Return of The Rude Boy!
Saira Viola talks to Cult Punk Agitator and Bonafide Rebel Ray Gange.
Godfathers of Punk: The Clash released their first feature film a mix of rock doc and fiction in 1980 to less than ecstatic audiences. Produced and directed by Jack Hazen and David Mingay the film boasts electrifying footage from the Sort It Out, and On Parole Tours, and shows the band in the studio recording Give Em Enough Rope, but was largely panned by critics as an empty bag of tricks with no real staying power. The undisputed star of the film however, was not the band but rude boy Ray, who slides from scene to scene juiced up on Special Brew and H. For a long time The Clash tried to have the film edited down to a concert movie. Years later its casual effectiveness, unintentional irony and social awareness secured cult status for Gange in Britain and beyond. With a recent airing at the Barbican, the punk vibe has returned. Ray G talks about his rebel punk daze.
S.V. Can you explain what The Clash means to you?
R.G. Awareness, using anger positively, and not allowing yourself to be pigeon-holed by others. Most exciting live band I’ve ever seen, lyrical brilliance. An education. “Give it all you got or forget about it”
S.V. The Clash emerged at the beginning of the punk era: a time when Britain was crippled with race riots, poverty, and post Vietnam war angst – aligning themselves with Marxist revolutionaries they were the soundtrack of a politically conscious youth. How did you become their roadie? Tell me about Rude Boy?
R.G. The Roadie thing is a misconception from the Rude Boy movie having that ‘fakeumentary,’ feel about it. I’d become friends with Strummer while I was working in a record shop in Soho, and just used to go to gigs or the pub or over to where he lived & play records etc. One day I was talking to a film maker customer, David Mingay, in the shop and he mentioned his company were about to start working on a film about The Clash. I mentioned I knew them and was friends of Strummer, and a few weeks later he told me they were looking for a fan-type character to be in this film and would I like to do it. Mr Mingay, by the way, appears to remember this origination somewhat differently, but it was a long time ago. Anyhow after some thought and discussions with Strummer I agreed to be in it.
S.V. So you’ve never been a punk rock roadie?
R.G. Nor any other kind. I have an aversion to heavy lifting and long hours.
S.V.You were only 18/19 years old, in the film, but were roundly criticised for having dissenting right wing views in the movie – was that accurate?
R.G. To be honest, at that time I didn’t really have any political views at all, those were for old folks I thought then (as I’m old and political now maybe that was true?)
When we were shooting that scene of Joe & I in the pub, I was listening to what Joe had to say and for lack of prior thought on the topic, I decided to respond from the position of the older, south London working men I used to drink in pubs with, and react as they would, as up until that point those would have been the only expressions of political thought I’d have heard.
Had I been less naïve, more serious, I might have realized how these things might later be interpreted & I’d have put more thought into it.
S.V. Did Joe influence you and shape your later political views – tell us about the Brigade Rosse scene in the movie?
R.G. I’m not sure that I reaped the benefits of his influence until many years later. I know that he was the first older person that I had any real respect for. If he had a part to play in my later political views it would be from realizing that his thinking and the lyrics of The Clash’s songs have, in my opinion, become more relevant as time goes on.
I knew from news reports that the Red Brigade were a so-called terrorist outfit but in that scene, which like most was an improvisation, as a counterpoint to the seriousness of the subject matter, I was trying to reference the comedy of Leonard Rossiter/Joan Collins Cinzano TV ads of the time and mimic Joe’s voice back at him, neither of which seemed to be too successful.
S.V. You’ve done another movie since, a Western. Can you describe your role in that and did you have a role in Absolute Beginners? Would you like to do more acting in the future?
R.G. In the western called The Price of Death, directed by the great Danny Garcia, I play Sam Crenshaw, a member of a gang of desperadoes on the hunt for the loot a former gang member stole from us, which of course we’d stolen in the first place but that don’t matter to us. Suffice to say in the grand tradition of spaghetti westerns, it doesn’t all go to plan.
As for Absolute Beginners, Julien Temple kindly found the role of an extra for me to play which he then expanded with dialogue. Unfortunately my increasing drug dependency meant I failed to show up on set for my big scene with Steven Berkoff, and this resulted in my only on screen appearance lasting about 2 seconds as I rush across the street.
I’ll do more acting if I get offered any for sure. I really appreciate the whole production process of a movie much more than I did when I first experienced it so many years ago.
S.V. Ray! You missed out on a great cinematic moment with Steven Berkoff! Shame! But the movie sounds like a crowd pleaser. When’s it out and is there a trailer for us to see?
R.G.I think it was scheduled for November this year but this appears to have been delayed because the director has a few projects running simultaneously.
S.V.What was it actually like living in London during the Punk years?
R.G. London for me in late 70’s – late 80’s was generally a blast as I was working in a record shop which was great fun, going to see bands almost all the time or ‘partying’ as they say these days.
I don’t really remember things like ‘the 3 day week’ or ‘the dustmen’s strike’ or those other great doom n gloom stories of the time. Too busy having a good time. I think I was probably living in LA for much of the time that folks regard as the worst of it.
S.V. How serious was your heroin addiction?
R.G. In a nutshell: “Goodbye the 80’s”. The descent from recreational usage of late 70’s into full-on addiction is not something that I noticed until one day I had an inkling that this might not be the best way to live and then discovered that stopping isn’t so simple. That friends had been distancing themselves for some time didn’t register, neither did lost career opportunities (I know I know), lost girlfriends etc. The only thing that seemed to matter was getting and using more drugs.
Eventually I had an epiphany that I was going to die in squalid circumstances and found the wherewithal to not want that demise. This awakening led to a two year to & fro’ battle including a rehab stint before eventually, with the help of others, I discovered that the easiest way to give up drugs and alcohol is to give up drugs and alcohol.
Twenty years later that sounds so simple and obvious but when you are trapped in that cycle of self-destruction that’s the last thing that it is.
S.V. Yeah, and would you say it’s a constant battle with yourself to keep away from drugs and alcohol? Any advice for those in the thick of it?
R.G. Hasn’t been a battle for a long time, I’d sooner stick electrodes on my testicles, one day at a time . Of course, tomorrow is forever a mystery. My advice to anyone struggling is to seek help from those that have been through the same experiences.
(Moving on then – such a graphic image ..)
S.V. You’re an art school grad, DJ, actor and activist what’s your view on the future of Britain?
R.G. Without wishing to appear too dystopian, unless we have a major shift in peoples thinking & voting, if it isn’t already too late for that, then we will become a country of bread slaves convinced that we are at liberty as long as our electronic devices aren’t taken away from us. Folks need to liberate their thinking, start forming barter communities and using local currencies such as those that currently operate in UK towns such as Totnes, Brixton & Lewes.
The problem is that everyone’s waiting for someone else to lead the revolution but that person’s busy playing Call of Duty or GTA X or some such.
I went to a talk by Bernie Rhodes (Former Manager of The Clash) recently and at the end of his stage ‘thing,’ he stood at the front of the stage, looked into the crowd and said “I’m seventy two, I’ve done my shaking things up bit, a few times. When are you lot going to get off your arses and do something?” This was met by polite applause and a few uncomfortable sniggers.
S.V. Hmmm, why do you think there is such cynicism in the younger generation, and a reluctance to make trouble, agitate and rattle cages?
R.G. Because they get everything they want from a screen so they don’t see any problems as long as they have a good wifi connection.
S.V.Views on Simon Cowell the pop puppet Svengali and his influence on the music industry?
R.G. Ah, Mr Homogeneity? Does he have an interest in music?
S.V. He is a supreme puppet master me thinks, but as someone who was part of the rich spontaneity of the punk era, what do you think about how he’s dominated the music industry?
R.G. Well, it’s pretty tragic but it dovetails perfectly into the lack of discernment that folks seem to have for the content of popular culture. The Hunger Games edges ever closer to being humanities reality.
S.V.Who do you think was the ultimate subversive?
R.G. Throbbing Gristle, Duchamp and Warhol.
S.V. Any heroes?
R.G. Lee Marvin.
S.V. Ideally where would you like to be Ladbroke Grove or LA?
R.G. Los Angeles, not the cultural desert many perceive it to be and, despite appearances, in fact much more subversive than West London will ever be again. Plus it’s easier to hide from excessive sunshine than excessive grey.
S.V.Who’s your favourite writer, artist, actor, politician?
R.G. Writer: John Fante or Chester Himes or Colin MacInnes
Artist: Richard Diebenkorn
Actor: Geoffrey Rush
Politico: Robin Cook RIP, Bernie Sanders
S.V.What’s the most worrying aspect to you about Britain today?
R.G. That too many of the working class/lower middle class seem to believe that The Tories have their best interests at heart. And that we are sleepwalking into a proto soft-fascism.
S.V. Hillary or Trump ?
R.G. It’s a real dichotomy. HRC will probably pursue a foreign policy that continues to destabilise half the planet whereas the apparent domestic policies of a future President Trump would seem to give a lot of unpleasant people permission to behave in very unpleasant ways especially if female, non-white or just plain different, plus God knows what DT might push for as CIC.
S.V. Best memory of the Clash?
R.G. Going with them to see The Village People at La Palace in Paris late 78.
S.V. Favourite song of all time?
R.G. Move on Up – Curtis Mayfield
For what its worth – Buffalo Springfield
Rockaway Beach– Ramones
S.V.Would you ever admit to listening to Abba or show tunes like Oliver?
R.G. (Smiles ) When working in a Soho record shop I was given tickets to the premiere of Abba: The Movie. Joe Strummer was delighted to come with me to that!
A Chorus Line (Original Broadway Cast) is one of the most prized albums in my collection.
S.V.What if anything keeps you up at night ?
S.V.Sorry to hear that. A cool tip from a great friend of mine is turmeric, hot water honey and lemon that might do the trick. Give it a go.
R.G. Thanks. I’ll try it.
S.V. If you met Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or Kanye what might you say?
R.G. Other than the money, WHY?????????
S.V. Is there still or was there ever beef between you and The Clash?
R.G. Nope, they had a beef with the makers of Rude Boy which made things a bit awkward at times but even when things were fractious the band and I still got along. Not so much with their crew. Post-Rude Boy I was always a guest at any of their gigs whether Clash or BAD or what have you. I was chatting with Topper just recently and often see Mick and Paul at various happenings.
S.V. How would you describe Punk?
R.G. A loud ‘n’ snotty technicolour explosion in a world of grey.
S.V. Do you think there’s a punk renaissance now? If so, why?
R.G. Musically there seems to be a much larger renaissance of new punk in the US. Here it seems to be much more nostalgia based. Probably as so many of the old punks have a feeling of creeping mortality and want to re-live as much of those formative good times as possible and because we find it difficult to get excited about much that’s come along in the post-grunge era.
I think the unexpected early death of Joe Strummer woke a lot of people up to the reality that those days aint coming back so get out and do it again. Demise of the record industry probably helped, in that anyone that was in a band remotely connected to those days has to get back out gigging if they wanna make any dough from that part of their lives and careers.
S.V. You also had Indie chart success yourself with your own music. Why didn’t you proceed with that?
R.G. That was as a manager/label owner and that ground to a halt as I made the mathematical error of putting the drugs before the success rather than vice versa.
S.V.Tell me about your art, and the concept of urban hieroglyphics?
R.G. Those are a series of paintings autobiographically based on relevant pages of the classic London A-Z, using all the information on the page apart from any words or names. Along the lines of modern cave paintings if you like.
S.V. Hmm, mystically evocative with direct imagery, and now?
R.G. I’m now working on a series of works that are based on cult or classic movies using dialogue as a reference back to the days of silent movies, an attempt at illustrating the circle of life from a filmic perspective.
S.V. Advice to young Ray – What would it be if you had an hour with him?
R.G. Don’t abuse drugs, alcohol or self, respect others and remember that you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason. Oh, and do some fucking work.
S.V.What’s new Ray’s manifesto for now?
R.G. Create, be of service to others and behave with integrity whenever possible.
S.V. Any regrets?
R.G. What can you do with regrets?
And as everybody who’s anybody knows, no one knows what the rude boy knows!
With former Clash manager Bernie Rhodes
All Photos courtesy of Ray Gange