On the 28th July 1970, Michael Heseltine, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport couldn’t fail to hear shouts of “philistine!” while he was trying to cut a white ribbon that would mark the opening of, at the time, the longest elevated motorway in Britain. Begun in 1964, the Greater London Council had decided to build this state-of-the-art motorway through the North Kensington area amidst accusations of Soviet-style disregard for the effects on the local population.
The A40 (M) or as it was more commonly called, even at the time, the Westway had cost £30 million to build and was designed to take away the horrendous congestion caused by the lack of a link between central London and Western Avenue built between the wars.
Always a bit of a Conservative outsider – his colleague Alan Clark once famously wrote, “the trouble with Michael is that he had to buy all his own furniture” – Heseltine was heard to repeatedly apologise and tried to out yell the raucous residents: “we want to help you, we will help you,”. He continued, “you cannot but have sympathy for these people.” The Borough of Kensington had blamed the GLC and the GLC at first said it was nothing to do with them to re-house or compensate anyone and then changed their excuse to the lack of funds. Whosever fault it was the local working class residents who lived up against the motorway felt like they had been totally forgotten about.
‘When I think of the punk years, I always think of one particular spot, just at the point where the elevated Westway diverges from Harrow Road and pursues the line of the Hammersmith and City tube tracks to Westbourne Park Station. From the end of 1976, one of the stanchions holding up the Westway was emblazoned with large graffiti which said simply, ‘The Clash’. When first sprayed the graffiti laid a psychic boundary marker for the group – This was their manor, this was how they saw London.’ Jon Savage ‘Punk London’ Evening Standard 1991
‘All across the town, all across the night, everybody’s driving with full head lights, black or white turn it on face the new religion, everybody’s sitting round watching television, London’s burning with boredom now, London’s burning dial 999, Up and down the Westway, in and out the lights, what a great traffic system, it’s so bright, I can’t think of a better way to spend the night than speeding around underneath the yellow lights.’ The Clash ‘London’s Burning’ 1976
So, in the mythology created by the Last Gang in Town, Strummer, Jones and Simonon adjourned to Jones’ nan’s 18th floor flat in Wilmcote House high above the Westway motorway flyover in Notting Hill in West London, looked over the tiny balcony (above) and resolved to write about life as it affected them.
Towards the end of 1977 the Westway boasted none of its present day urban beautification. Instead it was just another post war depressed, undeveloped, graffiti covered wasteland with a grey 60′s concrete elevated urban freeway overshadowing the neighborhood. The previous year the area was host to the infamous 1976 Notting Hill Carnival riots. Tempers had reached boiling point among young black men over police use of the “sus” law, under which anybody could be stopped, searched and held. A refined version of the law still angers locals today in 2012. Windows were smashed, fires were lit and ill-equipped police officers picked up dustbin lids and milk crates to charge the rioters. More than 100 officers and 60 other people were taken to hospital. A year later the post riot debris was still in evidence. This was surely the ideal inner city location for a Clash photo-session. Most of the band only had to take a short stroll from home to the location. It was a bright sunny day and everyone was in a great mood the band were own home turf. After one hour we had finished, with no makeup, no stylists or art directors or press officers to delay things. Simple and fast, organic and relaxed, the best way to take photographs.
(Note the lineup on the Hammersmith Palais poster in the Adrian Boot photo, above.)