Four decades after its release, debate continues over the relative merits of Jack Hazan and David Mingay’s part-fictional rock documentary, Rude Boy. But script issues aside, there’s no doubting this 1980 film holds up as something of a cultural timepiece.
It still provides fascinating viewing for fans of punk rock icons The Clash – with a soundtrack that is often sublime – and anyone with an interest in that first wave of homegrown punk rock, youth culture and its relationship with politics in that period, the ’70s coming to a grinding halt and the UK about to be subjected to the Thatcher era.
And although the lines between fact and fiction are sketchy and somewhat regrettable, it certainly proved to be the making of its protagonist, then-unknown Clash fan Ray Gange.
Ray is now in his early 60s and living on the East Sussex Coast, his association with the film that made his name – his sole leading part – still occasionally opening doors, his love for its main focus undiminished.
Rude Boy follows Ray – his real name used in the movie – as he quits a job in a West End sex shop to become a roadie for this happening London four-piece. And while few could credibly class it as one of the greatest rock’n’roll films, that’s not to downplay its strengths.
By all accounts, the project was sprung on the band – in typical chaotic style – by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes, giving its independent filmmakers full access. But while you get the idea that the crew often made it up as they went along, seeing the band at such close quarters was enough for many, and the live footage is thrilling, the film also providing a valuable portrayal of Britain on its knees as the old decade ended, picking up on the social and political malaise of the time.
It certainly captures an atmosphere of racial tension in a period when the National Front were whipping up ill-feeling among disenfranchised, gullible white youth. The fact that Ray’s character seems to take right-wing arguments on board doesn’t help viewers empathise with him. You have sympathy at times, but he comes over as a naïve young South Londoner not understanding the band’s anti-racist stance.
That’s a long way from the real Ray though, a far cry from the character Hazan and Mingay loosely scripted. And while he gets a part-credit for the script, he says the filmmakers used that as a device to shield themselves from responsibility for some of the ad-libbed dialogue, seeing himself as a then-novice to filmmaking, able to be exploited by the filmmakers for his friendship with Joe Strummer, and not realising the lasting effect once committed to film.
His character certainly spends a lot of time drinking on set, those involved with the band – like road manager Johnny Green – letting it be known he was always more of a ‘ligger’ and hanger-on than a roadie. That said, a few of his scenes stand the test of time, not least those alongside Joe, notably a pub discussion about politics, then another as he dances under the influence while the Clash frontman gives piano renditions of self-penned blues number, ‘No Reason’ (‘Piano Song’), then Shirley and Lee’s ’Let the Good Times Roll’.
Then there’s the footage from Victoria Park at 1978’s Rock Against Racism carnival, Ray – egged on by his director – grabbing the mic. and inciting the audience in a bid to further extend The Clash’s set as the Tom Robinson Band wait in the wings for their already-shortened headline slot.
While largely completed before The Clash recorded their landmark London Calling album, the film never saw the light of day until March 1980. Does it really seem like four decades since the premiere, Ray?
“Not really. Only when someone mentions it!”
Has Ray (who also wrote the foreword of Tony Beesley’s Ignore Alien Orders in 2019, with details found in this feature here), been in touch with the film’s producer and director lately?
“Probably not for about seven years.”
Now and again I see a bit of press about the film.
“Yeah, usually for The Guardian, The Independent or the BFI. For one of them it was quite a traumatic experience. I think Jack (Hazan) wishes he could forget all about it, but for David (Mingay) it was a labour of love and I think on some level at least it’s still in his affections.”
It no doubt raised their profiles in the film industry.
“Well, maybe … raised it and ended it at the same time.”
They were filming social history pieces before, I gather, such as Silver Jubilee footage, National Front marches, and so on.
“I guess they were filming what was going on politically in the country, then this seemingly political punk rock band appeared on the scene … although I’m guessing all this. When The Clash arrived on the scene, I’m thinking their ears pricked up and they felt, ‘We could do something with this’.”
They did seem more motivated to catch something of the spirit of the times in a more political sense. Let’s face it, many a filmmaker would instead have gone overboard on the sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll angles. That would have made for a very different film, and – let’s face it – there were plenty of chances to capture that.
“There were, but I think if they’d said that’s what they wanted to capture, the band would have been even less co-operative than they were.”
Do you think there was an element of Bernie Rhodes only agreeing to the filmmakers’ proposals to keep pace with his big rival, Malcolm McLaren, seeing as he was working on the Sex Pistols’ The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle?
“I don’t know how far that film had got by that stage, but I’d have thought Bernie would have definitely seized an opportunity to either keep pace with Malcolm or even get a step ahead.”
There was clearly a creative rivalry there, between these two former business partners.
“Well yeah, Bernie having worked with Malcolm … or for him. According to Bernie and some other people, he was very instrumental in the Pistols, but Malcolm was getting all the credit.”
How did you find Bernie? Opinions seems mixed to say the least. He was certainly an abrasive character.
“He is, he’s very abrasive, and I’ve met loads of people since that have got lots of bad things to say about him. If the things they tell me are the truth, then I understand their point. But he was always okay with me, and I never saw him be ‘cunty’ with anyone else!”
That’s one way of putting it!
“Ha! In my view, I like Bernie. I like him a lot. But other people have got different experiences. The thing is … the truth is a moving dot on a line between points of view, you know.”
In a nutshell, how would you describe your thoughts on the film, all these years on? I know you’ve said before that Rude Boy – for all the negatives – at least allowed you to travel the world, for one thing.
“Yeah, it opened my mind, for sure. It’s a cliché, but it broadened my horizons. It certainly did. It gave me a ton of opportunities. I didn’t necessarily grasp them, but they were there.
“And I think it’s a great document, although it’s a little bit … I’m trying to think of a better word than haphazard … chaotic in its assemblage, you know.”
It seems to have been made up as you went along in places.
“That was quite often the case. I’d get a call to say we were doing some shooting the next day. I’d get there and it’d be, ‘Okay, so what are we doing?’ It was all very vague. A lot of it was improvised.”
In a sense, it was a case of right place, right time though, for the filming unit. That was very much the end of an era, politically, socially, whatever. As the Ramones put it, ‘It’s the end, the end of the century; it’s the end, the end of the Seventies’.
“Well yeah, and last time I watched Rude Boy – I was DJ-ing somewhere in South London and they were projecting it on the wall – I saw it in snippets through the course of the evening. And at the beginning, The Clash are still very loose, still forming really. But by the time you get to the end, when they’re doing ‘Clampdown’ at Lewisham Odeon, it’s a completely different kettle of fish.
“I was standing at the bar and really saw the difference in the way they transformed throughout the film. If you’d tried to make the film at that point, it’s a completely different band in terms of what’s going on around them and where they’re at.”
In a sense, I guess that was part of the problem – it took so long to get it out there that The Clash had moved on again so much and wanted nothing to do with it, albeit partly because of perceptions of a negative message regarding racism.
“Yeah. We finished shooting at the end of ’78, and it didn’t come out until 1980, and when I watched it last, I didn’t remember the ending at all, of Maggie (Thatcher) going into Downing Street. I think they were holding on to see how that (General) Election played out.”
A flimsy script aside, the live footage is amazing. I love the Camden Music Machine clips, belting out ‘Complete Control’, ‘Safe European Home’ and ‘What’s My Name’, and others come close: ‘Police and Thieves’ at Barbarella’s, Birmingham; a slightly-slower ‘Garageland’ in rehearsal; ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’, ‘I’m So Bored With the USA’, ‘Janie Jones’ and ‘White Riot’ on a riotous night at Glasgow Apollo; ‘The Prisoner’ in Aberdeen; ‘Tommy Gun’ in Dunfermline; then the ‘I Fought the Law’ Lyceum finale.
“Yeah, even though you have conversations with people about the live element and they say, ‘Yeah, but they overdubbed a lot of the music,’ that’s kind of irrelevant because the film itself still captures the energy of not only them but of the time and what was going on around them.
“I don’t know if it’s unfortunate or not, but if you’ve seen the DVD extras’ interviews, in response to people saying the film is very haphazard, David (Mingay) says in English-speaking countries people found it very confusing, but in non-English-speaking places they’d not only have the dialogue in the subtitles put the lyrics of the songs as well. And when you’re reading it in a linear way, the bit of film before or after the song relates to it, so it makes more of a story.
“France and Italy loved it. For them it makes much more sense, and when I did a Q&A at a screening in France a couple of years ago the response was much more animated than when I’ve done them in the UK.”
At least on film, it seems you’re closest to Joe Strummer, of all the band and others involved.
“Well, that was how I got to know the band, from meeting Joe and becoming friends with him. And the only reason I agreed to be in the film was because Joe encouraged me to do it. Otherwise I’d have still been working in a record shop in the West End.”
Ah, there you go – rather than in a sex shop, as the film suggests?
“Yes! The porn shop was just across the street from the record shop, so I knew the guys who owned that. The name of the record shop was Harlequin, and they had 65 shops around London at that time. I think most of them were bought out by Our Price.”
When you made the film, you were around 18 or 19, yeah?
“Maybe even 20 by the end of it.”
When did you first become aware of The Clash? Had they been on your radar for a while?
“Yeah, I didn’t see them until sometime in early ’77, but I had friends in ‘76 saying, ‘You should go and see this band, The Clash’. Having said that, I was with a friend the other day and he was arguing that I’d seen The Clash at the Royal College of Art. I was saying no, but he maintains I was there … which is quite possible, but I don’t recall it. I remember my first time as early ’77, before the ‘White Riot’ tour. I think it was in Brighton.”
Ray’s roots were in Brixton, South London, as mentioned in the film itself, not least in the scene where he talks to (Clash guitarist) Mick Jones about how he can totally relate to the song, ‘Stay Free’. Speaking of which, on film it appears that there was animosity with Mick. I’m guessing that wasn’t really the case. You said you knew Joe, but were the rest of the band slightly standoff-ish?
“I never knew the others as closely as I knew Joe. The next one I spent more time with was Topper (Headon, drums), but there was never any problems. There’s that scene in the film where Mick ends up saying, ‘I’m watching you’, but when we were shooting that scene, as soon as they stopped shooting, we were just falling about laughing.”
I get that. Mick …how can I put it … seems rather camp-aggressive in that scene, trying to play the hard-man.
“Well, that was the thing. A lot of it, in my memory … the two guys making the film and their crew were not working-class punk-rock people, so there was an element where we spent quite a lot of the time either taking the piss out of them directly, sometimes even when the cameras were rolling. Unfortunately, not understanding the way film works and the history of longevity, that’s not always in your favour, even though you think you’re being clever at the time. Once it’s on there, you can’t change it.”
And over the years, through various Clash-related reunions and side-events, it seems that you’ve got to know the rest of the band quite well.
“Yeah, I was just talking with Topper a couple of weeks ago.”
He seems to be in a good place now, his drug problems and more seemingly long behind him.
“He’s in a fantastic place, mate – a really good place. And a few years ago, someone (Gary Loveridge) put a Joe Strummer mural up on Portobello Road – unfortunately not there anymore – and someone posted pictures from the unveiling, so there’s lots of pictures of me and Mick having a laugh. There’s never been any problem with them. I wouldn’t say we’re close mates, but …”
Well, you’ve all got your own lives. And that was all a long time ago.
“Exactly. But Mick has family around where I am now, so he comes down here.”
At this point, I share a story with Ray about how Mick seems at his happiest – a mutual friend was telling me – blending in with the crowd watching his beloved Queens Park Rangers, rather than talking over and again about a certain band he was in during his formative years.
“Exactly. What are we now? It’s 2020, yet you go back to ‘76 when they formed. It’s ok doing something like this now and again, but for him it’s 44 years of people wanting to talk to you about the same thing. I can’t remember what the event was, but five or six years ago there was something at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, and some guy managed to follow Mick while he was standing near the bar, and he couldn’t get away from the guy without being rude. So he’s standing there having to go through this stuff with drunk people – God bless them – that he’s heard 1,000 times, standing there with a smile on his face, telling the guy what he wants to know. You wouldn’t want to be doing that every day of your life, would you?”
Very true. Meanwhile, this Christmas will mark the 18th anniversary of Joe Strummer’s death. I went into a lot of detail on Joe and his legacy in a feature in 2018 with Lucinda Mellor and Gordon McHarg (with a link here), and for so many of us – not just those who knew him personally, like yourself – he remains in our thoughts.
“Yeah, he’s frozen in time, isn’t he? And those memories are very strong, and what with what’s going on politically … I mean, what would the 2020 version of ‘Clampdown’ be? What song would Joe write if he was still around?
“For me … he was six years older than me, and he was the first adult – when I was around 18 – that I was willing to listen to. You know that thing where people say if you met your 16-year old self, what would you tell them? Well, it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t have listened! I never listened to my parents or my bosses. If they were upset about something, I was like, ‘What’s your problem?’, But Joe was the first person that I would listen to what he had to say and respect what he had to say.”
A little of that comes over in the bar scene in Rude Boy, however staged it was. There’s certainly a dynamism about Joe on screen, a rock’n’roll and film star quality. As the NME commented on his performance at the time, ‘He has the riveting presence of James Dean or the young Brando. On stage, he is the quintessential rock martyr, frequently unable to control the forces he has summoned.’
“Yeah, for sure. Some people want to slag Joe off for the school he went to, but essentially Mick and Paul were from working-class council estate areas, and Joe was squatting – he wasn’t living in luxury.”
So what happened next for you, after filming Rude Boy? Was that when you first went to America?
“I went to Paris first, for about six months. The only reason I came back was because I had to do some overdubs for the film, after the makers got in touch. So I came back for that, then I was talking to a mate and we decided to go off to America, arrived in LA, got to Venice Beach, and thought, ‘This is a bit better than South London!’ and decided to stay for a while. We ended up there for four years, from the beginning of ‘79 till late ’82.”
I’m guessing there was an overlap there when The Clash were over there too, having first properly visited during the mixing of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, falling in love with the US, as heard on London Calling.
“I don’t know where they first went to in America, but their first LA gig was at Santa Monica Civic, and I was living in Venice at the time, five minutes down the road. That was great. I phoned the Rude Boy filmmakers to get a number. Caroline Coon was managing them at the time. She said just to come down, I took a couple of mates along, and that was great – hugs and beers all round.”
Well, you had your reputation as a ligger to live up to, after all.
“That’s right – we need liggers! You see, following what we were saying before, that was an ad-lib joke on Mick’s part! And while I was there, every time they came to LA, I’d hang out with them. I remember a hotel party where Joe Ely was there as well, and I went up to San Francisco on the tour bus with the band and Kosmo (Vinyl). That was all cool, and there was always good relations.
“And when I came back to England, they were playing Brixton Academy, so I went, walked in the dressing room, and Mick went, “That explains why you weren’t at the Hollywood Palladium the other month!”
One issue I know you had with Rude Boy was that the filmmakers used your real name for the character you portrayed. It would have been so much easier for you if they’d given you a character name, like Rudie perhaps.
“Yeah, if they’d have given me a different name, it would have made my life much easier in the conversations I’ve had with people in the interim. But there you go. People watch it and take it as gospel what they see on the screen, even to the point where it’s like … I can’t tell you how many people will walk up to me who I’ve never met before and say, ‘Get this idiot off the fucking stage!’ I laugh, but sometimes I’m like, shall I spoil it for them and tell them that was directed at the cameraman, or should I just leave it with them the way they think it was? And it depends what mood I’m in!”
On that front, I’m sure I read somewhere that you’re totally apolitical. I even added that in a piece on you in my Clash biography. It was properly sourced, I should add. That’s clearly not the case though, as I fully realise now I’ve got to know you better. And while Ray in the film is a rather naïve right-wing apologist, that couldn’t be much further from the truth from where you are today and probably then too, yeah?
“Yeah, even going back to that on-screen conversation between me and Joe in the pub, a lot of people have an issue about that. And they’re even stretching what they’re seeing in front of them. But I try to say to people that what you have to remember is that we were given a couple of scribbled lines on a piece of paper and asked to have a conversation. All I could do – without Joe’s experience of life, or whatever – was figure it out, without any direction from them unfortunately, that me just sitting there agreeing with whatever he says will serve no purpose, so I had to kind of construct not necessarily an argument with him but another perspective to consider.”
And beyond your travels, you got into band management briefly, didn’t you? With the Folk Devils, the post-punk ‘80s outfit (recently reunited, to great effect) I recently featured on these pages (with a link here).
“Only with them. And that just came about because I was sharing a squat in Stockwell with the guitar player (Kris Jozajtis), so I got to know the rest of them and went to their gigs. At one gig, or maybe a rehearsal, they were moaning about not getting any decent gigs, so I said, ‘You need to get yourself a manager’. To which Ian (Lowery), the singer, looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got a big mouth, Ray, why don’t you do it?’ So I was like, ‘Okay’ and started managing them.
“They then started getting much better gigs and I said they needed to make a record. They said, ‘Well, we haven’t got a record deal’. But I said that half the records in my collection were made by people who didn’t have record deals, so let’s just do one.
“It was great. I didn’t know how to make a fucking record, but just looked at my old singles and you could see that information about where the cover was made, so you’d phone up and say I want to do a cover, what do I need? And they’d tell me, then you’d phone a recording studio, who’d tell you you needed to get the master-tape cut, and I remember Stiff Records mentioned a ‘Porky Prime Cut’, so I found out who Porky was, rang him up, took the tapes over to him, and Bob’s your uncle. Unfortunately, after two singles on Ganges Records, the whole thing started falling apart really, for the same reason a lot of other people’s things started falling apart in that era – economics and chemistry!”
Talking of chemistry, The Clash eluded to you on London Calling’s ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, and this fella who’d been drinking brew for breakfast. So when did that all stop?
“Oh, my God, I guess that would have stopped when I went to America – you wouldn’t have got Special Brew out there. Whether or not I drank it when I come back, I don’t know. It’s been a few decades now.”
You’ve been teetotal a long while now.
“Yes, 30 years.”
Is that still hard for you?
“No, not really. In fact, I can’t even conceive of why I would bother to drink any alcohol or take any drugs anymore. It’s so long out of my consciousness. I would rather go and stick my fingers in a socket, really. Ha!”
Well, don’t do that, either.
“I’m not planning on it!”
And are you a family man?
“I’ve got a 17-year-old son. I’ve never really lived with him or his mum, but I was at their house at the weekend.”
So it’s a good relationship.
“Yeah, I was telling someone the other day, about six years ago he was spending the weekend with me, he was on the computer and listening to ‘Death or Glory’ as I was walking past. I said, ‘Oh, do you like that song?’ He said, ‘Yeah’. I said, ‘They’re friends of mine, those guys’. And the moment I said that, he turned it off!”
Is he likely to follow your line?
“Erm … he’s into animation and film-editing. Whether or not he carries on with that, I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, despite the lack of opportunities over the last year during this pandemic to get out there and socialise, DJ, and so on, Ray remains busy, not least through his love of painting and pop-art, making T-shirts, and so on, something he threw himself into when he cut out the drugs and went back to school, initially studying sculpture at Chelsea School of Art at the beginning of the ’90s. And 40 years after he first appeared on the big screen, he’s even designing Clash Crew-theme face masks these days. Respect, Ray.
For more information about the author’s biography of The Clash, incluing how to purchase a personalised copy, head here.
The Joe Strummer Foundation aims to help create empowerment through music, giving opportunities to aspiring musicians and support to projects around the world. For more details about ongoing charity projects in Joe’s name, head to https://joestrummerfoundation.org/