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Forty years ago Ian Brown met the Clash – a band that changed everything


Forty years ago, almost exactly to the day, Ian Brown of the Stone Roses met Joe Strummer of the Clash.

Of course, the Stone Roses didn’t yet exist. Ian was a few weeks short of his 17th birthday, studying for his ‘A’ Levels at South Trafford College, a music fan who was playing bass in a group called the Patrol, alongside guitarist John Squire and drummer Simon Wolstencroft (Andy Couzens was on vocals).  

He met Strummer, and the rest of the Clash and their entourage after a walk through the rain with his friend Pete Garner.

The Clash were one of the three or four most important bands connected with the first wave of British punk. They released singles including London’s Burning and London Calling; the latter opened their London Calling album, released at the very end of 1979. The Clash lived in London, rehearsed in Camden, namechecked Brixton. 

These London connections were a sign of a band rooted in a location, an era, a set of attitudes, but the Clash transcended their place, and time.

As Ian Brown himself used to like to proclaim from the stage: “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”

Photo via Manchester Digital Music Archive

In New York in the late 1970s, young hip hop fan Chuck D was sceptical about punk. But exposure to the music of the Clash became influential in his life, and the music of the group he co-founded in 1985, Public Enemy.

He later described the Clash as “a band that changed everything.”

The 7th February is #InternationalClashDay. Last year this occasioned a tweet from the ace young Bristol band Idles asserting the greatness of the Clash. Their influence is undiminished.

Punk music could be conservative and predictable – even more so now – but the ethos was valuable; speak up, form a band, start a label, create a fanzine.  

The Clash had a reputation for being ultra-friendly to their young fans, and had a knack of picking great support acts – among them the Slits, Manchester’s Buzzcocks, and Jamaican singer Mikey Dread.

The Clash live at Belle Vue, November 1977, recorded by Granada TV

When the New York synth-and-voice duo Suicide went on tour with the Clash in late 1978, however, their leftfield electronica was too much of a challenge to some of chumps among their punk fanbase; at the Glasgow gig an irate audience member threw an axe at Suicide’s Alan Vega.

Landmark appearances in Manchester by the Clash included a gig with the Sex Pistols at the Electric Circus in Collyhurst in December 1976, and a return visit on Sunday 8th May 1977 on the band’s White Riot tour.

The White Riot tour included twenty-five shows in four weeks, with support on the Manchester date from Buzzcocks and the Slits.

The packed, gloriously chaotic show at the Electric Circus – a former cinema turned decrepit rock venue – has been described by eye-witness and music writer Mick Middles as “the punk gig of dreams”.

In December 1977, footage of the Clash live at Belle Vue was aired on Tony Wilson’s Granada TV programme So It Goes. Tickets for that show were just 80p.

On a later tour, at the beginning of February 1980, the Clash headlined the Apollo, but there was also a gap in the schedule; so the Clash took the opportunity to record a new song. They hired a Manchester recording studio, Pluto, on Granby Row.

It was this session, over two days, the 1st and 2nd February 1980, that Ian Brown and Pete Garner went to search for the band, having heard a rumour they were recording in Manchester.

According to Ian, they knew of Pluto, and waited outside, hopefully, until the Clash drummer Topper Headon appeared and invited the lads into the studio to see what was going on. Ian has talked about meeting the band that day a few times, recalling Joe Strummer wearing a big, wide-brimmed hat and Paul Simonon discussing films. 

While they were at Pluto Studios, the Clash recorded the song Bankrobber, with reggae singer Mikey Dread on producer duties. 

Eight weeks after the session at Pluto, the Clash were in New York, immersing themselves in the city’s post-disco club culture.

Five years and three albums into their career, the world of the Clash was now so beyond punk rock; as evidenced by the brilliant Magnificent 7 recorded at New York’s Electric Lady Studios in April 1980. 

Bernard Summer of New Order has recalled that in the band’s early days, New Order had a desire to explore new directions. Bernard appreciated the evolution of the Clash when he heard some of their new music being played at New York clubs like the Danceteria.

According to Bernard, hearing the Clash in this context convinced him that “you can make club music that’s not cheesy”.

His take was: “Here was a proper group, making proper music, but they were using traditional rock & roll instruments to make music that dominated a New York club scene. That was a massive inspiration for me”.

There’s one thing better than a great group; that’s a group that helps inspire other people to greatness.

As for Ian Brown, the early Stone Roses had a punk fierceness but, like the Clash, they absorbed other influences, looked around them, began to draw on psychedelia, and then, of course, the club sounds flowing through the dancefloors of Manchester in the acid house years. 

Ten years on from that encounter at the Pluto studios, Fool’s Gold was released. It’s as far from the first Stone Roses single, as Magnificent 7 is from London’s Burning.

In addition, the Roses always gave time to their fans. How it ought to be; and just like the Clash did that rainy day forty years ago on Granby Row.  

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