How a loyalist death threat stopped The Clash from happening in Derry
A loyalist paramilitary death threat prevented The Clash from performing in Derry at the height of the Troubles, a member of The Undertones has claimed.
Undertones bassist Mickey Bradley, a guest on the Irish Times podcast Borderlines, says his band invited the English punk rock band fronted by Joe Strummer to their hometown in the summer of 1979.
“We thought it would be great to have someone like The Clash playing in Derry because even though bands had started playing in Belfast no one ever came to Derry, no bands we would have liked” , Bradley said.
So The Undertones, who by then had appeared on Top of the Pops multiple times with Teenage Kicks and other hits, held their own event.
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“We had organized The Clash and we also had The Damned, and we were going to play.
“We played four or five nights at the famous Marquee club in London just to raise money to pay for this show… Everything was going well.”
But two weeks before the event happened, The Undertones were in a recording studio in London when Strummer approached them, “and to be fair to him, he looked a bit sheepish”.
“He had received a letter from someone claiming to be from the Red Hand Commandos in Londonderry.”
The influential music magazine NME had published a spoof election article a few months earlier, shortly before Margaret Thatcher was elected British Prime Minister.
“They put this article out about Joe Strummer standing for election and that’s his manifesto and in his manifesto there was a withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland because – Joe Strummer, you know, that’s is obviously what he would think.”
The letter Strummer received, claiming to be from a loyalist paramilitary group, said “he would be murdered if he set foot in Northern Ireland”.
With their intimate knowledge of the political geography of Derry at the time, Bradley and his bandmates were unfazed as the event was to take place in a Nationalist “near border” area.
“I was almost going to tell him but Joe, no boy from Red Hand Commando would come into Shantallow, they would be too scared to come in, but I thought better.”
“I felt sorry for him because, The Clash – a very political band and so on – but every time he came up against the real reality of what’s going on in Northern Ireland you got a death threat. .
“There may not be anything behind it, but I’ve never received a death threat, so I can only imagine what it is.”
“That’s when The Clash almost came to Derry.”
The Undertones continued to support The Clash on tour in America.
Strummer died in 2002.