The Clash White Riot Tour Newcastle University May 20th 1977

The Clash White Riot Tour Newcastle University May 20th 1977
This was the night that punk truly arrived in Newcastle, and the first time I saw The Clash. It was the first really big punk gig in Newcastle, and it sold out well in advance. Most of the tickets had been sold to students through the students union; in fact if I remember correctly you had to be a student to buy tickets, which was the source of some agro and trouble on the night of the gig. Luckily I was a student at Sunderland Poly at the time and I used my union card to buy a couple of tickets for Marie and I. When we arrived at the Union building on the night of the gig, the entrance was surrounded by a group of local punks who were trying to get in. There were a few scuffles between the doormen and the punks, who were angry because they couldn’t get in to see “their band” who (in their eyes) were playing for a group of middle class students.
In 1977, Newcastle University ballroom was in a smallish room up a flight of stairs, with the main bar being down on a lower level. The union building was a maze with several bars, a pool room, and several lounges. You could wander around the building and dip in and out of the gig in the main ballroom. There was a great sense of anticipation that night. The North East had missed out on the Sex Pistols Anarchy tour which had been booked to visit Newcastle City Hall, and had been cancelled because of the controversy around the band. So this was the first chance for local punks to see a “big” punk band. The place with packed, however the audience was largely students with a smattering of local punks who had somehow managed to buy tickets, and were crammed around the stage upstairs. I sensed that these guys didn’t really know much about punk, but had decided that it was right for them. They were probably much more into the image, the concept of anarchy and rebellion, than Clash music. The first Clash album had been released a few weeks before the gig, and the audience were there as much out of curiosity and because of reports that they had read in the NME and Sounds than as result of the music. Similarly for me, I’d read reports that The Clash was THE new punk rock band to out-punk (and out rock) The Pistols, so I had to see what these guys were like. Support came from The Prefects (replacing The Jam, who had just left the tour) Subway Sect, and The Slits. Marie and I made a point of making sure we made our way from the bar up to the ballroom to see each of the bands. The sound wasn’t great for any of the support acts, who all seemed a bit amateur and ramshackle to be honest; but I guess thats what punk was about in those early heady days. There was lots, and I mean lots, of spitting at the band. This was one of the first times I’d seen the crowd spit at the stage; its difficult to imagine how prevalent the practice was in those days. The Clash were just streets ahead of the support acts. For their set there was lots of pogoing and the spitting was relentless. Poor Joe Strummer was covered in spit. They looked great; just like their pictures on the cover of the first album. I’d heard some of the tracks from the first lp, and new the single White Riot, and loved Janie Jones and Police and Thieves, which were played a lot at punk gigs at venues like Middlesbrough Rock Garden in 1977 and 1978. The set was short, as were each of the songs, and consisted of tracks from their great first album. The sound was a bit murky, but the atmosphere, the band’s passion, and the power of delivery made up for it. We’d seen a few punk bands during 1976, including The Sex Pistols at a small gig in a pub in Whitby, but this was the first sold out and wild punk gig that we had attended, and it was just great. It set me off going to lots of punk gigs over the next few years. Don Letts, who managed The Slits at the time, was wandering around with a massive video camera, filming the event. The music between the bands was very heavy, loud dub and reggae, which was quite new to all of us. There were further scuffles around the entrance area throughout the night, with punks fighting with the guys on the door to get in, and there were a few fights inside the gig. As I had very long hair at the time, so I could easily have been a target. I was always careful to avoid trouble, and always managed to do so. I can’t find any record of the setlist, but based on reports from other gigs on the tour it is likely that is was something like this: London’s Burning; 1977; I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.; Pressure Drop; Hate and War; Cheat; Police and Thieves; 48 Hours; Capital Radio; Deny; Remote Control; Career Opportunities; White Riot; Janie Jones; Garageland; 1977. The day after the gig Joe Strummer and Topper Headon were arrested, in true punk fashion, for stealing pillowcases from a hotel room in Newcastle (!), and spent some time in the cells. Great memories of an era that now seems so long ago. Where did all the time go?

9 responses to this post.

  1. this brings back memories. i had a ticket but couldn’t get in initially as i wasn’t a student but Strummer and co. came to the door and we were all let in although we couldn’t buy a drink at the bar as you had to show your card so it was a case of grabbing the nearest student. i remember not many people watching the other bands infact i can only remember the Slits (prob in the bar for the others).
    next time the Clash played i think it was at the Mayfair and the was a cracking night.


  2. yes you are bang on there about the students buying the tickets. 2 months earlier there was about a dozen punks at the poly for the stranglers. I’d just turned 16 and still had long hair. the hippy students lobbed cans at the damned and they left the stage. 2 months later, every student was wearing wrapround shades and covered in safety pins.


  3. Good article. I was at this gig, aged 19 with long hair. It was a revelation, these (the bands, all of them) were people who seemed to be living the whole thing intensely, not just turning up and playing tired licks before retiring to some bar to get pissed and recite Monty Python sketches. It was like they were from another world. I remmbr the fighting at the door (actually not so much fighting, iirc, as a couple of concerted failed attempts to bust in) but none inside, and don’t recall much spitting. I spoke to Mick Jones as he sat on the edge of the stage (you couldn’t have done that with Yes or Camel). Don’t remember the Prefects but all the other bands did make a vivid impression – a raw, inner-city edge and intensity that seemed to be part of them, not just some stage act – I’d never seen that in any rock band. It was if they’d gone beyond caring about the tedious day-today crap the rest of us clung on to, most of all they didn’t seem to give a shit if what they did ‘worked’ as music or art, they just did it, and because of that it was brilliant. It wasn’t like a gig – though many other punk/new wave events I saw were – it was like being at an event with stuff going on all around you. I had friends at the tiem who formed bands, moved to London and/or went for the whole new-wave thing big time pretty much as a result of having been at this one gig.


    • Posted by vintagerock on October 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      Great comment Merv Many thanks for this. You capture the spirit of that night just perfectly Great days. Peter


  4. Posted by Ian on January 11, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    I remember this gig very well! I was 17 & my band,The M.P’s,had all got tickets through our student following.This was the one everyone had been talking about for weeks & we weren’t disappointed.The sound was raw & sharp,cutting through you with it’s harshness.The support bands were a great foil for The Clash.The Slits & Subway Sect weren’t your run of the mill,by the numbers ‘punk’ bands.They both brought a different sound to the night. (I also can’t remember seeing The Prefects…)
    There was a bit of fighting in the hall itself,mainly the odd punk being picked on when he left the safety of his group of mates. The worst part of the night was the attack by a group of skinheads.
    A group of us were making our way to the bar after The Subway Sect set,via the main entrance hall.All of a sudden the doors crashed open & a group of 20 or so skinheads burst in.They were all dressed in white boiler suits a la Clockwork Orange & started beating on whoever was in their way.It seemed to last for ages but probably only minutes.One of them wearing black gloves,pumped a fist in the air,blew a whistle & they all ran out the door & into a waiting van.Talk about a well planned operation.Afterwards we found cards on the floor that said “Congratulations.You’ve just been visited by Longbenton Skins”.
    Sadly,because of this incident,this gig has stayed reasonably fresh in my mind.


    • Posted by vintagerock on January 11, 2015 at 4:03 pm

      Wow! Great story Ian. I remember there was a lot of violence that night. Happy, scary nights 🙂 Cheers Peter


  5. Posted by Caro on May 20, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Was there (age 15) with my friend Helen who had a Saturday job at HMV records in Northumberland Street and must have got tickets via that, as we weren’t old enough to be students. Do remember that most of the support acts were fairly inaudible, making the Clash stand out. There were certainly some scuffles although as females we managed to avoid being targets. Also remember the mix of punks and ‘geriatric hippy’ students, which was fairly amusing.


  6. Posted by Ian Swanwick on January 29, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    I was a student at the uni and went with my housemates. We had a copy of the album and listened to it a couple of times before we went to get familiar with the band. Actually, we all went thinking it would be a bit of a laugh, but when we got there it was a real shock to see how serious the audience was – a big reality check.
    I was in the men’s when someone from the band’s crew was arguing with someone from the students union about security. The Clash’s guy wanted people in front of the stage with linked arms and the other guy was saying no way that’s going to be necessary… (it was).


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