Unpublished Joe Strummer Interview?

Written by Jon Savage, it is a thing of dark beauty. A real inside personal look at the West London squatter scene from the early 70’s, through to the early dalliance of crossed, and eventually grudgingly aligned swords, with The Sex Pistols and the rest of the South Eastern England burgeoning punk scene. A tale of skullduggery, Bernie, Malcolm, opportunism, Viv, squatting, pubs, raw talent, riots, politics and a whole lot more. Enjoy. Warning, it is also long.

Joe Strummer
Jon Savage, unpublished, 30 May 1988

I’D LIKE to start with the busking tour – can you tell me what the point of that was?

I think Bernard suggested the busking tour. The point of it was he sensed that the Clash had become too prey to his ideas, he realised he had it under his thumb too much, and there wasn’t a lot of life in there, so he said to us – what he expected us to do was to go up north, somewhere like Bradford and live in a house while we I don’t know what. We just went up and kept moving, and to me it was the best tour that we ever did.

Where did you play? I know you played in Leeds.

We played a lot of gigs in Leeds, and in Glasgow, in York, we didn’t get to play in Manchester, cos my voice had gone by then.

About twenty gigs?

More, much more. We would knock off eight or ten a day, we’d play in any pub, any club anywhere. The sets were ten numbers, maybe seven numbers the whole band. Three acoustic guitars and a pair of sticks. Pete would drum on anything, mostly a plastic chair. We played in some university in Glasgow or Edinburgh anyway, Paul and Nick and Vince would play acoustics and I’d just sing.

Was that all Clash stuff?

We played a couple of Cramps stuff, some Clash stuff and maybe a couple of standards. We used to play ‘Movers and Shakers’.

You didn’t tape them did you?

No. There are tapes circulating around the north, apparently, and there are tapes of us rehearsing in someone’s flat in, I don’t know what city.

Was that it after that, or did you do another tour after that?

When we came back to London after that busking tour, we felt we had something good going inside the group, but as soon as we came back and met Bernie and Cosmo in Holland Park, later I understood that Bernie felt it was slipping from his control, ‘cos he didn’t know where we were, and we only came back ‘cos I’d lost my voice. Bernie didn’t like that it was slipping out of his control, so somehow he put a stop to the good feeling that we had at that moment.

I fell out with Bernie after we returned from Munich, where we recorded the tracks, somewhere between that and when he began to mix it.

So the LP’s release was something you had no control over?

Absolutely none. But Bernie’s trip was at the time, he wanted to know what it was like to be Mick Jones. Mick used to sit in that seat where you arrange the songs, and produce them, and once he’d encouraged me and the rest of us to get rid of Mick, I didn’t realise until after the Cut the Crap sessions that that was Bernie’s trip. He was fed up with organising tours and stuff, he wanted to get right in on the music. He hated song writing ‘cos it was the one mysterious area where he couldn’t go. He hated that. He wanted to reduce songs to slabs of bacon off the roast, he didn’t see why it should be strange. He hated the tortured artist thing that Mick would lay on him, it was slightly out of his grasp. He used to say to me, I’ve analysed life so completely – that its boring. I used to look at him and think, that’s insane. Song writing was one of the things he didn’t understand how it was done, and he resented that, he wanted to do the pop Svengali thing, he could make the boots, the t-shirts, the look, the direction, everything, but when it came to the songs, that was the one thing that he couldn’t understand.

Maybe that’s what Bernie should have done.

Come on then Bernie, Malcolm is doing it. Come on!

Is that why he had his nose done?

I think that was just to make himself more beautiful.

There’s a lot of stuff to get through. But I’d like to talk about where the 101ers started. Where you played, what the arena was at that time.

I’d been on a busking tour of Europe with Tymon Dogg, and when we came back he moved into the squat at 23 Chippenham Road, we were loose kind of people, we had two squats going, and one was at 101 Walterton Road, and the other was at Chippenham Road. Eventually we took over the whole area, ‘cos 23 ran the local restaurant, that tea room, and we put the group together that everyone would go and see. I always felt that the cultural life of all those hundreds of squats around Elgin Avenue and Shirland Road, eventually our two squats were the lifeblood of the area, ‘cos none of us were into heroin, or alcoholics, you know. We managed to be good. After I came back from that busking tour I moved into 101, more to get away from Tymon – you know when you’ve been very close to someone in very harrowing circumstances? I continued busking in the underground, but it got too heavy, when they started putting microphones and speakers in the tunnels, so I was looking for a way round it. I looked into the Elephant and Castle pub on Elgin Avenue and I saw this Irish trio playing. We weren’t even allowed in that pub, if they saw us they threw us out ‘cos they knew we were squatters and they didn’t want it. I was looking at this Irish trio playing and I thought, I could do that! So I thought it would be a good way to get over the summer, I thought it would be an easier way of earning money than running from these transport cops down the tube. It seemed like less hassle. This was ’74.

Me and Tymon went to Europe in ’74 so it would have been late summer ’74. I went back to 101 and tried to put a group together. Big John was trying to learn the saxophone, and I got Patrick to play the bass, but we had no money or equipment. I had this friend called Dick the Shit, who I still owe this money to, I borrowed his bass guitar and amp and speaker, and suddenly we were happening, we had a bass rig, which we set up in the basement, and we begged borrowed or stole stuff until we had a drum kit and I bought a guitar for £20 off Mickey Foot’s brother, a Hofner. Somehow we got hold of a drum kit. Antonio, this guy from Chile, ‘cos after the right wing coup in Chile we had a lot of refugees come over and two of them moved into our squat, Antonio, who was a drummer, and the sax player, who’s still going, made a song called ‘Rubber Hammer’, Alvarro. None of us could really play except for Alvarro, and he’d been playing in rock’n’roll bands for years, playing horn, we had a sax section, with him and Big John, Patrick on bass, Antonio on drums, we had a group, but we learnt six numbers: ‘Bony Moroney’, ‘Gloria’, ‘Route 66’, ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ and two others. So we managed to get a gig at the Royal College of Art, where there was a Chilean refugee’s art exhibition, we went down and set up our pathetic equipment, a mike stand that require two bricks to hold it upright. There was like two people there, and we played our five or six cruddy rock’n’roll numbers. This Chilean guy came down saying, get out of here, you’re playing this imperialist rock’n’roll! And I thought, blimey! This guy’s got a hard on, you know, and we split.

There was this teacher who lived with us called Ros, and I said we should hire the room above the Chippenham as a club, but we were scared to do it, and this girl Ros physically dragged me over to the Chippenham one day and forced me to ask the landlord to hire the room on Wednesday nights. It cost a quid for the room. We called it the Charlie Pig Dog Club, ‘cos there was a dog in the squat that was a cross between a pig and a dog. Then every Wednesday night we’d go up there, and charge 10p to get in, I leafleted all the squats in the area, and soon we had quite a jumping scene, we’d learn a couple of numbers every week and add them to our set, and we learned standing in front of those gypsies and squatters and lunatics – you can’t really learn unless you’re playing to people. You see the effect of what you’ve done. We were also doing gigs at the Brixton Telegraph, we did another Chilean benefit, and Matumbi were heading and they lent us their equipment. I always thought how great that was, ‘cos we were a really dishevelled looking bunch of people, dressed in rags.

There were so many squats then, that’s all gone.

There were streets and streets, a real community. There were certain areas that were being left to run down, the councils hadn’t got it together.

You could see London visibly decaying through the early 70s.

Elgin Avenue was because someone in the council had decided they were going to knock all these down, about a hundred fine Victorian terrace houses, and it was between deciding and them actually knocking them down that the squat culture flourished on that street.

To go back a bit, how did you get to be a busker?

I did that because Tymon Dogg, who was the musician of our community at that time, I went with him bottling as its called, because you’re supposed to have a fly in a bottle in one hand and collect money with the other hand, and the musician knows that you haven’t stolen any money if the fly is still in the bottle. It comes from Mississippi, that’s why you’re called the bottler when you’re collecting. I used to collect for him. I knew I wasn’t any musician, I was already about twenty one, and I never played, so I got a ukulele, and I used to play Chuck Berry songs on this ukulele. One day in Green Park, down in the tunnels, he said to me right, I’ve just heard there’s a patch going at Leicester Square, you do this patch and I’ll go off to the next one. And suddenly there I was alone, for the first time in my life, and a thousand people came rushing past, and I was going “Sweet Little Sixteen dingadingadingading” I thought, wow, I’m playing, and there’s no-one here to help me!

Did you get any money?

Yeah, we used to prefer what was called the loony shift, between ten and eleven or later in Oxford Circus or Leicester Square, where everyone is drunk, or out on the town, and they see a couple of ragamuffins, and they go heey, give ’em a tenner, I mean 10p. So we used to earn somewhere between four and five pound an hour. Good money. I found the highest paid hour was the loony hour. There was a slight drawback ‘cos some drunks would come through and they’d try and – somehow the fact that you were defenceless down there always protected you, in the end.

It wasn’t so violent then, though.

Not like it is now. It changes so slowly you don’t notice.

So when did you leave school?

I left in June ’70 at seventeen and went to the Central School of Art in the September, and then by June ’71, that was it.

You did a foundation course?

Yeah. I applied to Stourbridge and Norwich and was refused by both. I remember coming back from Norwich I was apprehended on the train without a ticket with my portfolio, and slung of at this godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere, with this huge portfolio, so I dumped the portfolio in a skip and hitched back to London, and that was the end of my art career.

Did you not like it?

I was in boarding school, locked up really good for nine years, and all of a sudden you’re staying at a hostel in Battersea, with no-one to say what to do, where to go. It was 1970, and there was drink and drugs, and by the end we were doing acid and I never went near the art school.

I went to university in ’72 and the place was awash. I’ve still never seen so many drugs in one place. It was just that time.

Yeah it was an experimental time, it was great. It was bit much for a young guy to handle. By the end of the year we’d moved into this rented house in Palmer’s Green, me and the most partying people on the course, we were getting really wild. We were examining the way to live.

Where did you go to school?

City of London Freemen’s School. It’s in Ashtead, about five miles south of Epsom. It was mixed. If it hadn’t been mixed it would have been really hell. I ran away when I was nine. I didn’t get very far. Me and this guy who was slightly older, Paul Warren, he said, come on, let’s run away. I said yeah, let’s go, and we left one Tuesday lunchtime. We were walking near Epsom and we saw this policeman and we knew it was the middle of school hours and he was bound to say what are you two doing, so we took this long detour, and while we were walking, the geography master came by in a car. Bundled us in, and back at the school this fascist guy shouting at us, how dare you leave school without your caps, and I remember thinking, what an idiotic question. We’re running away, man, you don’t run away with your cap on. It was only a couple of weeks after my ninth birthday. My dad was in the Foreign Office, so I think he was in Tehran, but the place they put me in was really horrible. Before that I hadn’t been in England at all. I’d had a great life, in Egypt and Mexico and Germany. It was great. But suddenly it was like Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

I went to that school, Rugby.

Oh my god.

So what did you do after you left Central?

A dead loss, you know. A couple of the guys from art school who were as wild as I was, and like me hadn’t managed to get in anywhere else, we ended up in a place called Dowhouse Farm in Blandford in Dorset cos Robert Basie knew Jeremy Cooper whose father owned the farm, so we worked the hardest that year on the farm. Then we moved back to London and got a horrible flat in Harlesden where there were about ten of us living. We hadn’t discovered squatting yet. A lot of people were already squatting, but I got a job in an Allied Carpets warehouse, as a sign painter, which was quite a good groove for about three months, until they asked me, are you going to get into this seriously, and I said, you must be fucking joking, I was just doing it for money to keep body and soul together, and as soon as I said that I was back on the carpet cutting floor. Then I came back one time after I’d been for a drink at the Memphis Bell with this girl I was friendly with from the local supermarket, and I arrived back at the flat and there was this police car outside the flat, and all our stuff was being thrown out of the window. The Irish landlord had bunged the cops a few quid to get rid of us. Me and Tymon had found this black guy in the park who’d given us a fright, and being hippies we’d invited him back to our place to live, cos he didn’t have anywhere to live. And as soon as the landlord found out we had a black guy living in the flat, he nicked our giros. I wasn’t getting a giro, but some of the others were. We’d all been evicted, a gang of toughs had rushed in, beat everybody up, slung em out, he’d bunged the cops a few quid. It was when I started to learn about what was justice and what wasn’t. I started learning about the Rent Act, but when I got back from the warehouse, all our stuff was in the road, and the cops were there, laughing at us.

Up to that moment I’d been doing it by the book – you rent a flat, you try and find some way to get along. I actually had a copy of the ’65 Rent Act on me, and I went along to the cop and said you can’t do this according to section whatever, opened it up and he went, don’t fucking tell me about the law, Sonny Jim, you know? From that moment on, if we wanted a house we just kicked the fucking door in. We wanted electricity, we just jammed wires into the company head. Bollocks.

Had you lost touch with your parents?

From the time I went to London they freaked out, as people used to say. Obviously I fell out with my parents. But you know what it was like at boarding school, you had to become somebody on your own at the age of nine, and its hard to get back. I suppose I resented them without being aware of it. My parents were somebody I saw once a year from then on. They were five thousand miles away in Tehran. The Foreign Office paid for one flight a year, then Lord Plowden came out with a report that recommended they paid for two. So after a few years I could see them at Christmas and in the summer, but for the first few years I saw them in the summer. And at half term when all the other boarders were going thank Christ we’re getting out of here, for me sometimes we’d go to Scotland and stay on my mother’s farm. Pavlova Britain was my friend at school, he was the drummer in 999. Me and him were a deadly duo. He used to take me down to his father’s farm in East Sussex. I fell out with my parents from the age of nine, I suppose, and freaking out in London didn’t help.

How do you get on with them now?

They’re dead. When the Clash became really happening, my father for the first time in his life was really proud of me. That helped. But you can’t really heal a lifetime’s just because your records are selling. It’s not his fault, it’s mine, I never really got off my high horse. I didn’t know I was sitting on it, but I realise it now.

Men don’t get off that high horse until their late twenties, early thirties.

Now, I’d be able to say to him, cor what a lot of shit we’ve been through together. But we were touring Italy when he suddenly took ill and died. I hate not having that final conversation with him.

So for eighteen months you squatted and had a good time?

Well no, I had another adventure. We were sleeping in Dave and Gail Goodall’s flat in Edgware Road, they had a two room flat. This was in between Harlesden and squatting. I was holding down that carpet job, and what was the upshot of it? All our records were smashed. We were slung out of the flat illegally. I went to the Harassment Officer at Brent Council, I was the only one of our group who really cared to follow things through. I went to a hearing and they stitched me right up. There were these eight law students up at the back and I remember screaming at them, I’m not something to fucking study, this is people who’ve been done over. They hustled me out, it was a rent tribunal. Anyway me and Tymon were sleeping on this kitchen floor. I had acquired a drum kit through a swap in my last year at school, and it was in the garage in my parents’ bungalow in Purley, and so I knew a friend of mine had got into art school at Newport in south Wales, so I hitched down there. I knew a girl at Cardiff art school and I went to see her and she said basically, piss off. I went to see Forbes in Newport and I thought I might as well stay in this town cos I can’t make it in London, it was too heavy, there was nowhere to live and so on. I got the drum kit down to Newport and bartered my way into the art school group by swapping the drum kit. It was called The Vultures. We played the art school and the Kensington Club in Newport. We used to do ‘Can’t Explain’, ‘Tobacco Road’, r’n’b. I took jobs there, I was grave digging there for three months during the winter of ’72/’73. I was cutting grass on Malpas estate. I was the king of the fly-mo. But that fell apart after a while and I went straight into the squatting.

It was very organised then as well. Didn’t you have a squatter’s union?

Yes we did. We had a lovely bit of paper printed: “This premises has now been occupied” We knew all the legal ins and outs. You’d go in there, bang, change the locks, yeah. Property is nine tenths of the law, we were really organised.

So you had the 101ers, and this club which was jumping. What happened then?

They were going to close the boozer down, ‘cos it was getting out of hand. The cops were coming down every week. Some gypsies started to move in. When we were living at 101, on one side of us we had a house full of junkies, and they managed to put light bulbs in, but the council had been through ripping out anything, water, lights, smashing floorboards and so on. We’d go in there and rebuild them, the wires. We had an expert who’d come down, and he was the bravest guy. I saw him jamming wires into the company head, right into Battersea power station, I’ve seen him blown back across the room, showers of sparks thirteen feet long. These junkies had got their lights going but there was no switches, and I went round there to see this guy who played harmonica, there he was lying in this room with only a mattress in it, with this bulb burning away. There isn’t any way of turning it off we have to unscrew the bulb. That was on one side, these junkies lying there with these bulbs burning away day and night, and on the other side there was a gang of really terrible alcoholics, you know those people who are usually in the park. God, the horrible fights and shit, it was the pits.

One day Dan Keller came to the door, and I went like this, pretending to hit him, cos he was a bit of a dozy boy, just for a laugh, and down the bottom of the steps this guy was walking by, and he pulled a hatchet out of his pocket, and he ran up the steps going Aaaaaaagh!!! I pulled Dan in and shut the door, but it had been kicked in hundreds of times and it was just cheap panels, and the hatchet came right through the door and he was screaming, YOU KILLED MY WIFE!!! One move, anything could happen. Eventually Alan Jones from Melody Maker, who’s now the editor but at the time it was his first reporting job, I’d known him from Newport, he was a student at the college. I got him to come to the Pig Dog, hoping that we’d get a bit of press, and he wrote four lines at the bottom of their gossip column. Me and Big John took this four lines down to the Elgin and we showed it to the landlord, and he read it and said, right lads, Monday then. I’ll give you ten pounds. That’s when we got onto the circuit. That’s when the Pistols first came across me. Sid Vicious – I don’t think John did, but anybody who was anybody eventually turned up down there on Thursdays. Although we didn’t realise it, we were at least playing very fast music.

I went to talk to Roger, and he said by that time the original pub rock bands got really boring. Dr Feelgood started it, but you had the rougher faster 101ers, the Count Bishops, people like that. I suppose that’s true.

Those earlier pub rock bands disappeared up their own arseholes trying to play like Memphis Sweet Style, but we couldn’t play at all, we knew how to bash the shit out of a number. By the time we hit the Elgin, it was Snakehips Dudanski on drums, Evil on lead guitar, me singing and Mole on bass.

When did Boogie come in?

After Boogie got out of prison, for some reason he was into the music, and he used to come down and say he could get us played on Charlie Gillett’s programme. So we taped some music and sent it to him, and we all crouched round the radio in the squat. By now we were squatting over at Orsett Terrace, and Charlie Gillett goes, what’s this, sounds like hundred mile and hour race along rubbish, and he didn’t even play it, just dismissed it in half a sentence. What a crushing blow that was. Tiberi had said he could get us on the radio. I was the one who christened him Boogie, ‘cos the first time he came round the squat he was smoking Winston and at the time a packet of Winston seemed rather glamorous, almost like having a Cadillac, so I called him boogie after the John Lennon, Dr Winston O’Boogie, remember? When he pulled out his fags I said, you must be Dr Winston O’Boogie. And the Boogie bit stuck.

With him and Mickey Foot helping us we started to become a real little operation. Mickey was a contact from Newport. He was attending the college of art.

He did the Black Arrows amongst all that as well.

Him and Bernie were a right little team for a while, after the Clash started. Bernie needs to have a lieutenant

Malcolm had Nils, and then Boogie.

Mick Jones sacked Mickey Foot for speeding up ‘Clash City Rockers’! I suppose Cosmo took over that role. But it wasn’t bad speeded up, I think Mickey was probably right. There are few honourable men in these stories, but Mickey was one of them.

Did you meet the Pistols first, or Bernie first? How did it all happen. You’re with the 101ers, you’re doing well.

We’re doing well, we’ve got a single out, but I got a feeling that we were invisible, we were working very hard, loading the van, driving up north, unloading, playing the gig, loading it up again, driving down again, unloading again ‘cos we didn’t want to get the gear nicked. We did twelve gigs in fourteen days in places like Sheffield, and we couldn’t afford to stay up there, it was up and down every day. We were invisible, we weren’t getting anything in the papers. Then one day the Sex Pistols were supporting us at the Nashville, and that was when I first saw them. I walked through the corridor, and we’d done our sound check and in came these Sex Pistols people, I remember looking at them as they went past: Rotten, Matlock, Cook, Jones, McLaren, and coming up the rear was Sidney, wearing a gold lamé Elvis Presley jacket, and I thought groups in those days didn’t talk to each other, it was extremely cut-throat. You fought for gigs, but I thought I’d talk to them, and I said to Sid, that’s a nice jacket you’ve got there, mate. He looked at me and went, yeah, it is, I got it down at Kensington Market. We were humans, talking. Then I walked out onstage while they were getting their sound check together and I heard Malcolm going to John, do you want those kind of shoes that Steve’s got, or the kind that Paul’s got? What sort of sweater do you want, and I thought, blimey, they’ve got a manager, and he’s offering them clothes! To me it was incredible. The rest of my group didn’t think much of all this, but I sat out in the audience, there can’t have been more than forty people in the whole boozer, they did their set, and that was it for me. The difference was, we played ‘Route 66’ to the drunks at the bar, going, please like us. But here was this quartet who were standing there going, we don’t give a toss what you think, you pricks, this is what we like to play, and this is the way we’re gonna play it. Regardless of whether you like it or not. That was the difference.

Did Lydon say anything to the audience?

Yeah, he pulled out this huge snot rag and blew his nose into it, and he went, if you haven’t guessed already, we’re the Sex Pistols. Really, come on, you know, and they blasted into ‘Substitute’, or ‘Submission’, or something.

The material they were playing at first wasn’t that different from what you were doing, was it?

No. They were doing ‘Stepping Stone’, which we did occasionally, but they were light years different from us. They were on another planet in another century, it took my head off. I understood that this was serious stuff, they honestly didn’t give a shit. John was really thin, and kept blowing his nose between numbers. That’s almost all he’d do between numbers. The audience were shocked. That’s when I fell out with the rest of the group, ‘cos after that I started going down to Tuesday nights at the 100 Club, it started happening there. That’s when Bernie came up to me and said, give me your number, I want to give you a call about something.

That was it, the last few gigs that we had booked, the Pistols took them over. We had supported Kilburn & The High Roads at some north London college or other, and a couple of Nashville slots, but I split the group up, cos Bernie called the squat and Dan Keller the bass player at the time pretended to be me, and that’s when I said, it’s not happening. Evil was wearing Hawaiian shirts, and I was saying, look at what’s happening, we’ve got to move with the times, and they thought I was going mad. They were probably right, but it was certainly more interesting than what we were doing.

You were suddenly faced with the present. And the future, and you had to make a decision, it was an emotional thing.

It was a case of, jump that side of the fence or you’re on the other side. It sorted people out. That t-shirt that Bernie designed, Which Side of the Bed? Brilliant, but it was so clear.

I thought that was the finest thing he ever did.

That t-shirt was the reason that Mick Jones first spoke to Bernie. They were in the Nashville, again. Mick was looking for a piano player for the Hollywood Brats, or whatever was the name of the group he was in at the time, and he thought that Bernie might make a good piano player cos he had an interesting t-shirt.

That’s how they first conversed, over that t-shirt.

Anyway, Bernie called me at the squat and Dan pretended to be me, and didn’t tell me about the call, we had a gig that night at the Golden Lion, Bernie and Keith Levene came down. By this time I’d fired Evil, and had Martin Stone on guitar, and I saw Bernie and Keith and went outside and spoke to him, and I decided to go with him at that moment. The next day or two I met him at Paddington and we drove to Shepherd’s Bush to the squat where Paul and Keith and Mick and Viv Albertine were staying, and put the group together.

So that story about Portobello Road wasn’t true?

Lisson Grove Labour Exchange? You see I was gigging around, and I’d just done a gig at Acklam Hall with the 101ers, it was a really good one, and the next morning I was signing on at Lisson Grove and I was aware that there were these people staring at me on this bench, and as I was queuing I was thinking there was going to be a ruck. It was Paul and Mick and Viv, and they’d seen me, in the weeks that Bernie had pulled Mick and Paul out of London SS and put them together, and they’d seen me at gigs around the manor, and that’s why they’d been staring at me. I didn’t talk to them, if they’d have come up to me, I’d have probably swung at one of them. Get it in first, ‘cos when people stare at you that long, y’know, and Lisson Grove was the worst place on earth. I’d seen them but never met them, and it wasn’t until Bernie drove me round.

What was it like, that squat?

Their squat was a bit nicer than the ones round here, it was above, there was an old biddy living down below, and the electricity was still in place. It looked slightly more like a normal home.

Didn’t you play your first gig in Sheffield?

Yeah, the Mucky Duck at the Black Swan, supporting the Pistols. It was really funny. We had a number called ‘Listen’, which started with an ascending progression of a couple of bars which began the set for some reason, and Paul had never played a gig in his life, and he got up, nervous, and went right up the scale.

Why didn’t you come in?

I wasn’t much of a musician myself, and I was waiting for the D note or something, and he started to go up the frets one by one it threw us right off, we all just collapsed laughing. For a while the Pistols didn’t see us as a threat, cos we were mates and all part of the same scene.

And the Bernie and Malcolm connection, I suppose.

By that time Malcolm and Bernie had fallen out over the swastika thing, not the chaos armband but the swastika armband, ‘cos Bernie was a Jewish refugee from the oppression in Europe, or rather his mother was, so it was close enough for him to take that seriously, whereas I don’t know where Malcolm came from

Malcolm didn’t give a shit, he was selling Nazi memorabilia in the shop, and I also heard that Bernie was upset about the little boy t-shirt.

I agree with Bernie, it was messing with things they didn’t understand. At the 100 Club when Siouxsie asked to borrow our equipment for her first gig, Bernie said no, not unless you take off that swastika armband.

What were the Pistols like at the Black Swan? I get the impression they were really brilliant at those northern gigs in the summer.

They were brilliant, they were firing on all strokes. We had a sort of Roxy Music audience. The Pistols had had a few Jonh Ingham articles, right, that one in Sounds, but it wasn’t a lot for people to go on. It was a Sunday and I remember being amazed that at least two or three hundred people turned up. Girls in leopard skin overcoats, the tail end of that Roxy thing, sharkskin suits, that type of thing. They were very receptive.

That must have been the best time for them, cos they were beginning to find their audience, and they didn’t have all the hassle.

Yeah, they weren’t expected to be Rotten. They were enjoying their music, and they were being very courageous too. Like, new numbers were coming up.

Did you talk to them much at that time?

Me and Rotten never got on. Couldn’t be expected to, really. I got on very well with Glen and Steve. I still get on well with Paul. He’s a nice geezer. But what impressed me with Steve, we’d have this game going where he’d come up to me with his guitar and go, what’s that? He’d be holding down a chord, and I had to look at his fingers and go, its a C ninth. That shows that Steve had probably stopped nicking them and started playing them only a year before, and yet he could do much more exciting chords than I could, I was still into, just slide your fingers up and down like that. But Steve was already into jazz shapes and inversions, he really knew his fret board. It was brilliant. And he got that sound, straight into a Fender Twin Reverb, no pedals, it was the way he hit it.

What sort of numbers had you worked out for that first gig?

I suppose some of those ones that I can’t identify, ‘Listen’ and a few of the Clash standards, I suppose we had about ten numbers.

Did you wear the paint spattered gear?

Yeah, we didn’t have anything else. It was cheap. All the stuff about Pollock was a bit of a veneer on it, cos what actually happened was Bernie rented that British Rail warehouse in Camden Town and we painted it, and we didn’t have any overalls or anything, we didn’t have any clothes at all. We got all covered in paint and we saw it was a good cheap way to put an image together, something to wear onstage, we didn’t have the backup of the Sex boutique, Bernie had already broken away from that. Paul knew something about Pollock, he’d just come from art school.

So it was a bit like the Who, smashing up the instruments and then calling it auto-destruction.

Yeah, after the fact. But it was out of necessity. We had to adapt what stuff we could find in the second hand shops, which was really horrible. We used to take jackets round to the car spray shop in the railway arches round the corner and saying, okay Pete, give us a spray.

You were wearing that jacket in the first showpiece gig.

Then we got into stencils and stuff, I think Bernie got us into that.

How much was Bernie guiding you and packaging you?

Very much so, I would say. He said to us, write about what’s important. He never actually said write about this or that, but he used to watch us rehearse and say this is good, this is bad. He was very creative, his input was everything.

Where did his ideas come from? He seems to have been like an old style coffee bar intellectual.

Right, he’d read all the books, knew all the trends. He probably suggested, after the Pollock business, look at Jasper Johns, and we ended up stencilling words on. I never knew much about that Situationist stuff, to this day, but he probably suggested that we write words on our clothing.

So the next gig you played was the Showcase?

Yeah, then a few gigs supporting Crazy Cavan at the Roundhouse and ULU.

What was the point of the Showcase?

Just to get a bit of press, but not many people turned up. There was about seven people there. It was quite hard to find.

How many gigs did you do with Keith?

Six or seven, I’d guess.

The fest was after Keith had left, wasn’t it. The tape was the 23rd of September, maybe August.

‘White Riot’ was written after the bank holiday in August, so we would have been working on it in September. Is ‘White Riot’ on that tape? No, we were still working on it. The reason for all the chat was that Keith broke a string, he had to go find a string, put it on and come back out, tuned up. I don’t know why we didn’t just kick into the next number, that’s what I’d do now, cos we had three damn guitars. After that gig Bernie was laughing. He said, where did you get those old Johnny Rotten scripts from? I used to always have a transistor radio with me, cos there was those cool pirate stations, you could flip between them. I was carrying a radio at the riot, cos I remember somebody tried to mug it off me. I didn’t let ’em. But we didn’t have spare guitars then, so I just switched on the radio and held it up to the mike. Dave Goodman was hip enough to put a delay on it, and it happened to be a discussion about the bombs in Northern Ireland, and there were some journalists who couldn’t believe that it hadn’t been set up. It was pure luck. I suppose, instead of having something to say. It’s just reminded me what that radio was about. We’d decided, as a question of purity, that we were never going to say anything in between numbers. It probably only lasted a few gigs, but we’d stand there all solemn in between songs, but then when someone broke a string

Was that idea of being pure very important?

Yeah, we’d look at everything and think, is this retro? There’s a picture there of the Chuck Berry is Dead shirt that I painted. If it was old, it was out.

Is that why quite a lot of these songs got the boot?

Yeah, we thought they weren’t good enough. I’d forgotten they existed.

Why did ‘I’m So Bored With You’ change to ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’?

I’d gone to the squat in Shepherd’s Bush, and Mick had this riff, and I thought he’d said I’m So Bored With The USA, I jumped up, said that’s great. Let’s write some lyrics. He said, its not that, its I’m So Bored With You. But he agreed that USA was much better. It was more interesting. When Mick wrote it, it was a love song. But I thought it was more interesting, cos Kojak and all that stuff was big at the time. Columbo. That lyric’s not bad, even now, although its cave man primitive, it says a lot of truth, about the dictators, yankee dollar talk to the dictators of the world.

Ted remembers you going down to Rock On and looking for ‘Junco Partner’.

By James Wayne, that’s the person I learned it off. Ted’s first stall was in the back of that one now. There’s an interesting guy in there now that I go in and get ancient obscure records off, a guy called Mark the Ted. It’s a really great store.

So what was the Screen on the Green gig like?

The Pistols were brilliant that night. We built the stage, and The Outlaw Josey Wales was playing that day, and two of us were elected to sit there and watch the gear, cos our gear and the Pistols’ gear was underneath the stage while the film was showing during the day. I remember sitting there watching The Outlaw Josey Wales about two and a half times through, and about the third time through, three black blokes shot underneath the stage, trying to grab some of the gear, and we leapt up and grabbed them, and hustled them out the back door, and they never got anything. We weren’t very good that night, cos we were exhausted from building that stage, we were up very early, unloading the scaffolding and building the stage.

Were they playing funny games with the sound mixers as well?

I’m not sure about that.

Somebody said they were.

I remember how mean we were to the Buzzcocks, cos we were the London crews, and we looked at them, sitting in a row, thinking, you measly berks from the north, you know? There was no solidarity. Now I really like those Buzzcocks records. It shows how mean we were, we didn’t think of them as part of our scene. But they were very good that night, the Buzzcocks. That was the night that Charles Shaar Murray wrote that we were the type of garage band that should be speedily returned to the garage, preferably with a motor left running. I remember we were slightly pissed off by that.

He had to eat humble pie after that.

I read his things and I think, look, mate, its not my fault your crummy rhythm and blues band didn’t make it. He’s beating us with that stick. Nick Kent had that same thing. I don’t want to be a writer, I could never be a writer. Nick had that group, the Subterraneans.

If he hadn’t been taking so much drugs he might have made it. Nick makes me crack up.

Cos we were taking them as well, we were all on speed. Not that we could afford it that much, but our drug intake was financially limited. Our idea of a good time was scoring a lump of dope the size of four match heads. Now and then we’d get some blues, or a little bit of sulphate, but Keith was much more pro on the speed, sometimes I’d see him with a plastic bag of resiny balls, speed in a very pure form. Keith began to lose interest and I lost my temper with him when he rang up and we were doing ‘White Riot’, he said what you working on, the ‘White Riot’ tune? Well, there’s no need for me to come up then, is there? I said make that never, man. Bernie was quite shocked when he arrived at rehearsals and I’d sacked him. Keith was always a favourite of his, when he’d come to the Golden Lion that night, he’d come with Keith. I can see now that he was worried about losing control, cos we’d done something without him.

You had a hole to fill in the sound, didn’t you?

Mick and Keith had a competition about who was going to be the lead guitar player, so Mick was quite pleased that Keith was sacked.

Did he write anything?

The chorus of ‘What’s My Name’.

It must have been just before I saw you at Fulham Town Hall. There could only have been about two hundred people at that stage, less. That was the hard core, those in the know in the West London area.

I’d been a real big Kinks and Small Faces fan, and I’d come out and I’d been waiting for it. I’d been out of London for six months and I couldn’t find any pub rock concerts, I didn’t go to the 100 Club, the Pistols weren’t playing much at that point, and me and the girl who became Poly Styrene both took speed and went along to this concert, and that was it.

At that concert, somebody asked Bernie if he was Gene Vincent!

What did it feel like doing those concerts. The Pistols weren’t playing and you were coming up real fast, weren’t you?

No, I don’t remember noticing, we were just doing what came naturally, we had a group, we had a set, a will to perform. From that moment that the Pistols perceived us as a threat, out the window went punk solidarity. We still had solidarity on the Anarchy tour, but the Damned were kicked off the tour pretty sharpish. I can’t remember why.

They decided to play for the councillors.

Thought crime! We had to audition to see if our stuff was decent. Imagine!

Tell me about the Notting Hill Riot.

For some reason, we weren’t that aware of the carnival, but we knew it was on, so we went down to check it out. It was a lovely day. Me and Bernie and Paul, we were under the Westway on Portobello Road, and we were standing there, grooving to the reggae, and I can still see that coke can. About twenty coppers came through in a line, and I saw this coke can go over and hit one of them on the head. Immediately, twenty more were in the air, and then the crowd parted to get away from the targets, and there was this whole line of cops crouching, swivelling this way and that, to see who they should attack, and the women began to scream, me and Bernie and Paul were thrown back against the wire netting as the crowd surged back. I thought we were all going to fall down into this bay underneath the Westway, but the wire held, and Bernie’s glasses flew off. I lost Paul and Bernie for a minute, and chaos was breaking out all over the Grove, and Ladbroke Grove was lined with rebels, and cop cars were speeding through, these Rover 2000s, and they were being pelted with rocks and cobble stones and cans as they came through, it was like a bowling alley, and I thought, fucking hell, and I ducked in the Elgin and said, gimme a couple of drinks here! And I downed one and took the second drink outside, and standing there, and I saw Paul with one of those plastic cones, and a police motorcycle came bombing down the road and Paul slung this plastic cone across the road and hit the front wheel of the motorbike and, but he managed to keep on the bike and carried on.

Then it was like Zulu. The coppers started to come down from the north end of Ladbroke Grove in a line, and we started to chuck everything we could at them. Then the fight boxed into these six streets here, and we were boxed in with the rest of them. Me and Paul were standing on Lancaster Road, and I hadn’t really noticed that all the white faces had gone. Suddenly this young posse came up and one said Yo man, what you got in that pocket there, and I had this transistor radio, but I had this brick in the other pocket, and I said don’t say that shit to me, if you’re not ready to fight what the fuck you doing here? And the posse like shrank back, cos I was shouting really loud, and eventually an old guy came up and said, leave these guys alone. Then darkness fell and it got really ugly. We trudged off back to the squat, and Sid was there and we said, Sid, where’ve you been, there’s been a most amazing riot, and Sid said, come on then, lets go and look again, and we went back to have a look. By that time there was a crowd of like five hundred young black guys around the Metro club, and we were walking up Tavistock Road, and this black woman leaned out of her window and shouted at us, don’t go up there boys, they’re going to kill you. We said bollocks, but another black woman came out of a basement somewhere and grabbed us, and we could see there was these five hundred youth, the hard core of the hard core, they weren’t fighting, they were just standing, cos the police were regrouping. That was when I realised I had to write a song called ‘White Riot’. Cos I realised it wasn’t our fight. It was the one day of the year when the blacks were going to get their own back against the really atrocious way the police behaved.

I went up on the Sunday and there was this spontaneous chant going on, Coming, Coming, Coming Down. It was really heavy. There were police everywhere. I thought, this isn’t their party, what are they here for? That must have been one of the first recent urban riots.

I’ve never tried to set light to a car before, but there was a car flipped up on its side down on Ladbroke Grove, and there was a burning car already a couple of blocks away and I was admiring it, thinking, what a lovely plume of smoke that car is making, and I had a box of Swan Vestas on me, so I approached this car, and two or three young black blokes came up, and we were trying to set this car alight. We never did get it alight.

Who took the pictures there?

Rocco McAuley. He’s now a porn photographer, he lived in the squat at Orsett terrace. I was living with Palmolive, we split up before punk really happened, but we had a Spanish connection and Rocco somehow came in there.

Did you ever go down to the Sex shop?

No, it was completely off my turf, I had no idea what was going on down there. I was in the hippy squat end of the scene.

By the autumn you had Subway Sect in there as well.

Yeah they were Bernie’s discovery. Vic was always very close to Bernie’s heart, much more so than the Clash ever were. They were brilliant. Bernie used to tell me he’d get demo tapes and in the middle of a song he’d stop, and with the tape still running, he’d light a cigarette, smoke the whole thing and then carry on from where he left off. Its a Vic thing.

Who did the posters for the ICA gigs?

Bernie. We didn’t have any books.

The ICA was the famous Shane and Jane incident.

Yeah. I’ve got a good Rocco story there. He’s Spanish, he comes to England, he married a woman to stay in the country, and he’s just learning English, and learning that he wanted to be a photographer. The punk spirit inhabited him, and we were playing either the ICA or the RCA, I can’t remember which, and he was taking photographs of us, and on the second number, he was just about to take a picture and this hippy jumped onstage and started idiot-dancing, and he put down his camera and went, will somebody get this hippy off the stage? What is this? I’m not taking a picture till this hippy gets off the stage! The next day he found out it was Patti Smith, and he could have sold those pictures to the music press. To me, he was the purest man in the house, cos he wasn’t going wow, its Patti Smith. Terrific. He didn’t even know. He was seeing it true and clear: there was a hippy on the stage!

What happened at the RCA?

There was a big fight, me and Sid waded in. After those bottles started coming over, we’d finished our set, we didn’t stop, but I knew as soon as we finished I knew I was going to go over there and get stuck in, I could see roughly where it was coming from.

Was that the first time that had happened?

I think so. It was drunken, oldish students. But they were throwing glass bottles, they could have murdered somebody. I put down my guitar at the end of the last number, went straight off the side of the stage and Sid had been really supporting us, and I stormed off the stage, through the swing doors into the auditorium, Sid was with me, and I saw this student with a beard that I’d recognised from the stage, and hit him so fucking hard, he went down, poleaxed. It was all dark, and somebody was going hey – and I turned round and smashed this other guy in the face, and Sid was getting stuck in, and I looked round for the rest of the band, and they weren’t there, and me and Sid went back after we’d sorted out these bozos, who were chicken and ran away, and I said where were you? Oh, we got caught in the crowd, couldn’t quite get through the glass doors!

I remember the disco was playing ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, it was perfect. It was only my second or third punk gig, and there was this fight going on in the middle of the floor and I thought, Mmm this is something new.

I think it was Edwin Pouncey playing the discs that night, Savage Pencil.

How did you get the name The Clash?

For about a weekend we were called the Psychotic Negatives, then we were the Weak Heart Drops, after a lyric in a Big Youth record, then Paul thought of the name The Clash.

I think May 2nd ’79 was when the Cost of Living EP came out, and I’d designed the cover as a DAZ packet, and on the back, remember they used to have this woman holding up a sheet, with a basket of washing going, how wonderful and white my washing is! I said to Mick, I want to make that woman Margaret Thatcher, and I want a swastika in off white, imperceptibly there, and he went, I’m not having politicians on rock’n’roll records! So I dropped that idea, but I wish we’d done it, in view of what’s happening now. Anyway, who cares about that.

That’s where I’m ending the book, with Thatcher winning the election, and the court case.

It was the end of an era, and we couldn’t survive that era either. We went on and had some success in America for a couple of years, but all the fun had gone out of it, really.

Can you remember much about the CBS negotiations?

Are you kidding? We went down to sign with Polydor, and the cab took us to Soho Square instead, we were completely in the dark. We didn’t know anything. Mick was the one who was sharpest about business, but we let Bernie handle everything. We were really the people we were supposed to be. What did we know about record companies and contracts?

What about the Anarchy tour? What can you remember about that?

That was when the balloon went up, cos they’d done that Grundy thing, and the Pistols were the hottest news in the country, the Sun and all those people were following them around, we were confined to the hotel rooms, gigs being cancelled everywhere, and places the coach would pull up there was a choir of religious people singing, like from the deep south or something. I remember going down to the bar and brining up a tray of pints, cos the Pistols definitely weren’t allowed out, and they didn’t want any of the musicians pumped by any of those gutter people. We felt pretty small just then, cos the Pistols were front page news and we were just nothing. We were bottom of the bill.

The best time we had was in Bristol, we checked into this bed and breakfast, and I was so tired I fell asleep immediately, it was like four or five to a room. Meanwhile Bernie and Malcolm decided that this wasn’t really happening, and they walked over to the Holiday Inn, and checked everybody in there, and everybody moved, but I was forgotten about, fast asleep in this bed and breakfast, till eventually Debbi came and woke me up and brought me over. Good times were had there, they broke into the swimming pool at night, rock’n’roll madness. That was when Mickey Foot got the scar on his forehead, he got completely drunk and dived into the shallow end of the pool and split his head open on the tiles. He was staggering around laughing his head off, blood gushing everywhere. Madness.

What was the problem you were having with your drummer at that stage, Terry?

Terry wanted to join a pop group and get a Lamborghini, your average suburban kid’s dream, right? And we used to have discussions, we were quite rigorous, and when he said this about the Lamborghini, it was heresy! We were laughing and jeering at him, and he took it very seriously, and one day he just didn’t show up for rehearsals. He phoned up and said he quit. But he was cool enough to come and do the album with us, cos we’d rehearsed the numbers with him.

You had problems finding another one, didn’t you?

Yeah, all the drummers that later became known in London, we rehearsed.

Who did you do the Roxy Club on New Years day ’77 with?

A bloke called Rob Harper, who said he was nineteen but was actually 35. Eventually he became the mentor of the New Hearts, and they dumped him, stabbed him in the back a good one. But he played a tour with us, the Anarchy tour, I think.

Did you feel that gig was in any way special?

It was special in that the club was opening, and we all felt good about that. But Johnny Thunders had just sold me his Gretsch White Falcon, because they were desperate to score.

And you had a shirt with 1977 on it, that’s right when you did Harlesden, that was the first time you changed out of the paint spatter stuff.

Yeah, that was when Bernie found Alex Michon, and Paul and Bernie began to design clothes for us. We all threw our bit in. First it was just a zipper here, and it grew into pockets and D-rings and stuff I think Bernie was probably repeating his Sex shop experience, that painting dead men’s clothes wasn’t really it had gone as far as it could. We moved one step away again.

That was the night the Buzzcocks wore their Mondrian shirts, really cool. I bet they painted that themselves.

When did you do the album, in March? You seemed to move away from personal songs to songs more about issues. Is that fair?

We’d got so involved in the lifestyle of the group that we no longer had lives to write about. I think Bob Dylan feels that today, being singer songwriters, he hasn’t really got a life to write about, its too far removed from people’s ordinary experience.

The Pistols didn’t write much either after a while.

After they sacked Matlock, that was the end, because Matlock was the tunesmith. That shows how crazy they were, just because he liked the Beatles, they sacked him.

With the album, we you trying to write songs about specific things, rather than just write about yourselves?

‘Bored With The USA’ goes on about heroin coming back in body bags, soldiers becoming addicted, the way American foreign policy operated imperialistically on any right wing bastard who wasn’t a communist, they’d support, you know

Did that come from discussions within the group?

Yeah, after these discussions, Bernie would say, an issue, an issue, we’ll all fall down.

But he never told you what to write?

No, he just said, write about what’s important, don’t write about love, really. Write about what’s affecting you, what’s important.

To me, a really important thing was from seeing you, I had a particular image of the Clash, then you had that really good piece in the NME, with Tony Parsons.

The Circle Line interview

That seemed to change it into something that was a lot more sociological, more to do with high rise and tower blocks. How did you feel about that, did you feel that confined you?

No, when you’re part of it, you’re so close to it its hard to get an overview. Sometimes I wished I could have a weekend off, not that there was anywhere to escape to, but when you’re young and stupid, you don’t think about anything. You just go straight ahead.

© Jon Savage, 1988

Jun 76 - Black Swan , five piece ....

Sept 76 - 100 Club, London gigs ....

Dec 76 - Anarchy Tour ....

Jan / Mar - Early 77 Gigs ....

May 77 - White Riot UK Tour ....

Jul 77 - European Dates ....

Oct 77 - Out of Control UK Tour ....

Jan 78 - Sandy Pearlman UK Dates ....

Apr 78 - UK Festival Dates ....

Jul 78 - Out on Parole UK Tour ....

Oct 78 - Sort it Out UK Tour ....

Feb 79 - Pearl Harbour US Tour ....

Jul 79 - Finland + UK dates ....

Sep 79 - Take the Fifth US Tour ....

Dec 79 - Acklam Hall Secret Gigs ....

Jan 80 - 16 Tons UK Tour ....

Mar 80- 16 Tons US Tour ....

May 80 - 16 Tons UK/Europe ....

May 81 - Impossible Mission Tour ....

Jun 81 - Bonds Residency NY ....

Sep 81 - Mogador Paris Residency ....

Oct 81 - Radio Clash UK Tour ....

Oct 81 - London Lyceum Residency ....

Jan 82 - Japan Tour ....

Feb 82 - Australian Tour ....

Feb 82 - Hong Long & Thai gigs ....

May 82 - Lochem Festival ....

May 82 - Combat Rock US Tour ....

July 82 - Casbah Club UK Tour ....

Aug 82 - Combat Rock US Tour ....

Oct 82 - Supporting The Who ....

Nov 82 - Bob Marley Festival ....

May 83 - US Festival + gigs ....

Jan 84 - West Coast dates ....

Feb 84 - Out of Control Europe ....

Mar 84 - Out of Control UK ....

April 84 - Out of Control US Tour ....

Sep 84 - Italian Festival dates ....

Dec 84 - Miners Benefit Gigs ....

May 85 - Busking Tour ....

Jun- Aug 85 - Festival dates ....

Sept 85 - European Tour ....

Jan 86 - Far East Tour ....

1986 onwards - Retrospective

74-76 - Joe with the 101ers ....

Jul 88 - Green Wedge UK Tour

Aug 88 - Rock the Rich UK Tour ....

Oct 89 - Earthquake Weather UK ....

Oct 89 - Earthquake Weather Euro ....

Nov 89 - Earthquake Weather US ....

Jun 99 - Comeback Festival dates ....

July 99 - Short US Tour ....

July 99 - UK Tour ....

Aug 99 - Festival Dates ....

Oct 99 - UK Tour ....

Nov 99 - Full US Tour ....

Dec 99 - European Xmas dates ....

Jan 00 - Australasian Tour ....

May 00 - Mini UK Tour ....

Nov 00 - supporting The Who Tour ....

Jul 01 - UK & US Instore Tour ....

Oct 01 - Full US Tour ....

Nov 01 - Japanese Tour ....

Nov 01 - Full UK Tour ....

April 02 - Brooklyn NY Residency ....

Jun 02 - UK Festivals ....

Jul 02 - Hootenanny Tour ....

Aug 02 - UK Festival Dates ....

Sep 02 - Japanesse Dates ....

Nov 02 - Bringing it all Back Home ....