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A Riot of Our Own - A Symposium on The Clash

University of Ulster, Belfast York Street, Belfast, UK

There are few bands that have enjoyed as much adoration or endured as much controversy as The Clash. Emerging originally as a principal voice in the burgeoning mid 1970s London punk scene, The Clash would soon cast off the fetters that restricted many of their peers, their musical tastes becoming ever more eclectic and their political field of vision ever more global. In the process, the band would widen the cultural and political horizons of their audience and would for many come to exemplify the power of popular music to change minds. While The Clash would attract a great deal of critical acclaim, this would always be less than universal. Most famously perhaps, the fanzine editor Mark Perry proclaimed that punk had ‘died’ the day that the group signed to the multinational record corporation CBS. The allegation that they had ‘sold out’ would haunt The Clash throughout their career and indeed would continue to cast a shadow long after their fractious split.

The enormous cultural influence that The Clash have exercised over the last four decades has found reflection in many spheres but not, strangely, in that of popular music studies. While academics have devoted considerable attention to a great many other, arguably less important, bands, they have had remarkably little to say about The Clash. This symposium represents in part an endeavour to redress this particular, curious silence. A Riot of Our Own will bring together academics, journalists, photographers and musicians to examine the enduring influence and abiding controversy associated with The Clash. It is hoped that the event will constitute an engaging and critical attempt to shed light on both the cultural legacy and contemporary resonance of one of the most influential bands that there has ever been.

Central to the reputation and perhaps mythology of The Clash was of course the power of the band as a live act. Those who managed to see the group in concert often recall their gigs as moments of personal epiphany that altered their political outlook or inspired them to form a band of their own. In a Northern Irish context, however, the reputation of The Clash would largely hinge, ironically, on people not getting to see the band play live. In October 1977, the group were scheduled to break what often felt like the cultural boycott of Belfast by playing the city’s Ulster Hall. On the day of the gig, however, the concert was cancelled for reasons that remain disputed and sparking chaotic scenes that are often recounted as amounting to a ‘riot’. The legendary Clash gig that did not take place remains central to the stories and myths that make up the popular musical history of the Northern Irish capital. It might be said then that Belfast represents an appropriate – if, perhaps, at first glance unlikely – setting in which to reflect on what The Clash meant and indeed what they continue to mean three decades on from their acrimonious and much lamented demise.

Contributors to the event will include:

Caroline Coon (artist, writer, manager of The Clash from 1978 to 1980. http://www.carolinecoon.com);

Professor David Hesmondhalgh (University of Leeds, author of Why Music Matters);

Chris Salewicz (author of Redemption Song: The Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer);

Adrian Boot (photographer who took the iconic shots of The Clash touring Belfast).

You can contact the organisers of the event here: theclashinbelfast@gmail.com

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il 20 June 2014



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