'Cannibalism At Clash Gig': The Story Of The Punk Group's Rowdiest Show

The Clash is perhaps the second most famous British punk band after the Sex Pistols and continue to be known for their lyrics featuring political protest and their music which was inspired by and contained elements of reggae, dub, funk, jazz, and hip hop. Per their official website, the Clash was formed in 1976 when bassist Paul Simonen and guitarist Mick Jones approached singer Joe Strummer (above) and asked him to join their new group, managed by Bernard Rhodes, who had worked with the notorious Sex Pistols in the past. In an interview with the British music magazine the New Music Express or NME, the band made their ideals explicit, explaining "We're anti-Fascist, we're anti-violence, we're anti-racist and we're pro-creative." They went on to make six albums, starting with their 1977 self-titled debut. Their last album, "Cut The Crap" was released in 1985, but the band was done. 

When The Clash was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 by Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello and U2's The Edge, their introduction read in part "If the short-lived Sex Pistols were glorious nihilists, then the Clash expressed punk's impassioned political conscience. Their explosive, uptempo punk-rock manifestos were unleashed with pure adrenaline and total conviction." However, in an ironic twist, it was an apparent act of violence at one of their earliest shows that brought them to the forefront of the British punk scene and set the stage for their years of notoriety and influence and their ongoing legacy as musical pioneers.

A night that went down in punk history

As reported by Far Out magazine, the legendary gig took place on October 23, 1976, at London's Institute of Contemporary Art. Opening acts included fellow British punk bands Subway Sect and Snatch Sounds and Patti Smith, whose album "Radio Ethiopia" had just come out as a follow-up to her beloved 1975 debut "Horses," was in the audience, taking time out from her own tour, having played the Hammersmith Odeon earlier that night as well as the night before. The Clash was known for their wildly energetic shows that sent audiences into ecstatic frenzies and the crowd got even more riotous when Smith joined the Clash onstage to dance to their song "I'm So Bored With The U.S.A."

What followed would go down in history and contribute to the October 23 show becoming known as "a night of pure energy." Photographer Red Saunders was also in the audience and snapped two photos of Shane MacGowan, then of the band The Nipple Erectors and eventually the front person for the Celtic folk-punk sensation The Pogues, and Jane "Mad Jane" Crockford, who per Punk Globe had been a roommate of the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and would go on to play in the bands The Mo-dettes and The Bank of Dresden. In the photos, blood is pouring from McGowan's ear. Weeks later, the photos ran alongside an article by writer Barry Miles for the NME with the headline "CANNIBALISM AT CLASH GIG," implying Crockford had bit MacGowan's ear off. 

Did Mad Jane bite off Shane MacGowan's ear?

The article's subheading joked "But why didn't anybody eat MILES?," referring to writer Barry Miles, but the article and photographs were taken seriously by readers and brought The Clash a level of notoriety that instantly vaulted them into the limelight. Per Far Out magazine, Mick Jones later dispelled the myth that actual cannibalism had taken place while talking with writer and photographer Bob Gruen's 2015 book "The Clash: Photographs by Bob Gruen." While discussing the legendary show, Jones said "That was the night of Shane MacGowan's earlobe, wasn't it? He didn't really have it bitten off, you know." Joe Strummer later commented, "Without Mad Jane's teeth and Shane's earlobe, we wouldn't have got in the papers that week."

Shane MacGowan himself discussed the incident in a 1986 interview with the publication Zig Zag, reprinted on the website Punk Rocker. MacGowan reminisced, "I was up the front at this Clash gig at the ICA, and me and this girl were having a bit of a laugh which involved (cracks up at the memory) biting each other's arms 'till they were completely covered in blood and then smashing up a couple of bottles and cutting each other up a bit." After explaining that these were relatively normal activities in the 1976 London punk scene, he went on: "[I]n the end she went a bit over the top and bottled me in the side of the head ... I never got it bitten off — although we had bitten each other to bits — it was just a heavy cut."