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Joe Strummer snarls through the Clash's first Toronto gig.

Toronto Calling is an exhibit of photos by Torontonians Simon and Nick White, non-professional photographers who shot as fans from the front rows of the punk revolution. One of the featured shots of the exhibit, showing at the Steam Whistle Brewery, is the snarling image of the Clash's Joe Strummer, taken on Feb. 20, 1979, at the Rex Danforth Theatre. Simon White speaks about the era and the photograph:

"Strummer wanted people dancing up in front of the stage, and that's where this photograph was taken. Now we call it the mosh pit, but back then there was no cute name for it. The show was tacked onto a six-city North American tour - the record company wanted to gauge North America's audience to this thing called punk music.

"One thing that really struck me about the Clash that night was that they were slightly surly up on stage - they were fed up with the record labels and promoters who were trying to hijack their agenda. They were angry, and the crowd fed off of that. We all gave it right back to them, in terms of the attitude and the noise. At the end of the set, people came up on stage and started dancing with the band. They were fine with that - in fact they encouraged it. I think, to them, it was a perfectly flamboyant way of ending the show, having the crowd break down the barrier between the band and the kids. They really wanted to reduce that difference.

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"I remember seeing the Clash at the CNE Grandstand later, where it was like they couldn't deal with the size of the audience. They broke up soon thereafter. It was such a shame, because their music and their message and their agenda had such a humanist point to it. It seemed only to translate to them when they could meet and talk to and touch their audience. And they did touch so many of us, in the front row."

( Simon White, as told to Brad Wheeler)

Toronto Calling, to April 1. Free. Steam Whistle Brewery, 255 Bremner Blvd., 416-362-2337.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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