18 November 1976 – The Clash – Nag’s Head
Punk originals The Clash played The Nag’s Head for the only time on Thursday 18th November 1976 with support from Clayson & The Argonauts.
‘Punk’ was still waiting to happen in High Wycombe, so it was a half-full venue who were lucky enough to witness a 30 minute electrify set, filled with anger and hate. But for some who stood among the A&R men that night in The Nag’s Head loft, it would prove another milestone in the catalyst for a change in the local music scene.
Eight months before this gig Clash lead singer Joe Strummer had played The Nag’s Head with pub rockers The 101’ers. A month later in April 1976 The 101’ers had played The Nashville, London with The Sex Pistols and Strummer realised there and then that his band were old hat, or ‘crud’ in Strummer’s words.
Shortly afterwards, a then 23 year old Strummer was recruited as guitarist and singer for The Clash – a band consisting of 20 year olds, Mick Jones (guitar), Paul Simonon (bass) and Topper Headon (drums). An early (pre-gigging) version of the band included High Wycombe based Billy Watts.
The Clash played their first gig on 4th July 1976 supporting The Sex Pistols at a pub in Sheffield.
By the time The Clash appeared at The Nag’s Head on Thursday 18th November 1976 (their 16th proper gig) they had become the most talked about punk band behind The Sex Pistols. The Wycombe appearance, arranged by Ron Watts, was still fairly low key and a chance to see the West London based boys away from their familiar London territory. The gig, on the same night as The Miss World competition broadcast live on BBC from the Albert Hall, has such little interest that Watt’s took the unusual step to advertise the gig in the local press – 50p gaining you entry (or 70p for non-members).
In the audience that night was Zig-Zag editor Kris Needs. He wrote a review of the gig for Sounds that said:
“The Clash are now firing with more compressed energy than a flamethrower at full blast. They play with almost frightening conviction and intensity, each number a rapid-fire statement delivered like a knockout blow”.
Needs had first seen The Clash on 9 October 1976 in his home town of Leighton Buzzard. They had blown him away.
The Clash entered the stage that evening with Strummer sporting freshly dyed blonde hair and a bolier suit with the words ‘Hate and War’ daubed on the back with a paint brush. The set included ‘White Riot’, ‘London’s Burning’, ’48 Hours’, ‘Janie Jones’, ‘I’m So Bored With You [The USA]’, ‘Protex Blue’, ‘Hate And War’, ‘Career Opportunities’, ‘What’s My Name’, ‘Deny’ and ‘1-2 Crush on You’.
His description of Strummer at the High Wycombe gig said:
“Strummer was magnificent, screaming his words and punching the silly low ceiling in front of the stage with rage. With his yellow hair he looks like a paint-spattered Greek God”.
Needs’ review also touched on the subject of why The Clash had yet to be signed.
“The Clash seem forced to take a back seat on the new wave recording front while groups like the Damned, Pistols and Vibrators shove singles out. Why isn’t it that the hottest group this country has got hasn’t yet had the chance to get themselves on vinyl? Dunno, but going on last Thursday’s set, it won’t be too long before some record company wakes up.”
Needs continued with further praise for the band
“I firmly believe The Clash are the most important band to emerge in this country for years. They’re certainly the most exciting. They may be bottom of the bill on the forthcoming Sex Pistols tour but make sure you get there really early — even if it means ducking out to wash your hair during the Damned.”
They were definitely hot property and the gig is also recalled by promoter Ron Watt’s as one where much of the half-full venue was made up of record company A&R men, writing in his autobiography “You could tell tell that [the A&R men] didn’t understand the music because they kept asking me what I thought of the band.”
Eventually they did understand and The Clash would get their deal in January 1977 – signing for CBS for a reported £100,000.
This article was first inspired for a piece I wrote for chairboys.co.uk on the 40th anniversary of the gig.
Strummerville to Waterlooville – November 1976