Toppers last gig

updated 5 Jan 2010 - added promoters comments & poster
updated 12 April 2011 - added full review

Police and Thieves CD - Sound 5 - 57min - cd/m - Track 15

Into the 80's CD - Sound 5 - 57min - cd/m - Track 15

Che Guevara CD - Sound 5 - 19min - cd/m - Tracks 5

FM Radio source - Sound 5 – 55.50 –cdr – Tracks 15

Interview Video - Top quality - 3 mins approx -
all 4 band members on a railway station

Visit the Clash on Stage website for a comprehensive catalogue of unofficially released CD's and Vinyl.

Notes:

An audience recording of this show was seeded on Dime about six months ago. Judging from the samples of that torrent, it appeared to be a higher generation version of this recording. Way back then, I promised to transfer and seed this cleaner sounding version. Took a little longer than expected, sorry.

The taper, who I only knew vaguely, was a Deadhead who flew from LA over to England for the Dead's mini-tour of Europe in March of '81. He stayed on in Europe for a couple of months and recorded some other shows, including this one. I think he did a creditable job. (Footnote: this guy claimed to have made an audience recording of the big Who/Dead Rockpalast show in March, and he further claimed that it "blew away" the radio broadcast. He said Townshend's guitar was really loud in the hall when he sat in with the Dead, and that it was amazing. Unfortunately, I never got to hear it, and it appears to be lost in the mists of time).

Couple comments: There are volume fluctuations in the first 10 minutes or so. There's a tape flip/cut right in the middle of "Magnificent Seven," at about 02:37. Finally, it sounds like the taper stopped the tape after "Armagideon Time," and re-started after the beginning of "London's Burning," not sure how much is missing, but probably not much. However, the quality changes noticeably, and it also sounds like he's moved to the back of the hall.

Please check out the samples before downloading. And then turn it up!

I was the promoter of the Clash show at the Lochem Festival (quoted in Passion is a Fashion). I am looking for the best bootleg (cd) of this show. Can you recommend me a title and a place to buy? We are trying to retrieve the original recordings from the radio broadcaster that recorded it, but it seems to be lost.
 
Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you. 
Frank van Hoorn - frank[a]vanhoorn.com

The Clash live in at Lochem Festival
©1981 Laurens van Houten -
http://www.starfileonline.com

60 second review! AWOL Joe returns in nick of time, appalling weather, fighting, fans on stage, band all out of their heads on Amsterdam’s finest, arrive late, play poorly, grab the $75k fee and go! 36 hours later Topper sacked but were it to be on the basis of this performance alone then all of them should have been sacked! 

Lochem was anything but The Clash’s finest hour but nevertheless the perfect hifi recording is well worth having (particularly the superior alternate FM radio source) documenting as it does a fascinating and significant point in the band’s history. Although Joe had a sore throat, Mick’s guitar was out of tune, and they were collectively out of there heads(!) there are some very decent performances to enjoy (Guns of Brixton in particular and the first and only Topper live Ghetto Defendant) along with some of the worst Clash performances too!    

Glyn Johns 

After the band’s last gig in Bangkok in February, they took what they thought would be a break in Thailand, which turned out to be anything but with Paul becoming seriously ill and Topper going cold turkey. Back in London with no agreement on the mix for the new album and a UK tour in April, veteran producer Glyn Johns was brought in against Mick’s wishes. 

Joe wanted an unashamedly commercial album as a weapon in the war to win over the American masses. Glyn Johns would provide a single album; dry and punchy as opposed to Mick’s experimental and atmospheric double. The heavy strained atmosphere in the sessions in Glyn Johns’ Surrey garden studio being the finale to the album’s agonisingly extended birth; a major factor in the groups demise. Mick reluctantly conceded but no one was really talking to each other. At Glyn’s request Joe rewrote the lyrics to Know Your Rights and re-recorded the vocals as did Mick for Should I Stay Or Should I Go.

Ironically of course the album (preceded by Know Your Rights/First Night Back in London) would be the band’s most commercially successful album and was critically acclaimed by the UK press; coincidentally the Falklands conflict making the album’s content more relevant. Combat Rock released on May 14th went to No. 2 in the UK album charts much to the surprise of the band.


The Clash live in at Lochem Festival
©1981 Laurens van Houten -
http://www.starfileonline.com

AWOL Strummer

Ticket sales however, for the 19 date UK tour planned to start on April 26th in Aberdeen were sluggish, so Bernie hatched his infamous plan for Joe to go AWOL to boost interest and thus ticket sales. Bernie had a point; for most nights on the planned and the eventual tour tickets had not sold out and could be bought at the venue on the night, as this writer discovered whilst following the band round a chunk of the tour. The Clash had retained their core following in the UK but although they were becoming huge in the US, there was not the buzz and excitement now when The Clash came to town. The average UK concert-goer perhaps believing the build ‘em up knock ‘em down methods of the UK music press were now into other bands and fads. 

Bernie’s plan though spectacularly back-fired and ran completely counter to the band’s commitment (up to that point) to their fans. Thousands of Clash fans were disappointed, inconvenienced and in many cases out of pocket when Joe disappeared and the whole UK tour was eventually postponed to July. That Strummer went along with Bernie’s suggestion says much for the mental state he was in at the time because little in his past actions would suggest he would otherwise be up for such a scam. Joe though was by all accounts thoroughly depressed after the Glyn Johns sessions, Topper’s addiction, and the belief that he and the band were slogging their guts out for nothing. Arguably it would take Joe another 15 years or more before he would recover from The Clash and his personal demons.

We know that Joe ignored Bernie’s suggestion of going to stay with Joe Ely in the US (and to not take Gaby) instead taking the boat train to Paris on April 21/22 with Gaby to stay at her friend’s flat near Montmartre. Bernie appealed in the music press for help in finding Joe but the rest of the group were kept in the dark. They knew he was OK as had phoned his mother but were not aware of the scam and when he would be back. As the days went by though, Bernie and Kosmo got more and more worried when Joe did not phone them as arranged and more and more dates were cancelled. The cost of cancelling the UK tour were growing fast but were dwarfed by the potential cost of cancelling the June US tour: the band would be bankrupt if Joe did not return. The by now bearded Joe and Gaby had a great time running the Paris marathon, visiting museums and locations made famous by artists and writers (he was a fan of the poet Rimbaud).   

The circumstances around Joe’s return are well covered by accounts in Joe’s and The Clash’s biographies. When Joe did eventually return with Rambo Vinyl on May 18th Mick and Paul must have been incensed to learn of Bernie’s scam. Topper would soon learn that Joe had now decided to act and unknown to him persuaded Paul and Mick to give him a final test at Lochem. 

The Festival

Joe returned from Paris on the 18th May and according to Topper’s account  the band flew out of Heathrow (he was he said nodding out in his breakfast at the airport) to Amsterdam on the 19th. There was no time for rehearsals, a factor surely in the poor performance. But not the only one, Joe had a sore throat and when they arrived by bus late at the Festival in Lochem, with assorted hitch hikers and hangers on they were according to promoter Frank Zanhorn all out of their heads having sampled the finest hash and weed on the way from Amsterdam!

Although the biggest Festival in Holland few tickets had been sold because of Joe’s disappearance. Half of the 16,000 audience had left after the last confirmed act heavy metal band Saxon! Festivals were hardly ideal venues for The Clash to play anyway and this was made worse by having to play in the day light at a very un-Clash friendly 4.30pm, only a few hours after Mick normally got up!

To add to that the weather was abysmal, with thunder and lightning and heavy rain. Fighting broke out between fans and security, Joe complained the security was attacking the Clash fans but the promoter said a number of fans were armed with knives etc and were dangerous. 

The Clash live in at Lochem Festival
©1981 Laurens van Houten -
http://www.starfileonline.com

A fan René from Holland, provided a personal account.

It was a sunny and rainy day. Between the sun the rain felt down. After Saxon (with a lot of hardrockers) had played (in my memory) it was time for the last show that day. The day I had been waiting for :-) Yes, it was a great show/gig. A huge crowd, standing in the rain to listen and watch The Clash.

I still know what you're talking about at your website what happened after the song Train in Vain. In front of the stage they had built an enormous wooden fence. Very high. If you stood in front of that you couldn't see anything at the stage. Very disappointing. So the distance between the stage and the public was very big. So many people climbed up on that fence, sit on watched the show. Some 'bodyguards' tried to get them of the wooden fence. So a lot of people get in between the stage and the wooden fence. Then other people climbed upon the wooden fence too (also me). I think Joe tried to calm down the 'bodyguards' and the public. After sometime the concert had gone further. I can remember that at sometime during the show more and more people climbed upon that wooden fence. Joe asked for ladders so people could climb upon the stage. At the end of the show the whole stage was full of fans. And they stayed very calm. Didn't ruin anything and let The Clash play on.

I downloaded some of the mp3 but i couldn't hear anything about that at the last songs. And in my memory I think they played one or two songs in advanced. One number I remember in particular because it was one of my favourites at that time. It was the song Straight to Hell. It's a pity that it's not on your live recording.Very wet but satisfied I returned home :-)

The promoter Frank Zanhorn wrote his account in an article in the 2007 Q Magazine Classic Clash edition (and included in Pat Gilbert’s book). He said Joe invited fans on stage, encouraging them to push and knock the fences down. He said there were 500 on stage and 500 below the stage, which started collapsing slowly. The Dutch Police wanted to invade, but he persuaded them otherwise and the band completed a full set (FM radio only broadcast the main set). 

Frank Zanhorn remembered Topper drumming well but looking pretty intoxicated before and after; dead silent and stoned. Mick he said was fine and reasonable but that Joe was stressed out and completely wired. There was no interaction between Topper and the rest of the band

Financially the Festival was a disaster for the promoter, having not sold enough tickets but the band insisted though on their full fee, needing it to pay the UK tour cancellation costs.

photo courtesy of Joerg Bruekner

Performance;

There are very varying opinions on the performance at Lochem amongst Clash fans; some consider it excellent aided by the hifi sound, some that is so woeful that it is not worth owning. The truth is surely in between, although there had been some limited pre-UK tour rehearsals in April before Joe disappeared (the mood at the rehearsals further depressing Joe) accounting for the variations to the arrangements and introduction of new live performances of Ghetto Defendant (and reportedly Straight To Hell), the band had no time to rehearse after Joe returned and it clearly shows. Unrehearsed, all of the band out of their heads (not just Topper from most accounts) and Joe unwell with a hoarse voice it is not surprising that the band’s near telepathic tightness deserted them and accounted for a number of embarrassing mess ups and general rustiness.

The widely bootlegged recording adds to the problem; it runs slow and has a flat remixed sound, which lost a lot of The Clash’s live energy. The alternate FM sourced tape is significantly better and more enjoyable. There are some decent performances; this was The Clash live after all! The problem being for fans is the knowledge that they could play so much better. 

Topper sacked

When Joe returned Paul and Mick agreed to give an unaware Topper one last chance at Lochem; an ultra tough test if you travel via Amsterdam! Topper has said “I was nodding out in my breakfast at Heathrow. Then at the gig I was scoring coke and everything else” The final straw came perhaps while Joe was checking his stage gear backstage before the gig in a full length mirror only for Topper to ask to lay it down flat so he could hoover up cocaine into his nose! 

Topper’s behaviour at Lochem convinced the band he was in no fit state for the US tour and the following morning after the band returned to London, the band held a meeting and Topper was sacked. Mick alone argued in Topper’s corner who blamed Bernie for his sacking but resented Paul for sitting on the fence. Topper has though always maintained that his band mates had really no choice and that in his own words by then “he had lost touch with the band, reality and the planet”

Venue

Lochem.ogg" Lochem is a city in eastern Netherlands, not that far from the German border. The music festival was an established annual event ; Slade headlining in 1981, and the Undertones appearing in 1983.  


A Dutch broadcasting station called VARA recorded The Clash performance live at the Lochem Festival and broadcast the main set only, in hifi stereo sound. Years later evidently it was rebroadcast late at night. VARA also broadcast the 1981 Clash Amsterdam gig.

It was released in 1992 as a commercial bootleg on the KTS label titled ‘Into the 80’s’ It has also been released, in partial or complete form in many forms, including Summer of '82 (LP)Lochem Festival (LP), Garageland (LP), Live (LP)Che Guevara (CD), and Police and Thieves (CD). It was probably directly copied as  Live at the Lochem Festival, Holland (CD)

Visit the "Clash on Stage directory of known boot releases" Clash on Stage website for a comprehensive catalogue of unofficially released CD's and Vinyl.

An FM sourced tape possibly coming from the rebroadcast has a different sound and includes the Dutch radio announcer’s comments (these are edited out on the bootleg CD’s and the two parts of Career Opportunities are edited together.) It has improved sound quality and clarity over the bootleg CD’s with a more exciting, engaging sound. The bootleg CD was ‘remastered’ to boost the bass but in the process lost the top end “attack”. It’s mixed like commercial albums of the time, smoothing off the rough edges of The Clash live sound but as a result losing its cutting edge and impact. 


The Clash live in at Lochem Festival
©1981 Laurens van Houten -
http://www.starfileonline.com

Significantly the bootleg CD runs slower than the FM tape and irrespective of which is the correct speed the bootleg CD does sound slow and un-engaging. The FM tape is more enjoyable.

Strangely as the sound quality is so good there are edits on the recording suggesting it could not have been recorded direct from the broadcast. A few seconds of Should I Stay are missing, a very short section of Complete Control is repeated and Clampdown fades out 105 seconds into the song.

Information about a full audience recording has appeared on Dime in recent years but this is almost certainly the Amsterdam 1981 recording.

The FM tape has a slightly longer intro to London Calling than the boot CD’s which fades in. A decent performance Joe adlibs “don’t look to us..hey it’s a festival and you’re stuck in the mud!…coming on a boat, crossing the river..” Although both sources have excellent hifi sound the FM tape is sonically superior; Mick’s solo sounds more effective, more stereo separation, vocals clearer. 

Joe vocals are clearly affected by his sore throat on Safe European Home, Mick tries to help out but his vocals are very flat at times. Topper’s drum fills add the most interest to another decent if unexceptional performance with little inspiration from either the band or Joe ad-libing. Guns of Brixton though is very fine with inventive and effective guitar fills by Mick and the band sound tight and focussed here. Trouble in the audience prompting a “Hold on. Oi!” from Paul and the music breaks down except for drum then  bass which actually adds to the performance especially when Mick brings it all back up with a great blast of guitar. 

photo courtesy of Joerg Bruekner

“This one is not to fight to, if you understand English, it’s one to dance to” says Mick introducing a fine if unexceptional Train In Vain; his vocals again flat in places. Joe concerned about the fighting and the large wooden fence separating the stage asks “Yeah by the way who’s the, where’s the Promoter? Why don’t you people leave this area?” Directed at the promoter/security he continues “You  should let them come there’s nothing to defend here” The FM radio announcer then comes in (cut on the boot CD’s) to explain what’s happening and to translate Joe’s words. Joe continues on both sources ”Come on long legs let us see you jump! Oi Oi!  They say its alright”  Further encouraging the fans to get over the fence he says “This is a song to kick a fence down to!” and the band blast into a fierce Clash City Rockers. Apart from a few flat vocals and a mix up between Mick and Joe coming in at different times the band pull it off. “Mick Jones” shouts Joe before Mick’s solo; again buried somewhat in the mix on the boot CD’s, much more effective on the FM tape.

The drum intro to Know Your Rights as on earlier performances is very similar to the Guns of Brixton drum intro but this is not evidence of a Topper error but further evidence that the band had yet to fully work up at rehearsals how to play this song live. Lyrics are now almost as per the reworked vocals for Glyn Johns but it’s an uninspired performance with Joe’s vocals strained and weak from his sore throat.

A lukewarm Magnificent Seven  follows with further evidence of that loss of the telepathic tightness of the band’s best performances. Mick tries to get the depleted and soaked audience going, shouting “fuck the rain!” There’s a lack of inspiration though in his playing and after the bridge Mick & Joe mix up on the lyrics, Joe’s voice breaks up and Topper holds it just together. Not a bad performance but like most performances at Lochem they were usually much better.

photo courtesy of Joerg Bruekner

Ghetto Defendant is the first circulating live performance of the song and the only live performance with Topper on drums. Joe’s lyrics on this song and others on Combat Rock demonstrate a progression in his lyric writing further into a Beat poetry influenced approach. His vocals on this slow song are less stretched by his sore throat and it’s a strong together performance. A highlight.

Mick’s guitar is by now going out of tune but Should I Stay or Should I Go? still sounds fresh and energetic; the twin guitar interplay swings on this hifi recording. Mick’s adds a new instrumental section and extends the ending but his vocals are out of tune at times. Joe does not add any Strummer Spanish vocals.

Topper then beats out the intro to Police and Thieves, which has an extended instrumental only start. Mick’s solo here is effective. There is some variation on earlier arrangements presumably from the April rehearsals, problems come though when they try to improvise! Mick’s guitar is again going out of tune but the break down to a drum and bass dub style section is again effective. But when Joe  shouts the last “coming in”  Mick and Joe are embarrassingly out of step. They recover quickly though with some Joe rhythm guitar improvisation before the band build it up again effectively. 

The Clash had always showed progression in their arrangements to songs; keeping them fresh and interesting even on the songs that had been constants in their sets for years. There’s more evidence of changes on Brand New Cadillac as well; the band were still pushing forward musically right up to Topper’s departure, it’s arguable though whether there was much progression after he left.

As Topper goes into Complete Control Joe orders “Oh No- I want to hear you sing” and the band go into Bankrobber with Joe attempting largely fruitlessly to get the audience to sing along. Not extended but enjoyable enough.

The drum sound on the intro to Complete Control sounds like Topper is hitting pots and pan lids! Mick’s out of tune guitar gives an atonal intro, the band try to whip it up but the timing is out. Mick’s guitar solo is out of tune; Joe’s “you’re my guitar hero” here is far from convincing!

The tin pot drum intro to Career Opportunities is uninspiring which is why maybe the FM radio announcer is faded in to give what sounds like some traffic information at Breda! Again not bad but they had been so much better.

Very unusually Clampdown fails here to excite; it would be a challenge to identify a poorer performance of this live. There’s no spoken intro as on the Australasian dates and the FM tape perhaps mercifully fades out 1min 30 in! Joe’s voice is strained, he adds a topical “working down in Malvinas” but his remaining adlibs are especially tired and ineffective ”and if birds can sing, one more hot dog, one more Heineken with the top off” and then fades out before the songs conclusion, and the encores which included a reported first live Straight To Hell.

Many including Strummer would say there were no good gigs after Topper was sacked (except one he said at Asbury Park). Thousands of Clash fans would argue otherwise of course and thanks to the tapes circulating we can decide for ourselves. The loss of Topper Headon to The Clash cannot be overestimated and his sacking would be bitterly regretted by Joe especially.  


photo courtesy of Joerg Bruekner

The Clash live in at Lochem Festival
©1981 Laurens van Houten -
http://www.starfileonline.com

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13
14
15

London Calling
Safe European Home
The Guns of Brixton
Train In Vain
Clash City Rockers
Know Your Rights
The Magnificent Seven
Ghetto Defendent
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Police and Thieves
Brand New Cadillac
Bankrobber
Complete Control
Career Opportunities
Clampdown

The Clash: Up The Hill Backwards
Charles Shaar Murray,
NME, 29 May 1982

Chris Knowles
The Essential Clash Bootleg Bible
includes this gig

Any further info / reviews
appreciated

Combat Rock Advert
with Tour Dates

Unknown US magazine cutting
Joe/ Combat Rock
The Clash sucess with political songs
Fred Robbins

Joe found - US Tour 'On'
says Kosmo Vinyl

NME May 1982 & US newspaper
NME Joe Goes Missing - Clash to postpone first dates, rest of tour in jeopardy
NME Clash blow - last two dates (uk)
US Newspaper - Strummer back, drummer gone - US dates 'on'

May 19 Belgium
Rumours of a warm up gig for the Festival
May 20

Lochem, Holland


May 29 Convention Hall, Asbury Park NJ
May 30 Convention Hall, Asbury Park NJ
May 31 Convention Hall, Asbury Park NJ
Jun 2 Fox Theatre, Atlanta GA
Jun 4 The Warehouse, New Orleans LA
Jun 5 Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston TX
Jun 6 The Bronco Bowl, Dallas TX
Jun 8 City Coliseum, Austin TX
Jun 9 City Coliseum, Austin TX
Jun 10 Civic Auditorium, San Francisco CA
Jun 12 Golden Hall, San Diego, CA
supported by The English Beat
Jun 13 Mesa Community Center, Phoenix AR
supported by the English Beat
Jun 14 Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles CA
supported by the English Beat
Jun 15 Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles CA
supported by the English Beat
advertised on poster re: hollywood palladium 82 shows; the Ministry opened for the Clash?
Jun 17 Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles CA
supported by the English Beat re: hollywood palladium 82 shows; the Ministry opened for the Clash?
Jun 18 Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles CA
supported by the English Beat
advertised on poster re: hollywood palladium 82 shows; the Ministry opened for the Clash?
Jun 19 Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles CA
supported by the English Beat
advertised on poster re: hollywood palladium 82 shows; the Ministry opened for the Clash?
Jun 20 County Bowl, Santa Barbara CA
Jun 22 Civic Auditorium, San Francisco CA
Jun 23 Civic Auditorium, San Francisco CA
Jun 26 Kerrisdale Arena, Vancover, Canada
Jun 28 Maxbell Arena, Calgary, Canada
Jun 29 Kinsmen Fieldhouse, Edmonton, Canada
Supported by Harold Nix

Well I was there and it was great. Very hot. The band stopped and threatened to quit playing unless thefighting at the front stopped - Joe was concerned about the stage sharpies damaging the kids. A great show. punkhistorycanada.ca documents one persons experience and has a photo of the edmonton concert. Your spelling of Kinsmen is wrong - you have. Regards and thanks for thegreat site! Judith Lake


© Trevor Stenson

Yah, Yah, I know ...they signed to CBS. Some even hailed that as the end of punk when it happened. First Concert I ever saw, which always sounds cool to youngsters. However, I was 15 and really missed a lot of prior concerts and gigs (punk and otherwise) that I should have attended. Also, I was a little intimidated with the festival seating (there was some dangerous overcrowding up front), and I hung in the back for more than the first half of the Clash performance. After-all, it was only a few years after the Who tragedy in Cincinnati. The Clash paused the show and moved some people over the stage a couple times early on. The sound was much better when I went down on the floor. However, I did snap this long-shot when I was in the balcony. The largest original punk concert that occurred in Edmonton in the "old days". There was a big rush on tickets when they were released, but the show never did quite sell-out which I thought was pretty lame on Edmonton's part. I remember hearing a few hardcore people were trying to act up all punk - I don't give a f*ck - and got tossed by security before the Clash started. Now that is truly lame. I guessing attendance was less than 5,000. Ottosbro


I was at this concert and 16, my brother was in a band at the time that also opened for The Clash, not sure which band he was in at the time, maybe The Shock. Anyone else remember the "other" band that opened that night? Lynn


i was there as well , 16 yrs old at the time . some great photos of the show still circulate around town at record fairs etc . there is a photo of security removing the wood barricade from the front of the stage , while joe strummmer gives the crowd instructions , making sure everything is ok. i recall the crowd buzz , as you could see the clash walking to the stage via a upper tier jogging track .siggy

I was there too ! I slept all the way from Jasper - waitressing at Jasper Park Lodge for the summer. We arrived just in time for the show so I was completely sober and the show was still awesome...I remember those "pauses" when the wood at front of the stage collapsed and all the splinters / nails ended up in front of the crowd who were pushing ahead. I was glad to be sober in the end because I don't think anyone would have noticed me had I stumbled....cethlyn

I was at this show. 17 trs old at the time. I was BLOWN away!!Bee Dee

The Clash: Up The Hill Backwards
Charles Shaar Murray, NME, 29 May 1982

HALF PAST ONE on Portobello Road. Past the chippy, opposite the bookshop, within earshot of a man with an amplified mouth-harp honking and scything through Little Walter's greatest hits.

The sun comes down hard on the cast of the street parade, on the bikes and push-chairs and the stalls, a crowded pavement where money changes hands, time is passed and everybody seems to be waiting for something different to happen.

And it does: one by one, The Clash appear. First Paul Simonon, dressed in his usual black, then Mick Jones in khaki pants, bleached denim jacket and huge Rasta cap, then Joe Strummer, greasy, stubbled and buttoned into his trench-coat.

OKAY! HERE WE GO!
JOE'S BACK AND TOPPER'S GONE
WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?

That's approximately what Kosmo Vinyl had said a couple of hours earlier on the phone, so we deal with that.

This is Saturday, while the F.A. Cup Final is going on, and the previous Thursday, The Clash reunited in Amsterdam to play the last ever gig with Topper Headon.

Strummer had returned after weeks of rumours – working as a navvy in Marseilles, fished up out of the river in Glasgow, what did you hear? Did you believe it? – from a sojourn in Paris, during which time two career politicians in dead schtuck with their punters while their countries were falling to pieces embarked on a joint military adventure to distract attention from the home front and wave a few flags around, an entire British Clash tour was cancelled and rearranged, and Combat Rock had reached number two in the album charts.

Obviously, there are a few things to discuss.

First Topper. Why'd he go?
"It was his decision," Strummer replies. We're squeezed into a booth in the corner caff: Strummer hunched in the corner, Simonon and Jones opposite, Kosmo Vinyl at an adjoining table and Bernard Rhodes leaning over Strummer's shoulder anxious to answer the questions first.

"I think he felt...it's not too easy to be in The Clash. It's not as simple as being in a comfortable, we're-just-entertainers group, and he just wanted to do that, just play music. He's a brilliant multi-instrumentalist – what used to be called that – and it's a bit weird to be in The Clash at the moment. Well, it was. He has to sort of strike out in another direction, because I don't think he wants to come along with us. There are things that we all want to do..."

"We all feel the same," Jones chips in, "and he don't, really."

"We're going to continue as a trio," resumes Strummer.

"I'm going to play the drums," announces Simonon brightly.

"We're gonna get some guest drummers in, and they're gonna play with us whenever we want to make a record or play some shows."

OKAY. Why'd you vanish? "Me? (Who'd you think, Lord Lucan? – Ed). It's a long story." Gonna tell it?

Strummer sighs. "Well...it was something I wanted to prove to myself: that I was alive. It's very much like being a robot, being in a group. You keep coming along and keep delivering and keep being an entertainer and keep showing up and keep the whole thing going. Rather than go barmy and go mad, I think it's better to do what I did, even for a month.

"I just got up and I went to Paris...without even thinking about it. I might have gone a bit barmy, you know? But anyway, I went to Paris, and I knew that there'd be a lot of people.. the fans were disappointed, the road crew had sold their motors to pay the rent fucking around with this lot. I knew a lot of people were going to be disappointed, but I had to go and I went and I'd recommend anybody else to do that if they have to.

"And once I got there...I only intended to stay for a few days, but the more days I stayed, the harder it was to come back because of the more aggro I was causing that I'd have to face there."

What about the agreements that you'd broken by going? Were you thinking of them?
"Yeah! We'd never blown out other gigs except for the time that Topper got stabbed in the hand with a pair of scissors. Even when the gear doesn't arrive and we're in a foreign city and the trucks are held up at the border, we'll still play the show by borrowing stuff off the support band or whoever we can get it from. We've got some pride in that direction – the show must go on blah blah – than to cut out permanently, you know?"

So what would have happened if you hadn't gone?
"I think I would have started drinking a lot on the tour, maybe. Started becoming petulant with the audience, which isn't the sort of thing that you should do...but it's very different now that Topper's left. It's back to the old trio now," he concludes with what can only be described as anticipatory glee.

So what did Simonon and Jones feel about the wandering Joe's pilgrimage?
"Well, I felt that anything he does is all right," replies Jones, staring out from under his cap. "Obviously we were disappointed that we weren't going off on tour and everything, and we were disappointed that some of our fans would be disappointed, but – I said this before while Joe was away – I felt sure that whatever he had was a good reason. And he's such an extraordinary person that it was fine: we could handle it. Hold the fort was what we did."

Were you in contact while Joey was away?
"No," volunteers Simonon. "We knew he was all right because he phoned his mum. He'd told her to keep schtum but I think Kosmo wore her down."

While you were away, did you consider not coming back at all, doing the full vanish?
"I don't think I had the...it's pretty hard to do that, to disappear for ever."

"Bernie was saying," says Jones, indicating in the general direction of Rhodes' manic grin and impenetrable shades, "'Now this is like Brian Jones or Syd Barratt or something, now you're one of these group' so it is possible to vanish forever. Okay! We're The Pink Floyd now! And," he continues, warming to his theme, "Joe was Syd Barratt."

Yeah, but he didn't vanish physically.

Jones considers this. "Ah no, that was Vince Taylor, wasn't it."

Was Joe thinking while he was away about what was going to have to be different when he got back?
"No, not really, I was just pleased to have an...escape. It's great bunking off work, really great – as you well know – and it was a bit of that. I was just enjoying being alive. I just wanted to prove to myself that I was alive...that I existed, that it wasn't over. It was okay. We're doing this firstly for ourselves..."

"And it helps clear the air, anyway" – Simonon – "The fact that he went just cleared the air and made you realise more of where you stood individually as well as to two other people, three other people, or whatever. I knew he was coming back."

Strummer picks up the thread again. "I was saying that we're supposed to be doing this for ourselves, and when you lose sight of that, you're in trouble, because you start to think, 'Those people out there don't really care' – that's the people who come and see you and buy your records. It's been a bit of a desert for us lately, but we're Number Two this week with the album – which is a real shock, I can tell you..."

OBVIOUSLY! While the sheer fact of a record's presence in the charts is not necessarily a relevant signifier, Combat Rock is the most extreme and direct Clash album since the first, and its ready acceptance and acknowledgement by the purchasing public indicates that there's far more support than is often supposed both for The Clash themselves and for the militancy that they once again represent.

See, The Clash had become first accepted, then absorbed, then declared quaint, obsolete, null and void. As soon as it became 'safe' to like them and they started touring the States, it then became 'safer' not to. It was a short step from American pundits hailing them as the new greatest rock band in the world – the new Stones! The new Who! – to British True Punks and post-rock hipsters alike to regard them as just another Anglo-American success story, like Costello before he withdrew, or The Pretenders. Not hard enough for the Oi Polloi, too rockist for the dancetariat.

And I mean they really show their roots: there's good old Greasy Joe with his rockabilly fetish, and Ranking Paul skanking with the system, and Mick's such a poser, always playing too loud...

Plus all this romantic rebel guerilla chic, all the ethnic snippets...hopeless, boys. Hopeless.

The trouble is that – in the wake of Combat Rock – none of that washes any more. X. Moore did the album all due honour a couple of weeks ago, so it only remains to state that it's a very clear album: the work of people who know exactly what they want to say and exactly how they want to sound. There is virtually no 'hard rock': none of the bull-dozing rabble-rousing power-chord anthems left over from Give 'Em Enough Rope, none of the easy warmth of parts of London Calling, none of the musical tourism and lucky-dip oddments of Sandinista. They haven't united their sound and their vision more perfectly since their first LP, though both have broadened almost beyond recognition in the intervening period.

Listen to the way Strummer sings 'Straight To Hell' or 'Ghetto Defendant'. What you're hearing is not a presumptuous or impertinent attempt to associate with the alleged glamour of revolutionary war or urban repression, but genuine compassion for the victims of organised human stupidity and greed; an expression of a desire to draw attention to intolerable circumstances and to mobilise public opinion towards eradicating them. I don't know about you, but I respect that compassion.

Combat Rock says that playtime is over. Strummer says that it's very hard being in The Clash, and if they are taking what they're doing as seriously as the album would suggest, then it sounds like he's right. It's also very hard being around them: not in the sense that they're unpleasant or antagonistic, but they carry an atmosphere of tension with them, just as they did when they were starting out. A very strong sense of purpose.

Combat Rock was – as is obvious to anyone with any knowledge of the logistics of record-making – written, recorded and designed and packaged long before the Falkland Islands represented anything to anybody who didn't have relatives there, but synchronicity is not a myth and this album isn't just selling because it's good product from a popular band. I think it's selling because a large and significant number of people want to hear what it says. There's an edge on the album and there's an edge on The Clash again.

Once again, they are a profoundly unreasonable band. There is a lot of excellent entertainment about, and it is by no means all reactionary, but it is reasonable. The Clash aren't.

"AND we're going to go over to New Jersey and start a four-and-a-half week American tour, and then we're going to come back here and do the British tour that we should have done before – that's if we can find a drummer. After that we don't have any plans."

Mick Jones: "After that, we all disappear."

So what do The Clash want to do?
"We want to consolidate something – like us," replies Jones. "Coming together and then exploding out. Out of captivity, the captivity of people's expectations of us...and of being contained by the music industry, that situation of not being able to get out."

So how do you get what you want out of them without them getting what they want out of you?
"Simple!" snorts Strummer. "Make sure that you're in a position to be able to say what you want, make sure that you're ahead. But as soon as you're not in a position to do that, if you're not independent enough to do that, if we couldn't keep this thing going to the right pitch, then we'd be...CBS were coming around to us saying, 'Right, we've got these suits here and we've got a nice little number written by Andrew Lloyd Webber..,"

"And a nice idea for a new haircut," interrupts Jones.

"...and that would become what we were putting out. It wouldn't be anything to do with us. You have to be independent enough to remember what you were there to do in the first place, or you're fucked. They've all got their lawyers and their legal scene well worked out before we were even born. It's very hard to go in there and not go under. I mean, the whole game is to get you so that you owe them so much money so that you can't say, 'No, I don't wanna do that' without them saying, 'So how are you gonna pay this?'"

Bernard Rhodes at this point launches a high-velocity dissertation on the subject of Control In The Media and the fact that The Clash don't seem to reap the benefits of the airplay shop-window. (This is, after all, only right and proper. I, for one, don't want a load of depressing rubbish about knowing your rights and not heeding the call-up on my shiny yellow airwaves).

"...in fact," Jones sums up. "We've written a song about it. It's called 'Complete Control' and we hope to have it out for the summer."

Well, you can by-pass the radio if people will buy your singles whether they get airplay or not.

"We can do that because we've always put singles out whether they got played or not. People have said that we should just do albums, but we like singles too! But since 'Capital Radio' we haven't been played on Capital Radio." Mick doesn't sound too surprised about that, as it happens.

"I never thought we'd be Number Two in Britain. I really didn't," Strummer muses. Rhodes quietly tips a slug of brandy into Joe's cup of black coffee. "There really seems to be something against us here...over the last few years, since we started going round the world."

"People don't understand," Simonon interposes fiercely, "what 'Bored With The USA' was about. They haven't got a fucking clue. If people say 'Oh, The Clash did 'Bored With The USA' and they're always going over there'...they don't understand the bloody song in the first place!"

"I think that Britain is really insular" – Strummer – "They don't realise that there is a world out there. People who spend any amount of time in London can't believe that anything outside London exists. I like to travel..."

This would appear to be the case.

Another new factor in the existence of The Clash is the removal of one of the all-time great millstones: their financial debt to CBS Records. This liberation is due to the much-abused and admittedly unwieldy Sandanista!, which has quietly and unsensationally contrived to be purchased by approximately 197,000 people in this country alone. They are now out of hock for the first time, a state of affairs which they find highly satisfactory. It is, after all, at least as valuable in terms of independence as cash.

Kosmo Vinyl recounts that nearly every American college the band had visited last time round had featured a bulletin-board offer to tape anybody's choice of an hour's worth of Sandanista! for around $3. American release of Combat Rock has been delayed so that the sleeve can be reprinted without the 'Home Taping Is Killing Music' health warning. "We don't care how many people tape our records," he declares proudly.

What The Clash are in the process of becoming is – in spite of CBS Records – a genuinely Underground band (I am choosing, thoroughly arbitrarily, to define an 'underground band' as one which is denied access to radio and TV exposure for reasons other than unpopularity). This means that their music actually has to be sought out. To see The Clash you have to go to their gigs (whenever they happen to be), and to hear The Clash you have to buy their record (or tape it off someone else who's bought it). Embarking on this course means an awful lot of hard work: it means that the band have to stay in touch with their audiences and keep their interest – and in the case of The Clash, that also means retaining their trust – in order to make sure that their work continues to be sought out. Especially in the current climate, one is unlikely to hear 'Know Your Rights' or any of the vital album tracks on daytime radio or down the pub.

Current pop wisdom sayeth as follows: in order to create a popular success, something shiny must be dangled in front of people's eyes via electronic media. The only other way is via discos and the club scene, and The Clash are no more welcome there (apart from isolated breakouts like 'Magnificent Seven' and maybe 'Overpowered By Funk' from Combat) than they'd be on a Capital playlist.

Doing it The Clash's way on a worldwide basis therefore demands an insane amount of gigging, and as a famous '60s smart-ass who got very little airplay himself once remarked "Touring can make you crazy". The danger of thereby developing intermittent strangeness of the mental process would seem to be substantially increased by this policy, which would also deliver them right back into the got-to-tour-to-sell-the-records/got-to-sell-the-records-to-finance-the-tour noose that they've just got themselves out of.

The Clash are almost messianic in their intensity when it comes to 'providing an alternative' on the US live circuit. "Maybe they'll just think we're Van Halen with short hair," Strummer will surmise grimly. "Maybe they'll just be grunging out on the bass and drums and guitar."

"Maybe we could put on false beards and stovepipe hats and stick pillows up our T-shirts," suggest Mick Jones helpfully, "and put out a nice country and western song to get on the radio there...then we could do some dance stuff for the hipper areas..."

Three the hard way. I mean, up the hill backwards isn't half of it. In terms of conventional careerism, The Clash are nuts. They are a gang of loonies. They are out of their fucking minds.

They have created an objective which – virtually by definition – debars them from utilising crucial means necessary to achieve it. If they doubt their ability to get successful without getting sucked in, then they'll set it up so that they won't succeed. In other words, not getting sucked in is more important than succeeding on any but the most stringently proscribed terms.

To reiterate: the Clash are totally unreasonable. They work on the principal that the distinction between method and objective is artificial and spurious, and that therefore compromise must be kept to a minimum (noises off: rising murmur of 'CBS! CBS! Train In Vain!' etc). The thing is that the amount of compromise necessary to get a single as hard as 'Ghost Town' or 'Going Underground' on the air does not appear to have been crippling.

However, I admire the Clash's intransigence, and the best of Combat Rock is as powerful as anything anybody's done for a while. Long may they continue to piss everybody off.

JUST NOW there was almost a minute of uninterrupted gunfire on the radio, and the sound was almost too neatly set off by a police siren outside. Right now everybody's supposed to be jacked up to the back teeth with war fever, but just the same there's that dippy song about peace from the Eurovision Song Contest as Number One single last week and Combat Rock mashing up the album chart.

There was a song I wanted to hear just then, but it wasn't on the radio. It went:

"It could be anywhere
Any frontier
Any hemisphere
No man's land
There ain't no asylum here
Go straight to hell, boys."

© Charles Shaar Murray, 1982