THE CLASH PART 1 (1976-1977)

“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

George Bernard Shaw 

I phoned in response to an ad for a drummer and spoke to a very peculiar man. I didn’t like the sound of him but he had a sort of confidence that intrigued me. We arranged an audition but I had to meet him in a café first, which seemed a bit odd. The café was called Ortin’s Kitchen in Praed Street, Paddington. I met a diminutive thirty-something man with glasses who seemed to make a point of not being friendly. I had to ask him his name, which was Bernard. At the time I thought this was about the most uncool name you could have. He then proceeded to ask me some strange questions such as, “What do you think is going on right now?” To which I replied, “What is going on right now is that I am sitting in a café with you instead of auditioning with a band!” 

I quickly discovered that whether you were rude or polite to this man made no difference. There was something, however, that I liked about him. He was really serious about what he was doing. This was in stark contrast to the many people I had auditioned with who seemed to think that success was simply a matter of luck. Bernard was quite certain that luck had nothing to do with anything, which interested me. After talking for half an hour or so, it seemed I was worthy of going on to the next step, which was auditioning with the other musicians. 

We walked around the corner to a basement studio. There were various people down there, three musicians with whom I was going to play and a few others who sort of reminded me of people you might see at a party in a 1960’s movie. Most of them were decidedly odd but I reasoned that was to be expected in this game. I was relieved when I met the bass player because he seemed friendly, bright and articulate and understood my desire to get on and play the music rather than talk nonsense. The bass player was Tony James, whom I was later to join in Generation X with Billy Idol. He would also go on to mastermind the pop phenomenon that was Sigue Sigue Sputnik. There was a guitarist who was quieter and more focused on his guitar. This was Brian James who would later form The Damned. There was also Mick who played guitar and did a bit of singing. At this stage I really didn’t know what to make of Mick although when we got to play I realised that it was really the music he was here for. I actually can’t remember what happened after the audition. I felt that it was an interesting experience but the band certainly wasn’t ready to go and perform, it was more of an embryonic work in progress. 

I carried on auditioning with various people and eventually answered another ad. I told Bernard I recognised his voice and he replied that he remembered me too because I reminded him of a young doctor. I said, “What do you mean?” He replied, “I can just imagine you saying, ‘here are your pills, madam!’ At that stage Bernard knew nothing of my medical leanings and I must grudgingly credit him with impressive insight. He invited me to come down to a new location in Hammersmith. He told me that Mick had ‘graduated’ from the training of the previous band but the others hadn’t. 

I got there to find someone called Wally (full name Warwick Nightingale) whom I later discovered was the original guitarist with the Sex Pistols. Wally was the key-holder for this rehearsal place. He was very friendly and pleasant and told me that the others would be here soon. He’d had to rush off unexpectedly to buy some alcohol for his father whom he informed me was an alcoholic. This was obviously a normal thing for him to do but I remember being struck at that moment by how lucky I had been because, in my world, parents did things for you – not the other way round. 

The rest of the band arrived. There was a bass player called Paul who basically didn’t seem to speak, and Mick, whom I remembered from before. There was a singer called Billy (Watts) and a guitarist called Keith Levine, who was even more stroppy than Bernard. As I walked with them from the café back to the studio, it struck me that everyone had the same look – unusual clothes (drainpipes not flares, bright shirts – some with painting on them) and very short hair. Passers by were staring at them. They had the appearance of a gang of like-minded people. I think all young men have a primal instinct to join a gang and of course a band is the best kind of gang because you don’t get beaten up so much! 

I enjoyed the audition more than the previous one because there seemed to be a stronger direction and a clearer vision of how we were trying to sound. Billy was interesting because he put an awful lot of energy into being the front man and made some weird-looking faces. A few weeks later I talked to Bernard again and he invited me to yet another venue – this time in Camden Town. I came down expecting to see the same faces and I was rather shocked that Billy had been replaced by someone called Joe – apparently the new singer. It may sound silly but I felt a sort of loyalty to Billy and a sadness that he had disappeared. When I met Joe, I was unsure whether he was an improvement or not. He didn’t look anything like a rock singer, he didn’t dress like anyone in a band and his speaking voice was very croaky and strange. I found it difficult to see him as a front man in a rock band, especially compared to Billy. However, I realised there must be something about this guy or they wouldn’t have replaced Billy with him, so I determined to wait and see. 

When we started playing, the band sounded better – there were fewer cover songs and a much harder edge to the music. This matched nicely with my John Bonham style heavy-handed drumming. I came to realise that Joe Strummer was the best possible front man for this band – but that was a gradual realisation not a sudden light bulb moment. Joe was a very warm-hearted, sensitive person who really cared about those who were around him. This made it easy to like him, even though he could drive you crazy at times. In addition, Mick was always happy to lighten the mood with humour and Paul actually started speaking, although not very much. I suppose you could say that The Clash was formed that day.

The band worked like crazy seven days a week. Bernard had masterminded the whole project and he created a hothouse in which everybody was expected to perform 110% and to work on every level – the music, the stage set, the clothes we wore and the attitudes we expressed. It was a strange period because we were constantly under pressure, even though that pressure was self-inflicted. That stage seemed to go on and on but I know from reading various books about The Clash that, while it felt like years, it couldn’t have been for more than a few months. We were sitting in a pub one night and Keith rather unexpectedly said, “Do you really want to be in this band?” and I said “Yes, of course!” So he said, “OK then, you’re in!” He called over to Bernard and said I was now officially the drummer. This irritated Bernard who said, “I make those decisions, not anyone else.” This exasperated me and I said to the pair of them “Of course I’m the drummer – who else is going to be?” and no more was said. 

At that time, we were desperate to play to a live audience. Bernard kept on telling us that we weren’t quite ready but he never said when we would be, nor gave us any kind of criteria by which to judge when the time had come. Meanwhile, we decorated the rehearsal space in Camden Town that was called ‘Rehearsals, Rehearsals’ – I can’t remember who thought of that name but it was very appropriate. Paul painted a huge urban landscape on the wall behind the stage. Painting for Paul was like medicine for me. Paul had decided that the life of an artist was a bit lonely when you were 20 years old and that it would be better to be in a band first. In a strangely parallel way I had decided that people don’t like an old musician because they are out of date and no one likes a young doctor, as they are not old enough to know anything. 

After what seemed like an eternity in the hothouse (even though it was cold and damp) we got to play our first gig at a pub in Sheffield: The Black Swan, or The Mucky Duck, as we used to call it. We were to support the Sex Pistols. Our enthusiasm levels were so high for that first show that I got up at four in the morning to be at the rehearsal place by five to leave for Sheffield, about 200 miles away. We were playing at around 7pm. This may seem ridiculous now, but the fact that we left so early was a sign of our enthusiasm and eagerness to get there and do a great job. 

I knew about the Sex Pistols but had never heard them play. The first member I met was Glen Matlock, the bass player. He was very friendly and said he was looking forward to hearing us play. Then I met Johnny Rotten who was ranting and raving about his dislike of dogs and his preference for cats. He seemed weird enough to be the front man in a rock band. Paul Cook the drummer and Steve Jones the guitarist both seemed very quiet. After the sound check I met Malcolm McLaren, the man who created the punk movement. They say that first impressions make an impact. My first impression of Malcolm was that he was wearing a T-shirt upon which was painted a pair of large naked female breasts. That’s not particularly unusual these days but it was unheard of then. Nevertheless, he was very helpful to us on our first gig. I told Paul Simonon that I thought Malcolm was a bit weird – he burst into laughter and said, “He’s okay when you get used to him!”

After we finished our gig and packed up, Joe and I spent the next hour watching The Pistols play. He liked the band a lot and was keen to see what I made of them. They played a very tight set and were clearly a battle-hardened touring band with lots of experience. However, what impressed Joe and myself the most was John Lydon’s charisma and humour. After that gig the thought occurred to me that this band, The Sex Pistols, were at the same time our comrades in arms and our competition. 

Next up Bernie booked a show at ‘Rehearsal, Rehearsals’ for people in the music business on Friday August 13th. Such a performance is often referred to as a ‘Showcase’. Of course Bernard would do the inviting and none of us had any idea who was going to come. Everybody was happy to leave these things to Bernard as he seemed to have a flair for it. He invited some journalists – but not many, so that the ones who were invited felt special. This ploy seemed to work because we instantly got the press on our side. Because we had been in a hot-house for so long the pressure was unbearable. I remember Mick throwing up several times before the performance whereas Joe was quite relaxed about it. After the performance, Mick was fine and Joe was depressed. This response pattern was exactly the same many years later when I toured the States with the band. Because of the pressure, there was a feeling that when we finally played we unleashed all that pent-up energy on the audience. It almost felt like we were doing violence to them – although most clearly liked it!


The Clash played a gig and got back to the rehearsal studio quite late to find all the cars locked in by a bolted gate. Having no way to get home until morning we settled down to sleep in the rehearsal studio. It was unbelievably cold that night so we assembled every conceivable form of heating and turned them on. One device was an electric single ring cooker, which you could use to boil a pot on. We then laid down on chairs or sofas or whatever we could find, grabbing whatever cushions were around. I was woken a couple of hours later by Micky Foote, our sound engineer. As I opened my eyes, I could only see a couple of feet in front of my face as the room was filled with thick, black smoke. Everyone was coughing uncontrollably as we had all breathed thick fumes for some time before waking up. We opened all the windows, as freezing was preferable to being killed by the fumes. I have wondered since then about how easily it could have been the end of us that night – had Micky not woken up. Perhaps the current obsession with fire retardant materials and smoke alarms is not such a bad idea. 


Having survived that experience, we next played the Roundhouse in Camden Town. Here Joe made one of his speeches during which he said, “We haven’t got O and A levels and all that.” (The qualifications required for university entrance in the UK). Someone in the front row shouted, “Your drummer has!” Joe later confessed to me that he couldn’t think of an answer to that so he just went into the next song.

When I came to rehearsals one day, Mick and Joe were discussing Keith. Joe had expressed the idea that Keith was a phantom guitarist who came in and played and left. Joe felt that Keith wasn’t really a part of what we were doing. Mick replied that he understood what Joe meant and said, “Do you think he should leave then?” Joe agreed and, to my astonishment, so did Paul. I was shocked because this appeared to be such a sudden and random decision. I now think they were right because they had been thinking about it for a long time and then discovered that they’d all been feeling the same way. When Keith arrived soon after we gave him the news, which he took quite well, although he wasn’t happy about it. At that moment there was the feeling that we then had to turn our attention to what we would sound like as a 4-piece. Mick summed it up by saying, “I’d better learn how to play the guitar!” He could of course already play the guitar but up until that point it was Keith’s job to do any solos, whereas now it would be up to Mick. Although we were now a 4-piece band we still needed a lot of other people to help us. 

Micky Foote had worked with Joe previously. He was a loyal, hardworking, uncomplaining person who naturally stepped into the role of being our sound engineer. Another character was Sebastian Conran. When we met him he was studying design. He just walked up to us, having enjoyed the gig, and asked if we would like a hand carrying the gear out. No band ever says no to this kind of offer. From that point on he just sort of joined the team. Apparently he had previously booked the Sex Pistols to play at the Central School of Art and Design, where he had been studying. Sebastian is a very cheerful and positive person, which makes him good to have around. We later realised that his dad was the famous Terence Conran, the designer and store-owner. There was something comically ironic about having the son of a rich and famous person helping a Punk band, whose members all came from poor backgrounds. Talking of design, we needed a lot of new clothes. The right designs were hard to find as they had to be different. Bernard drafted in Alex Michon – a confirmed fashion fanatic who worked upstairs at ‘Rehearsals’, which manufactured a continuous supply of jackets and trousers.

Sebastian was also a motorbike fanatic – he took me for a ride on his bike once. I was not used to bikes so every time he leaned the bike to the left I would lean the other way to try and straighten it up which made the bike wobble all over the place. It was probably Sebastian’s influence that started my love affair with motorbikes. I rode several motorbikes but after about three years I decided to stop, as riding bikes and a long life seemed to be mutually exclusive. This was later to be repeatedly confirmed in my second career – I’ve lost count of the motorcycle accident victims I’ve seen. 

One day Sebastian talked Joe into riding from London to a venue in Manchester on the back of his bike. Joe was able to leave later than us as bikes are faster and he arrived just after us. The problem was that the temperature was below zero. I’ll never forget the sight of Joe walking in – he looked like Quasimodo. He was so frozen that he couldn’t even speak! We all burst into laughter, having heard from Joe earlier that he was going to be so much cooler than us arriving on a motorbike. Sebastian was still around when I left The Clash but seemed to have moved on by the time I re-joined the band in 1982, five years later. 

Sebastian had a brother called Jasper who was a budding dress designer. He seemed to be as passionate about dress design as we were about music. They had a large house in Regent’s Park that we often used to go to. We all turned up there one night, drunk as lords. We staggered through the corridor and tripped on an extension cable that crossed the hall. This cable was being used by Jasper to power his sewing machine. He was burning the midnight oil, working late on his latest creation. He emerged from the room in a rage. Obviously the power had gone off as we tripped on the wire and apparently ruined whatever he was doing at that moment. As he stood there, screaming hysterically at us all, we weren’t sure whether to commiserate, apologise or laugh. It’s difficult to convince a bunch of drunken rock musicians of the vital importance of the last seam that was not properly sewn. I dare say that Sebastian managed to placate him later. I think of that moment whenever I see some of Jasper’s clothes in a store!

Bernard started looking after some other bands, notably the Subway Sect. Vic Goddard was the main man in that band and was a gifted songwriter whom Bernard always had a lot of faith in – sometimes to the annoyance of Mick Jones. The Baker was their roadie and was later to work for many years with the Clash. He was a short, stocky guy with a baby-face and a shaved head. His dry, cynical sense of humour seemed to help him survive the crazy world he had come to inhabit. He was hard-working and reliable, which is what we really needed.

During those early gigs you could never predict what was going to happen. We played a punk festival at the 100 Club, a long-established venue at No. 100 Oxford Street. There was some fighting in the audience that I didn’t take much notice of. It was in the heat wave summer of 1976 and being a packed house it got really hot. After we’d played I decided to get some fresh air. I walked out the front door and before I knew it, two guys I had never seen before kicked me in the face. Apparently they had been thrown out earlier for fighting and were going to attack the very next person who came out of the door, who happened to be me! After the kick in the face, I did karate training for a number of years, although I was never particularly good at it. There have been two subsequent attempts to punch or kick me, both of which I fortunately managed to foil and get out of without any harm being done. 

Another time we played a gig in a basement in Guildford. During this show the audience started to reduce in number until there were only a few people left. That was definitely not what normally happened. We finished our set and sat there somewhat bewildered. The manager of the club came over and explained that there had been a battle in the bar upstairs between the punks and the off-duty soldiers (there is a garrison in the town) and then hundreds of policemen arrived to make it a 3-way war. When we came upstairs the place was totally empty and absolutely wrecked. 

During 1976 there were punks springing up all over the place and at the same time there was a Teddy Boy revival. Unfortunately, we started hearing about clashes (no pun intended) between Punks and Teddy Boys – somewhat similar to the battles between Mods and Rockers in the sixties. We were booked to play at the University of London Union, on a bill that featured several Punk and Teddy Boy Bands, It seems that some genius thought that by putting us on the same bill we would somehow come together – a bit like locking cats and dogs in a garden shed together! I had not realised this until it was too late because this gig, bizarrely, was the only Clash gig that my parents came along to. They were naturally curious to find out what their son had been doing 24 hours a day seven days a week for the past six months. 

During the sound check a little skinny guy came up to us and asked the band, the crew and various other individuals if we wouldn’t mind helping him lift a full-size concert grand piano onto the stage. Shakin’ Stevens was on the bill and would need it. We felt sorry for him so we did it but I remember remarking to Joe, “I hope I don’t have to lift one of those ever again!” The first band on the bill was called Please Yourself. Joe Strummer’s comment was that they might as well have called themselves ‘Why Bother?’ They played their entire set to an audience consisting of Micky Foot’s dog, Gertie, and my parents! By the time we came on there was a lot of fighting between Punks and Teds in the audience. Our set seemed to pour petrol on the fire and at one stage Paul Simonon had to take a swing at some of the Teds with his Fender base. Fortunately, we all got out in one piece. As this was an afternoon rather than an evening show, I popped over to my parents to see what they had thought of it. They had clearly discussed the matter and decided not to say anything about the violence. When I came in my dad said something about how nice and tight the beginnings and endings of the songs were. My mum said very little. I tried to explain to them that large-scale punch-ups were not a feature of every show we did but I’m not sure they were convinced. 

The Clash played The Institute of Contemporary Art in 1976. There was a couple sitting right at the front. The man was very drunk and the girl seemed to be biting him on the ear, although I wasn’t sure. Then his ear started bleeding profusely. She then picked up a broken bottle and looked like she wasn’t sure whether to slice his ear off completely or start to carve up her own body. This is very distracting when you are trying to play a gig, as I, for one, felt he needed rescuing. Eventually the security people removed them both, much to our relief. This reinforced my view that you have to be very careful when choosing a girlfriend or a wife. Years later I discovered that the young man had been Shane MacGowan from the band, The Pogues.

On another occasion, we had a Spanish photographer called Rocco Macauly taking photographs and, without any warning, the American singer Patti Smith jumped on the stage and started dancing like crazy. Instead of photographing this one-off event, Rocco failed to recognise her and pulled her off the stage, thinking she was a random nutcase. This was such a shame as he had worked so hard and then missed his big chance. After the show Bernie took great pleasure in berating Rocco in front of everyone.

Bernie surprised everybody one day by announcing that he’d bought a car with the number plate CLA5H. He said that he wasn’t really interested in that sort of thing but that Micky would like it. In fact, Micky was the last man on earth to get excited by a personalised number plate and immediately said so. I have no idea who ended up with the number plate. A side of the Clash that nobody has ever seen manifested itself in a phase when we would drive from one place to another singing ludicrous songs. I think it started by us singing arrangements of the songs that we were performing so that we would remember them accurately but inevitably it became ridiculous, the silliest songs we sang being a Swingle number and ‘Terry’ by Twinkle where the lyrics said, “He rode into the night in his Triumph Herald” (the car I was driving at the time). 

Another memorable character from that period was Sid Vicious. He was always hanging around the studio. He seemed to be searching for some part to play in this whole Punk movement. He was a strong character with a continual flow of new ideas. He would often turn up in all sorts of different clothes. I got the impression he saw us as a group of people to whom he could take his ideas without fear of ridicule. He started off playing drums with a band called The Flowers of Romance who supported us at one of our gigs. He later switched to bass guitar. I regarded him then as a friendly, engaging person although he liked to challenge everybody’s opinions. 

He turned up once at the studio and told me he hadn’t eaten for two days. He looked sort of grey so I took him to the café and bought him a fry-up. I was glad to do this for him as he looked like he was about to die. But I did wonder at the time where his next meal was coming from. During the time I knew him there was a steady continual change from the friendly pleasant 18-year-old that I had first met, to someone who was more and more interested in violence. I remember seeing him at a gig we were playing, at the Royal College of Art, punching someone in the audience. I asked some of the guys in the band what was going on but no one seemed to know why he was changing and what was happening to him. 

While we were recording the first Clash album we got the news that The Pistols had parted company with Glenn Matlock and bought in Sid on bass. The four of us reflected that the Pistols now had a very strong front line and that’s when the discussion about The Pistols being allies or competitors came up. I can remember voicing this idea to the other guys in the band during the making of our first album. Joe instantly agreed with me that they were the band for us to beat whereas Mick was strongly of the opinion that they were our allies and we should never think of them as our competition. I suppose with the benefit of hindsight we could say that Mick was right on this one. 

It must have been about two years later that I heard that Sid was in prison accused of murdering his girlfriend Nancy. The Clash actually played a benefit gig to help him. He took his own life whilst awaiting trial. As soon as I heard that news I remembered Sid saying to the press during 1976, “I'll die before I'm 25, and when I do I'll have lived the way I wanted to.” At the time, I regarded that statement as nonsense. Sid’s death seemed like a tremendous waste to me. Talking of death, I remember remarking to the guys in The Clash that the best thing would be for one of us to die, because then you automatically become a legend! I was of course talking with tongue-in-cheek, not thinking for one moment that it would actually happen. The Clash were not particularly into drugs at that time, and we probably couldn’t have afforded them anyway. Mick and Joe would occasionally smoke joints but that was about it. I was always more interested in beer, which put me into a party mood, rather than dope, which put me to sleep.

Eventually, we started getting interest from record companies. As usual, we let Bernard do all the negotiating on that front. At the time it seemed like a good idea. I later changed my mind about that but now, with hindsight, I’m back to thinking it was a good idea! Bernard was able to drive a hard bargain, which he would have been unable to do if there were four other people negotiating and commenting. A Kiwi called Chris Parry was the one I remember most clearly, perhaps because he was a fellow drummer. As head of A&R for Polydor Records, he was very keen and actually put us in a studio to do some demos. 

The demos were to be produced by the legendry Guy Stevens. Guy had worked with numerous bands including ‘Free’ and ‘Mott the Hoople’, so he automatically had the absolute trust of the band. Although an alcoholic at the time, he was an incredible character. I immediately warmed to him, partly because of his illustrious past and partly because he was such a charismatic man. I can still see him jumping up and down in front of Mick while he played his guitar parts. I found it hilarious because I used to always think of producers as the cool ones sitting in a chair taking control. 

A situation arose when the studio people and the record company weren’t happy with Guy, whom they regarded as an alcohol-soaked has-been. Guy cracked under the pressure and screwed up the mix. With hindsight, if we had been more experienced the band could have given him the necessary confidence and security and it would have worked. As it turned out, Guy was out of the picture for the time being. Joe in particular felt sad that it hadn’t worked out with Guy. His comment to me was, “They’ve got him numbered.” Guy did come back later, however, to produce the Clash album, ‘London Calling.’ Guy died at the age of 38 from prescription drugs he was taking to reduce his alcohol dependency.

Just weeks after we completed the demos, the news broke that we were to sign to CBS not Polydor and the whole thing was done in a flash. 


The whole story of me quitting the band has never been told. This is because I had decided to leave for private reasons that I didn’t want to discuss with the press. Having little experience with the press, I didn’t know that what they do in situations when they don’t know the facts, is simply to make them up. One paper printed a story that I left because somebody threw a bottle at me during one of the shows. That would have been ridiculous, as hundreds of things had been thrown at the stage at one time or another and nobody really worried about that. That story has been repeated endlessly because it is the only story out there. If nothing else, the music business taught me never to believe what you read in the papers. The real reason why I left was a very simple one – I wasn’t enjoying it! I had made a promise to myself that I would never do a job I didn’t enjoy and I intended to keep this promise. I was constantly arguing with everybody else. It tended to be me on one side, with the band, management and anyone else who happened to be there, on the other side. It was only years later that I understood the real reason for this.

Politics was often said to be the main subject of all the arguments, but that’s not actually the way it was. A full understanding of what was really going on didn’t come to me until thirty years later – when I learned a lot more about human nature by treating thousands of patients. I can now see very clearly why there seemed to be a difference in attitude between myself and everybody else. I came from a very happy family and grew up full of optimism, always smiling (except in rock band photos – you never smile in those in case you end up looking like ABBA). In stark contrast, everybody else seemed to come from a broken home. All I ever heard from them, including the road crew and management, was how terrible the world was and how it was going to get much worse. Bernie saw this as training for our mission and actively encouraged this constant diatribe against the world. Baker referred to it as the ‘Stalinist regime’.

During the various arguments we had in the early days, they would say something like, “We don’t want to earn any money, we’ll just give it away.” My answer would be, “So, what are you going to eat?” And also, “I don’t want to give my money away, I want to buy a sports car.” I liked fast cars but never wanted a Lamborghini, although I have read hundreds of times in the press and in books that I did. 

After a great deal of soul-searching I turned up at rehearsals one day and told the others that I wanted to leave. When I made my announcement I think they were genuinely shocked as we had worked very hard to get where we were. The shock turned to anger and then came: “We’ll just find someone else then”. I had agreed to carry on doing the shows until they found someone so as not to impede the progress of the band.  They auditioned a very large number of other drummers but they were unable to find one who fitted the bill. Then they seemed to feel that it would be easier to persuade me to stay rather than find an adequate replacement. At that point Bernard the manager tried very hard to change my mind. This was difficult for him, as he simply didn’t understand my reasons for leaving. 

He even telephoned my father in an effort to persuade me to stay. The idea of Bernard trying to convince my dad is hilarious to me. I wish I had a recording of that conversation. Of one thing I’m sure – for the first time in his life, Bernard would have done more listening than talking.

He told me that he saw my role as being a foil for the others. In other words, the challenges and arguments that I was coming up with would prepare the other guys for when they stepped out of the safety of the rehearsal room and were challenged by the press. I told him that it might be a useful role but not one that I enjoyed.

The failure to find a suitable replacement despite auditioning an endless series of drummers (over 200) prompted me to say to the Baker that it must have been soul-destroying for them. He replied, “I picked them all up, helped set up their kits and took them home – so don’t tell me it was soul-destroying for the band!” Accordingly, I didn’t sign any contract at that time but I did agree to record the single that was to be ‘White Riot’. Recording the single seemed to go by in a flash. We had Micky Foote producing, even though he wasn’t really a producer. However the idea was to capture the sound and energy of the live shows at that time so production wasn’t really a priority. We needed to create some chaos on that record so we found an alarm bell and had several people jumping up and down on a wooden board. First to volunteer for this job was Sebastian, who seemed to enjoy that experience more than anyone else. I can remember the odd feeling of being in a club and hearing your own record played for the first time. It’s quite special, like the feeling of hearing yourself on the radio for the first time. 

Next came the job of recording the first album. They still hadn’t found a drummer so I agreed to do it and I was pleased about this because it felt like I had done an awful lot of work to help get the band to that point and here was a chance to put it down on record forever. 

When you record an album the first job is to get the sound of each instrument right before you start playing any songs. We spent a couple of hours doing that with the drums, maybe 20 minutes with the guitar but when we came to the bass there was a problem. Paul was a major reggae fan and had a very clear idea how he wanted the bass to sound: very bassy. Mick had other ideas. He felt that we needed to hear the notes clearly and wanted a completely different sound. The argument between the two of them went on for hours and hours with neither one giving an inch. I was aware that the cost of a studio like this was something like £200 or £300 an hour – over 100 times the minimum wage (although there was no minimum wage then). After about 4 hours, I was beginning to lose the will to live, and so was Joe. I would often be the one to try and make peace between people but in this case I had no idea where to start. Then the engineer saved the day with a piece of diplomatic genius. He suggested that we record both sounds simultaneously on different tracks and argue about it later. Joe and I nearly banged into each other in our haste to agree with the new idea. Once that obstacle was out of the way the recording went at a cracking pace. Since 90% of the time we were simply reproducing what we were doing live, and as we had played those songs at loads of gigs by this time, we could do it with our eyes shut. 

The exception to this was ‘Police and Thieves’, which we never performed live in those days. This song was something we used to play for fun because it made a change from the other stuff. We would play it during a sound check whilst people were adjusting levels to get the sound right. I can’t recall at what stage it went from being a bit of fun in a sound check to a track in the album, but I do remember being amazed when I heard the mixed version. Mick had added some very rhythmic guitar chords and very high vocal harmonies. These two changes completely transformed the song into many people’s favourite track on the album. It was an early indication of Mick’s talent as a studio animal. Personally, I always preferred live performances to studio recording because you could feed off the energy of the audience – like a vampire sucking blood. 

During the time that I was leaving, Joe came to terms with my love of sports cars and told me that my desire for an E-type Jag was essentially no different from his desire for a Volkswagen Camper Van. He actually offered me his initial share of the record company advance to buy a sports car in an effort to persuade me to stay in the band. Obviously I would never have taken it, and my reasons for leaving were nothing to do with cars or money. He was just trying to find a compromise and he had come to realise that having the right person in the band was more important than what type of car they drove. 

I remember being with Joe in The Roxy, a punk nightclub. Don Letts was the DJ there and would later make videos for The Clash and many other bands. We bumped into an American called Lee Childers who was the manager of various bands including ‘Johnny Thunders’. Lee said something about always being on the look-out for a good drummer and Joe surprised me by saying that if I went to play for one of Lee’s bands he would kill both of us and finished that with, “That’s fair, isn’t it?” Of course Joe would never kill anybody but I was surprised at that stage by the strength of his feelings. Lots of people tried either to persuade me to stay or at least to figure out why I was going. Sebastian, Micky Foote and Sid Vicious all tried, but the philosophy of, “Do what you love” didn’t seem to mean anything to any of them. Especially when large sums of money were heading our way. 

Sometime after the first album was finished, the day finally arrived when The Clash found a new drummer, Nick Headon, soon to be known as Topper. Bernard announced this to me, saying, “You must be very upset?” which I found strange because I had been trying to leave for nearly a year. They asked me if I minded meeting Topper to go through a few drum things, which I was happy to do. We went down to the Camden café, always a favourite haunt, just by Camden Lock. We got on extremely well and exchanged all the necessary information whilst we had lunch. When we had finished eating, I realised I had forgotten my wallet, which is always bad when meeting someone for the first time, but he was fine about it. We didn’t meet again for about five years.

The day came when I played what I thought would be my last ever gig with The Clash, at Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry. Paul even sprayed the word Goodbye onto my t-shirt especially for the occasion. After that show I gave that t-shirt to my nephew Joe (Bryn’s step-son). He recently gave it back to me mounted in a big picture frame with all sorts of memorabilia from that time which was a wonderful surprise. I decided early on not to keep memorabilia and so it was particularly good to have such a souvenir. Joe is now a seriously good DJ and has played at many of my parties, although he chooses to do that where he now lives, in the Far East. I don’t think Joe Strummer ever forgave me for quitting, but more of that later. 

The Clash was my first proper band and had become very popular very quickly. I’d been a teenager when I joined and, like many teenagers, had a ludicrous level of over-confidence. I thought I would simply go out and do it again. I had a shock coming – it wasn’t going to be that easy.


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