say more about it to intro­duce the high-qual­i­ty film above of a Feb­ru­ary 27, 1980 Paris show. The con­trast between the White Riot tour footage and this is stark: we get full-col­or, well-lit video and fair­ly decent live sound, and the band is much tighter, hav­ing worked a full three years at this point with drum­mer Head­on. The above set includes Lon­don Call­ing clas­sics like the title track, “Wrong ‘Em Boyo,” “Jim­my Jazz,” and “Train in Vain.” Part of what the con­trast between these two sets of footage sig­ni­fies is the increas­ing con­fi­dence and pol­ish of The Clash as they made their way from their first gig at the Black Swan open­ing for the Sex Pis­tols in ’76 to the world­wide punk phe­nom­e­non they became by 1980. If it’s true The Clash sold out, they most­ly did it with more style and integri­ty than pret­ty much any­one before or since.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Clash Live in Tokyo, 1982: Watch the Com­plete Con­cert

The Clash: West­way to the World

Mick Jones Plays Three Favorite Songs by The Clash at the Library

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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  • Maria says:

    Thank you! The Clash was awe­some.

  • Tony says:

    I was at that gig and some­where — in my moth­er’s attic I think — I have my own reel-to-reel video­tape of the show. I’m not sure if it was a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous copy of this one — I seem to recall it was shot from anoth­er cam­era at the oth­er end of the bal­cony from where this was shot. The sound is just from a sin­gle live mike up on the bal­cony — so a record deal is noth­ing to do with the sound — and the acoustics in that venue were always awful — the entire wall behind the stage is a huge glass win­dow. I have a feel­ing that the Buz­zcocks and the Slits are on my tape too — not at all sure about The Jam thought. Will have to try to dig out out next time I am back in the UK

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