THE CLASH PART 2 (1982-83)

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

George Bernard Shaw

In 1982 I received a phone call out of the blue from Bernard Rhodes asking me to meet him that very day at Marine Ices, an ice cream bar in Camden Town. I had been in contact with Bernard a couple of times over the years for odd reasons but certainly not regularly. I called Maxine to tell her what was happening and that I didn’t know what Bernie wanted. She said, “There’s only one reason he could have for wanting to see you so urgently.” When I turned up there he was with Cosmo Vinyl whom I had met briefly before but never knew very well. He was currently the band’s spokesman.

It struck me at that time that Bernard was a bit apprehensive – as if he had been sent to do a job but didn’t know how to approach it. To be fair to Bernard he had never understood what motivates me, which made his job much harder. They told me that The Clash were due to play in the United States in a few days and they wanted me to join up for the tour. I‘d noticed in recent press reports that Joe had gone missing. I wasn’t worried about that because, in a sense, that would be quite a normal thing for Joe to do. My first question was, “Where’s Joe?” They both said, “We’ve got him back.” Joe had disappeared and holed up for a while in Paris. We briefly discussed the whole idea and Bernard’s comment was that I had left too early and now was the time to make up for that. I had to admit that, in this case, Bernie was probably right. I had wondered over the previous five years, what it would have been like had I stayed with the band. Now I had an opportunity to find out.

Some people hate sudden unplanned chaotic events but I have always enjoyed them. It would mean learning an awful lot of songs in a short space of time but I had done that many times before. I telephoned Mick later that day to discuss the idea and he quipped, “I bet you haven’t got any of the albums!” to which I replied, “You’ve never sent me any of them!” He also said, “Well, we couldn’t get Cozy Powell, could we?” (Cozy Powell was a very well known session drummer and the first person people called if they wanted a solid hard rock drummer who was a quick learner). 

I had no hesitation in dropping what I was doing to take off immediately but there were two slight problems. The first was that I wouldn’t have time to get a work permit for the United States; the second was that Paul was already in the USA so I would have to initially rehearse in London with Mick and Joe and catch up at the other end in New York. I met up with Joe and Mick soon after and realised there was a third problem. Because they had so many songs, they had got into the habit of changing the set every night, so each gig would be a unique experience and we wouldn’t get stuck in a rut playing the same songs. From my point of view it meant memorising three times as many songs! Obviously the songs on the first album would be easy. I had, over the years, observed the band’s progress but from a distance and with no attention to detail, so I had a big task on my hands – to learn 60 songs in five days. I expressed to Joe my feeling that this was a tough job and he replied, “That’s ok – we’re used to public rehearsals. We did one the other night.” We started rehearsing with Joe on rhythm guitar and Mick playing bass. I was genuinely surprised at just how musically diverse the material had become. We bashed through a whole pile of songs and I made copious notes to aid my memory. Then we set off for the USA.

At the airport we bumped into James Honeyman-Scott, guitarist with The Pretenders, and he seemed in good spirits. When we arrived in America we were surprised to see on TV that he had died the next day of heart failure caused by cocaine intolerance. Speaking to an apparently healthy person the day before his death makes it even more of a shock. 

Because of the rush we had no time to apply for a work permit, so it was decided that I would just go into America as a tourist and get the paperwork done at a later time. This shouldn’t have been a problem since English people visit America in their droves all the time. This, however, was The Clash and nothing ever seemed to go smoothly. On the flight an argument broke out between an irate older lady and some guys from the road crew. Unfortunately, when people in the rock business are told to sit down, be quiet and behave themselves they react rather badly. The more she told them off, the more they would throw things at her. 

When we landed, security at the airport had been informed about the trouble-makers and there was a crowd of police and immigration officials waiting for us. The lady stood with these security people and pointed out each one of the party as they came off the plane. Despite the fact that I had had nothing to do with this lady at any time, she picked me out as being one of those responsible. The incident itself was comparatively minor and, at worst, would result in a warning. When the immigration officials looked at the details, they noticed that I had no work permit and also saw from my passport that that my stated profession was musician. So the officials saw a young, English musician with a crowd of other young English musicians and road crew, all dressed in similar clothes and on the same flight. They let all of the others go in a very short time but I was hauled in for an interview. 

I realised at that point that if I told them I was here to work without a work permit I would be sent back to England and the tour would be cancelled, which would be a disaster for all concerned. I rapidly determined that the only way to handle the situation was to lie. I told them that the reason I was on the same flight and dressed the same was that I was a major fan of the band and followed them around, which they let me do as long as I behaved myself. The officials didn’t believe my story for a minute but equally, it was impossible for them to disprove it. They kept saying, “Just tell us the truth and everything will be okay.” I was well aware that this was one of those situations where telling the truth would have ended in disaster. After going round in circles for two hours, they decided to let me go. The official told me he didn’t believe me but he had run out of time and that if he ever saw me again without a permit I would be, “drummed out of the country!” 

On arrival in New York we started rehearsals with all four of us and began to sound like a band. The road crew were mostly new guys except for The Baker who was looking after me with the drums. He hadn’t changed. He would walk in bringing in a load of sandwiches and saying, “Shall I just put these in a trough in the corner?” We then commenced a full-scale American tour. Each night I went on stage with a completely different set list from the previous show and details of each song written down on a folder sitting on the bass drum. The papers in the folder would tell me what kind of rhythm the song had, what the introduction consisted of, the order of verses and choruses and what type of ending. This way, if I went blank, I would get a clue from the list. 

Bernard complained to me that when I reached forward to turn the page between songs it looked from the audience as if I was reaching for a tomato sandwich! My reply was that if we had to change the set list every night I would have to have some memory aid in place, and that was that. The tour started with three shows in Asbury Park, next door to a funfair. After the first show we did lots of press interviews at the funfair. Bernard’s idea was that we would all drive bumper cars around, each of us with a journalist as a passenger. When the bumper cars stopped moving, the journalist would have to jump out and let another one in. Like many of Bernard’s ideas there was a lot of novelty value but it didn’t really work in practice. It was too noisy and we kept getting interrupted by the cars bumping into each other.

After the second show in Asbury Park, we finished a song and I had to do a minor repair on a drum before the next song started. This only took about 30 seconds. I then looked up and to my horror saw that the other three had left the stage. I’d been so preoccupied with getting the songs right that I missed the fact that it was the last song. I had two choices – I could either sheepishly walk off, or alternatively, get the rest of the band back on stage. I opted for the latter, so I bashed a couple of drums and cymbals, at which the audience looked on with curiosity and the other three looked at me from the wings with their jaws dropping. I then waved my arm so as to beckon them back on stage. Of course the audience gave a loud cheer and they came back for another song.

As the shows progressed, I got more used to the songs and didn’t require any memory aids but I rapidly developed favourite and not-so favourite songs. I really enjoyed all of the old ones but also many of the new ones. I think ‘Straight to Hell’ became my favourite because it was one of the few moments in the set that I was able to sit back and enjoy the show rather than beating the hell out of the drums. It was also nice to hear the way Joe sang that song – he put much emotion into it. By the time we were halfway through the first leg of this US tour we had started discussions about further commitments. After a bit of arguing about various things I agreed to do the forthcoming UK tour and the second leg of the US tour, which would take us the rest of that year. 

Just as I was getting comfortable, Joe sat me down and said he had to discuss something of the utmost seriousness. He and Cosmo informed me that the band was being sued for over a million dollars and that a private detective has been sent to serve a writ on the band. Therefore, it was crucially important that I didn’t speak to anyone in a suit and must absolutely not accept a letter from anyone. 

Naturally I asked who was suing us. To which they replied, “A toilet company”. “You must both think I was born yesterday?” I said. You see, when you are in a band you only work for one hour a day. The rest of the time you are sitting around talking to each other, reading a book or drinking in a bar. With so much time on their hands musicians tend to spend a high proportion of it winding each other up with ludicrous stories. In other words, when you are in a band, every day is April 1st and after years of this you become hardened to it, making it more difficult to wind you up which increases the challenge so that your fellow musicians want to do it even more. 

They said that the toilet company who were suing us had a 90% share of the non-blue market. To which I replied, “How the hell would you know there is such a thing as the non-blue market?” Joe and Cosmo got quite irritated with me as I simply refused to take this story seriously. They eventually convinced me because I reasoned they would never put this much effort into it unless it was true. The album Combat Rock, which had just been released, contained a track called ‘Inoculated City’ with a long fade-out. Joe had seen a commercial for this toilet company on TV with an actor explaining how wonderful their product was in a really fast speaking voice. I think the company was called ‘Two Thousand Flushes’. Joe had recorded this off the TV and dubbed it onto the album. When the toilet company heard the song, they thought The Clash was mocking their product. The result was that we had to avoid this private detective with his writ until our lawyer could do a deal. The deal, which took about three days to finalise, was that further copies of the album would not contain the toilet commercial and all copies containing it would be removed from the shelves. We didn’t bother with this last part as we figured there was no way they could check. But we had three days of hiding from everyone we saw who was wearing a suit. When you’re looking for them it is quite surprising how many people are wearing suits. 

Onstage, each member of the band has their own monitor – a separate amplification system to give them the sound they want. This is especially important for singers, as they need to be able to hear themselves in order to sing in tune. Different musicians like different sounds in their monitors. Topper had been touring with the band for a long time and he used to have a large monitor with the drums turned up really loud. I, on the other hand, liked to hear the rest of the band because I knew what I was playing but needed to know what they were playing. There are no rights or wrongs about this – it is just a case of personal preference. The problem is that what you have in your monitor can affect other people. 

Joe Strummer was used to hearing enormously loud drums behind him for several years. When I came back into the band in 1982, he had very little of the sound of the drums behind him. People tend to want what they are used to. He told me several times that he wanted me to hit the drums harder. I had always been fond of playing hard so I simply hit them harder. Unfortunately this made very little difference. What would have made a difference was to put a thousand watts of amplification behind him. This was an absurd battle of wills between two proud people. If he had asked me to turn up the volume of the drums in my monitors, I would have probably cheerfully obliged. However, when someone tells a drummer to hit them harder, he will take it personally. I was hitting the drums so hard, that even though we were using the strongest drum skins on the market at that time, they had to replace the snare drum once or twice during a one-hour set because I had beaten it into a crater. Baker, the drum roadie, kept shaking his head and saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this before!” Looking back, I feel I was selfish because I would have got used to hearing the drums louder – instead I stuck to my guns and made his life a lot harder. It just goes to show that pride aids nothing and can do lots of damage. 

I’ve always loved loud music but it occurred to me that if you listen to it long enough you would go deaf. To me there was nothing cool about being deaf. I decided I would try and play music on stage with earplugs. To my amazement, I found that you actually hear better with earplugs. The reason is that very loud music gives your eardrums such a brutal bashing that they go numb and your ears ring for hours afterwards. Wearing earplugs protects the eardrums against the severe shockwaves enabling you to hear with much greater clarity through the whole range of frequencies. Once I realised this I always wore earplugs. 

The wisdom of wearing earplugs was confirmed to me when I went on stage and played a whole show. We went back for an encore and then retired to the dressing room to get changed. I pulled out the earplugs and then we were told that the audience was insisting on one more encore, which we decided to go back and do. I forgot to put back the earplugs. The noise was totally unbelievable to me. It felt like being strapped down and tortured. Of course, when you’re playing drums you are quite unable to put your hands over your ears, which I would dearly have loved to do. The experience taught me the value of the earplugs in retaining my hearing. There is no shortage of deaf ex-rock musicians in this world. 

Joe never lost his sense of humour and you never quite knew what to expect next with him. We were playing a gig in America in an indoor theatre that had about 50 doors, when he said, “You people standing by the door at the back, could you turn the lights on?” The lighting engineer took the hint from Joe and turned about 100.000 watts of house lights on and the whole room was suddenly illuminated. Half of the audience were looking around the room to see where this light switch was.

At some stage, a new tradition appeared whereby the audience would throw their clothes onto the stage. We had no idea where this came from but the roadies would gather up all of the clothes and bring them backstage after the show and, if there was anything there that one of us liked, we would start wearing it. On one occasion somebody threw a pair of shoes on the stage (I presume they went home barefoot). When you are playing with a big lightshow, as we did, you can’t see anything but the lights when you look out into the audience. When the shoe hit me in the face I had absolutely no warning it was about to happen – it was like being slapped by the invisible man. It isn’t that painful but it is a surprise and you find yourself wondering when the next one is going to come. Saying that, generally, drummers have it easy when it comes to missiles or spitting, as they are further back and surrounded by equipment.

During that American tour I was reading the life story of Ramana Maharshi, an Indian saint who died in the 1950s. My brother John had lent it to me. I shared parts of the story with Joe who seemed intrigued but eventually dismissed the idea of spiritual development as incompatible with life on the road with a rock band. I didn’t agree with him but never managed to persuade him.

About this time I did a course in meditation, which is an oxymoron – meditation is something that you do rather than talk about, but as with everything, you have to start somewhere. I had already been doing it for some weeks whilst touring the USA with the Clash. Although I was new to meditation I had the feeling that I was really onto something. It seemed to me that if everyone in the world were to do this they would be far healthier and relationships between people would be vastly improved. Obviously, persuading everybody in the world to meditate would be no small task. You tend to start with those nearest to you. I tried with the other guys in the band but they didn’t seem particularly interested. They didn’t put it down in any way – I just got the impression that they all thought I was a bit weird and it was fine for me but not for them. With hindsight perhaps I should have tried harder but we were very busy and all sorts of dramas were unfolding. This is the big paradox about meditation – those that need it most do it least; and for those doing it – the times when you need it the most, you do it the least. 

Later that year I was returning from a US tour on Air Canada in business class. It was a great flight but it’s not fair to compare one airline in business class to another in economy. I decided that since I was stuck there for the next seven hours and I was in a comfortable seat there was absolutely no reason not to do some meditation. I went into my usual routine but this time the results were quite different. The experience is very difficult to describe because, quite simply, it was different from any other I had ever had. Firstly, I became completely unaware of my body. I felt as though I was in an ocean of blackness with no boundaries between me and the seat, the seat and the plane, the plane and the rest of the universe. I was totally immersed in an infinite sized vat, which consisted of nothing and everything at the same time. That description might sound peculiar but it is the nearest I can get to the experience in words. Another feature was that there seemed to be no time, past, present or future – It felt as if I’d stepped outside the whole realm of time and space. I felt very comfortable there and also I was aware of a feeling of limitless, unconditional love. I was in absolutely no hurry to return to “normal”. I stayed in that zone for quite a while, but as I said there was no sense of time. It could have been anything between five minutes and three hours, I really couldn’t gauge it. 

I didn’t tell anybody about the experience at the time and although I got up and went through customs, etc, I don’t think I returned to my usual self for a couple of days. I have had several similar experiences over the years but they don’t always come when you would like them to. I was reminded of this when I watched the film The Chronicles of Narnia. There is a scene near the end when the children have returned from Narnia to their normal lives and the old man of the house sort of winks knowingly. It’s obvious that he’s been there too but, like them, he can’t control it. 

During that year there was a gradual but clear change in my values as well as my attitude to fame. When we were teenagers my band-mates and I were all obsessed with the aim of making it big. Nothing else ever came close in importance to that goal. The others still seemed to be that way but I was increasingly feeling that quite a lot in life is more important than fame and success. It didn’t stop me working hard as that was a long-term habit. It just occurred to me during particular conversations that there was a gap opening up between the others and myself – a different gap from the one I had experienced five years earlier.

When we returned to LA there was a big party and I missed breakfast, so I went for a walk and came back at about 11.30 a.m. As I walked through the lobby of the hotel, Pip, our lighting engineer, happened to be in the bar. He shouted over, “Would you like a drink?” I said yes, as this had become an ingrained habit, so he ordered me a Tequila Sunrise. The measures in America are larger. I drank it on an empty stomach and went to my room. I felt suddenly very tired so I lay down for a few minutes. I woke up six hours later in the dark, feeling exhausted and with a terrible headache. I realised that I had just wasted a whole day for the sake of one drink. I decided from that moment that I would never drink alcohol again. I was twenty-six, just before the traditional age of rock death! These types of decision do not really occur on the spur of the moment but are a result of previous experiences adding up. I had seen plenty of lives ruined by alcohol and, whilst you can get away with drinking 10 pints of beer as a 19-year-old, it’s really not the kind of habit you want to continue into middle age. People said, “I’ll give you two weeks before you start again.” It’s been thirty years now and I am thinking about starting to drink again when it gets to forty years!

When we reached Colorado, we played in a venue called Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This place is made out of natural rock that happens to form the right shape for a 10,000-seat venue. I remember standing there and being quite overawed by the size of the rocks. Joe and I wondered what this had been used for 5,000 years earlier. We decided that an Indian Chief or High Priest would have used it for performing a ritual or ceremony. I sat down to chat with Joe and he suddenly blurted out, “I just want to know one thing,” – he often started conversations with this opening gambit – “How can you say I’m not going to sleep with any other woman for the rest of my life?” It’s impossible to tour with a band and not know all about each other’s personal life. Joe had noticed that I was not taking advantage of the fact that girls make themselves available when you tour. I explained that I had tried all that in the past and it never seemed to bring happiness. Furthermore, AIDS had just reared its ugly head. Not much was known about it then apart from, ‘If you sleep with an infected person there’s no cure and you die’. I don’t know if I made any sense to Joe but he never asked me again. I tried to bring my wife Maxine with me on as many trips as possible but it was quite expensive because of the large number of scheduled flights.

When I joined the Clash in 1976, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had already become vegetarians. I remember Mick telling me that when I eat meat I am eating fear. My answer was that it was ridiculous to accuse me of eating an emotion. Joe told me I would never eat meat if I ever worked in a slaughterhouse (which he had). Neither of these arguments persuaded me in any way because they made me defensive. A year or so later I was at a Greek restaurant with Billy Idol and he ordered a salad kebab – a selection of salad and vegetables with humus in pitta bread. I had my usual meat kebab. As I watched Billy tucking into this delicious-looking salad kebab, I thought how nice it would be to eat without worrying about whether the contents had any unsavoury parts of an animal (such as lips and eyes) or any bits of gristle (which I always hated). After that experience I resolved to become a vegetarian and have been one ever since. The point here is that if you want to convert somebody to your point of view, attacking them seems to make them argue with you and dig deeper into position, whereas if you show them by example they are more likely to follow. 

In 1982, all four of us in The Clash were, to some extent, vegetarian. When we ordered our food it sounded like a Monty Python sketch, as Paul would eat chicken but no red meat, Mick would eat no meat but would eat seafood, Joe would eat seafood but no dairy produce and I would eat no dairy, seafood or meat. The caterers nearly always got it wrong and, looking back, I find it bizarre that we didn’t just write it all down and be done with it. I had a similar experience years later with Hanoi Rocks when we weren’t just ordering vegetarian food but also dishes without nuts or mushrooms because of allergies. The tour manager, Mick Staplehurst, asked to be called over when we ordered our food. He wasn’t interested in the food but he just wanted to see the face of the waiter when we started to order. 

So many of the greatest figures in human history have been vegetarians that I find it quite impossible to resist the urge to quote a few of them here:

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

Albert Einstein

“As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace.”


“While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?”

George Bernard Shaw

“I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look on the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”

Leonardo da Vinci

“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

St. Francis of Assisi 

Steven Wright, the American comedian, said, “If we aren't supposed to eat animals, then why are they made of meat?” This is much too deep a question for me so I will leave you to make your own mind up.


We did the UK tour and when we played London I met Topper again during the afternoon. To me he didn’t seem to have changed much. We discussed the horrors of learning 60 songs in five days but not anything about his departure from the band. The two of us seemed to be destined to meet every year or so. I saw him recently at a Clash Bash (that’s what Clash parties are called). Someone asked to take a photo of the two of us. It was funny to think that of all the thousands of photos we’d both had taken, this was the first and only time we’d been photographed together.

People in successful bands tend to develop huge egos, which can be very disappointing for fans when they meet them. During the UK tour, we got a Volvo hire car. Volvos are safety-mad and this car had child locks, which meant you couldn’t open the door from the inside. We arrived at the show and there was a crowd of fans waiting outside. The driver jumped out and ran around to open the door for Joe Strummer. Whereupon someone in the crowd shouted “Oh, no! He’s even got a chauffeur now!” Things are not always what they seem. 

We played several nights at London’s Brixton academy. We always had a large guest-list but this time it got really out of hand. I remember Cosmo laughing, having just heard one of the guests say, “But that can’t be the queue for the guest-list.” The queue for the guest list was longer than the one for regular tickets. On one of the nights we had the Burundi Drummers supporting us, Africans in traditional costumes, with huge drums and spears. I can still picture the stunned faces of those punks at the front looking wide-eyed at these drummers waving spears at them. 

Next we returned to the USA for the rest of the tour. I was in a bar in Boston with The Clash and a big American guy walked over to us and said, “You’ve got to get out of my country, and if you don’t agree with me I‘ll pull your ears off!” We wondered what the hell he was talking about. We eventually realised that he was referring to British troops getting out of Ireland. Cosmo Vinyl confronted the man, telling him that he had no problem with British troops leaving Ireland but that the British were in Ireland before the white man colonized America. So if the British had to leave Ireland then the white man should leave America for the Indians. The guy walked away, calmer and somewhat confused. 

At some point, we got a call from a press agent informing us that Playgirl magazine had recently produced a list of the ten sexiest men in the world. Paul Simonon was on that list. Paul’s immediate reaction was one of complete disdain. In fact he angrily brushed aside any attempt by journalists to even discuss it. While he was busy saying it was absolute nonsense, the rest of us were secretly wishing that it had been us. Paul’s patience was about to be tested a great deal more. 

We were preparing to go onstage for an open-air concert in New York. A guitarist plays with a small plastic triangle called a pick or plectrum. Guitarists are always dropping these picks, and need a ready supply of new ones. The solution we had always used was to put a piece of double-sided tape on the amplifier and stick about a dozen picks to the tape so they could be quickly and easily retrieved. We had a new guy on the road crew who was eager to impress. He came up with a new idea that he had carefully tested. The idea was to use a spray adhesive on the front of the amp and stick the picks directly on the amp. This was quicker and less messy. The idea was good but there was one problem. He left the can of spray adhesive in the dressing room right next to the hairspray. You can guess what happened next. Paul sprayed his hair with the glue. Hairsprays come in light hold, firm hold and extra firm hold. The spray adhesive was extra, extra firm and did not produce the desired effect! When he realised what had happened he was not a happy bunny. 

When people are under pressure they often focus on the problem rather than the outcome. Needless to say we were under great pressure! Somebody suggested shampooing the glue off quickly, which we tried. This had the effect of turning the glue green and had no impact on its stickiness. Someone then suggested methylated spirits, which we had used for cleaning guitars. This turned the victim’s hair more of a blue colour and again had no effect on the stickiness. We were running late, and the problem was still looking hopeless when the promoter poked his head into the room and said “You boys had better get on stage now – you're late and the audience has been waiting too long.” I think the door was slammed in his face before he could finish the sentence. As the pressure mounted we focused harder and harder on the problem but couldn't come up with a solution. 

Maxine came in to find out what the delay was. She had been outside chatting with Billy Idol and couldn’t understand what could possibly be holding us up. Since she had not spent the last half an hour focusing on the problem, her focus was "How can we get the band on the stage?" Over the angry shouting match that was going on between all of us, she calmly uttered these few words; “Why don't you wear a hat?” As these words left her lips, silence fell and everyone's eyes moved to the hat that Paul had been wearing when he arrived and then back to Paul. Everyone simultaneously shouted “Yes!” Within five minutes we were on stage performing. Incidentally, it was a great performance; because we were all pumped full of adrenaline by the time we finally started. What’s more, a thunderstorm raged all through the gig, in perfect alignment with the mood of everyone on the stage. The audience was saturated by the end of the first song, so they just couldn’t get any wetter. We played White Riot as a second encore during which the lightning really went crazy – perfect!

While in America, The Clash played the TV show, Saturday Night Live. We were told at the time that it was the most watched TV show in the world. It was unusual in that everything went out live rather than pre-recorded. This is much less safe but more exciting. There were lots of comedy sketches in the show and we asked if our latest song, ‘Rock the Casbah’, could be played on a ghetto blaster as an incidental in one of the sketches. This was refused on the grounds that it had all been scripted and rehearsed so it was too late to change anything. We were a bit miffed about that so we thought we would do it ourselves. 

A cunning plan was hatched. We would have the new song lined up on a ghetto blaster, which would be thrown to Joe during a pause in the song ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ We would all stop playing and listen to a 15-second clip of ‘Rock the Casbah’ and use that song as our cue to start playing again. We also had a minder posted in the control room so that the engineers could be stopped from turning us off. Like so many plans, it sounded like a really good idea at the time. Here was the problem though; we had all grown up with the old cassette machines, which worked on mechanical controls so that when you pressed pause it would stay paused until you clunked the pause button again. The machine we had with us was from a new generation that had electronic or logic controls. If you press pause on these it will stay paused for about 15 minutes and then just stop. At the crucial moment we all stopped playing and the roadie threw the ghetto blaster to Joe who pressed the pause button…

All four of us looked on in stunned silence waiting for the music that never came. We had no clearer idea about what would happen next than any of the other 25 million people watching. The gap was probably no more than three or four seconds but we all had that strange feeling of time standing still. We were all in a state of full present-time consciousness, at least for the moment. Someone took the initiative by singing the next line and we all responded by jumping back into the song together. During the last couple of choruses, as it sank in to each of us that we’d got away with it, we started laughing. For weeks afterwards on tour people would ask what we had been laughing at. They all thought that the silent ghetto blaster stunt had some deep hidden meaning. The TV crew were definitely not amused and were very cold with us afterwards. The only one who seemed to find it funny was Eddie Murphy, who was a guest presenter on the show that week.

Walking into the dressing room one day we were all delighted to see a whole set of cartoon drawings depicting each of us in cartoon form. The artist was Michael Kloongian, who later did a fabulous cartoon of me with a ‘combat drum-kit’ that was a converted tank.

Later on the tour, Cosmo suddenly popped up with some news: ‘The Who’ were about to embark on a record-breaking American tour and had asked that The Clash support them. Cosmo seemed a bit nervous as if he half expected us to refuse. In the event everybody seemed to think it was a good idea, so we said yes and changed plans accordingly. This meant we would be staying in America a bit longer than expected. The schedule was reworked and we included some dates that we would play in between The Who shows. This was because it took more than 24 hours to move all of the equipment from one stadium to another. 

The first time I played in front of a very large audience, we were about to go on stage in front of 80,000 people, which is a bit daunting when you have previously only played to a maximum of about 30,000. 

Cosmo Vinyl popped into the dressing room and announced, “I’ve got Mick Jagger outside and I’m going to bring him in.” He looked at everyone’s face to get their reaction. There was vague nodding and shrugging of shoulders, which meant, “Okay – bring him in!” Part of the reason for the reticence was that The Clash had never been comfortable with hanging around with people just because they were famous and in fact avoided doing so. For instance, when Billy Gibbons, the guitarist from ZZ Top asked Cosmo if he could come up on stage and jam with the Clash, Cosmo had told him, “Only if you shave your beard off.” I felt bad when I heard that, as he is one of the world’s greatest guitarists and probably would have thought that reply quite odd. Furthermore, The Clash had penned the words, ‘No Beatles, Elvis or the Rolling Stones’, in the song ‘1977.’ Still, that was then and this was now. 

Mick Jagger came into our dressing room, apparently aware that this was our first show in front of such a large audience. He was very kind, and told us about some of his experiences in front of such audiences. He concluded that when you have played a few of these big shows, they are no different from the small ones. He was absolutely right and we soon got used to it. I commented after to the others that he was a nice guy, but his girlfriend was a bit young for him. I was later informed that she was his teenage daughter!

Bob Dylan came to a couple of shows and came backstage afterwards. I was never sure whether it was him or his kids that were interested in The Clash. He seemed incredibly introverted to me but then that’s the way with lots of performers. He spent a lot of time talking to Joe about lyrics.

It was during The Who tour that Don Letts filmed the video for the song ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ We had hired some vintage Cadillacs for the tour because we felt that it looked more special turning up in a fifties car. While we were travelling to Shea Stadium (sadly now demolished) in New York in an open-top Cadillac, Don Letts, who was making the video, filmed us from another car. So many people have said to me since that time that we all looked so miserable in that car. The answer was that we were damned near freezing to death and saying to each other, “Whose idea was this?” After we got the first couple of stadium gigs out of the way, the idea of playing to 100,000 people became quite routine. I remember Joe asking me, “How many people does this place hold?” while driving on the way to Shea stadium. When I told him 70,000 he quipped, “Pah! That’s nothing!” and laughed. 

As a teenage drummer growing up in London I had always admired the band Santana and enjoyed listening to their music. It was a shock to find we were playing in California with Santana as our warm-up band. It was great to meet the legendary guitarist Carlos Santana himself, who was very friendly and humble. I’m delighted to see his recent massive success with a whole new generation of fans.

One of the extra dates put in between The Who concerts was at Kent State University. They didn’t have a changing room in the hall so they gave us the gym to change in, which was fine by us. In the gym there was a large silver bowl containing the white powder that gymnasts put on their hands before leaping about. I had a photograph taken of myself next to this bowl. Later back in England, I showed various people the photograph and told them that this was the stash of cocaine that The Who had in their changing room! It’s amazing how many people fell for it when you think about it – that quantity would have had a street value of about half a million dollars. 

Bernie Rhodes can be said to have created The Clash. Of course, he could have done nothing on his own but there again the band would not have existed without him. Bernie was incredibly determined and quite insightful. He could also be the most irritating man on the planet. I had more rows with him than anyone else in the early days and that was a major factor in my decision to leave (the first time). When I returned in 1982, we got on much better and seemed to hardly row at all. This amused the other guys who, at one point, started to sing a new song which was Paul McCartney’s ‘Ebony and Ivory’ with the words altered to ‘Bernie and Terry, living in perfect harmony’. This was possibly the closest I’ve ever come to committing murder.

By November, everyone was feeling a bit exhausted after nearly a year of solid touring. I think these days most modern managers would tell a band to go off and have a 6-month holiday but holidays were something we never really did. However, we did agree to play a festival in Jamaica called Sun Splash, featuring a strange variety of bands including The Grateful Dead and The Beach Boys. I made a fool of myself on the first day as I went to have a look at the stage and see what was going on. There was a really good band of middle-aged session musicians playing and then a lady, who was very casually dressed, jumped up on the stage and sang a couple of songs. I remarked to a couple of the road crew that she had a really good voice and perhaps it wasn’t too late for her to be discovered. The guy I was talking to rolled his eyes and another one tapped me on the shoulder and told me she was Aretha Franklin. 

I suppose that gig in Jamaica was more like a holiday than work and we were especially pleased when we bumped into a band we had worked with extensively, The Beat – called The English Beat when in America because there was an American band also called The Beat. I remember chatting to the singer, Dave Wakeling, with a couple of our road crew. Some very funny stories came up. The one that stuck in my mind concerned the habit Mick had of checking into a hotel and saying, “Could I please have a room at the other end of the hotel and on a different floor from him?” – pointing at Topper. Then he would turn to him and say, “No offence!” 

When we emerged from our hotel to leave, each of us as usual carried our own cases. Waiting outside the same hotel were The Beach Boys. One of the Beach Boys said to Cosmo Vinyl, “I can’t believe this band is carrying their own cases!” Cosmo replied, “If you can’t carry your own case then you’re f*c**d!” At precisely that moment, the Beach Boys’ roadie popped up, saying, “ I’ve loaded all the cases, shall we go?” 

Being live on stage with a band is a very special experience. I don’t really know what to compare it to but I would imagine it is similar to playing sport in a team where you try to get everyone in the team facing the same way and doing their best for each other. Sometimes a sports team will play brilliantly with lovely flowing moves and spectacular displays of skill. The same team can go out the following week and play like amateurs. There is a sense in both music and sport that the main aim is to get the mind out of the way. When you are trying too hard and your mind keeps worrying about the outcome, you get a poor performance. When your mind is quiet and the music or sport simply flows by itself – that is when you get the best performance. Therefore an important part of the job of the manager of a band or a sports team is to create an environment in which the players are purely focussed on giving their best performance without any other concerns or worries. That is a very difficult job and explains why people who are good at it get paid a lot of money. 

Joe Strummer in particular was quite unpredictable on stage. I thought this was a good thing as I have a dread of routine. Towards the end of my time with The Clash I distinctly remember one performance when Mick was making lots of peculiar sounds from his guitar. These magic boxes (sound effects) for guitarists were getting much cleverer at that time and Mick was enjoying experimenting. This was irritating the hell out of Joe, who thought that such activity was the domain of the Pink Floyds of this world and had no place on stage with The Clash. This was at the time when the tension between the two of them had reached its peak, for all sorts of reasons.

At one point Joe looked up at the ceiling and screamed a very long and loud expletive. I have absolutely no idea how many of the fans were aware of what was really going on then but I imagine it was a very small percentage. Just after that Joe ran over to Mick and put his hand on the strings of Mick’s guitar to stop the sound. This was a line he had never crossed before and came as a surprise to everyone. Nothing was said afterwards – it was as though we all pretended it had never happened. Then over breakfast the next morning Mick gave me a sidelong glance and said, “Did you see what he did last night?” This was probably the time to come up with some words of wisdom but I couldn’t seem to find them. I just said, “Yes, I saw it.” At this time I was struggling to find a way to reconcile the split in the band but I think it had been many years building up and even with the benefit of hindsight there is probably nothing I could have said to make much difference. 

Years later Mick Jones said in an interview that we worked way too hard for all those years with never any rest or holiday. He went on to say that these days that would never happen and we would have been sent away to rest and enjoy ourselves and then come back to make another album. It was certainly true that we were worked too hard and were under constant pressure for a very long time. It felt to me like Bernie was trying to get the band as far as he could in a short time before it blew apart. There’s no doubt that bands that last a long time make the most money. However, looking back now I find it impossible to imagine The Clash any differently than working constantly under enormous pressure with everyone pushed to the limits. I just don’t think it could have been any other way. In fact to have lasted over seven years doing that is remarkably more than anyone could have reasonably expected. Lots of people were very sad at The Clash splitting up. This is understandable if they were fans of the band, but it was that very intensity that attracted them to the band. In other words, there are plenty of bands without the intensity that last a very long time, but is that really what you want? Maybe you can’t have it both ways.

That show in Jamaica was to be my last with The Clash. During the preceding three months or so, there had been tremendous tension building between Mick on the one hand and Joe and Paul on the other. I can never really figure out which of the two of them was more upset with Mick: Paul claimed he was but Joe seemed more vocal about it. Most bands experience a certain amount of this type of thing since being in a band is like being married to several people at once. Facing the audience and critics together can bring you very close but can also drive you to murder. At several points Joe and Paul had discussed the possibility of The Clash without Mick. I never really took that idea seriously, regarding it in the same way that men talk about murdering their wives without any real intention of doing so. It was quite late in the day that I realised they were actually serious. I also saw that while I can be a very persuasive person, nothing I was able to say was going to make any difference – there was too much history between them. 

When a band splits up nobody around them wants it to happen. Friends and relatives can no longer get free tickets, casual acquaintances can no longer boast that they hang out with famous people and the various record company execs and agents lose their Christmas bonus. More importantly, the fans feel a tremendous sense of loss, almost as if somebody has died. I have real sympathy for this as I have seen it many times but the fact is that when it’s over, it’s over. I moved on to the next phase of my life, Mick went off to form a new band called Big Audio Dynamite, and Joe and Paul found two new guitarists and a drummer, the group to be billed as the new Clash with a new album. I can understand why they tried but I felt it was a mistake right from the first. Then I heard that the album was produced by Bernie Rhodes, which to me sounded a bit too close to The Beach Boys, who had one of their albums produced by their psychiatrist. I have never listened to the album and probably never will. I prefer to think of The Clash as they were during 1982. 

It seems I’m the first person from The Clash to write a book. Joe said on several occasions, “If any of us write a book it should be called “The Ugly Truth about The Clash.” I think he might have been a touch over-sensitive about the most negative aspects of the band.

This might have been a good time for a career change but I still craved the addictive buzz that can only be satisfied by a large audience of rock fans. I was not ready to stop drumming yet. Furthermore, I was getting excited at the thought of bigger drum kits and bonkers drum solos. Fortunately, I was soon to meet and work with some of the musicians I had listened to as a 15-year-old.


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