By Madeline O’Connor
NEARLY 37 years after the iconic punk band almost caused a riot in Belfast, one of the city’s universities is planning to host an academic conference on their impact and legacy there.
The majority of bands at that time, scared off by the bombs and bullets that seemed like everyday occurrences during the Troubles, wouldn’t do gigs in the city and thus its youth had very little to keep themselves entertained.
Punk, itself said to be a musical reaction to a generation’s boredom, enjoyed its ‘year zero’ in 1977 – in the same year that a total of 111 people were killed during the Northern Ireland conflict.
When The Clash turned up at the Ulster Hall, in October 1977, bravely deciding to play where hundreds of other bands had stayed away, excitement was at fever pitch, but as crowds gathered outside the venue, word spread it had been called off.
One of those fans was Dr Paul Burgess, a founder member of Belfast punk band Ruefrex, who will be involved in the University of Ulster symposium on June 20-21.
The University College Cork lecturer said: “It has kind of entered into local and punk history, but my memory of it as a 17-year-old is that it was marked by misinformation and confusion.”
He told the BBC: “Someone said the Clash were at the Ulster Hall but were not being allowed in, then there was a crowd broke off running around saying the lead singer Joe Strummer had been arrested at the Europa Hotel.”
The band had retreated to the bar of the nearby Europa hotel, which had the dubious title of the ‘most bombed hotel in Europe’, while a group of teens gathered outside.
The cancelled gig was on the front pages of the following day’s papers, but though it has now gone down as the stuff of legend, it was in reality a fairly tame affair, with a handful of fans smashing three windows in the Ulster Hall and a few arrests by police.
That the gig was cancelled meant more time for a photo-shoot which produced some of the most iconic images of the band.
One of the speakers at the conference is said photographer Adrian Boot, who said that what was going on in the streets was so dramatic that he would have got great shots with or without the band.
“The photo session was extended because the concert was cancelled so it was a bit of an opportunity for me,” he said. “The record company knew there was a dearth of entertainment coming into Belfast and it upset the Clash that they couldn’t play.”
A Riot of Our Own – a symposium on the Clash by the Department of Sociology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth and the University of Ulster’s School of Sociology and Applied Social Studies will be held at the University of Ulster’s Belfast campus on 20-21 June.