A loyalist paramilitary death threat stopped The Clash performing in Derry at the height of the Troubles, a member of The Undertones has said.
Undertones bass guitarist Mickey Bradley, a guest on The Irish Times’ Borderlines podcast, said his band invited the English punk rock group fronted by Joe Strummer to their home town in the summer of 1979.
“We thought it would be great to get somebody like The Clash playing in Derry because even though bands had started playing in Belfast nobody ever came to Derry, no bands that we would’ve liked,” Bradley said.
So The Undertones, who had by then appeared on Top of the Pops a number of times with Teenage Kicks and other hits, organised their own event.
“We had The Clash organised and we had The Damned as well, and we were going to play.
“We played four or five nights in the famous Marquee club in London just to raise money to pay for this show ... Everything was going great.”
But two weeks before the event was due to happen, 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 got a letter from somebody who claimed to be from the Red Hand Commandos in Londonderry.”
The influential NME music magazine had carried a spoof election article a number of months earlier, shortly before Margaret Thatcher was elected British prime minister.
“They ran this article about Joe Strummer will stand for election and this is his manifesto and in his manifesto was a withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland because – Joe Strummer, you know, obviously that’s what he would think.”
The letter Strummer got, purporting to come from loyalist paramilitary group, said “he would be assassinated if he sets foot in Northern Ireland”.
With their intimate knowledge of the political geography of Derry at the time, Bradley and his bandmates were unperturbed as the event had been due to take place in a nationalist area “nearly on the Border”.
“I was nearly going to say to him but Joe no Red Hand Commando boys would come into Shantallow, they’d be too scared to come in, but I thought better of it.”
“I felt sorry for him because, The Clash – a very political band and so on – but whenever he came up against the actual reality of this is what happens in Northern Ireland, you will get a death threat.
“There may be nothing behind it but I’ve never had a death threat so I can only imagine what it’s like.”
“That’s the time The Clash nearly came to Derry.”
The Undertones went on to support The Clash on tour in America.
Strummer died in 2002.