“Rude Boy”: Late ’70s Clash concert footage mixed with racist right-wing roadie rants

By on July 29, 2016

“Our Take Off preview begins with Rude Boy, starring the Clash, one of the first films to detail the British punk rock movement,” Pat Prescott says during her introduction to “Night Flight”‘s “Take Off to Rock and Cult,” which originally aired on March 25, 1985. Rude Boy shows us the sense of despair and futility of English working class youth, and focuses on the frantic energy and tension between rock performers and rock audiences.”

Watch the Take Off preview now on Night Flight Plus.

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The 1980 film — which clocks in at over two hours — aired regularly on “Night Flight”, and introduced American late night TV viewing audiences to the Clash before they would become huge in the U.S. by featuring footage shot during live concerts lensed in 1978 and early 1979, from around the time of their self-titled debut and right up to the period in which they began recording their most famous album, London Calling.

The uncut film infamously also included an explicit bathroom blowjob scene which actually got “Night Flight” into a lot of trouble back in the early 80s after execs at USA Network got a lot of complaints from viewers at home who’d been watching the film and saw the offending scene in all its unedited glory.

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This preview for our “Take Off to Rock and Cult” wisely includes the band’s blistering performance of their great “Safe European Home” in its entirety, a song that detailed what happened when Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash went to Jamaica for two weeks, in December 1977, to write songs for what would become their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope (produced by American producer Sandy Pearlman, who died earlier this week).

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Strummer and Jones apparently holed up at the Sheraton Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, occasionally taking a break from writing songs to venture out. They’d even been invited to come to a party at Bob Marley’s place, but no one knew where Marley lived (Marley, it turns out, was out of town anyway).

They ended up going to the movies, seeing The Harder They Come several times. The film, starring Jimmy Cliff, had originally had a limited release in UK theaters in 1972, but when it was re-released in 1977, it would have a huge impact on the Clash, particularly bassist Paul Simonon, who encouraged the other guys in the band to see it (Simonon would later borrow the basic storyline and protagonist from the film and transpose it to his south London skinhead hometown for his songwriting debut, “Guns of Brixton”).

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Strummer and Jones also frequently found themselves in a very hostile environment, as mentioned in the song — “I went to the place where every white face is an invitation to robbery” — at times fearing for their lives.

Reflecting on their adventures later, they were glad to be back in London, in their “safe European home,” pointing out how despite the palm trees and taxis and what seemed like it should have been an island paradise, they actually experienced quite an ordeal.

“I’d stay an’ be a tourist,” sings Strummer near the end of the song, “but I can’t take the gunplay.”

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The title of the film, Rude Boy, refers to the name given to sharp-dressed, gang-affiliated young Jamaicans in the country’s two-tone ska and reggae music culture in the 1960s who were influenced by American post-war gangster types — the kinds seen in 1940s-era film noirs and detective movies, wearing fedoras and suits, donning dark sunglasses and having a bit of sneering attitude.

The Clash appropriated the “rude boy” for themselves, incorporating it into their own punk/reggae culture in London more than a decade later.

The performance here of “Safe European Home” is definitely one of the best in the film. Strummer also sings the words “Rudie Can’t Fail” towards the end, which ended up being the title of a song on London Calling).

That particular phrase/song title had actually come directly from Desmond Dekker’s “007 (Shanty Town),” a song featured on the soundtrack to The Harder They Come.

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Rude Boy was always more than a live concert film, though, as it was also the made-up story of a young Brixton punk fan named Ray Gange — played by eighteen-year old first-time actor named Ray Gange — who, in the film, quits his job in a West End sex shop to become a roadie for The Clash during their “Clash on Patrol” and “Sort It Out” UK tours of 1978.

Gange’s character was somewhat loosely based on the Clash’s own roadie, Robin, an ex-con they’d hired in the spring of 1977, and he was at least partly the inspiration for “Rudie Can’t Fail” and, arguably, “Bankrobber.” (Robin would later write a book about punk for ZigZag magazine under the somewhat accurate and amusing psuedonym “Robin Banks”).

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Rude Boy also manages to document what was actually happening in England at the time, inserting real footage showing some of the political turmoil of the times. Because of this, occasionally the film’s fake-up Cinéma vérité scenes are referred to as being a “rockumentary” although we’re not pretty sure the term isn’t accurate for what we have here (mockumentary is more accurate and even that doesn’t really cut it).

Gange became involved with the film by becoming friends with one of the screenwriter/directors, David Mingay, who frequented the record shop where Gange worked (the shop specialized in having an excellent soundtrack collection). When he learned that Mingay was working on Rude Boy and learned it was about the Clash, Gange mentioned that he was friendly with Strummer, whom he’d met in a pub and become friendly with.

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A few weeks later Mingay asked Gange if he’d like to be involved. Gange was initially suspect, at first, and declined to participate until he talked to Strummer, who encouraged him to get involved as it was definitely going forward as planned.

Gange — who was fairly naïve about contemporary politics — was a true fan of punk music and even espoused some of the anti-left wing views that were part of the original London punk movement at the time, without really realizing that some of those viewpoints had come from the hard right wing and the fascist National Front.

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Gange has said that he didn’t really know what he saying in the film, and the character’s racist viewpoints weren’t exactly his own and that he was simply going along with director’s instructions and reading what was written in the script (they were partly Gange’s own views, along with the director’s Jack Hazan and David Mingay’s creation for his character).

He’s barely acting here, though, and drifts from scene to scene aimlessly, getting drunk and arguing with members of the band, especially Joe Strummer (there’s a great scene where Strummer tries to explain to the uneducated roadie that the left wing is better than the right wing).

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Meanwhile, we see the band headlining the legendary Rock Against Racism Carnival in Victoria Park, London, and then going into rehearsal rooms and the recording studio to lay down tracks for their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, while Gange criticizes the production quality of their then work-in-progress.

The band weren’t officially involved in the film’s editing, which had taken the better part of 1979. At the end of the year, Mingay and Hazan arranged a special rough cut screening of the film for the band and assorted other invitees. It was not a success.

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Before the screening, Strummer had been talking up the forthcoming film to the music press, but after seeing Rude Boy for the first time, the Clash wanted the filmmakers to cut it down to fifty minutes of straight concert footage, dropping all of the other story about the racist roadie. When the pair refused, the band withdrew their support, and announced that the film would never be shown again in its current form.

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It was shown again, of course, premiering at the Zoo Palast on February 27, 1980, as an official British entry at that year’s 30th Berlin International Film Festival. The Clash did not attend. Rude Boy won an Honorable Mention and was nominated for the Golden Bear award.

The first UK showing of Rude Boy — falsely described as the film’s world premiere — was scheduled for March 13, 1980, at the Prince Charles Cinema, off Leicester Square, but the Clash responded by taking out an injunction in an attempt to prevent the film from being screened. They became so disenchanted with the film, that by its release, they had buttons (badges if you’re English) made up for fans to wear on their lapels, stating “I don’t want Rude Boy Clash Film.”

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Rude Boy remains one of the best visual records of what the Clash were like as a live band during their heyday, and also perfectly captures the end of one era in British politics while anticipating the mood of a new era. NME‘s Neil Norman described the film upon its release as “an innovated piece of cinematic art… a genuine cri de coeur for the generation already on the retreat.”

The film ends with footage of “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Party leader, arriving in Downing Street on May 4, 1979, to assume power as the country’s new Prime Minister, a job she would have from 1979 to 1990.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.