How The Clash made history by visiting some of Belfast's most divided and violent streets

A group portrait of UK punk rock band The Clash, New York, September 1978
(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

The history of rock band photo shoots is littered with attempts – some successful, some definitely not successful – to make the subjects look real and edgy. But perhaps no-one has ever done it as real and edgy as The Clash in Northern Ireland in 1977, at the height of the troubles. Joe Strummer & co. were there to begin their Out Of Control tour at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, but whilst that show ended up being cancelled due to insurance problems, photographer Adrian Boot did manage to capture The Clash walking round Belfast’s war-torn, troops-heavy streets.

In Stuart Bailie’s excellent book Trouble Songs: Music And Conflict In Northern Ireland, Boot recalls how the insurance issue prompted a delay at the venue that gave him and the band the chance to get out and explore. “I wasn’t expected to take photos of The Clash in the street,” he recounts. “I was simply expecting to cover the event. I saw an opportunity. ‘Can I do a photo session?’ They agreed.” Someone from the band’s record company suggested that the shoot remain confined to the hotel, but Boot had other ideas. “I thought, ‘Well look, this is an amazing city…’. Amazing in the sense it was almost like a war zone. A perfect backdrop for pictures of The Clash.”

The band’s driver Peter Aiken took the band and Boot on a tour of North and West Belfast, stopping close to the Crumlin Road gaol where they encountered an army patrol and Adrian got snapping. “Visually, they were really good,” Boot says in Trouble Songs. “The Clash certainly didn’t look ordinary, they just wandered around and I could shoot.” 

At one point, Joe Strummer got talking with a squaddie from the Midlands. “Joe did mention in the van that he was very worried being photographed next to soldiers,” states Boot, “although it was actually him that walked over and had a chat with one of them.” From there, the band went on to Shankill Road and the Falls Road, then taking some photos in front of Springfield Barracks and also stopping outside the imposing Henry Taggart Police and Army Base. For a final set of photos on Donegal Place, the band were body-searched in order to enter Belfast’s highly-monitored city centre. It all resulted in a series of memorable photos, shots that capture an era. “The way the pictures turned out the way they did, it was more to do with Belfast at the time than The Clash,” opines Boot.

The Clash’s Mick Jones wasn’t so keen, though, wondering if it was right for the band to be borrowing the scenes of such troubled times for the purpose of promotional material. “I just felt like a dick,” said Jones. “I thought the group stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Check out some of Boot's Belfast shots in the video below.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.