Fast forward a couple of decades, and showbands aren't really in style anymore. However, if you were looking to support the local alternative scene, the Top Hat had plenty to offer. In 1978, you could have seen a very young-looking U2 with the Stranglers or watched The Vipers opening for The Jam about a month later. Wait a couple of years more, and you could have gone to the RTE-broadcast Zen Alligators gig in 1982, or chosen to see the Anthrax for an unforgettable Valentine's Day that very same year.
Other Irish bands that went on stage in the Top Hat included: The Memories, The Greenbeats, the Boomtown Rats, Les Enfants, Skid Row, Granny's Intentions, Chateau, Snakehips, Horslips, Microdisney, The Furey Brothers, The Dubliners, Shane McGowan & The Pogues, Time Machine, Chips, Candy, Thin Lizzy, Chosen Few, Harmony Heights, Hothouse Flowers, Bagatelle, Moving Hearts, The Others, Something Happens, Stepaside, Orange Machine, Lyttle People, The Virgin Prunes, The Pleasure Cell, The Golden Horde, Rascals, and many, many more...
Although The Clash at TCD in '77 was a seminal event, and is rightly cited as having a major impact on the fledgling punk/new wave scene, the sound was awful and I don't really remember any particular songs. The Clash at the top hat was a different band, a year further along, tighter, more in control but still energetic and vital. Although a year away from releasing London Calling they had matured and had developed their sound, which was crisp and clear on the night, I specifically remember 'Complete Control', 'White Man in Ham Palais' and 'Tommy Gun' as being standouts on the night. By the way, I'm pretty sure l heard Dave Fanning say it was the best gig he ever saw, and I would guess he's seen a few!
Regarding The Jam, I was a big fan, I went to Reading to see them headline in August '78, All Mod Cons was released in Nov and 'Down in The Tube Station at Midnight' was out as a single, we knew all the words,so for me, the gig was just fantastic, every song sounded so good. I remember at the end Weller rushed off stage and re-appeared up leaning over the balcony to the right of the stage; he was grabbing one of those large dayglow orange Jam posters! We missed The Vipers that night but I had seen them loads of times and yes, they were a great new wave band.
The Jam ticket is signed by the Modfather himself; we ran into him at the coffee dock after the gig.
The Clash - October 14th 1978
I had seen The Clash play live a year earlier in the Exam Hall, Trinity College, Dublin. So I knew what to expect. But I wasn’t expecting the support band: the iconic Virgin Prunes. During the Prunes set, I was standing beside the sound mixing desk where the The Clash roadies and entourage were congregated. Bemused, bewildered looks and general ‘gobsmackery’ passed over their faces. Was Guggi performing fake fellatio on Gavin Friday’s dangling microphone? The rest is history. Or infamy. Pick your indignantly. It was a ramshackle art performance by the Prunes, that in no way, suggested global stardom anytime soon. But they were interesting in an avant-garde kind of way. And fair fucks to them for letting it all hang out. In Friday’s case - literally.
Next up The Clash. Except for the cavalcade of The Clash’s deafening sound and energy, memories are rather more sparse. I remember the tapestry of world flags serving as their stage set. The graphic rawness of their de rigueur punk attire. And, despite the volume levels, the tightness of their set and sound. Nothing as haphazard or as ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-long’ as you got from the Prunes. This was polished punk. Tommy gun precision. A few songs in, I spotted my now-deceased brother, Garrett, upfront in the mosh pit. Garrett was desperately trying to get Strummer’s attention. He was easy to spot. Easily 6ft 6 and a Joey Ramone lookalike. As easily as he appeared, he disappeared from view into the maelstrom of pogoing and general devilment. Never to resurface again. No one song stood out in the machine-gun delivery of the show. One after the other. Like bullets. Such intensity. No wonder The Clash refrained from reforming in the last couple of years – minus Strummer. The money was offered. But as Mick Jones said in a recent interview – they couldn’t reproduce the same raw energy of their youth on stage, now that they are all middle-aged men.
And that was the calling card of The Clash – the sonic energy of words that ripped through you like shrapnel. They believed in what they sang about. At least Strummer did. Authentic to a fault. A good night out. Ringing in the ears. Ringing in the ears a week later. Ringing in the ears as I write this now. Wear earplugs.
The Jam - October 20th 1978
Back at The Top Hat less than a week later. If I thought The Clash were loud – I hadn’t heard anything yet.
My tympanic membranes resigned that night. It was that loud. This time, I braved the mosh pit and was standing just below Weller on the right-hand side of the stage. I must have arrived late as I have no recollection of the support band, The Vipers. Weller, being the peacock of punk, looked very dapper in his white shirt, black suit and tie. As did bass player Foxton and drummer Buckler. That ‘Beatlesque’ dress aesthetic was a very important part of the ‘packaging’ of The Jam. Black and white. Simple, graphic and memorable. The art school aesthetic was very much part of the early punk movement. How everything looked mattered as much as the music.
Throughout the rapid-fire set, two events stand out in my memory. One was because of fear. The other humour. A large space appeared in the middle of the mosh pit. Two skinheads were in a state of physical frenzy. Fair enough, it isn’t called a mosh pit for nothing. Comfort zone it is not. The frightening thing was they both had folded umbrellas. Umbrellas with rather large metal spikes at the top. You know, the kind that can take peoples’ eyes out. They were thrashing them around wildly. Out of step with the beat, of course. Violent intent rarely keeps a rhythm going. They seem to run out of testosterone, or a drug high, or both, after about 5 minutes of scaring the bejesus out of their fellow fans. General mayhem resumed.
Later, Weller ordered the band to stop playing. Amp reverb resounding around the hall. “Which of you filthy fuckers did this?” he asked, as he wiped a gooey gob from his pristine black slacks. Someone had read the “How to be a Punk” manual and assumed, incorrectly, that gobbing at a band on stage was the done thing. So very 1976. Weller was not amused. The fans were. The band fired up again and, just as The Clash had done a week earlier, delivered a set that was energetic and delivered what it said on the tin. Or in this case – the jar. The Jam. Pure pop-punk. A good night out. Ringing in the ears. Ringing in the ears a week later. Ringing in the ears as I write this now. Wear earplugs.
If there was a new wave/post-punk equivalent of the 1991 Sonic Youth and Nirvana gig, it was probably this one. One well-established alternative act alongside an up-and-coming act ready to take over the world.
The Stranglers were already legends in the underground scene, known for their grimy, spiky approach to rock, indebted to punk but more inspired by garage rock. A month before their Top Hat debut, they had reached #11 in the Irish charts with their cover of Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’, establishing them as chart regulars who would go on to achieve 4 further top 10 hits over the next decade.
Their support act that night was a new group named U2. Having only just met their manager Paul McGuinness, and with a year to go until the release of their debut EP U2 3, the group were content to travel around the country performing in various local venues, Their performance at the Top Hat that night was fraught with tension due to violence from the crowd, with the group being forced to dodge various items being thrown at the stage. However, the group’s persistent and forthright attitude was said to win much of the crowd over before the performance was through.
One of the most beloved and influential acts of the punk era, The Clash quickly became renowned for their firebrand intellectual left-wing lyrics and genre-muddling styles, infusing punk with reggae, rockabilly and dub.
The Clash were yet to score an Irish hit when they played the Top Hat in October 1978, supported by The Virgin Prunes, however, momentum had been building hugely following their controversial performance in Trinity College a year earlier. The punk explosion that had rocked the UK less than two years earlier had wasted no time arriving in Ireland, and while the genre’s peak days may have been behind them by this point, The Clash gave a fiery, visceral performance which earned them much acclaim at a pivotal point in their career.
Consisting of frontman/guitarist Paul Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler, The Jam were at the forefront of the mod revival in the UK in the late '70s/early '80s. Their sound, indebted to bands like The Who and The Small Faces, ensured a large loyal following of fans, who sent many of their singles straight into the top 10 in both the UK and Ireland.
When they played the Top Hat on October 20th 1978, supported by The Vipers, they had achieved minor success in the UK with songs like ‘All Around the World’ and their cover of The Kinks’ ‘David Watts’, but had yet to break through into the mainstream, and were still considered an underground act in Ireland. Their first single released following the gig, 1979’s ‘Strange Town’ was their first to reach the Irish charts, peaking at #23. It could be argued that the Top Hat gig was the pivotal moment which brought The Jam newfound recognition in Ireland, bringing them great success in the years to come.
Interview with Social Media Talks Podcaster Alan Hennessy about his time working at The Top Hat as a DJ, and his experience meeting bands such as The Human League who performed at the venue in the 1980’s.
Interview conducted by Olivia Lynott
I played bongos with Skid Row on Like Now. The rest of the band were Phil Lynott vocals, Gary Moore guitar, Humphrey from the Dr Strangely Strange camp on sitar, The Brush [Shields] bass guitar & Noel Bridgeman drums. We played Strawberry Fields Forever.
In October 1978, I was playing bass with the Vipers when we were offered the support slot with the Jam on their two gigs in Ireland; in Dublin (Top Hat) and in Galway (Leisureland). The Jam were promoting their make or break third album; ‘All Mod Cons’ and the Vipers had a ringside seat watching them introduce brand new songs like; ‘A’ Bomb in Wardour St’, ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ and ‘Mr. Clean’. They sounded great and looked sharp in their mohair suits. The Jam were managed by Paul’s dad John, a big, stocky individual with a boxer’s physique, who was ever-present and always looking out for his boys.
One thing I remember from those dates was when Paul, Bruce and Rick used to finish their last number, they would run off the stage and a roadie would have a lighted cigarette ready for each of them as they came running past. To us lowly Vipers, this was the big time.
Paul Weller was quite shy. His girlfriend Jill was over with him and he spent most of the time with her. He was only twenty years old so you couldn’t blame him for wanting to be with the love of his life. Though, I do remember George, our lead guitarist, sitting down with Weller at some stage after the soundcheck and they started trading guitar riffs. They were both massive ‘Who’ fans.
Bruce and Rick were very sociable. I remember being surprised when Bruce and Rick started complaining to me about the price of a bottle of coke in the bar of the hotel they were staying in. They were drinking whiskey and coke at the time. Though looking back I suppose they were only on a small wage, as the Jam still hadn’t broken big yet.
Bruce was very generous to me all the same. He had just gotten a sponsorship deal with Rotosound and he had a flight case full of their bass guitar strings. He very kindly gave me a few packets.
It’s hard to believe but we nearly got kicked off our little mini-tour with the Jam after the first gig in the Top Hat in Dunlaoire. It just so happened that Paul, Bruce and Rick had nice electric fans mounted in front of them while they were on stage. I suppose they needed them as they wore heavy suits and shirts and ties when they performed.
I remember we were near the end of our set and going down really well when George Sweeney, our lead guitarist launched into one of his blistering guitar solos. His fingers were squeezing the life out his strings and he was throwing all sorts of shapes. He ended his solo on some impossibly high note and kicked out his foot at the same time. Unfortunately, his foot connected with Paul Weller’s precious electric fan, which went flying across the stage.
Well, all hell broke loose and the road crew were lining up at the side of the stage giving us menacing looks. The fan was in a crumpled heap damaged beyond repair. When we finally came off the stage there was a lot of bowing and scraping and apologies. John Weller suddenly appeared, eyes bulging, veins throbbing in his neck. Explanations were sought. More profuse apologies. Some restitution was offered. Finally, it was accepted that there was no malice intended and with that, we were back on the tour.
Mind you, Paul Weller didn’t half sweat that night.
I was 18 with longish hair and a combat jacket - very far from a punk. I remember being absolutely terrified of the real punks in the audience. Berlin were one of the support bands and got gobbed on unmercifully. The lead singer was wearing a pale suit which gradually changed colour as he was the main target in spite of his regular pleas for them to stop. The Virgin Prunes were the most bizarre thing I had ever seen but seemed completely fearless in the face of the terrifying audience.
The Clash were very late on and incredibly loud and moving constantly around the stage. I know it’s a cliché but it was genuinely an assault on the senses and to this day no other gig has ever made quite the same impression on me.I had never seen a band as loud or who played as fast as they did but it wasn’t just noise, they were amazing. The last thing I remember was sprinting to get the last 46A home in my case terrified of being stuck in Dun Laoghaire with the rest of the audience! We just made the bus and I don’t think my ears stopped ringing for a week.
I feel so lucky to have been there and haven’t hesitated to dine out on having been there many times!
Interview with Karl Chaney about his experience watching his favourite band “Les Enfants” when he was 18, in the Top Hat in the early 1980’s.
Interview conducted by Olivia Lynott
I played there with Those Handsome Devils in ‘84 to support Carl Mann and we had to leave after our set to get up to the T.V club to support The Shillelagh Sisters. Busy night.
Somewhere I have pics with Carl Mann. I had forgotten it was at the Top Hat. He was a Sun Records recording artist. A true gent.
“I was at that gig in Trinity and everyone remembers it as being great,” recalls Dave Fanning. “But it was shit, at least the venue was shit. You couldn’t hear a thing….later, they played The Top Hat in Dun Laoghaire and it was one of the best gigs of my life. It was the London Calling one and they were at the top of their game, even the mistakes sounded great.”
From this article by Jonathan deBurca Butler August 21, 2017.
I saw The Clash, The Jam and Stranglers in the Top Hat to the best of my recollection. As far as I can remember The Vipers opened for The Jam, fuzzy recollections of liberating copious amounts of their beer in the dressing room. It was almost dry when they came offstage.
The Vipers opened for The Jam in Galway too, which happened the same weekend. We got on really well with Paul, Bruce and Rick - they were generous with the rider each night.