Dún Laoghaire Calling – The Clash in the Top Hat

I wrote about the historic Sonic Youth and Nirvana gig in the old Top Hat its 25th anniversary in August 2016, which made me feel absolutely ancient.

Last October, a symposium at Trinity College Dublin marked the 40th anniversary of The Clash performing two shows in the university’s exam hall. For Dublin’s music fans and nascent punk community, these shows became the stuff of legend. The Sex Pistols didn’t get round to playing in this country until the Electric Picnic in 2008, so The Clash in Trinity became Ireland’s punk epiphany.

The Clash were also scheduled to play the Ulster Hall in Belfast, but it was pulled at the minute causing a riot outside between punks and the RUC, said to be  the only one during the Troubles that saw Protestant and Catholic kids unite against a common enemy.

Dave Fanning told the Irish Independent last October: “I thought it (The Clash in Trinity) was shit even though I liked their album,” Fanning said. “It was shit because of the venue. It was just adrenaline, DIY noise. There was nothing to it. I wasn’t going as a purist… I just remember the gig being completely unsuitable. It was awful. But you weren’t allowed to not like it. So everyone said they loved it.”

As a former TCD student who sat several exams in it, the examination hall is an atrocious live venue on paper. There is a Trinity superstition. or at least there was in my day, that if you’re an Irish Catholic and seated under the huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth I you’ll fail your exams.

Despite being unimpressed by the Trinity gig, Fanning maintains The Clash in the Top Hat, Dún Laoghaire on October 12, 1978, is one of best live shows he has seen.

The support act that October evening  in 1978 were the Virgin Prunes; an Irish avant garde post-punk band featuring Gavin Friday, who gave this hilarious recollection of the night to State magazine:

“We came on: Guggi was wearing a tiny skirt and I had a plastic suit made out of raincoats, no jocks underneath, and pair of Docs. We’d only played two little gigs before that. Steve Averill from The Radiators From Space played synthesizer with us. The crowd just went apeshit. They thought Guggi was a chick.

“The adrenaline of all these people pogoing kicked in and I started jumping around, the next thing this plastic suit that me ma had made me split completely. I was standing there totally bollock naked, except for a pair of Doc Martins. I turned around and Guggi’s skirt had come off and you could see that he was a bloke. All hell broke loose, there were bottles flying, they were setting the curtains on fire. We were reefed off the stage by The Clash’s tour manager and fucked out the door. We had no money and had to walk with all out gear, back from Dún Laoghaire to Ballymun.

“If you go back to parts of the Eastern bloc of Europe now, that’s what Dublin was like in the 60s and 70s. Grey, dull, mass unemployment and complete poverty. Music became a lifeline to escape for kids. Punk gave you a licence to form a band with just an attitude. I turned 16 when punk kicked in and had plenty of attitude.’”

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Other acts who have played the Top Hat include U2 (just about a month before The Clash on September 9, 1978, according to Setlist FM), Danzig, The Stranglers, Faith No More, Metallica, The Mission, Slayer, The Jam, Nuclear Assault, Zed Yago, W.A.S.P., Exodus, Slammer, Crumbsuckers, The Waterboys, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Onslaught, Suicidal Tendencies (1989 and 1989), Kreator, Death, The Pogues with The Dubliners, then featuring Dún Laoghaire born and bred legend Ronnie Drew, Sepultura, Anthrax, Prong, and of course, Sonic Youth and Nirvana, just a few short weeks before the release of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

This week, music fans all over the world will turn up The Clash to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Joe Strummer, who died suddenly on December 22, 2002. He was just 50 years of age.

We also remember Frank Murray this week, who managed The Pogues and Thin Lizzy. Frank died on December 22, 2016, so he shares his anniversary with Joe, who often performed with The Pogues, and stood in for Shane McGowan as lead vocalist for a tour.

May they rest in peace.

And so now I’d like to say – people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks – I am one of them. But we’ve all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything – this is something that I’m beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That’s because they’ve been dehumanised. It’s time to take the humanity back into the centre of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain’t going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you’re nothing. That’s my spiel.
                                                        -Joe Strummer, 21 August 1952 – 22 December 2002
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Joe Strummer mural at Blenheim Crescent, Ladbroke Grove, West
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Joe Strummer mural, 132 East 7th Street, New York

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