“Are you going backwards. Or are you going forwards?” England Past and England Future in 1970s Punk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter examines the ways in which the cosmopolitan and political approach of The Clash could be regarded as progressive and forward looking. Specifically, it will focus on the engagement with reggae by the band (and the punk subculture more broadly), and make the case that this helped them to move forward, creatively and politically. The Clash imagined a multicultural, postcolonial future and actively sought to make it manifest, in their music, and also through their engagement with the Rock Against Racism movement. Their continuing influence on popular music in the UK is evident. A comparison is made with the Sex Pistols, in terms of how each band reflected and represented images of English national identity, both its past and its possible future(s). I will argue that, broadly speaking, these two groups could be said to constitute the ‘Janus-face’ of English punk, as the Sex Pistols were more inward looking and focused on England’s cultural and political past. However, I will consider too the factors that complicate and problematise such a dichotomous distinction.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorking for the clampdown
Subtitle of host publicationThe Clash, the dawn of neoliberalism and the political promise of punk
EditorsColin Coulter
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-5261-1423-5
ISBN (Print)978-1-5261-1421-1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


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