Rock the Casbah
Promoter John Hessenthaler tells Kevin Hurst how his bringing punk band The Clash to Bury St Edmunds in the Seventies had a major impact on the local music scene and how, 40 years later, he’s bringing tribute acts to town to recreate the music
On July 5, The Apex is set to recreate a piece of Bury St Edmunds music history by celebrating July 14, 1978.
In the year that Ipswich Town won the FA Cup for the first time and concrete cows were put up in Milton Keynes, punk came to Bury.
The Clash, during their On Parole Tour, came to the Corn Exchange and for two-and-a-half hours all hell broke loose (allegedly).
The promoter of both gigs, John Hessenthaler, said he doesn’t remember the sort of trouble that was described in the papers back then, he just wanted to bring something different and new.
“I just remember a great night where everyone enjoyed themselves. There were two sides to the gig; the council which made it sound like the worst gig in the world ever and the positive memories from the goers and from me who were actually there,” he said.
“I didn’t see it as a dangerous gig, I just saw it as an exciting band coming to Bury and thought people should embrace that, in the same way pop and classical music were embraced when they were new.”
The Bury Free Press at the time reported teenagers pouring beer over themselves, shouting obscenities and gaudy aerosol paint slogans being written in the ladies toilet, as well as the discovery of a knife supposedly found in the foyer after the show.
The mayor of the town at the time, Mr Robert Elliot, said: “I don’t know what punk rock is. But if it is synonymous with this sort of damage, one must be against it.”
The gig prompted St Edmundsbury Council to ban contemporary live music from its public buildings for nearly 20 years and the show emblazoned itself on the pages of Bury St Edmunds music folklore, with rumours that Bob Dylan was even meant to go and see it.
Now in the 40th anniversary year of the event, Mr Hessenthaler is bringing tribute bands, London Calling, who will recreate The Clash set list performed in 1978, and The Specials Ltd (The Specials supported the band at the original show as The Coventry Automatics) to The Apex.
London Calling were formed in 2004 as a one-off gig for charity and to celebrate the life of The Clash’s lead vocalist Joe Strummer, after a few years off and several line-up changes, it has now settled down to include Reg Shaw aka Joe Strummer, Dave Devonald aka Mick Jones, Joe Guatieri aka Paul Simonon and Shane Tremlin aka Topper Headon.
They have played in the US and Europe, been in the Julien Temple directed Joe Strummer film biog, The Future is Unwritten, and have enjoyed rave reviews while playing to big audiences all over the UK.
Mr Hessenthaler said: “The Clash gig turned into one of my legendary gigs in Bury and showed that things can be done even with opposition to them.
“I think with a lot of my gigs I have personal attachment, but I hope these bands will bring back memories of the Corn Exchange for a lot of people, as it will me.”
The Clash Revisited (Bury ’78), July 5, The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Call 01284 758000 or visit theapex.co.uk