BEST Magazine n°130, May 1979
Topper Headon interview - The Invasion of the Desecrator.
[Rough translation French to English]
First kick in order to crack open the American lock, the recent Clash US tour was one decisive raid. Some Bob Gruen's pictures and a Bruno Blum investigation with the band to follow this commando of the new rock in the hippie's country.
Paul Simonon, who's stayed in the US, is preparing the next tour of the band between two interviews, Joe Strummer puts the last hand on the cover of the next E.P in some graphic studio in an another part of the town and Mick Jones' finishing the movie soundtrack in an Islington studio (he's in charge of most of the music, and right now, he's overdubbing bass part on the live tracks composing the soundtrack).
When I'm arriving in Topper's home, he's managing to organize a Clash fan club, destinated to answer to the tons of mail CBS was stocking by themselves for few months.
So, they just came back from the states were they just blown off the place.
Bruno Blum: So, You'd just rock the place. Also, Joe told me you' beaten up a football team from Vancouver?
Topper: mmmh& . You know we've got a team, formed by band and roadies and we're quiet good. The Vancouver punk bands decided to form one team for our venue just to see if we were as good as it and we just fried them 5 to 3. It was a mix from the Rabid, the Cramps and from an amazing girl band that did our first part in Vancouver, the Dishrags.
B.B: How are the punk bands over there?
Topper: well& . they're, let's say, 'has been'. They just look like the English bands one year ago, you see, wearing safety pins everywhere, like, the Rabid, their bass player is the exact replica of Sid Vicious, their singer, it's Rotten ones& . They need to go a little bit further but, it starts to seriously takes off over there. Most of them plays tunes from us, Buzzcocks, Pistols, etc& But after Vancouver, we've been in San Fransico.You've obligatory got to play to Bill Graham in Frisco. He's got this kind of monopole on all the bands that want to play in his town and we can't avoid it.
BB: Rude Boy Film?
Topper: Ah, that's an easy one, as soon as the guy starts talking about the Clash movie he feels obliged to name the Pistols one, merde alors. By the way, huh, we're not about to see their work in scam disguised, the Clash, on the other hand, hop, just aired à feature, concived-produced-acted-sended by themselves, directed by Jack Hazan and telling their story.
This story is the really truth of they've done since the Victoria Park's Anti Nazi Festival in the late spring until their January US tour, we'll see it.
They tell that sorry using the character of Ray, one of their roadies, who leaves in Brixton (London black ghetto, under the emprise of the right wing extremists). They explain that is not a documentary, it's just a succession of events destinate to show who they are and it's sure enough 'fertile' to spend some good time in the Extraordinary Country of the Clash. The problem is that I am here to tell you, across a Topper interview (less known as Nicky Headon), drummer of the band, the US Tour. I've got the add, by the way, that an E-P (t45 vinyl with 4 songs on it) is done, you'll can find inside its paths a brand new version of the nearly unknown 'Capital Radio' and a Bobby Fuller cover of 'I Fought The Law'.
The hyper-creativity of the band leads to a full force quality production, based on the complete control of everybody inside, taking care of everything as long is necessary to provide creativity. As I speak to Topper, in the meantime. But the day after, we organized a benefit concert for this new bands, in order to break that kind of trust. We've got the Zeros and Negative Trend for opening act. This is that kind of guys that are stopped by a business that isn't for them. With the money they earned they're going to open club for the new rock/punk scene whose just exploding over there right now.
B.B: Who organised the other concerts?
Topper: CBS just manage everything before our arrival.
B.B: Were they proud of you, CBS?
Topper: Yes, they were happy; the 8 concerts were sold-out before we came (in Vancouver, S.F, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Boston, Washington, New York and Toronto). I think they were pretty surprised. They were expecting us to vomit everywhere in their office and act with a negative behavior. In fact, we'd got a really determinate attitude with them that they just don't expecting. By now, they know the concerts were a success; 'Give Em Enough Rope' is just below the top 100, they see the dollars coming and they're quiet cooperative.
B.B: Did you played the place where the Pistols did their last gig in San Francisco?
Topper: No, I don't think so. I think they played the Winter Gardens, we, we did the Berkeley Community something, I don't remember. But in most of our concert we manage to make the seats removed in the 2500 places venue, it's a job& .
B.B: How do the American kids behave comparing to the English ones whose just goes nuts as at the Rainbow?
Topper: Well, they're not as wild as here but they'd liked a lot. All the American concerts were starting slowly but close to the middle; we obtain each times an excitation quotient more than satisfying, if I can say. In fact at the beginning they don't know what to expect. You must know we are the first to do a real tour over there. So we shaked them and they gradually start to get into it, but here, as soon as we starts it's crazy. For us it was un hard and unusual job because they just sits down when they arrived.
B.B: You start the shows with 'I'm So Bored With The USA'. How did they react to the songs of the first album, which doesn't exist over there and to the lyrics of that particular song?
Topper: But what can we do!!! Generally, first of all, they don't understand a word of what we say, after, we don't care so much, in fact, we' re especially here to shakes them a bit. Otherwise, this album is still schedule over there, with all the 45t on it, for patience prime.
B.B: With 'Capital Radio' you've got 11 titles whose never been released on an LP!!! You can do double LP.
Topper: Yeeeeeah, but,emh, double LP's quickly become boring.
B.B:Is there as much hippies as it in San Francisco?
Topper: There are still plenty of hippies everywhere BUT YOU DON'T NOTICE THEM. In our concert, they were standing in the back. Otherwise, in San Francisco they're completely integrated to the society, with their boots, their beards, they look completely stupid (with a compassionate look), you know. But frankly, a public is a public, no matter who they are, as soon as they come to see us and have fun. In fact, we're really pleased to see those guys with long hairs dancing at our concert. I just feel sorry for them for having that so has been look, behaviour.
B.B: Like at the 'Fête de Rouge'?
Topper: Ah! It was great! What a mess! There wasn't any organisation and we arrived 2 hours late without our stuff!!! I'd have to borrow a drum kit, hop, we played, there was this riot and we came back. Good fun. All I can remember it that the security was wearing helmets!!!
'I swear we'd warmed them up'
B.B: Did you see that somewhere else?
Topper: In Belgium. In States, we thought we'd have problems with the bouncers as we have around here, where everybody loses control of the events but everything was okay. In Paris, after our first gig at the 'Palais des Glaces', we were surrounded by around 30 thugs in a dead end& we didn't know what they wanted.
We'd find us back to the wall, forced to fight and at the really last time, Marc Zermati, who were with us, recognized one of them and explained what we were doing there& They were thinking we were a sort of rival gang because of our leather jackets& CBS tried to avoid us that kind of situations.
In New York, they'd offered us to go to the Studio 54. We said OK and they called us a car. We came out with the roadies; the girlfriend and they didn't want them. But they work as hard as us. We'd insisted to bring them and we had to refuse to go without them to push CBS to call another limousine. We landed inside 15. It was absolutely amazing!!!
You don't know as 'flash' it is. You see Le Palace in Paris, with the lasers; well it's 10 times as flash that place. There's a huge dance floor with flashlight everywhere, from below, from above, with lasers, flashes, everywhere, it's crazy. They continually redecorate the place spending millions of p& dollars. Right there, they did a sort of a cave, in plaster and stuff, with mirrors& . We were astonished.
They are all gay inside and they don't stop playing disco all the time. This is typical from the USA, they spend thousands of dollars for that club, so, it costs thousand of dollars to get inside. Well, CBS paid for us, of course, otherwise we didn't been there. In fact, we were fed up after half an hour and we ran off to the Mud Club, a punk club, the best place we'd been in New York, letting the CBS guys have a glance. It happened a lot of things to us in New York.
Between New York and Washington we were blocked in snow tempest. The bus brakes were completely frozen because and we had to wait for 6 hours until somebody come to help us. We'd been blocked at Kennedy Airport also. We thought the New York concert was the last one. So we said, wow man, 3 days in New York!!! We were crazy, all the time outside, I didn't stopped, I didn't slept a seconds for 3 days. We'd came back to the hotel, exhausted, we were thinking to have some rest in London and they said we had to move to Canada. We'd find ourselves dying in the airport, stucked by the fog, half asleep. We'd set up our camp inside& . We were fed up of going to the north.
The more we'd went there the more we have problems with the truck who were freezing on spot, the snow, the weather who was getting worse and worse& . we'd almost died because of the cold in Toronto but the concert was great. I swear we'd warmed them up. They didn't understand anything to what's happened, the Canadians. I remember, there were only 2 bouncers in front of the stage, normal; usually the guys stays seated applauding. So there, Joe starts to tease them a bit, asking them to get up and to come to the front, the bouncers were scared to death.
B.B: could you approach people, apart from the airports and the bus drivers?
Topper: One day, in that snack bar, I'd asked a Yankee for a smoke, so I'd asked for a 'fag'& and the guy starts laughing at me. Because you've got to know that over there, fag means gay. 'Hey buddy, got a queer?'& . All the time it's like this. You ask a burger for 'take away', and the bloody yank looks at you as a Martian because you' ve got to say, 'take out'. They're nuts.
'Bo Diddley learns us a lot of things'
B.B: How did you inherit of Bo Diddley for doing your opening act?
Topper: It was an idea coming from us. CBS offered us a bunch of bands and we decided to get in touch directly with him. He asked to ear the record first, and immediately he asked 'how much', he'd been stole a lot of time you know, so he's really careful to the money and the conditions of the tour, now. On that point, we'd just asked him to came in the bus with us, you see, we wanted to know him. We've got a lot of respect for him, if you want; he did in the 50's exactly what we're doing today. Anyway, he was surprised that we ask him that but he'd accepted. He travelled with us in the bus and he'd learned us a lot of things, he didn't stopped giving us advices, fooling around, he's a 50 years old man but he's a great guy. He doesn't like going out so much, he doesn't' t show him. When he played in Vancouver, he especially came from New Mexico and he came back on the same evening. But, after he re joined us and we'd spend the whole day
Together listening to him goofing around. It's a pity he's not playing exclusively rock anymore and he moved to stuff a little bit too much disco. I did a jam session with him one evening.Did you see his guitar? It cost him 100 thousand bucks!!!
B.B: What does Americans listens to?
Topper: Yankees? Eagles, peter Frampton, some disco, but in the south it's more like soft country. Otherwise, the kids listen to nothing but heavy metal, Kiss, all that stuff. They have the habit to go see that big bands into stadium where you can rent binoculars& . So we surprise them a bit, because ewe played in the country. Usually, only local bands play the places we played. In fact, kids' got the same problems everywhere. In London they fight because they're boring and in New York, to survive, for not dying of hunger. But we didn't see so much about the street in fact. We didn't been in the tough quarters.
We'd been there for the music. We stayed too much. In fact, in New York kids loves cops. In San Francisco or LA they're real scumbags. If 2 cops get into the CBGB, it'll be cool, but in London, they will rummage you, etc& . Over there, they ve got better to do than wasting time with kids. They've got murders everyday, it makes them busy. I'd been to see John Cale and Nico at the CBGB, one evening and I'd almost slept so I'd moved to the Mud Club where nothing special happens but it's better, otherwise there will be too much bouncers.
B.B: Will you go back to the USA for you family holidays?
Topper: in fact, we mostly did interviews and concert over there but I'll never go there for nothing but playing. It was quiet boring& well, at least, for me. It's good for shopping (Topper brought back from Texas a pair of mega boots with a lot of chain, metal, spurs and stuff & .so you can hear him coming from 60meters with all the noise he's doing). The west coast is quiet relaxing. New York is quiet electric. We'd been warned about all the violence going on, but I didn't see anything so terrible. I suppose we hadn't been in the nasty corners.
I don't know& I think there's some neighbourhoods in London like East End or Brixton, where Mick is coming from, are as dangerous the Queens. I'll tell you, in the street, when something bad is happening, you can feel it. When you see some blokes about to cross your way on the sidewalk, you can see if they're about to kicks you or not. In Fins bury Park (where we were neighbours for more than one year), you' re wary of the Irishs.In the East, take care of the Skinheads. Just be wary. In the concerts, take care of the bouncers. Or you stab them or you run. Well, in New York or elsewhere else, just watch your steps and you' ll escape all the time.
We stayed too much. In fact, in New York kids loves cops. In San Francisco or LA they're real scumbags
||Commodore Ballroom, Vancover, Canada
||Berkely Community Centre California
||Geary Temple (Fillmore), San Francisco CA
||Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica CA
||Agora, Cleveland OH
||Ontario Theatre, Washington DC
||Harvard Square Theater, Cambridge MA
|| Palladium, New York NY
||The Rex Danforth Theatre, Toronto, Canada
||We were going to drive to Toronto from New York, but we were snowed in and except for the back-line vehicle, the rest of us flew direct to Cananda. Scratchy