What do you remember about the music scene before punk?
Reggae, mostly reggae. Glam rock, and then just before the punk thing, the bands I was into were Dr. Feelgood, Parliament -Funkadelic, which I think came from hanging out in Global Village (London music venue 1973-75) a lot.
Did you see the 101’ers play live around that time?
I saw the 101’ers once. But it was Dr. Feelgood that I used to go out of my way to see. I went to the Reading festival once because they were playing. As soon as they came off stage I came back to London, I didn’t bother to check out anyone else!
What was it about Dr Feelgood that appealed to you?
Their intensity, their sound. Wilco (Johnson) especially. His style of playing was quite fierce. They were the first band on a low level, that when you stood in front of them you had Lee Brilleaux, who looked like he would jump off stage and kick your arse at any point, and then there was Wilco with those manic eyeballs. It always felt like you could be beaten up and stabbed by the band you were watching! They were so different to any other bands around at that point.
How would you describe yourself before punk?
I was just a kid running around chasing a good time really, but without any focus. Dipping into one thing, and then out into the next. That why Global village at that time was a very important place. Loads of people coming together. It was like the punk thing in a way. Kids with different backgrounds coming together.
How were you turned onto punk?
I was working in a record shop in Bond Street when ‘Anarchy In The U.K’ came out. I used to play it all the time and upset the shoppers. I had a loud speaker out front and all these old ladies walking past were having heart attacks in their blue rinses! I had friends from Watford that had a band called The Bears, and they were one of the first punk bands but didn’t really do anything. . Just having friends who were in that scene and also the clubbing thing. I remember going to the Kings Road, Acme Attractions and what was SEX then, being scared to go in…
What sorts of clubs did you frequent?
The Roxy was home from home but I didn’t see any of the 100 Club stuff unfortunately. I went to The Vortex. Also the Nags head in High Wycombe to see Generation X and maybe the Pistols. I drank a lot of Special Brew at that time so a lot of it’s a haze!
What was it about punk for you?
The energy and something that appealed to some kind of self-destructive part of me. You didn’t have to care about anything. Adults that I’d grown up with were always telling me what to do, and then the whole punk thing to me was that nothing was important. There were no rules. I didn’t know the word nihilism.
Who were the first punk bands you saw?
Pistols, Clash…I used to also go to a club called The Man In The Moon in Kings Road a lot, and you’d get bands like Adam And The Ants before they were a really big band, supporting X Ray Spex.
When did you first become aware of The Clash?
I can’t remember where, but they did a gig somewhere in London. The next night at a pub in Putney High Street that had a load of punk bands playing. I’d either gone to see Wayne County or the Lurkers, and right there sat at a table on his own was Joe. So I thought how weird it was that he was there on his own checking out these bands, so I went over and spoke to him. We got chatting and I told him about the record shop I worked in, and then he used to pop by there.
I remember us getting stopped by police after we’d been at the Speakeasy club and then we got back to his flat and I remember seeing this Bob Dylan album lying on the floor, I couldn’t understand! I mean I wasn’t into Dylan back then, coz to me all that music was history. I found it really hard, so I pretended I didn’t see it! (laughs) So, I started hanging out with Joe a lot and going to Rehearsal Rehearsals and then one of the customers in my record shop (David Mingay)told me him and his partner (Jack Hazan)were making a film about The Clash. I told him I knew Joe and then couple of weeks later I was asked if I wanted to star in the film…
You declined at first didn’t you?
Yeah, I was very suspicious, but then I mentioned it to Joe, who said I should do it. I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for and then it became very strange.
Your character in the movie Rude Boy has been described as “symbolic of punk’s unwillingness to accept change” would you say your character is an accurate representation of the real you back then?
To a large degree, yeah. But I think most of the people I knew at the time were like me you know? That was the vibe then, it seemed to me at that time that nobody had a career plan or any motivation. The music was our world. There wasn’t a world beyond that, and if there was, we were just not interested. Kind of like a flat earth society! It was kind of like “this is shit, that is shit, but we like this shit”.
Did you want the chaos of 1977 & ’78 to last forever?
I still do! (laughter) What I felt at the end of ’78 was like a vacuum had sucked all the air out of it. I’d finished making the movie and had some money and I went to Los Angeles, in theory on holiday. I got out there and liked the fact it was warm and sunny with palm trees, and of course their punk scene was just starting to kick off. It was early ’79 and it seemed their scene was at the stage ours was at in early ’77, so I kinda just dived into that. There were bands like Black Flag, X, the Germs all that stuff…
Did you get involved in that scene then?
Oh yeah. It seemed like I just gone into a tardis from one place to the next, the party was still going!
What were the main differences between the U.K and U.S scenes do you think?
Not a hell of a lot really. Nobody there was living the Baywatch lifestyle you know? There were a few skate-punks and people that only came out at night! There was that same energy, so I went round meeting people and then getting into the clubs for nothing.
Were you recognised in the U.S as Ray Gange from Rude Boy?
Not really, the movie had not yet come out when I first got to America. It was just about meeting people, getting into clubs. There was this one guy who worked the back door at the Whiskey A Go-Go, and he would let anyone recognised as a punk rocker in the club for nothing.
Was the filming of Rude Boy a pleasant experience for you?
It was at the time. Afterwards, actually, half way through making the movie, it started to change. I don’t know why to this day, but there was problems between The Clash’s people and the film people, and because I was acting in the film, I was caught in-between both camps. I had a ligancy towards the band, but I’d chucked my job in to be in this movie, and you know, I needed some dough, so that was a drag. I had an amazing time though because the filming took place over two Clash tours, so god knows how many gigs I went to. I got to hang out with Richard Hell, The Specials, and Suicide…
There were problems on some of those dates with those support bands.
Yeah, Suicide in Crawley was a nightmare! You really thought world war three was going to irrupt. Dunfermline Cinema ended as a really friendly stage riot because the place was so small and the energy just overtook everyone. Then there was the Glasgow Apollo show, which was really frightening…
Of course the violence scenes in the movie from Glasgow were staged fights?
Oh yeah, I think a lot of the backstage fights were filmed later at the Lyceum or somewhere. The Glasgow show was scary. I think everyone in our mob thought “fuck, something’s gonna kick off here” It got really nasty. A lot of the New York groups couldn’t handle being spat at. Richard Hell got covered in it. When he was singing, he would lean out over the crowd and of course he was an easy target!
Experiencing those gigs, you couldn’t buy those experiences you know? I would have liked to have been a bit more clued up. I was eighteen, and I didn’t know how movies were made and all the politics involved.
Did you find acting easy in the film?
I was trying to half be myself, and be what they (Mingay & Hazan) wanted me to be as well. Unfortunately, their instructions were never that clear. There was sometimes no script, just scribbled words written in the back of the van that morning. It was all very erratic… Movies generally have a very linear movement, this one did not.
What do you remember about being on the road with The Clash, what was the atmosphere like in the band camp?
God, that’s an interesting question. Regardless of whatever filming was going on, the band was just like “great let’s play the next town” that real positive gang mentality. “Here we are, let’s do the gig, leave an impression, split, and take half the hotel with us when we leave!” We would raid the mini-bars as quickly as possible, and have a good time. There was one night, possibly Leicester, we were in the lobby with a load of kids that had come back after the gig, and in the middle of the night I got woken up in my room with police going through all my stuff looking for weed or whatever, and as soon as they left I called Strummer’s room and said “look Joe, the police are here, if you’ve got anything, get rid of it quick!” Then I rang Mick’s room and they had cut the phone off at the switchboard! I think Mick got done for something, I’m not sure. I was quite unprepared for life on the road and you can see that in the film. Literary in one scene, people think it was a prop but when I had to pack some clothes or whatever, I didn’t have a case or bag so I had to use a box I kept my own albums in! That was my suitcase! A few years ago Paul Simonon told that story, but told it about himself! Cheeky fucker… (laughter)
Do you think your brief experience on the road with Subway Sect helped prepare you for your time on the road with The Clash?
That was the theory. I kind of helped out, but I think I was more of a hindrance! All I knew about the role of the roadie was someone who travelled around with bands, being part of the band, without playing the music.
Tell me about your relationship with the other members of the band.
I wouldn’t have said I was really good friends with the rest of the group. Topper, I used to get on really well with. He would have been the next closest. Paul always kept himself back, and Mick then, unlike today, was very abrasive. I think he used to like to test people. Now he’s as nice as pie. I Bumped into him just last week, had a good old chat.
Why did you pull the plug on your acting career?
I didn’t realise I could have had one, is the real truth. When I came back to England from the states, I had a couple of opportunities but didn’t realise that when people asked you to show up, you had to actually do it!
Returning to the UK from a stint in construction in the US what made you form a record label?
I was living in a swat in south London and one of the other guys living there was a guitarist in a band called the Folk Devils. I used to go and see them play quite a lot and I thought they were really good, but they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I spoke to the singer one day who said “you have a big mouth, why don’t you manage us?” Using a few contacts and the Yellow Pages, I got the band gigs and got some records cut. I think it was their first and second single, both got to number three in the indie charts. One of the singles was kept off the number one spot by Blue Monday and The Smiths! Just as we were recording the third single, we had a parting of the ways as they say. Chemically challenged musical differences!! (laughter)
What would be your lasting memory of Joe, how did you feel when you heard he had died?
More than anything I felt really sad that I hadn’t spoke to him in a very long time. The last time I saw Joe was at the launch party for that movie ‘Straight To Hell’, and at that time I had quite a big heroin problem. He sussed that out quite quickly as we were talking, and you could just see behind his eyes, it was as like a shutter came down and that was the end of that friendship. I saw him maybe two years later at a New Years Eve party and by then I was starting to sort my problems out, but there was still a distance thing there that wouldn’t have been there years before. So when he died, I felt bad that we hadn’t been able to resolve that. At the time of Rude Boy Joe to me had been kinda part father figure and part older brother. He was only twenty-five when I first met him, but he was I think the first adult person that I had respect for. So the way it was left, with things nor resolved, was sad.
What do think it is about Joe that continues to captures people’s hearts?
The same thing for us really. You felt that he meant it, and what he meant had real meaning. Even if you weren’t sure what the specifics of it were, it was his intensity and passion that made people believe him. People like that don’t come along that often.
Ray Gange interview took place May 5th 2009