By DJ Scratchy
When the opportunity arose to actually tour with the Clash, I couldn’t have wished for a better gig to drop into my lap. They’d been my favourites on the UK scene ever since I’d been able to catch them at the Roxy in Covent Garden on New Year’s Day 1977.
I’d been working six, sometimes seven days a week as the Resident DJ at Dingwalls Dancehall in Camden since early ’76. So I’d not had much of a chance to get out and about. Bizarrely it had been easier for me to initially tap into what was going on Stateside, particularly New York, with the imported first records of the Max’s and CBGBs’ bands popping up in Rough Trade and other more independent-minded shops around London. We could also read about them in Punk magazine and the New York Rocker. So I was primed and cocked for action when Dingwalls had a night headlined by The Flamin’ Groovies, supported by the band who I was ready and waiting for, having fallen head over heels for their Blitzkrieg Bop 45 and debut album, which had both emerged a few months earlier.
If I was already close to being a disciple, seeing the Ramones live had me sign my life away to the cause. But an incident in the crowd that night, lead to the club axing another date I was also looking forward to. We were due to have the Sex Pistols, just a couple of weeks later. But, because of that fracas, Dingwalls put a ban on all the UK bands. So with my work schedule keeping me largely in-house, I was initially only able to see Wayne County, Cherry Vanilla and the wonderful Heartbreakers who were able to avoid the ban, still being deemed as US acts, despite spending a great deal of their time on our shores.
I devoured what I could though. Punkzines started to appear. Despite the disapproval of my, otherwise truly decent, Dingwalls paymasters, I’d add the new punk releases to my sets of r’n’r, r&b, reggae, ska, rockabilly, sixties beat, garage and soul, plus what is now referred to as proto-punk. There was the odd Pistols & Clash TV appearance to enjoy, not just the infamous Bill Grundy interview, but those courtesy of programmes by Tony Wilson and Janet Street-Porter. But it wasn’t until that rare January 1st 1977 day-off that I could plunge myself into a double-header, first with the Damned at the Hope & Anchor and then ‘up town’ for the Clash at the Roxy, to get a live taste of what was going down in my own backyard.
Though I remained at Dingwalls throughout ’77, I started to take more time off their decks and began to spin as the link DJ at shows at all the major venues in London. I did a couple of tours with Dr. Feelgood. Dingwalls lifted the punk ban. By that time, the Pistols had already shuffled off. The Clash stuck to their guns and refused to play a place that had locked them out. The Damned were the only one of the principal trio of London punk outfits to ever play there. I crossed into the new year playing the records at the The Ramones’ ‘It’s Alive’ Rainbow shows.
I came into the Clash camp early in ’78. I was MC for the first half of the big Rock Against Racism event in Victoria Park, having to dash off after the Clash set and ensuing backstage drama, to play at the Roundhouse. I managed to persuade Bernie Rhodes for me to join them on the decks for two of the four Music Machine nights, though I attended the entire run in the guise of Sounds reviewer. I was back later in the year to handle the interval sets for the Roxy Harlesden gigs. I couldn’t get enough of them. So receiving the call asking me to go out as the Sort It Out Tour DJ was everything I could’ve hope for, topped only by then being taken along for, not only the first US tour, but the second and the third as well. With another British tour squeezed in along the way and one-offs like the Notre Dame and Acklam Hall gigs thrown in, I must’ve chalked up over a ton of shows alongside them.
Being around for the recording of London Calling which, along with their startling debut, ranks amongst my all-time favourite albums, provided the great fortune to encounter Guy Stevens and witness his provocative chair-tower stacking, that certainly spurred the band into action. Not a conventional producing style, but effective. Too young to see him DJ at the Scene, I still believe his reputation for maverick music-loving-first approach to spinning, is the only way to be, the same one I still don the head-phones for.
Riding shotgun, along with The Clash, Johnny Green & The Baker, took up a cherished two years of my life. We were young guys conquering the world, and doing it, very much, our way. It was essential to be uncompromising, as well as have fun. If you didn’t believe in it, what was the point? It felt like we could change the world. Time has proved that to be an immeasurably gigantic if not nigh-on impossible task. But at the time, anything seemed feasible. What is true is that there are plenty of individuals across the planet, myself included, who were touched by the band’s words, music, commitment, attitude and cool dress sense. Maybe, beyond looking deep into your own soul, offering others alternative options to choose from is the best anyone can do. On a personal level, there’s nothing more rewarding than people thanking me for turning them on to great sounds, whether they heard me forty years ago or last weekend. The Clash gifted me the chance to carry that mission beyond my own surroundings at a time, when, unlike now, you didn’t really get to travel much with your tunes, unless you were a mobile DJ!
After Bernie and then Caroline Coon, Blackhill took over the band management. I don’t think they ever really got what the Clash was about. First my great pal Johnny Green jumped ship and went off to Texas to work with Joe Ely. I made my exit shortly after to head for my own new pastures, only to hook up again with Strummer with his Mescaleros, a couple of decades later. But that’s another chapter…
Barry Myers aka Scratchy Sounds © 2016Excerpted from early jottings for a Scratchy biography yet to be ‘writ’.