Bankrobbers: 16 Tons Tour @ Deeside Leisure Centre, Chester.
No longer quite so Bored With The USA, The Clash had been over there and got clobbered up with their engineer boots and retro suits. Sartorially, the Last Gang in Town now looked the business and, as a live act, The Clash took no prisoners.
‘London Calling’ had come out in time for Christmas, but no-one gave me a copy. Following disastrous A level results the previous Summer, I had eventually been dispatched to Merseyside, where I lived with my Granny Peggy at 39 Greenbank Drive, Pensby, Heswall, Wirral while attending the Sight & Sound College in Liverpool, where I was supposed to be learning to touch type. The ‘college’ was upstairs in a City Centre office building, not too far from Mathew Street. If I went to The Grapes at lunchtime, I probably would not return to the S&S for the afternoon session.
Swimming back there in memory, I remember a lad, one lunchtime, the image of Sid Viscious. He had the hair and the white tux, modelling the classic Rock’n’Roll Swindle look, like Gavin Turk’s Pop waxwork a dozen years later. This was in the pub in Matthew Street, within spitting distance of Eric’s, the punk club in a basement opposite the car park where The Cavern had been back in the days of The Beatles. He may well have been affiliated with Probe, the intimidatingly hip record shop where the late Pete Burns was a frightful apparition behind the counter.
Away from home as a grown-up, technically, dressed in my dead dad’s old suits and accompanied if not quite chaperoned by my cousins, Jayne & Lynne, driven by Jayne’s future husband, Dave, I was let loose on Liverpool. Eric’s is legendary, not least for its jukebox, which occupied a dingy corner near the coat room that frequently flooded and contained an amazing collection of crude, swampy rockabilly. Holly Johnson – shaven-headed, clad in furry cowboy chaps – was on the door!
I’d like to reminisce about classic gigs at Erics, but the most famous name I can conjure is Wreckless Eric and I’m sure Mr Goulding would be the first to admit that his unique hit, Whole Wide World, as good as it goes, hardly qualifies him as unforgettable. My quintessential memory of live bands at Eric’s was Mick Hucknall’s punk group, The Frantic Elevators, who put out several singles on Eric’s eponymous record label. After one performance, as I recall, the bar staff improvised an encore of their own, banging tin trays on their heads, like Bob Blackman singing Muletrain on Opportunity Knocks, whose demented tray bashing act had been revived by the Saturday morning kids’ TV show, Tiswas.
|Not my actual ticket!|
So, anyway, we got tickets to see The Clash play this ice rink at Deeside and Dave drove us there. Dave’s memories of that night were probably sharper than mine when we reminisced about it, not so long ago. He married Jayne and their kids are grown up, now. My cousin, Lynne, came too, with her mate, Lynne’s story was not to be so happy and it came to a sad and premature end a few years ago, R.I.P.
According to Dave, the ice on the rink, which had been boarded over for the show, melted and we paddled about in inches of melt water, but I don’t remember getting my feet wet. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get too close to the stage? The closest I got was towards the Mick side of the stage (Joe’s right) but mostly I remember the group of us being huddled together, a bit back from the action, but with a decent view of the stage.
The sound was boomy for Mikey Dread, who opened the show. Mikey, who had a great dub reggae album, Dread At The Controls,
performed without a backing band, facing a hall full of punks
alone onstage, toasting, barely audibly, over a muffled backing track. The
audience was not impressed and started throwing missiles, to the point
where the Rastaman retreated into the wings. But then, the reggae police
arrived. Four of them skanked on from stage left, clad in voluminous
overcoats, with hat brims tipped low and bandanas over their faces,
although there was no mistaking who they were. (Actually, there was: in
the annals of Clash lore, Kosmo Vinyl has noted how the heavy disguise
enabled himself, or other crew, to deputise for band members – hello,
Mick – who weren’t really into what became a regular feature of Mikey’s
set on that tour.)
I cannae find a setlist for this particular show, but imagine it followed the pattern of the average for the tour as determined by Setlist.fm: possibly opening with Clash City Rockers and definitely not closing with White Riot (I am informed). Outstanding in the dim light of my memory are Mick singing Stay Free, a sentimental song from Give ‘Em Enough Rope that had been a sixth form anthem, and a majestic, Police & Thieves. It was probably the first time I heard, Armagideon Time and my first hearing of, Bankrobber, if they played it. They may well have been joined onstage by Mikey, who produced it and memorably toasts on the flip side of the single that came out later in 1980, Rockers Galore UK Tour. When he played Glastonbury in 2004, Mikey Dread delivered a spiffing version of ‘Robber, in memoriam Joe before following him to the grave four years later, felled by brain cancer.
Since his death in 2002, Joe Strummer has undergone beautification as a saint in the punk pantheon. While, I yield to none in my reverence for Strummer as an icon of righteous indignation (‘Stay angry! Keep fighting!’) we all know that Mr Mellor’s daddy was far from being a robber of banks. Joe spoke in a peculiar West London accent that didn’t sound entirely natural, because it wasnae, any more than ‘Strummer’ was his real name. As Strummer was a poseur, he was prone to being hoist with his own petard. Most hilariously, he instigated a boycott of Top Of The Pops, because it was uncool. Consequently, ToTP celebrated Bankrobber getting to no.24 in the pop charts with Legs & Co. acting out the lyric dressed as sexy bank robbers. Like trousers, like brain, innit.
Speaking of trousers, I had a red pair frequently worn with the souvenir t.shirt from this gig, like those some of the kids have on in the video, below, with the chunky red lettering. Both items – along with my two tone ‘Jam’ shoes – were in my suitcase, which got nicked out of Steve Blackbourne’s Renault 5
in Italy, whence we drove (he drove; I am eternally the passenger) that Summer for the European Cup in 1980; the
one with the tear gas drifting onto the pitch in Milan. At least, Steve went for the football. I
was only there for the violence.